March 31, 2018

Gamble House 4:17
Exterior Gamble House, April 2017 (ink on drawing paper)

I did this four-part sketch as a “draw everyday” urban sketchers suggestion last April. It was a lovely afternoon, much like today, and I decided to head for the Gamble House in Pasadena. The house and bookstore were closed, but I wandered about—sitting in a variety of benches until I had captured some of the many specific and charming elements of the house. (I should note that the bird bath/butterfly garden I have shown here is new to the Gamble House and was not part of the original design.)

I have been on a number of tours of the interior of the house, at different times of the year, and if you are ever in the area and have the least bit of interest in Craftsman’s architecture, it should not be missed. The Gamble House was completed in 1908 and was built by the Craftsman dream team of Charles Greene and his brother Henry. Structures built by them are considered architecturally significant and are identified as a “Greene and Greene” by those who love this kind of architecture. These amazing architects worked primarily in California in the early part of the 20th century and are synonymous with the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

Love of friends and CA architecture?

So, are you interested in the American Arts and Crafts Movement? What about California architecture? I hadn’t a clue about any kind of architecture, specific to California or otherwise, until I met two lifelong friends more than 30 years ago. They were definitely interested in the Arts and Crafts Movement buildings, furniture and design details. A series of fortunate adventures brought us together as my treasured friends of today. I don’t know if they knew back then how unenchanted or uninspired I was about the Arts and Crafts Movement. But I went along as they shared their love and knowledge of architecture that swept me up into this world of effortless and functional style, beauty, simplicity and detail. In fact, my two wonderful and beloved friends are remodeling the kitchen of a 1920s Spanish revival style home as we speak. Even now they are committed to the preservation and enjoyment of such classic style.

I think I remember the first time we went looking at that old stuff in the late 80s. They invited me to join them on a tour of some architecturally significant structures. (I didn’t even know what that really meant until they took me on the Rose Walk in the Berkeley Hills.) The paths, buildings, and details (It’s all about the details folks!) in this area are credited to Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), John Galen Howard and Bernard Maybeck. To see some of the architecture and design details, Google Rose Walk, Berkeley. I can’t even describe how enchanted I was walking around this lovely area all those years ago. I can only hope you are fortunate enough to have such dear friends to share amazing time, space and memories.

Later that same day, my friends took me to another architecturally significant house that had been designed and built by Greene and Greene (of Gamble House fame). As was typical back in the day, such houses were usually named after the family that had commissioned and paid for the house. I was very excited to see my next amazing piece of California architecture. I had not yet seen the Gamble House, so this would be my first Greene and Greene. But for this one we headed for frat row almost on the Berkeley campus. I had been past this house many times (as I had previously gone to Cal Berkeley), but had never really stopped to look at the Sigma Phi frat house. This Greene and Greene had been built for the Thorsen family in 1909 and today is known as the Thorsen house. All I had previously remembered as I walked past the house was a shabby garden and lots of old cars parked out front. So, we pulled up to the house, walked past the dead and dying shrubs and rang the bell—hoping to get a tour of the interior. It was then I noticed the beautiful stained glass windows and the lovely wooden front door. My friends seemed a little concerned about the disrepair they were seeing at first glance. Well, a young man answered the door and agreed to give us a tour of a couple rooms of the downstairs as the upstairs rooms had Sigma Phi frat brothers apparently still asleep (after 2 on a Saturday). Based on the frat crap that was all around the living room, I don’t think any of us wanted to go upstairs anyway. Both of my friends definitely seemed alarmed when they saw the light streaming through these amazing stained glass windows onto broken down couches, clothes and books everywhere. I thought the guy giving us the tour must have realized how appalling this all was, but he obviously didn’t because he showed us the kitchen. It looked like a food bomb had gone off in there—food, pizza boxes, cans and dishes everywhere…you get the picture. Finally, I think the young man giving us the tour woke up and apologized for the mess. By this time one of my friends said he wished he’d had a whistle because he would have blown it to let everyone in the house (including everyone who was upstairs) that they had 15 minutes to leave and never come back. Now, I had only been a true architecture believer for a few hours, but even I knew this mess was just wrong. We talked about that quite a bit as we hastily finished our tour and walked out the front door. (I just texted one of those wonderful friend’s a minute ago to ask him the name of the architect of that house. He reminded me that it was a Greene and Greene and said that the Thorsen House is now being properly cared for and preserved. Thank God for that…)

So fast forward a few years and these same treasured friends now owned a Greene and Greene of their own. And this one was on West California Boulevard in Pasadena. There were so many rooms and details that told of a lifestyle and time gone by. Just below the entrance and foyer were the maid’s quarters, complete with a still functioning “summoning” bell. And one of the doors on the street side of the house was specifically made for tradesmen to come in, with even a special window for the delivery of ice for the icebox. When my son was young he loved it when we visited. I don’t think he noticed all the beautiful materials and details that had been used to make this charming house. What he loved about their Greene and Greene was their amazing Japanese garden in the back and that the rotted bamboo poles laying around seemed to be perfect “ready made” fishing poles. My son was always trying to catch a koi or two that were swimming around the lowest pool at the bottom of the garden. Thankfully those fish were too crafty for him because as much as my friends loved me, and now my treasured young son, I am certain they wouldn’t have loved him pulling one of their treasured fish from the pond. When I was pregnant, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, my friends had taken me on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House before it was restored. Even though he had participated, in utero, in a wonderful afternoon of architecture, he had clearly not gotten the message.

In between the Greene and Greene and the house they are in now, my friends lived in a mid-century modern house that is known as the Rodriguez House. It was designed and built for Mr. Rodriguez in 1942 in Glendale. That was a very cool house I must say. And when they lived there it was used as the location for the movie “Pineapple Express.” Hard to top that and so “California” I think.

So, now my introductory, and very brief, history of California architecture has come to an end. And I am forever indebted to my friends for sharing their love of the Arts and Crafts Movement and some of the architecturally significant houses here in California. You know, the value of the truly amazing friendship we have shared over the years definitely eclipses the value of any house, new or old. But it’s funny, there have been many truly amazing times we have shared in their various houses. So many years of stories, both funny and sad, that are remembered and marked by the time spent in a particular house at a particular time. There are too many stories to tell in “One California Girl’s” blog. Here’s hoping there are so many more stories we will share together in the future, when we are next-door neighbors in a lovely assisted living structure. I can’t imagine that it will matter whether or not it is architecturally significant, but just that we are close by so we can tell the stories again and again—in case one of us keeps forgetting and needs to be reminded. Such is the love of true friends and California architecture.

Note about the Gamble House, March 2018

My son was just visiting for spring break and I asked him if he would like to go the Gamble House, as he has never seen the interior of the house. As luck would have it, they were about to give the last tour of the day and there would be no room for us. Oh well. So, he seemed fine with walking around the exterior of the house. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the beautiful day and the lovely house before us. I pointed out the significance of all of the details of the house that I have shown here in my sketch. There is a small pool, with fish, connected to an outdoor back patio that we looked at for a few moments. I didn’t remind him of a previous time he had seen a pond of fish at the back of a Greene and Greene. Thank God there wasn’t any bamboo nearby!

March 24, 2018

Atascadero wildflowers
Atascadero wildflowers, Spring 2002 (acrylic on canvas, 24 inches by 32 inches)

With today’s post, One California Girl will have been in existence for one year (almost to the day). I started my California art and stories March 25, 2017, my mother’s birthday. But that particular birthday was the first I had celebrated without her actually being here. And tomorrow I will celebrate her birthday for the second time without being able to wish her a happy birthday. (That may not really be true, I think. I still have half her ashes with me and I say good morning to her every day.) As I said in the beginning I am now the keeper of family stories and the art I chose for this post will always be connected to my mother. But it also has a particular California story, all its own.

I painted this short-lived California profusion of wildflowers, with a background of my beloved oaks, in spring 2002. The flowers you see here are CA poppies, lupines, goldfields and tidy tips. My son’s Great Aunt Ruth took me to this spot because one of her sons had told her of the magnificent flowers. As she and I are the lovers of such weeds, she invited me along to enjoy this amazing scene. I am so thankful I did this piece because soon after we had been there a couple of houses were built right on that very slope. That meant the open area would then be closed to those of us who loved to traipse through such seasonal color. I remember enjoying the fact that the lovely blanket of green weeds in the mid-ground provided such a great field of saturated color next to the crazy blobs of orange, violet, yellow and white paint. If you think about it, it’s just a picture of weeds. It’s just that some have a great responsibility to produce flowers, which will then produce seeds that will hopefully ensure such flowers will somehow live again. And even though they may never bloom in that spot again, there is always the promise of seeds that will blow onto another patch of dirt. I live for such hope and promises.

You are probably wondering how this painting relates to my mother. I’m getting to that…Great Aunt Ruth and my mom are not related, but do share March as their birthday month. I don’t have the canvas anymore, but did take some photos of it, and I used it to make a birthday announcement for my mom for her March 2016 birthday. I put a cute black and white picture of her when she was young on the right side. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize it was to be her last birthday with us in the flesh, but I do enjoy looking at that card these days—with my mom smiling and she’s surrounded by all her spring birthday colors.

And as crazy as it may seem, this particular painting is part of a Paso Robles 2002-2003 story. And here’s how this story goes…After the spring of 2002 I contacted a coffee house in Paso Robles, called Brewed Behavior, to see if they would let me hang some of my art in their establishment. The business hadn’t been there very long and it was in a cute historic red brick building across the street from the city hall, park, and the library. This is when I first used the landscape as an invitation of sorts, except this time it was not to announce my mother’s birthday, but rather to announce an art show the summer of 2002 at Brewed Behavior. I remember selling quite a few paintings, including this one, during the reception and following month the art was there. Fast forward to the summer of 2003. I sold my house and my son and I moved to Grass Valley. But in October of that year a 6.5 earthquake hit the area and two people were killed running out of a building just a few feet around the corner from Brewed Behavior. All the historic brick buildings had big cracks (including this favorite coffee shop) and were later raised. Oh, and directly across from Brewed Behavior, behind the city hall and library, a huge sinkhole opened up. That was really a mess for a number of years because that huge depression in the ground was connected to a hot springs (part of the Paso Robles Inn). And that part of town smelled strong of sulfur until the city engineers figured out how to close it up without diverting all the hot stinky water into the city’s ground water. I didn’t have any art in that building at the time, but I did have quite a few pieces in a winery off Vineyard Drive. A couple of them flew off the wall, crashed to a concrete floor and the frames of those paintings became wracked. (I later had to reframe them because they were too warped to lie flat on the wall.)

And a couple more recent CA earthquakes

If you live in California long enough you will hear such stories as I have described above, or you will be in one yourself. Many LA residents still talk about the 6.7 Northridge quake that occurred in 1994. I wasn’t in that one, but I was around for the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, and subsequent after shocks along the Hayward fault. Sixty-seven people were killed in that one. The earthquake happened just as the 3rd game of the 1989 World Series in the Bay Area was about to start. I was driving home from work, listening to sports announcers talking on the radio, when my car lurched way over to the right. I thought I had had a flat. I started looking for a place to pull over to the side of the road when my car lurched way over to the left. And I thought to myself, what are the chances I could have two flats at the same time. Then the signal on the radio went to static and I saw the telephone poles along my road home swaying back and forth. I realized I had just been in an earthquake. I grabbed hold of the steering wheel hard and somehow got home. All the people in our Walnut Creek apartment complex were out on the grass, listening to radio. You may or may not know it, but the best place to be in an earthquake is outside, away from anything that can fall on you. When my then husband and I finally decided to go inside our second floor apartment I had just lost a couple of plants that had jumped off the shelves and landed on the carpet. But the later pictures of the Bay Bridge, Nimitz Freeway and some of the houses in San Francisco that had slid off the foundations told quite a story of devastation. Google it if you like. You know, it’s been almost 30 years since that happened and it’s still hard to look at those pictures. There was so much damage.

My dad’s family hadn’t been in California very long when they experienced the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. That one was of a magnitude of 6.4. My dad said he remembered that he went to school in a tent for a couple years, while the city rebuilt all the schools. I think my uncle said he went to kindergarten in the basement of a church. (I need to ask him if that’s right the next time I see him.)

I love that I can suspend a CA moment in time (as I did with this landscape), because a housing development can change it over a few months time. But a natural disaster like an earthquake, a fire, or a mudslide can change parts of our landscape in a matter of minutes. Now, if you’ve read some of my previous California stories I have written a lot about the changes this state has gone through since both sides of my family arrived here in the late 20’s. But if you look at a time line, starting when gold was discovered in 1848, this state has been on a break neck pace of people coming here to change our landscape since before my family arrived. That first change came with huge numbers of “gold seekers” coming to San Francisco by sea from the west and by train from the east. Later, changes came from people, like my dad’s family, who moved here because it was just too cold in Cheyenne. And I think I already mentioned that my mom’s mother came to southern California with her sister and mom and dad to be in the movies. My mom and dad, along with many non-native Californians, moved to the Peninsula (Silicon Valley) because there was amazing opportunity for technology. And most recently others have changed our landscape by planting and expanding huge tracts of vineyards all over the state. It’s become a little tricky to afford to live here anymore. I think those of us who have gone through such natural disasters and changes should be allowed a kind of “get out of jail free” card with a special one time huge discount on a house, or the electric car of our dreams. That’s not going to happen. But I can dream, can’t I?

I miss you mom. Happy Birthday!

March 17, 2018

Spring 2017 Descanso
Sycamore Trees, Descanso Garden, March 10, 2017 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Hard to believe, but I did this watercolor almost exactly one year ago. And you could smell spring coming then as now. I love the leaves that are just coming up around my neighborhood trees, much like the wonderful green spikes in the ground around last year’s spring sycamores. I remember going to the garden and seeing the leaves of such annuals that seemed to have appeared as if by magic, adding bright balls of yellow and red on the ends of bright light green anemone stems. Spring is such a brief season here in SoCal, and I like to really accentuate the affect our seasonal water has on everything in our landscape in my art. That’s why I made the sky such a luscious watery blue, and why I added the stripes of cerulean next to the vertical leaves of daffodils and tulips that surround these trees. (They can be found at the edge of the rose garden at the Descanso.) And if you really want those saturated spring colors to pop in a painting, put them near different shades of grey—like the bark of the trees. You should also know that behind this vignette, sharp green weeds had also blanketed the hills behind the garden. Every spring the hills near my house add a welcome softness to our landscape, giving a real three-dimensional quality to our normally monotone graham cracker brown hills. The velvety green is especially nice on the rolling slopes I go past on my way to work every morning. They were recently ravaged by fire and have been looking more like a lunar landscape with “Dali-like” black outlines of trees popping up every so often. I noticed on my way home yesterday that a number of those dark skeletons have some bushy bits of green at the base—like a green phoenix rising from the ashes I think.

For those of you still in the grips of winter, all I have to say is that spring is really on its way, even for you. I know it may not seem like it could possibly be true, but the calendar says spring starts next week—March 20 to be exact. And you know in your heart it’s not wrong, it’s just delayed. There’s a wonderful passage in the book The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1911) that will make you believe for certain that it is so. You may not see anything new green and growing, but under the ground the unseen is happening nonetheless. I’ll try to paraphrase the idea of spring coming before you can actually see it through the eyes of Mr. Weatherstaff, the main gardener in the book. The story takes place on a large estate on a moor in Yorkshire, England. Ben Weatherstaff describes the coming of spring to Mary, a little girl recently orphaned. She had been living in a hot and humid area in India, but was now living at her uncle’s house known as Misselthwaite Manor. The author, Ms. Burnett, was amazing at capturing the Yorkshire dialect in her writing, but it can make reading that kind of dialog a bit tricky. But here goes… “Springtime’s comin’,” he said. “Cannot tha’ smell it?” Then he goes on to tell Mary that the earth is fresh and damp in spring, and “…in good humor makin’ ready to grow things.” He tells her that the earth is “dull” in the winter with nothing to do and that plants start waking up with the new warmth of the springtime sun. And the last part, which is my favorite, he describes the different bulbs that will soon be visible “…bits of green spikes…” And he lists crocuses, snowdrops and “daffydowndillys,” which are daffodils, or narcissus. What a great word. And the way Ms. Burnett describes the greenness of pre-1911 Yorkshire in early spring you can almost feel the heaviness of oxygen that a great number of plants are about to produce, like these moors are on photosynthesis steroids or something. And you can just imagine that avid gardeners, like Ben Weatherstaff, have been waiting for just this moment. Today the English are still known as notoriously mad about gardening. That has actually always seemed kind of crazy to me as the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are at the same latitude as Newfoundland, so it’s pretty far north and usually sunless and wet. I mean, without the sun how do green plants grow in such profusion? It doesn’t seem like it should be a climate for elaborate gardens. But that doesn’t stop the people who live there from digging in the dirt and having amazing and beautiful gardens. I have distant ancestors that came from these very places. And I have to say that every year, when our spring rains are finally here, I am avidly planning which beds will need weeding and what flowers and/or vegetables with need planting. For a number of years I would get seed catalogs in winter and I would pour over the magazines as though I would be curing cancer with the plantings I had planned to make thrive and provide color or food. And of course there was all the compost I had made and where I would be amending the soil. For those of you who are too distant from your farming gene, I apologize and will stop here.

Last post for winter 2018 and Happy St Patrick’s Day!

You may or may not already know this, but the Irish don’t actually celebrate such a day. I remember learning once why Americans took up the “green” mantle, but I have forgotten. I mean St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish and he didn’t drive away all of the snakes in Ireland. There never were any snakes in Ireland to drive away. (I remembered that part.) And then there is the fact that there a whole bunch of Protestants in Northern Ireland and they would never consider celebrating some Papist catholic saint. Those shanty Irish Protestants are my ancestors. My mother’s family thought to celebrate July 12, in support of William of Orange, a kind of patron saint of the non-Catholic Irish folk.

The thought of getting pinched on St. Patrick’s Day always annoyed me and I tried to permanently ward that possible assault by reminding people my eyes were green all the time, for real. So as long as I wasn’t asleep (and my eyes were closed), pinching me should not be allowed. But as kids I wasn’t sure anyone was actually looking at my eyes, so I usually wore some kind of green clothing to school to avoid the whole thing. Saying that I had green eyes was probably up there with telling classmates that you were actually wearing green underwear. That always seemed like a dicey gambit, as someone would then insist to see if you were telling the truth. And I’m guessing having green eyes somehow wouldn’t count anyway.

My mother used to tell a story about her mother that always gave me a real sense of her Irishness, but I always suspected some of what she said was a bit of blarney. (Mom said that her mother used to call daffodils daffydowndillys. Gotta love that word!) During the Depression I guess my grandmother would go into a green grocer in Los Angeles to buy produce for the family. Mom said that the owner was Irish and Catholic. So I guess there were some occasions my grandmother would have orange paper (from William of Orange fame) in her purse and with great fanfare she would cover those Irish Catholic green apples with the paper. And I guess once this little 4 foot 11 woman started doing that, the green grocer had green paper ready to cover the Northern Ireland Protestant oranges for when she came in the store. Hard to know what to think or believe. I mean, where did she get orange paper? I never met my maternal grandma, but it’s hard to imagine this little tiny lady sort of leaping up towards the boxes of pippins with sheets and sheets of orange paper. This kind of activity seems playful enough. But when I was growing up the trouble between the different parts of Ireland was anything be playful. My brother said he wasn’t going to admit that he was of Irish descent until they straightened out. Not sure if The Troubles are really over, but the bombings and shootings we heard about when I was a kid seem to have subsided. Eirinn go Brach

March 10, 2018

Peachy Canyon go
Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles (acrylic on wallpaper)

At the time I did this piece I was experimenting with landscape panels. I attached this 18 inch by 6 foot panel on to a board and then had it framed. I had a pretty amazing framer in Paso Robles during this time and she very cleverly worked out how to do it. But it was way too complicated to do that again, so this panel was the last one I did. I included a sampling of the framing above and below the art. Not sure this photo does any of that justice, but here it is anyway.

Peachy Canyon Winery is on the corner of Highway 46 and Bethel Road. I have done several other paintings of the vineyards on both sides of the road. But when I did this one, it was the little old white house on the property (from Paso’s earlier farming days) that caught my eye. I’ve always thought it would be great fun to live there. I enjoyed the idea that it was tucked away from view, but if you lived there you probably would have a great view of the vineyards from all sides. I haven’t been by that winery in a while, so the little white house may not even be there anymore. Most of the wineries in the area have become very fancy and such a humble little building probably doesn’t meet with the approval of the more sophisticated wine tasters that the area now attracts. Too bad!

One Californian Dreamin’

I often dream of houses. No, I really do dream of houses. And I wish I had the nerve to try and paint one of those houses from my dreamy memory. But I haven’t tried it yet. I just don’t think I could capture what my brain conjures up in the night as a single frame because dreams are actually movies, right? And oh my dream homes seem so real. I just don’t think I could do any of my “made up” houses justice. And as I am writing this now I wonder if I can actually do them justice trying to describe them in words. But I desperately want to imagine these houses in the daylight, so I’ll try. If you think the description of someone’s dreams of houses seems a bit of a yawn, you should definitely stop here.

I’m not a dream interpreter, but what does it mean to consistently dream of houses from both the inside and out? I mean, I have even had dreams of houses that were haunted, and sometimes I don’t go inside. But sometimes I just barge right in and check it out—even though I have to navigate a moving or undulating door handle. I don’t often have “repeat house” dreams except I’ve conjured up many homes that are high up on cliffs overlooking spectacular views of the ocean. But there is one house I have dreamed of so often that I can describe it pretty vividly. It always starts with a beautiful summer day and all around me is tall golden grass. I walk up to a small bridge and there on my right is a large red painted barn with white trim. I stop and look at it for a moment, noticing the crossed white boards on the barn door. Then my eyes look straight ahead to a tiny white clabbered house just in front of me. It’s not unlike the small farmhouse on this panel. In my dream the house is in deep shade with two huge trees on either side of it. I know the house is painted white, but the trees make it look a pale shade of green. Funny, in this dream I walk right up the steps of the small front porch, but don’t actually go inside.

Once I dreamt of a tall wooden house, in deep shade, with huge gardens all around. And as I walk all around, looking at the garden, I know this doesn’t make sense, as a garden can’t really grow much in such deep shade. But this is my dream and I love the coolness of the place and walking all around–occasionally looking up at what turn’s out to be a two-story Victorian that is tilting ever so slightly to one side. For another dream I am in deep shade again and my single story house is made of a kind of rosy shade of wood, like madrone I think. But what makes this house and dream so “jaw droppingly” perfect for me is that I walk out the back door of the kitchen and down into a valley of rigidly symmetrical forest of leafless, medium-sized deciduous trees. There are orange and golden fall leaves on the ground and I walk on and on into my forest, so very pleased with the order and beauty of my countless trees.

Sometimes my dream house dreams take place inside the house. I have such a vivid memory of me inside a huge floor to ceiling glass box that is my living room. The room is filled with afternoon light. And there is a piano and comfortable couch in the center of the room with lots and lots of books on shelves down low, so as not to block my view of the outside. And what a view it is—a huge expanse of green lawn that comes right to the glass. The velvety carpet of green is surrounded by an impenetrable wall of dark green layers of shrubs and taller trees, like no one can get onto the lawn and into this perfect light-filled box of books and music. And of course I am sitting on the couch in this amazing light, reading a novel of great interest.

In another interior dream house, I am in the center of a warm and dark living room. All around me are small indoor ponds and rivers. There is very soft lighting in this room and I sit on low comfortable furniture looking out the windows and listening to the sounds of the moving water. But in this cocoon room I don’t look out through floor to ceiling windows, but rather tall narrow windows all around the room. Outside these windows are narrow pathways that weave in and out of wooden fencing and bamboo.

Another dream interior that I can share with you starts in a bright kitchen. But the kitchen is like no other, and the room is a kind obstacle course where I must crawl over and under boxes to get to the center of the room. And somehow the tiny room expands as I move through it, and a table appears off to the side and all you would ever need to create an amazing meal is on the counters and in the cupboards around the perimeter of the room. It never occurs to me that this room is somehow magic, it’s just that I decided that all that space must have been there all the time.

And if I could have a favorite dream house movie I have seen in my head…here it is. When I was pregnant with my son I had an amazing dream that ended with me stepping up off a low wall to then fly through the air down the center of a house-lined street at sunset. Before I knew it, my two children fly up, each one taking my hand. Together, we whiz through the air, down the street. My child on the right says, “Dad, you need to get home soon. Mom has somehow killed all the plants in the house.” And we all start laughing. By now, the sun has gone down and we are hovering in front of our mid-century modern house. We stare into the “lamp-lit” living room with floor to ceiling windows and cool furniture—Eames lounge chairs, a glass chandelier and futuristic clock on the mantel. But what I remember seeing so vividly at this point are the 5 or 6 indoor plants with black leaves and a woman wandering around the room, obviously upset with the dead plants. She finally looks up and sees her family outside the window. She smiles faintly and we all wave. So, of course this is when I wake up and realize I have a big smile on my face. And my “dream” movie ends…

So, daylight savings starts tonight. I hate this time change–I feel like I am somehow cheated out of my dreaming time.

March 3, 2018

Cad Red and vineyards
Paso Robles Vineyard, spring 2003 (oil on 26″ by 34″ canvas)

This Paso Robles landscape hangs on a wall in my house. I walk by it several times a day and love to remember what I was thinking when I decided to paint it. It was definitely springtime, and I realize it isn’t quite spring yet again, but the colors remind me of the coming spring. But why I chose those colors and my overall treatment/technique for the sky, vineyards and oaks, and weeds that were growing in the foreground really had nothing to do with the season. There was kind of a “back story” in my head as I tackled each of those sections. I tried not to over think any of it and I think it came out kind of a nice mood piece that captured a moment of the ever-changing landscape of any place in California. 

So, starting at the top, I can speak about the Paso Robles sky. It often has this kind of hazy color palette. Not sure why. When I was a young girl, and I hung around this area, the sky was deep blue and the air was pretty dry. Back in the 80s, when people started planting (and irrigating) grapes, over time it seemed like the weather gradually got more humid. Makes me wonder if all that irrigation may have put more moisture in the air. About that same time I really started noticing the many vapor trails of big jets that crisscrossed the sky at 30,000 feet, going from LAX to SFO and back again all day long. Maybe that added to the haze as well. I also know of people who have lived in the area for several generations and recently some of them have turned up with seasonal allergies and even asthma. Such attacks of sneezing and difficulty breathing wasn’t the case back when this was just oak trees and golden rolling hills. I have no facts to support any of this, but it does make me wonder. But I have done so many landscapes of this area and it was just what the sky looked like that day. And it was fun to layer and swirl the mist above the vineyards imagining so many jets going off to places unknown, or just to LA.

Now onto the middle ground and why I painted the vineyards this way. There are acres and acres, or what seem like miles and miles, of grapes on both sides of 101 around here now. I tried to somehow give the viewer the feeling that we were speeding past the countless plants, as the green branches moved faster and faster to the left–squishing them down to a curved thin line right off the canvas and into the distance. I had tried this curved technique of vineyards in another landscape, only in that one I added a road next to the vineyard to speed along. For this one, I imagined I was in a car and the road was under me and not visible. I intentionally wanted the oaks to look stiff and still, as they had been for the 100 years or more. I am not sure, but the road probably wasn’t paved back then and you couldn’t travel very fast. From the pictures I have seen of the area it was mostly farmland and people would have traveled that road on horseback or in a wagon pulled by some kind of beast of burden. And there were definitely only farmers here back then, no vintners.

Finally, there are the inevitable weeds that grow in the front of vineyards as well as down the rows of plants. Remember this is all irrigated now and weeds grow there too, and they will stay there until the viticulturist instructs the workers to plow them under. Now, they might seem kind of humdrum to you and maybe I should have left them out. But I didn’t! Instead I decided to accentuate them in kind of vertical green stripes. It was here I remember getting very interested in the colors I would choose and created a great shade of pink-red with my cadmium red lined up next to sap green. I have done several pieces where I celebrate weeds and try to draw attention to the usually mundane parts of a landscape. I remember taking that same pink color and placing it next to the gold of the hills next to the oaks. And I even interjected that same red in the foliage of one of the middle ground trees.

And that pop of color has stood the test of time for me because I like it now as much as I did then. I have since done a number of landscapes with this color combination. I did a small 8 by 10 oil on a birch panel of pinkish vetch with oaks off in the distance. Vetch is a kind of weedy legume that seems to bloom after the lupines are done. However, that foreground was not marked with vertical lines, but dotted with a lovely cadmium pink. I loved the way that turned out and maybe I’ll post that some time with a story about what we can look forward to when we ask ourselves about the changes in our individual lives and “what comes next.” That could be going from one job or profession to another, what kind of car we may drive in the future or whether or not we will do something to our bodies when things start to get a bit saggy.

As for the California I’ve shown here I guess change is a hazy sky, countless rows of vineyards and the inevitable (and usually unwelcome) non-native weeds that pop up out of the ground because they were invited to do so with some extra water. So, this got me thinking about what to do or think about such changes—as though I can rip out all the vineyards, roll out a huge sponge to soak up all that water and somehow wring it out over the ground. Do I want to go back to a landscape of blue skies against the golden hills with clusters of coast live oak trees? Do the changes you see here bother me and make me mad? I’m not sure this is actually the question I should be asking. I guess the question is more like what will I do if I see something that bothers me? Will I just get mad and make everyone around me miserable with complaining about how it should look or how it should be? Or should I just get on with it?

I just finished reading the book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I think the main character in the story, Ove, is a great example of a person who sees problems and problematic people where ever he looks. But he likes to fix things and somehow manages to help his “inept” neighbor drain her radiator, teaches the annoying pregnant lady across the street to drive a stick shift, and shows a young man with a bad haircut how to fix a bicycle. Ove is often seen in the story heading to his garage to find a piece of equipment or to get his toolbox. I like to imagine that we all probably have some kind of toolbox that we can reach into and find something to help us all just get on with it. Some toolboxes might have birdseed to feed neighborhood birds, or a hot cup of coffee and a piece of pumpkin bread for a homeless person outside Starbucks, or a garden rake that could be used to rake leaves in a neighbor’s yard. I keep cadmium red, sap green, new Gamboge, cobalt blue and cerulean pigments in my toolbox. I might need to paint a changing sky, a vineyard or an oak tree set against some golden rolling hills at any given time. And what about the weeds? Who else is going to paint the weeds?

So, what would be in your toolbox?

A further note about the rows of weeds that just naturally come with the CA vineyards: “Hip-high” bright yellow mustard (non-CA native) weeds can be found growing down the center of the rows of grape plants in the Napa Valley. That mass of bright yellow blossoms with lacy green foliage can be absolutely stunning. There have been times I have seen the contrast of light cadmium yellow flowers next to the wet black stumps of rootstock after a rain that would take your breath away. One grower I know said she and her husband had seriously considered planting specific grains (a kind of weed) between the rows. This was during a time when the price of wine grapes had dipped a bit and they were looking for ways to supplement their primary cash crop. They thought they might harvest the grain and make beer to try and make some kind of profit. And it’s not like they were going to stop watering their grapes, so why not water the weeds in between. With pot now legal here, I wonder if anyone will be planting pot in the spaces between the grapes? Now, that’s a party. And you may or may not have guessed, we know how to party here in California!