Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Movies I'm Watching: Wings (1966)

The Criterion Collection streaming on Hulu Plus is a treasure. I don't watch the films available there as often as I should, but last night I randomly selected a Russian film called Wings (1966) that was a real treat. Beautifully filmed and acted. Storytelling at its best. Well worth the 84 minutes it runs. Made by Larisa Shepitko. Starring (if that's the right word—there is no Hollywood glitz here)—character actress Maya Bulgakova as a once-heroic Soviet fighter pilot now living a life of quiet desperation as a school principal.

Somehow, I found myself watching Hobson's Choice (1954) afterward—a beautifully restored print and another fine film. I noticed something funny in Hobson's Choice: a nuclear power plant cooling tower is visible in the background of one of the scenes. I've seen the film maybe five times and never noticed it before. The story is set in the age of the bustle—when the bustle was brand new in the world of feminine fashions—so, perhaps around 1870, long before nuclear reactors....

Photo from The Criterion Collection website.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 126 (Santa Rosa)

Yet another new collage from the past week.... I'm trying to keep to the disciplined pace I set for myself two years ago--on average, one finished piece a week.

Untitled Collage No. 126 (Santa Rosa). January 23, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (sandpaper), collage. Image size: 23.6 x 11.4cm. Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Yellow Daffodils (January 31, 2016)

Our yellow daffodils began blooming on January 31 this year. That's a tiny bit on the early side. It's the first time since I began keeping track that they've opened in January—although I'm missing data for a couple of years. They bloomed on February 5 in 2015, February 4 in 2013, February 2, in 2011, and February 5 in 2009.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 125 (Santa Rosa)

Untitled Collage No. 125 (Santa Rosa). January 22, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 10.7 x 10.3cm. Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: Deborah Salomon and Lisa Beerntsen on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi

I'm pleased to announce the upcoming show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi. We'll be showing paintings (oil and watercolors) by Lisa Beerntsen and collages by Deborah Salomon. The new show is entitled Facets: Collage, watercolors, and oil paintings by Lisa Beerntsen and Deborah Salomon. Lisa Beerntsen’s delicately colored paintings are suggestive of mineral formations and complex organic molecules. Deborah Salomon’s subtle collages of found material are overlaid with multi-faceted forms that reflect a life-long interest in crystal structures. Two Sonoma County artists take a faceted approach to space. On the Art Wall at Shige Sushi, 8235 Old Redwood Highway, Downtown Cotati, 94931. February 2 through April 3, 2016. Opening reception Monday, February 8, 2016, 5:30Pm to 7:30PM. Light refreshments served. Hope to see you there.

For more information about current and upcoming shows on The Art Wall, visit The Art Wall website at

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Wines I'm Making: 2015 Cabernet Bottled

I finally got around to bottling our 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc (on January 24). We made only 25 bottles—but that's more than the vines yielded in 2015 (I expect to get only 15 bottles from the grapes harvested this past year). The wine is sound, but a little lacking in ripeness. The trees in the neighbor's yard have gotten so tall that the vines get too much shade now. I'm looking into ways to counteract that effect. I used the same label design as for the 2004, which was our first vintage.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rain: More Rain (January 29, 2016)

A day of drizzle has so far added another 0.45 inches of rain to our annual total—which I will update as soon as the skies clear again. The total before this rain was 17.05 inches. The historical average for this date is 20.10 inches, so we'll still be below average even with this new rain, unless it pours overnight.

[It didn't pour with rain overnight, but I found 0.50 inches in the rain gauge on the morning of the 30th. So, our total is now 17.60 inches at my location—still about three inches below normal.]

[We got 0.05 inches on February 2, and more rain is expected overnight. The total is now at 17.65 inches at my location.]

Miscellaneous: Too Many Kinds of Beer?

Buying beer used to be so much easier. This is a view of about half of the beer selection at my local supermarket.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: "Looking East" at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

By now, most anyone with more than a passing interest in art history understands there was a period of intense interest in Japan and things Japanese in the second half of the 19th century that had a profound impact on Western art and design. Because of that, I suspect "Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists" at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum will seem like a rehashing of the obvious to more than a few visitors. But don't let that keep you from going. There is much of interest on display, all from the collection of The Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston—well known for the quality of its Asian collections in particular.

The Boston museum must be bursting at the seams. I ran into a couple at the show from Boston who said its best pieces seem to be perpetually on loan somewhere (they came here to see work they rarely get to see at home), and, although I've never visited the Boston museum, I have seen many of its masterpieces on tour in Tokyo, including Van Gogh's 1888 portrait of the postman Joseph Roulin, which is now in the San Francisco show.

All the familiar points are made. Wall texts and a short video presentation touch upon the freshness of much of Japanese art and design to Western eyes when things Japanese began to arrive in quantity in Europe and the United States in the late 1850s. In particular, Western artists and designers were inspired by Japanese attention to scenes of everyday life; by bold compositions that often relied on large expanses of black, a lack of perspective and shading as illusionary techniques resulting in a flattening of the picture plane, use of strong patterning, sharp diagonals, and a fondness for boldly truncated scenes (and asymmetrical balance in general); by attention to detail in the applied arts; and by highly advanced full-color woodblock printing techniques—perhaps the most sophisticated in the world at the time. These and other ideas are illustrated by more than 170 Western and Japanese pieces, including examples of the decorative arts, paintings, prints, drawings, and textiles. Shown here is Kikukawa Eizan's Otome (c. 1818–23) and a painting by Cassatt (Caresse Maternelle, c. 1902), inspired by Japanese depictions of mothers with their children.    

Even if the ideas aren't new, the show is worth seeing for the individual works of art on display, and a worthwhile attempt has been made to show pieces side-by-side that illustrate the ideas discussed. In addition to the Van Gogh portrait, highlights include works by Monet, Cassatt, Toulouse Lautrec, Edvard Munch, and others, among Western artists; prints by Hiroshige, Hokusai, Eizan, Kunisada, and others, among Japanese print designers—including some of the finest individual impressions I've ever seen; some excellent decorative art; and, at the end of the show, a small group of photographs showing Japanese influence, including work by Karl Struss and Alvin Langdon Coburn. The latter's Tower Bridge (1909) is shown below.      

"Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists" closes February 7, 2016. At the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102, (415)-581-3500. Open Tues—Sun  10AM—5PM. Closed Mondays. Prices for the show vary. Members get free admission. Children (12 and under) and SFUSD students are free. Adults $20 on weekdays, $25 on weekends. Seniors (65 and over), youths (13-17), and college students with ID are $15 on weekdays, $20 on weekends. These prices seem a bit steep, although they include general admission. That said, you'd need an entire day to see both the Japan show and the permanent collections, so, essentially, you're paying the entire amount to see the special exhibition–unless you move through galleries far more quickly than I do.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Art I'm Making: New Collage (January 25, 2016)

A new collage pieceUntitled Collage No. 124 (Santa Rosa). Finished January 21, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 17.3 x 16.0cm. Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right, or visit my collage website at:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Birds I'm Watching: White-faced Ibises at Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility

White-faced Ibises at Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility (in Petaluma) have been a hot topic among Sonoma county birders the past couple of weeks. A group of nine of these birds (rare in our area) has been hanging out there since early January. Today I got some good photos. Also of interest were a large number of Green-winged Teals, among other ducks.

For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Plants I'm Growing: In the Garden (January 2016)

I'm always happy to see flowers blooming mid-winter. Our camellia (Camellia sasanqua, a variety called "Chansonette"), which reliably starts blooming as winter comes on (sometimes as early as early October) is finished, but we have a white flowering plum, a dwarf cyclamen (Cyclamen coum), and Manzanitas blooming now. Especially pretty among the Manzanitas is Arctostaphylos pajaroensis, which I sought out for its pink blossoms and orange-tinged new foliage. The cyclamen started blooming on or about January 15 this year. The flowering plum is in full bloom.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Wines I'm Drinking: 2005 Pata Negra Valdepeñas Gran Reserva

The 2005 Pata Negra Valdepeñas Gran Reserva, although heavily discounted, was a pleasant surprise. Medium-deep garnet--pretty in the glass. Cherries, licorice, chocolate, and mint on the nose are echoed on the palate. At ten years old, this wine from Valdepeñas, in central Spain, is soft and supple--perhaps even a little lacking in tannic backbone, but a very pleasant, smooth, easy drink that's a bargain at only $5.99 at Grocery outlet. A decent everyday wine, even if lacking in the up-front fruit consumers used to fruit-forward California wines may expect.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Rain: Getting There.... (January 19-23, 2016)

Overnight more rain. I found 1.20 inches of new rain in the rain gauge today after the skies cleared. That brings our total for the 2015-2016 rain year to 14.85 inches. The historical average for this day in Santa Rosa is about 18.54 inches, so we are now less than four inches behind normal—a substantial improvement. But the target keeps moving. More rain is predicted over the weekend and next week, however. A couple more good storms and we might actually overtake the average. Normal annual rainfall in the Santa Rosa area is 36.28 inches.

[Update: By the morning of January 23, we had had another 2.2 inches of rain since last reporting. That brings the total to 17.05 inches at my location in Santa Rosa. We're still below the historical average, which is 19.25 inches for January 23, but this is the closest to normal rainfall we've been in a long time.]

Monday, January 18, 2016

Birds I'm Watching: Great Horned Owl (January 18, 2016)

A Great Horned Owl appeared in a tree across the street from my house this morning. I was alerted to its presence by a neighbor. The bird allowed me to take its portrait. It has a rather amiable look, but Great Horned Owls are among the most powerful predatory birds in North America. They happily eat skunks and have been known to go after fairly large pets. He was mobbed by about 100 crows off and on for several hours today. The  bird appears to be there still but all is quiet now. Yard bird number 68.

For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 123 (Santa Rosa)—January 14, 2016

My latest collage. Untitled Collage No. 123 (Santa Rosa), January 14, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 13 x 17.6cm. matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. Click on the image for a larger view.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right, or visit my collage website at:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: Raphael's Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn at the Legion of Honor

The Galleria Borghese in Rome, in what was once the Villa Borghese Pinciana, houses a large part of the collection of paintings, sculpture, and ancient artifacts amassed by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a nephew to Pope Paul V (in power from 1605 to 1621). The Villa was built by Flaminio Ponzio, who worked mainly for the Pope, the building and its gardens based on ideas proposed by Cardinal Borghese. On the outskirts of Rome at the time, it was used by the Cardinal for entertaining. Among the many works housed at the Galleria Borghese today is an enigmatic 1506 portrait by Raphael known as Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn, presently on display at The Legion of Honor, in San Francisco.

Finding it requires a short hike past many works of interest in the permanent collection (including a couple of ghastly paintings by El Greco) at the far end of a row of linked galleries. The Raphael has been given a small room of its own painted ox-blood red that complements the sleeve color of the sitter in Raphael's portrait. Her name is unknown, but we are told the painting was probably commissioned to commemorate a wedding. That view is based on internal clues—mainly that x-ray examination has shown the unicorn was originally painted as a small dog, traditionally a symbol of marital fidelity, but the wall text points out that she wears a gold-clasped belt, symbolizing fertility and associated with marriage; that the necklace she wears was likely a betrothal gift or part of her dowry; and that the jewels it contains—pearls, rubies, and sapphires—were associated with such traits as virginity and purity (the pearls), prosperity and fertility (rubies), and fidelity (sapphires). There is also a suggestion that the unicorn may refer to her family's heraldry, although, if that is true, I wonder why the animal was not painted as a unicorn from the outset? An inspired afterthought, perhaps?

There are obvious echoes of Mona Lisa, as the wall text also points out. Most important of these is perhaps the sitter's slightly sideways, three-quarter-length pose with hands folded in her lap, but also the use of a parapet with columns (the columns barely visible in Mona Lisa) to separate the subject from a distant landscape behind her. Although there are precedents for both, the inclusion of an imagined landscape in the background is often considered a novel feature of Mona Lisa, painted over a number of years from around 1503. Raphael has used this device, but he leaves the horizon low, at the shoulders of the sitter, while Leonardo uses horizontal landscape elements to draw attention to La Giaconda's eyes (a trick that, simplified, Van Gogh would later use to great effect in his self-portrait with a pipe and bandaged ear).

The hands have quite different effects in the two paintings. Mona Lisa's hands are open and relaxed, Raphael's sitter captures her little unicorn's hooves and holds them tight. Her arms cradle the animal. The dark sleeves of her dress act like a pair of parentheses. The visual complexity of Mona Lisa is behind the main subject and mostly in the upper half of the painting. In the Raphael, the visual complexity is below and in front of the main subject. The face of the unicorn attracts almost as much attention as the face of the woman. If the beast were not so clearly in her possession, subordinated to her and under her control, this would be a dual portrait. Nevertheless, part of the painting's effectiveness is the back-and-forth between the two faces the unicorn's presence forces on the viewer. La Giaconda is much easier to look steadily in the eye than is Raphael's lady.

The small size of the cradled unicorn is rather startling at first, but, according to the wall text, the unicorn was often depicted in early bestiaries as a small animal—kid-like—rather than as the full-sized horse-with-horn we think of today. The unicorn was said to be wild and untamable but with a key weakness—a fondness for young virgins. A unicorn could be captured or killed if lured to sleep in the lap of a maiden, we are told, and a unicorn in the lap of a virgin was a common motif associated with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. So, the Raphael painting can be read as a madonna and child not only as a wedding portrait.

The unicorn story puts me in mind of other beasts with a fatal weakness—near-immortal Achilles and his heel, of course—but also the kappa, a vaguely humanoid creature of Japanese folklore with a beak and characteristics of a reptile or amphibian, including a turtle-like shell. Mischief makers that dwell near streams and ponds, kappa are said to play pranks on passersby, sometimes with fatal consequences. The seat of the animal's power is a water-filled depression on the top of its head. If the water drains away, the kappa loses its power. Kappa, the stories go, are very polite, however. They can be rendered temporarily powerless by a formal bow in greeting—as the animal will always return the bow, letting the water spill from its head. Similarly, Raphael's unicorn is at least temporarily tamed, captured and held in the lap of the maiden, a victim of its special weakness.

A chronology on one wall reveals other facts. The painting was first recorded in the collection of the Galleria Borghese in 1638. Surprisingly, Raphael's lady was once partially painted over, the image having been converted to a portrayal of St. Catharine of Alexandria some time after 1682 with the addition of a cloak around her shoulders, a palm branch (a symbol of martyrdom), and a wheel (Catharine is said to have been tortured to death—broken on the wheel). Until 1927, when the underlying work was firmly attributed to Raphael by Italian art historian Roberto Longhi (working from an earlier suggestion floated by historian Giulio Cantalamessa that two artists had worked on the painting—one markedly more skilled than the other), authorship was unclear. The painting was attributed variously to Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Granacci, and others. Suspicions about the later additions were confirmed in 1933, when the painting was first x-rayed and tests subsequently showed the existence of landscape elements under the cloak. Restoration work commenced in early 1936 when the image was transferred to canvas from the original panel and removal of the overpainting began. Within about 30 years, better x-ray technology revealed the presence of the dog under the unicorn.  

While I would like to have seen better images of the painting as St. Catherine, before restoration, (do they exist?)* and I would have enjoyed more details of the restoration process (described as having been done with a scalpel), the gallery offers a concise and informative presentation of an important painting. Yes, it's worth making a trip to see this single image.

Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn will be showing at the Legion of Honor through April 10, 2016. San Francisco is its second of only two stops in the United States following a stay from October 3, 2015 to January 3, 2016 in Cincinnati at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The painting is visiting the United States for the first time. Viewers in Cincinnati got to see the painting for free. At the Legion of Honor, admission ranges from $6 for students to $10 for adults ($7 for seniors). Closed Mondays. The exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Cincinnati Art Museum in collaboration with the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture and the Galleria Borghese. The Legion of Honor presentation is made possible by lead sponsorship from the Frances K. and Charles D. Field Foundation, in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Field, with additional major funding from The Christian Humann Foundation.

* I have attempted to find such an image on line, with no success. However, Raphael actually did paint St. Catherine of Alexandria (below), around 1507, thus not long after he painted Lady with Unicorn. He shows her with her symbol, the wheel. The painting is in the National Gallery, London. The photographs of Mona Lisa and Raphael's St. Catharine are from Wikipedia.

[Update: This Hyperallergic article reproduces a black and white image of the painting from 1900, before its restoration.]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rain: More rain (January 12-18, 2016)

We keep getting new rain--which is great--but the historical average keeps rising, because it's normal to get rain at this time of year. The average for this date in Santa Rosa is a little over 17 inches. Last night we got 0.90 inches of new rain, bringing our total for the 2015-2016 rain year to 11.00 inches--six full inches below normal. We should catch up, if the rains continue this year. Time will tell.

[Update: Overnight on the 14th-15th we got an additional 0.60 inches, bringing the total at my Santa Rosa location now to 11.60 inches.]

[Update: More rain. It rained most of the day on the 17th and overnight into the early morning of the 18th, adding 2.05 inches of new rain. That brings our total to 13.65 inches so far. The historical average for January 18 is 18.35 inches. More rain is predicted for this week.]

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Art I'm Making: Seascape (January 9, 2016)

Out at Duncan's Landing, Bodega Bay, yesterday (January 9, 2016) I made a few landscape photos. I especially liked this one. I think I may attempt a series of these.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Rain: New Rain (January 3-5, 2015)

We've had a little more rain overnight on January 3-4, adding 0.30 inches to our annual total, which now stands at 7.25 inches. I'd been hoping for more than that, but more storms appear to be on the way.

[Update: Heavy rain on the morning of January 5 has so far added another inch of rain and it's still raining. At 8.25 inches as of 11:00AM, we are still well below normal, however, as average rainfall by this date historically has been just under 15 inches.]

[Update: Another 0.95 inches overnight on January 5-6 leaves us now at 9.2 inches for the year. Better, but still well below normal.]

[Update: A further 0.9 inches on January 6 puts the total now at 10.1 inches for the 2015-2016 rain year.]

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Art I'm Making: New Collage

My latest piece of collage work. Untitled Collage No. 122 (Santa Rosa), December 19, 2015. Acrylic monoprint, found paper (antique silver leaf), collage. Image size 11 x 13.2cm. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat. Click on the image for a larger view.

For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right, or visit my collage website at:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Miscellaneous: Nine-dollar Bread

I was a bit startled recently by seeing a loaf of bread on sale at my local Whole Foods for $9. I'm sure it's good bread, but $9? Ingredients are simply flour (albeit some of it organic), water, and salt. $9?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Rain: December 18-19, December 21-23, 2015

As the title says, we got another 0.6 inches of rain yesterday and into this morning, December 19. The skies have cleared, but more rain is forecast in the coming days. Our 2015-2016 total now stands at 4.90 inches at my location in Santa Rosa. Normal for this date is a little over ten inches, so we remain well below average, but we're catching up a little.

[Update: It rained all day on the 21st and into the morning of the 22nd, adding 1.80 inches of new rain, bringing our total so far this rain year to 6.70 inches at my location. That's good, but we need about four inches more soon to bring us up to normal levels--twice that much to bring even a modicum of longer-term relief. More rain is in the forecast.]

[Update: More rain on the night of December 23 and early morning of Christmas Eve gave us another 0.25 inches, bringing the 2015-2016 total at my location to 6.95 inches.]

Art I'm Making: Untitlled Collage No. 121 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage. Untitled Collage No. 121 (Santa Rosa), completed December 15, 2015. A small work that I've left asymmetrically trimmed and one that uses more organic shapes than I usually employ. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 9.8 x 9.9cm. Click on the image for a larger view.

For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right, or visit my collage website at:

Serendipitous Art: Wood Grain (December 17, 2015)

I saw this door at the offices of the Santa Rosa Symphony recently. It's a thick, solid wood door from a bygone era. Beautiful grain. Unintended art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: Coit Tower Murals, San Francisco

I've lived in the Bay Area for 15 years now. I've been visiting here off and on for more than twice that long, yet I'd never been to San Francisco's Coit Tower until yesterday. I never thought the tower itself especially attractive, although it makes a nice enough punctuation mark in the landscape. I paid the $8 fee to take the elevator to the top, disappointed that you can't walk the stairs (I wonder what the interior looks like?—although I don't imagine it's inspiring for its engineering or architecture like the inside of Brunelleschi's dome in Florence or the like; the tower appears to have been made by simply pouring concrete into forms). The view was attractive out in the direction of Alcatraz and the bridges, but I went to see the murals I'd heard about rather than the tower itself. I didn't see any of the feral parrots said to live on Telegraph Hill, the site of the tower (named for a telegraph station built on the hill in 1850 to alert residents of the arrival of ships in San Francisco Bay. Apparently the station used semaphore).

All the interior walls on the first floor of the tower are decorated with murals. In what is now the gift shop, there is an interesting row of painted "plaques" high up on the walls naming the murals and the artist who created each one. Also given are the dimensions of each mural and the technique used to create it. Pictured here is the painted plaque for Edward Terada's Sports, a fresco measuring nine feet by ten feet, we are told. The tower was built in 1933, the mural painting project completed by 1934. Apparently there are more murals in the stairwell, not normally open to the public, except during docent-led tours (see below). The mural project was sponsored by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a New Deal program aimed at supporting artists—artists who in this case included: Maxine Albro, Victor Arnautoff, Jane Berlandina, Ray Bertrand, Ray Boynton, Rinaldo Cuneo, Hebe Daum, Mallette Harold Dean, Edith Hamlin, George Albert Harris, Otis Oldfield, Frederick E. Olmsted Jr., José Moya del Piño, Suzanne Scheuer, Ralph Stackpole, Edward Terada, Clifford Wight, Frede Vidar, and Bernhard Zakheim. PWAP was a WPA precursor.

I was aware of some of these artists (notably Otis Oldfield, whose work I've admired in the collection of the Crocker Museum, in Sacramento, Ray Boynton, and Victor Arnautoff), but other names I'd mostly not heard before. Olmsted was a great-nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed New York City's Central Park. Arnautoff taught art at Stanford, where Richard Diebenkorn was one of his students, and worked widely as a muralist in the Bay Area, often embracing social themes such as class, money, and political power. Ralph Stackpole was the father of photographer Peter Stackpole, noted for his fine photographs of the building of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, some of which were shown last year at the De Young Museum (between February 1, 2014 and June 8, 2014) in a show called The Bay Bridge: A Work in Progress, 1933–1936. Ray Boynton's work is in several Bay Area museums, including the De Young and The Legion of Honor. He was a pioneer of the fresco technique in this area.

Arnautoff's large fresco City Life is perhaps the highlight, although I enjoyed many of the other works, notably the large figures by Clifford Wight (The Ironworker is shown above). City Life, according to the Wikipedia entry for Arnautoff, caused some controversy because of details that hinted at the artist's left-of-center political views. That article mentions, for example, the artist's exclusion of The San Francisco Chronicle from the newsstand depicted, which is selling left-wing papers instead. The artist's somewhat cynical view of life in the city is apparent in his decision to include both an auto–pedestrian accident (which looks fatal) and an armed mugging (above) among the goings-on. The mugging victim is getting his pocket picked at the same time—perhaps being worked over by a team of thieves.

Other murals depict agricultural activities, cultural activities, and the various industries of the Bay Area at the time the murals were made, including steel production, canning, sugar, petroleum, hydroelectric power, and mining. Industries of California, by Ralph Stackpole (1885-1973) focuses on oil, steel, sugar, and canning (above, detail). The descriptive labels in the tower point out that sugar and oil remain important local industries, while steel and canning have disappeared from the Bay Area.

California Industrial Scenes, by John Langley Howard (1902-1999), the artist's only fresco, was interesting for its focus on the mining, oil, and hydroelectric power industries coupled with a concern for the social divide the success of these industries exacerbated. As the mural labels point out, a noteworthy detail is the contrast drawn between a wealthy, chauffeur-driven family and the tent-dwelling family they observe below a hydroelectric dam (above).

I also liked Bernard B. Zakheim's (1896-1985) Library, among others. According to the onsite labels, Zakheim, along with poet Kenneth Rexroth, and artists Frank Triest, Victor Anautoff, and Ralph Stackpole, helped to create the Artists' and Writers' Union which pressured the government to start federal arts projects. Their efforts "resulted in the Coit Tower mural project becoming the first New Deal project of its kind in the U.S." Zakheim's daughter was a model for one of the figures, and friends and fellow mural project artists are included. Stackpole is shown reading a newspaper article about the destruction of a Diego Rivera mural in New York, sculptor Benny Bufano reads about an upcoming statue project of his own, and artist John Langley Howard is shown reaching for a copy of Marx's Das Kapital; many of the artists held leftist views.

The industrial focus on one side of the building is complemented on the other side by murals that highlight California's agricultural heritage. California Agricultural History (above, detail), by Gordon Langdon (1910-1963), shows farm workers milking cows by hand. A number of the other mural artists were used as models in this image. Lucien Labaudt cleans cows, Fred Olmsted and an assistant, Tom Hayes, give a cow a vaccination, and in a section in a window alcove, John Langley Howard looks at silage, holding a pitchfork. California, by Maxine Albro (1903-1966) is a panoramic view of the state's agriculture activities (below, detail). The mural labels point out that the laborers depicted are all of European descent, the artist having excluded the many Mexicans and Asians who already worked in California's agriculture industry. Crops shown include hay, flowers, oranges, apricots, almonds, and grapes, among others. There is a full winery depiction as well (not shown). This mural was created just after the repeal of Prohibition. It's easy to imagine the artist wishing to acknowledge the long history of winemaking in the state interrupted by passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

There are a number of interesting panels in the small elevator lobby as well. These appear to be oil paintings rather than frescoes. Artists include Olmsted, Oldfield, Rinaldo Cuneo (1877-1939), and José Moya del Piño (1891-1969). Cuneo's paintings show farmland in what is now the urban landscape of the East Bay. Oldfield's painting shows shipping on the Bay, with a view of Yerba Buena Island before the manmade Treasure Island was added or the Bay Bridge built. Moya del Piño's panel shows the Bay again and the waterfront. It's interesting for the two figures shown, a self-portrait and a portrait of Olmsted doing a sketch of the scene in front of the figures (below, detail).

These murals are as arresting as the beautiful, fanciful underwater murals from the same period (completed in 1939) by Hilaire Hiler (1898-1966) at the former oceanside bathhouse at the end of Polk St., now part of the San Francisco Maritime Museum—another government-sponsored, depression-era arts project. Both are well worth a visit. Note that parking is extremely limited at Coit Tower. It's probably best to go in the winter months and on a weekday, if possible. For information about visiting Coit Tower and docent-led tours, visit the official Coit Tower website.

For some perspective on federal spending on the arts during the depression and now, read this Hyperallergic article about a 2014 show of WPA and WPAP art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Rain: More Rain (December 9-13, 2015)

More rain overnight on the 10th and again on the 11th left 1.00 inches in the rain gauge this morning under clearing skies. That raises our total so far for the 2015-2016 rain year to 3.50 inches at my location in Santa Rosa, California. However, normal rainfall by this time of year is a little more than eight inches, so we are about five inches below normal at the moment. May the rain continue.

[Update: And so it has continued. Overnight on the 12th-13th, we got heavy rain, which added 0.80 inches of new precipitation to our total—which now stands at 4.3 inches. That's still well below normal, but it's an improvement.]

Books I'm Reading: Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir

It would be hard to argue that Leni Riefenstahl didn't live a full life. Reading her memoirs is exhausting. She goes full-tilt, without a break, from her earliest days to the last covered in her memoir (published originally in 1987 in German, when she was 85, in English in 1992; I read the Picador edition pictured). She was a dancer, actress, filmmaker, and photographer. In conjunction with these activities, she became a mountain climber, a propagandist, an African adventurer, and a scuba diver. Best known for her film Triumph of the Will, a documentary about the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nürnberg, and for the two-part film Olympia, a record of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, she will forever be associated with Hitler and The Third Reich--an association that overshadowed the rest of her life, and one she's at pains to play down in these pages.

The earliest sections of the book cover Riefenstahl's debut and rise as a dancer, her transition into acting, and from there into producing and directing films. Many of the pre-war films she starred in had heroic alpine settings that required arduous climbing and filming in perilous conditions, the best known of which was The Blue Light (1932). These early films gained her the reputation that drew interest from the Nazi Party, and Hitler in particular.

While admitting that Hitler was charismatic and that she was drawn to him, she claims she abhorred his racial ideas and that he shut down any conversation about them. She claims she was pressured into making the Nazi Party films—that she tried to avoid making both Triumph of the Will and the earlier Victory of the Faith (a documentary about the 1933 Nazi Party rally, also in Nürnberg, and a virtual template for the later party film). She says her film Day of Freedom: Our Army, about the Wehrmacht, was made solely to assuage the egos of the Wehrmacht leadership (she says scenes of the Wehrmacht's participation in the 1934 rally were shot during bad weather and she decided they weren't good enough to include in Triumph of the Will—and that that omission had ruffled feathers). She doesn't mention Berchtesgaden über Salzburg (1938), a film Susan Sontag ascribes to her and calls "a fifty-minute lyric portrait of the Führer against the rugged mountain scenery of his new retreat [in Berchtesgaden]" in a review in The New York Review of Books (see below)—although an exchange between David B. Hinton and Sontag regarding the above-mentioned review raises doubts about Riefenstahl's connection to that film; pinning down the facts about Riefenstahl is often challenging.

She comes across as either terribly naive or deeply disingenuous. She never confronts the issue of her complicity in the crimes of Nazi Germany. She wants us to believe she was working solely as an artist, objectively documenting the party rallies—but it's hard to believe it never occurred to her that she was also making propaganda. She was a perfectionist. She may have been incapable of doing anything but her best and it might be argued that it wasn't her fault that Hitler admired her work and saw her value. Yet, she could have left Germany if the highly nationalistic, anti-Semitic rhetoric of Hitler and his party truly disturbed her, and much evidence seems to suggest she was a willing participant. Nevertheless, she asks the reader to believe she simply was unable to resist the chance to work on a subject as dramatic as Hitler and the Nazi Party rallies and that she felt unable to refuse Hitler—not that she was a true believer.

Much of the immediate post-war period Riefenstahl spends in and out of detention by the allies, losing and attempting to regain possession of her belongings, including her films. In Riefenstahl's portrayal of things, bad luck meets her at every turn, she is dogged by lying detractors bent on keeping her from working, and it's one personal disaster after another. She is suing people for libel left and right. Some of the animosity directed at her does appear to have been simple spite, and criticism of Olympia solely as a propaganda film seems somewhat misplaced, but she never understands why so many continued to shun her; she always sounds strangely naive, self-absorbed, and intent on forgetting inconvenient parts of her past.

By the time she turns to Africa in the mid- to late 1950s, enough time has passed that she finds sufficient support to move forward with her artistic endeavors, nevertheless suffering setbacks all along the way—setbacks always cast as the result of her victimization by enemies. Eventually her attention turns specifically to the Nuba tribe, in remote areas of the Sudan. Getting to and from these rarely visited parts of Africa to film and photograph would sap the energy of most people half her age. She is nothing if not energetic, persistent, and—despite bouts of depression and physical illness exacerbated by her financial and artistic setbacks—optimistic. It's extraordinary that she succeeded in getting several books of photography about the Nuba produced in her 70s and 80s. At the age of 74, she takes up scuba diving, and, in addition to photographing the Nuba, she begins to learn underwater photography.

The end of the book is anticlimactic. As Riefenstahl brings her story to a close, the reader is left still hoping for some reflection on the meaning of her work during the Nazi era, some admission that—even if truly unintentionally—her work served Hitler's cause, but that reflection never comes. Susan Sontag, in a review of one of the Nuba books in the New York Review of Books entitled Fascinating Fascism (February 6, 1975), offers a very different view of the meaning of Riefenstahl's life work from the one Riefenstahl herself offers, arguing for the presence of a consistent vein of fascist aesthetics running from her earliest film work through the Nazi-era films and into the African photography. It's worth reading both views. Riefenstahl died in 2003, at the age of 101. Thus, her memoir deals with her first 85 years. The book is an interesting read despite the hard-to-avoid feeling that Riefenstahl's story is told in the voice of an unreliable narrator. I wonder if there is an informed, truly objective biography available?

[Update: Perhaps Steven Bach's The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl is that book? A review of Bach's biography in The Guardian.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Art I'm Making: New Collage

My latest collage work: Untitled Collage No. 120 (Santa Rosa). I completed this on November 11, 2015. Acrylic monoprint collage. Image size 18.4 x 21.6cm. Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right, or visit my collage website at:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Flowers Saloon, Healdsburg

Until recently, I'm sure this place had another name, but it seems to be called "The Flowers Saloon" now. In front of the entrance is this lighted cocktail glass sign. Not neon, but the effect is similar. This one is flanked by eating utensils, indicating there is food here, not just drink. For more examples, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab to the right at the top of the page.
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