Power of Place Episode #51

Peaks & Pôsterity – Doug Leen

Pack your camper as we tour America’s National Parks—from Acadia to Zion. Our guide is modern-day folk hero Douglas Leen, whose Ranger Doug Enterprises recently published “Ranger of the Lost Art: Rediscovering the WPA Poster Art of Our National Parks.”

Doug describes how in 1971, while working as a seasonal park ranger at Grand Teton National Park, he unearthed an old poster tucked atop a barn rafter, saving it from oblivion. This hidden gem was among the last remaining promotional posters for 14 U.S. National Parks, printed between 1938 and 1941 by FDR’s Works Progress Administration.

Doug recounts how his dusty discovery fueled a lifelong obsession to find the other 13 original silkscreened posters from that era. His hunt led to encounters with art thieves and fostered friendships with fellow connoisseurs. Leen explains how he forged partnerships with artists and commercial printers to recreate all 14 posters. His team soon began creating numerous contemporary artworks commissioned by many of the 400+ National Parks units.

Leen remembers his simultaneous dentistry practice, which he launched above Seattle’s bustling Pike Place Market during its renaissance. This career carried Dr. Leen to faraway Barrow (now Utqiagvik), Alaska, and beyond.

A restless spirit, Doug champions the intersecting causes of art conservation and land conservation. His solo “Ranger Doug” roadshows at National Parks have racked up nearly 50,000 miles to date on the restored Airstream trailer. Unlike the mythic Appleseed who sought to tame the wilderness, citizen Leen’s art and advocacy echo the democratic ethos of the New Deal era and a profound respect for natural wonders that inspire his life and work.

"Today I'm on the road all the time with this book, kind of a Johnny Appleseed or Forrest Gump somebody called me once—I think it was the New York Times. But I'm out there trying to preach the message; and it's getting out there." - Doug Leen

  • Host: Edward Krigsman
  • Guest: Doug Leen
  • Sound Engineering: Daniel Gunther
  • Photography: Travis Lawton
  • Administration: Mary Mansour
  • Series music: Theme by Tomo Nakayama as performed Grand Hallway; Additional music by Andrew Weathers, Arx Duo, and Ryan Love.

We record on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish peoples.