October 24, 2020

Virtual Trip to 1940s Yosemite National Park–The Ahwahnee Hotel (completed in July 1927), 10/18/2020 (watercolor and Intense pencil on watercolor paper)

This week’s virtual group sketching trip was courtesy of me—one CA girl! Before we got together to actually sketch I presented an idea to our leader. I told her I was interested in hosting a virtual tour of Yosemite’s floor of the valley. But there was more to the idea in that I also planned to engage my time machine and take us to 1940’s Yosemite—even before I was born. You might well ask, how is that even possible? Well, as all of this would be virtual anyway, anything’s possible, right? My mother’s father (my maternal grandfather) was the plumber for Yosemite Park and Curry Co during WWII. And even though I wasn’t there to experience first hand what it was like to live in Yosemite during that war, my mother, aunt and uncle were, and they certainly told my brothers and I their stories. Sadly, I never heard directly from my grandmother or grandfather about life there at that time. My grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather died before I was 2. But based on what my mom and her siblings reported, plus a couple perfect Yosemite photos I found online, I think I did a satisfactory job. Who really knows what it was like, none of us were really there. And last Sunday morning we traveled to wartime Yosemite for some much needed virtual away time of sketching. If you think about it, any recent photo of Yosemite taken without cars or people will show you exactly what it looked like in the 40s. In fact, if you take away all the buildings and roads (even what was left of the Indian Village in 1940), the floor of the valley has looked exactly the same for at least the last couple million years. Amazing, right?

Not sure I’m inclined to just retell last Sunday’s previous generations stories in this post. As I look once again at my sketch of the Ahwahnee I am now thinking of jumping forward in the time machine and going back to when I went there as one young CA girl. We didn’t go there a lot, but I vividly remember tent camping and staying at the lodge. OK, maybe I’m inclined to tell a few of the old stories related to the Ahwahnee, but I will be sure to share some of my own as well. My mom remembers it fondly as this grand place where the “swells” stayed and where the Bracebridge dinners were held (not during the war years) and Ansel Adams was the squire for those dinner show evenings. She also spoke of the US Navy leasing the hotel as a kind of hospital for injured sailors who were sent to the Ahwahnee to recuperate during WWII. It’s actually kind of hard to imagine transporting the sick and wounded on that road into Yosemite valley. I’ve been on the road from Oakhurst to the park’s entrance, as well as the one from Mariposa. Neither road is a straight shot, but each has many twists and turns. I think I’ve always preferred the road to and from Mariposa as it goes along the Merced River and there have been some years when I remember seeing dogwood trees in full bloom. I don’t think my mom or her siblings ever ate or stayed at the Ahwanhee until they were all adults. I certainly have no memory of setting foot in there when I was young. It has always been pretty fancy and we were usually pretty grubby from camping. I do remember one visit to the nearby gift shop when Rock Hudson was spotted. I have to admit I was nonplussed with the thought if seeing him walking around as I was busy combing the shelves for the perfect souvenir. But there was quite a bit of chatter all throughout the store and my mom was definitely distracted and not really focusing on what I was trying to show her. Of all the nerve! 

I fondly remember camping in the Yosemite Creek Campground with my family and my uncle when we were pretty small. I remember my uncle thought it a good idea to put the cartons of milk we had brought with us in the cool water of the creek that flowed near our campsite and tents. I also remember waking up that first morning with all the milk gone and each carton showing the clear marks of a bear’s claws. I don’t remember feeling afraid at all, but kind of in awe at the sight of the jagged marks on the cartons left behind by the bears. Thinking back now I can’t believe my uncle did such a dumb thing! He and my aunt didn’t even have a tent and were sleeping in cots “under the stars”—not that a tent would have protected us at all if a bear wanted to get inside where we were. At least my mom knew enough to not let us even have the tiniest bit of food in the tent. Unlike my uncle, she seemed to remember that Yosemite has always had bears!

Virtual Trip to 1940s Yosemite National Park–Curry Village with dogwood in bloom and spring snow (If you Google “dogwood blossoms at Curry Village” you’ll see what this spot looks like in color.) 10/18/2020 (pen and ink on watercolor paper)

It’s funny, but for the second sketch I gave the group a choice between a higher altitude (7200 feet above sea level) heady shot of Yosemite valley from Glacier Point as well as a more down to earth intimate shot of Curry Village taken in spring when the dogwood trees were loaded with big fat and fluffy blossoms. Hands down, my 30 virtual travelers almost unanimously chose springtime in Curry Village. The photo gave us quite a spectacular vision as there had been a late spring snow and the surrounding conifers were lightly dusted with powdery white and all around were countless white dogwood flowers in full bloom. This blooming vision immediately put me in mind of my mom. One of the memories she often shared about living in Yosemite were the dogwood trees in bloom in spring. Native CA dogwoods are all over the floor of the valley as well as all along the road from Mariposa. So, for this virtual part of the journey I will dedicate it to my mom, with only her longer ago story to tell. I can only imagine the visually stunning treat she must have seen looking out of the school bus window as she went back and forth to school each day in spring. 

October 17, 2020

2020 Halloween at the Descanso Gardens (watercolor, Inktense pencil and black ink on watercolor paper) Happy Birthday, Christie!

Last year the Descanso Gardens had an amazing series of evenings they called Carved. It was a one-mile night walk through the garden with the path marked by 1000 hand carved illuminated jack-o-lanterns to light your way. It sold out each of the 5 nights (October 23 through the 27th) it was planned. The night we were there it was kind of crowded and in my opinion there were a few too many strollers that needed headlights. But we all survived and had a great time. This first ever event looked to be a cool annual thing to do each fall, much like their Enchanted Forest of Light extravaganza (mid-November to the end of December) that had become a tradition for my friends and family. You’ve probably already guessed where this is going…Because of COVID, both events were cancelled for the 2020 season. However, according to info on the Descanso Gardens website, both holiday evening displays and activities will be back for their 2021 fall/winter season. OK.

I also read on the Descanso’s website that even though “Carved” had been cancelled they had some daytime Halloween displays to make it look “holiday pumpkin” festive. I checked it out last Sunday. It looks to be a thinly veiled attempt to fool kids into thinking a daytime walk in the park would be way better than going trick or treating on the evening/night of the 31st. But I think the over 4-year-olds are on to this trick. Deep down they know this is all just daytime smoke and mirrors and will not in any way replace wearing a favorite costume, ringing doorbells, getting candy and running around in the dark. As it has been some time since I went trick or treating with my son, I was delightfully surprised to see some really fun displays. From a distance the wooden boxes atop stakes you see here look like bird houses that had pounded into the ground by a deranged ornithologist. As you get closer you can start to see that each box has 1 or more jack-o-lantern face carved into 1 or more sides of the wooden panels. Actually, they look a bit like houses for vampire bats. (I could almost imagine tiny bats flying out of the jack-o-lantern mouths and eyes just as the sun goes down.) I thought them quite fun and knew I was going to sketch them for my 2020 tribute to Halloween this week. I also knew I wanted to sketch this scene because of the red urn you can also see here. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember seeing them in a couple summer posts (June 20, 2020 and July 11, 2020). It was nice to see how the lovely plantings around the large urns had grown up and surrounded each one. (There are 2 in this promenade planting.) Other creative and charming Halloween bits and bobs can also be found throughout the daylight garden as well. There is a pumpkin arch with strange and wonderful large pumpkin/twig insects in the camellia grove. There’s also a pumpkin house and children’s hay maze on the main lawn, with colorful pumpkin mandalas surrounding oak trees in the oak grove. And someone very carefully, and cleverly, constructed the loch ness monster covered with pumpkins and gourds in one of the large ponds at the front. As an adult I enjoyed all the charming displays on display. Even after visiting this great Halloween scene, I can still imagine little ones saying something like, “This is great. But I can’t wait to go trick or treating on Halloween.” Right?

My dad used to claim that he and his cousin Walter had invented trick or treating. I wasn’t much surprised when he told me that he and his older cuz were involved in “tricking” schemes as they often got into a fair amount of meanness on a pretty regular basis. He said that he and Walter would wait until it got dark and then very quietly sneak up to a neighbor’s house, rub bar soap into window screens they could reach, and then run away. OK, so that’s a pretty nasty trick. So where’s the treat he thinks they invented? My dad’s story continues. It seems one of his neighbors got wise to what they were doing, but could never catch them. He told the boys that if they convinced whoever was soaping his screens to cease and desist, he would treat them with some candy. And of course he would give my dad and Walter some candy as well in thanks for telling the other boys to stop soaping his window screens. That worked like a charm. It seems that other neighbors with soapy screens caught onto this and thus the candy extortion began in a long ago Long Beach neighborhood. Now, my dad’s story has absolutely nothing to do with such tricks being done the last day of October. It seems it happened with much more frequency than that. Nor would he or Walter have ever considered walking around their neighborhood wearing a costume. That was for babies, unless they could have had a real cutlass like Errol Flynn. But otherwise they were just too cool for costumes. Now, do I believe my dad (who later became an electrical engineer because the atomic bomb was way cool) and his cousin (who later became a Navy Seal at the end of WWII) were the originators of trick or treating? Who cares? It doesn’t really matter to me. It’s just a fun story I remember hearing him tell about his carefree days as a boy growing up. I still miss him so much. (RIP dad, 10/14/2012)

October 10, 2020

Sunday, 10/4/2020–virtual trip to Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park (oil pastels, brush pen with black ink on toned Canson paper)

Every other week a sketching gang I know goes together on a virtual trip somewhere to sketch. I’m so glad they invite me along, I don’t know what I would do without them. I look forward to getting away as often as I can, even if it’s only to a place of two dimensions based on a couple photos and someone else’s stories about that place. We’re only there an hour or two, but the image(s) I create stays with me long after I add the last line or paint detail. I think that’s because I usually plan to share it here and that gives me a week to think more about it as I plan what I want to write. Last Sunday (10/4) we traveled to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. According to their website it’s the oldest public Japanese garden in the US. And according to that same website it’s been closed quite some time because of the pandemic. It reopened on July 22, 2020. So, maybe planning a virtual trip there made the most sense all along.

As I have already said, I grew up in northern CA—specifically the Silicon Valley. When we were kids we sometimes went to nearby Golden Gate Park. Public transportation then as now was great. But my dad always insisted we drive into San Francisco in our family station wagon. Parking in the park today isn’t too bad as they have a pretty large underground lot. In fact, the new parking lot will give a visitor easy access to the Japanese Tea Garden as well as the deYoung Museum and CA Academy of Sciences. Parking back then was a challenge, and not just because our car was extra long and wide. There just weren’t that many spaces in the small parking lot between the Academy and deYoung. We often wound up parking far away from there, sometimes on surface streets just outside the park. As kids, we never went to Golden Gate Park to go to the Tea Garden. My brothers and I were aware of the Japanese Tea Garden, and would have loved making that a “for sure” destination during any of our visits. But the massive gate you see here seemed to always be closed and locked when we were there. 

Once, I remember walking past, on our way to the deYoung, and the doors were open. We all looked at each other and without saying a word began walking up the steps towards the opening. All of a sudden there was an insistent rattling of bells. I looked to see where the sound was coming from and caught sight of a long bamboo pole with a small basket and bells on the end of that pole. Looking more closely I could see a small hand written note attached there as well. You may have guessed that the note was informing us that we had to pay some kind of entrance fee to go inside. Well, as there were 5 of us and my dad was kind of cheap–he stopped us in our tracks. We all turned and went back down the steps onto the deYoung and then to the Steinhardt Aquarium in the Academy of Sciences. I think he reckoned that everything else in the over 1000 acre park was free, so why should he pay for us to go into that tiny 5 acre “unknown” place. (Yeah, he was cheap.) I seem to remember we had parked way out by the polo field that time and he wasn’t in the best mood. It was only as an adult that I actually went into that garden because I could if I wanted to. It is worth the price of admission, it’s lovely inside. 

When I was newly married I worked part time in the CA Academy of Sciences as a botanical and entomological illustrator. I also volunteered as a plant fabricator for a special exhibit they had back then called “Life Through Time.” (In 2008 the Academy was remodeled and that exhibit was removed. I have often wondered what they did with the huge redwood tree we airbrushed to make look real and lifelike…) It was always wonderful to be in Golden Gate Park. I even looked forward to BARTing there from the east bay. During a typical day in either department I frequently wandered into Strybing Arboretum for lunch. I didn’t go over to the tea garden because they wouldn’t have allowed me to eat in there, and of course it wasn’t free. But the Arboretum was free and you could lay out a blanket on the grass and eat a sandwich anytime. Today, of course, everything has gone the way of the Japanese Tea Garden, and all the permanent venues in the park charge admission, even the Arboretum. 

All week I have been happily remembering how I spent my time in Golden Gate Park. And when looking at my sketch of the front gate of the Tea House, I also reflected on my intentional choice of the grey toned Canson Mi-Tientes paper. The outer wooden surfaces of the garden entrance have that exact silvery-grey patina. It made so much sense to me to let the paper take on an important role when rendering this huge and imposing wooden structure. The blue-tiled roof and golden leaves of the Japanese maples just seem to pop off the page because of that amazing contrast. It’s interesting to me that Japanese structures in Japan have been traditionally built with wood, wood that weathers to this same silvery-grey patina. So, my virtual trip to the Japanese Tea Garden last Sunday took me further still and on to a couple websites that feature information about not only the wood they use, but some cool stuff about traditional Japanese wood working skills in general. Coming from fire preoccupied CA I think the most interesting thing I learned was that they don’t worry so much about fires burning down their wooden houses. They build their homes with wood (usually Japanese cedar and cypress) because they are most concerned with mold, typhoons and earthquakes—in that order. I have to say, coming from earthquake preoccupied CA, building with wood is a good practice for earthquakes. It allows for flexibility when the earth is shaking. But the worry of fire is ever present here, and mold growing in the buildings we live and work in is also a California concern. Glad we don’t have to be concerned with typhoons—small blessings for us I guess. I don’t often list websites here, but thought there was just too much cool information to be shared and learned. I included the website for the Japanese Tea Garden as well. Historically, it’s very interesting, but I’m sorry to say that there is also a very sad part to it’s story.  

Here are the websites, if you would like to look around:

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, japaneseteagardensf.com

A History of Wood and Craft in Japanese Design, www.architectmagazine.com

Wood, Mold and Japanese Architecture, www.nippon.com

OMG, the weather has cooled and we are all so thankful. Until next time…

October 3, 2020

Vineyard on Oakdale Road, behind Linne Calodo Winery, early 2000 (oil on birch panel)

This week’s post is of a vineyard on Oakdale Road in Paso Robles. I lived in Paso in the late 90s and early 2000s. While there I fell hopelessly in love with all things about the vineyards in the north county of the Central Coast. It wasn’t the wineries that I responded to, but the vineyards. Maybe there doesn’t seem to be a difference between the two, but I’ve always been more enamored of the places where the wonderful wine grapes grow (vineyard), not necessarily the buildings where the grapes are crushed, then processed into wine (winery). Don’t get me wrong, I have visited many wineries and enjoyed drinking the wine there. But all my grape related landscapes have almost always been of the actual plants, emphasizing the symmetry of the plantings as they wrap around the various hills and dales here in CA. (To date, I have painted only one winery, Linne Calodo. The painting I did of their first building, left over farming structures and the only road leading into the property were the subject of that long ago landscape. Today, all the farm related structures are gone, the road is on the other side of the property and they have tripled the footprint of the winery/tasting room.) 

I grew up in northern CA in what’s now called Silicon Valley, and we often visited family friends in Napa. I vividly remember seeing what was then known as the wine country in the Napa/Yountville/Rutherford area. Later, when I turned 21 and was an undergrad at UCB, my parents took me wine tasting there. We traveled along Highway 29 through Yountville and Rutherford, stopping to taste wine at the old and established wineries as well as the up and coming wineries along the way. (Beaulieu Wines were just becoming famous.) For that particular birthday, I remember that it was a hot day and the wine was not very memorable. But the grand scale of the vineyards we drove past made much more of an impression. There was just something about the lovely rows of grapes planted throughout those rolling hills dotted with oak trees. And to see those same vineyards in spring with bright yellow mustard growing between the rows was also something truly lovely to behold.

I should mention that the vineyard you see here is the left side of a diptych with the right side a continuing vineyard vision that includes various farm outbuildings (see June 13, 2020 for that companion piece). I have also separately posted both parts of another oil on birch panel diptych of Paso Robles (January 19, 2017 and August 12, 2017). That pair is not of vineyards dotted with oak trees, but rather a golden wheat field dotted with my beloved oaks. With regards to both birch panel diptychs I liked the idea that each individual piece could be a “stand alone” piece (literally stand alone), but also that each image seemed somehow more dramatic and complete when each landscape was elongated horizontally. As long as I am confessing to creating such configurations, I have also separately posted another pair here at One CA Girl, but those are not oil on birch panel. The pair I am referring to was another kind of homage to vineyards and wineries, but done with oil pastels on pastel board (see December 3, 2017—Cypress along a drive up to a Napa tasting room on Highway 29 and December 23, 2017–Lucchesi Vineyards in Grass Valley). As far as the oil pastels go, they were definitely meant to be stand alone (but they need to be in a frame), and somehow magical as they combine a vineyard in Grass Valley with the front entrance of a Napa tasting room on Highway 29. This was more a fantasy piece where I wanted to see if I could mesh and blend the scenes together, even with their region specific blue CA skies.

Looking back at these diptychs, I am kind of wondering why I did them that way. Although I still love these quintessential CA landscapes, they do seem a little contrived and actually kind of “dippy”—“dippy diptychs.” Historically speaking, diptychs and even triptychs (“trippy triptychs”), have been around since medieval times. Even though I don’t know why I did them that way, those early artists must have had a reason. So, I went looking on the internet for that seemingly inexplicable idea, and this is what I found out. First of all, such paintings never depicted secular scenes of vineyards or wheat fields, but rather stylized people from the Bible—often the baby Jesus (looking like a tiny adult) and the Virgin Mary were featured. Those painted wooden panels were also often connected with some kind of hinge that bound them together. It seems this was so the two or three images could be made to stand up when placed on a flat surface, like an altar in a church or cathedral. It was also suggested that when hinged together in the way, they could be closed up and protected if and when they were moved from one place to the next. (Not really sure why anyone would be moving them around, but no matter.)

I also learned that those medieval painters often created diptychs and triptychs to help tell a Bible story, with each panel representing a tableau full of meaning. There was even a suggested comparison to the tradition of specifically lining up panels of stained glass windows in a church or cathedral to tell a story, as pages in a book might do. No stories, past or present, come to mind with any of my panels. Thinking back, I’m not sure it was really worth the effort. Hanging them together so they are aligned and straight can be a bitch. And how far apart should they be? Whenever I hung these in a place to try to sell them, I had a hard time making them look like they belonged together. It was always best if the venue where I was exhibiting my art had picture railing—then at least I could hang them at the same level. Someone bought this Paso diptych. I hope they were able to figure out how to hang them so they looked nice. Or maybe they were placed upright on a mantel as though they were hinged together, much like medieval artists did long ago.

Venice diptych, summer 2010 (oil on canvas)

OK, I guess I’m not done with this idea! Several years ago I went to Italy with my son and aunt. This diptych is of Venice, and it features a canal near our hotel. I kind of liked the idea of forming a corner to make it seem as though the canal was flowing back into the painting. On the left is the canal, of course, but on the right is Campo San Barnaba (city square in Dorsoduro), a former Venetian Church which is now a museum. This particular city square was made famous in the Indiana Jones movie “The Last Crusade.” I owned a VHS tape of that movie and my son really loved watching it. So our staying near there was particularly memorable for him. He also enjoyed finding and buying YuGiOh cards in a shop right at that city square. Quite a story for this pair of paintings, I guess. Maybe those “story telling” medieval diptych and triptych painters were on to something after all.

One last word regarding CA vineyards and wineries

With all the recent fires in CA, both the Paso and Napa Vineyards/Wineries have been assaulted with smoke and flames. I read that the Paso Robles vintners are going to hold their collective breath while their wines ferment. Some seem hopeful that the smoke will not taint the flavor of their product. As for Napa, it seems all their grapes were picked before the Glass Fire took hold. I think they are going to struggle actually making their wines as some wineries appear to have been devastated by not only the smoke, but the heat produced by the actual flames. It looked as though vats and machinery used to make wine literally melted on the spot. All of us who enjoy CA wines, we will hold out hope for some kind of phoenix to rise from all that ash. 

RIP Aunt Bunnie, 8/21/2020