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…

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