Sunday, October 7, 2007

Northern Californian reverence for nature

In pursuing my seemingly unrelated interests in the land of Northern California, printing and Native stories, I've stumbled again and again on some names that have become familiar. There is a whole scene of people who have unified these interests into a proper aesthetic, including some very prominent artists and craftspeople. The majority of this work is well before my time, to the point where I wonder if my interest is anachronous. I hear little of it from my peers.

What it comes down to is this: there is a timbre to the style of nature reverence unique to the Bay Area. As hard to find as it is even in Berkeley, I think it is something more than nostalgia, I think it is alive. It is in the architectural history of Berkeley, it underlies the arts and crafts movement that still finds a home there. It is in and of the hands of Hearst, Muir, Maybeck, Julia Morgan, Olmstead, even Emmanuel Swedenbourg. Alfred Kroeber and his student William Shipley (and many many others who I don't know about) did much of the field work that has allowed others to find a place for California Native values in Bay area culture.

If this is stuff you are interested in, it hasn't stopped with them. There are people younger than those above but one to three generations older than me active in making a place for these values. Malcolm Margolin, David Lance Goines, and Peter Koch are three of the most prominent names in Berkeley's very active independant publishing and printing industry, and they have all done important work to keep a place for this aesthetic in the local culture. Poet Gary Snyder is a major player, not least in making people buy small-run art books about California by writing introductions to them. Alfred Kroeber's daughter, author Ursula K Le Guin (who grew up playing with Ishi!) wrote the most beautiful book I've encountered in years, the most whole integration of everything that captures my imagination about these themes; "Always Coming Home". Judging by how much of her writing is small-run, I feel comfortable classifying her as important to the vision. I don't know why it works out that way, but short-run 'art' books and local print are fundamental to the vision.

From the bottom up (people I personally know, who know more than me about all this), there is my ex-girlfriend Katie Sinnott and Rafael Jesus Gonzalez.

I feel like Berkeley's Bancroft library is your one stop shop for small books that develop this aesthetic and for resources on the history of Northern Calfornia and the Bay Area. Good luck getting in. Berkeley's Phoebe Heart Museum of Anthropology keeps coming up too. It is has the source materials that inspire (if not underwrite) the material in the Bancroft collection that has me so excited.

I don't have a name for this aesthetic and it isn't as much a part of me as I would have it be. But with luck it will continue to haunt me no matter how far out of California and into computer science I stray. I hope for the priviledge to find people whose imaginations it ignites, and to have excuses to share, no matter how far I end up from California. And I hope the above very simple and naive characterization of the people behind this aesthetic is useful to whoever is looking to explore it, evolve it, and carry it on in their interactions with life.

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