the Estuary

It has been 0ver 10 years since my passion for sea-kayaking gave way to my passion for sailing and maintaining a folkboat, then the ownership and remodeling of a 1897 Victorian in West Oakland and most recently, to surfing. But all are connected with cultural histories and rich traditions of craftsmanship and of course, the ocean (which will most likely come through my Victorian home sometime soon as it is just 8′ above high water mark!). So I thought it was about time to get back into a kayak and get into the Bay – thanks to the crew at California Canoe and Kayak –  a Jack London instistution!

Head West!

Head West!

Oakland has such a great industrial port. There are huge chunks of steel in crazy colors from all over the world  temporarily passing through Oakland. You have to keep your eyes open as some of them do u-turns  the middle of the Estuary, heaved about by giant tugs, whose backwash is enough to make your sit up and notice.

The ships are astounding – the scale, the vibrant colors, the textures revealing the structures beneath, the markings which are a mix of signage and the patina, and the various pieces of equipment, portholes, and apertures seeping strange stains!  Delicious! And then there is all the human history and thinking about exploration movement, transport, the size of the world, sustainability.

And on top of all that its sunny out and the seals seem friendly!

Some images from the waterline!

Red Hull

Red Hull

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

Dry dock

Dry dock

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra

CGM Libra

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

And the dock works and shoreline flotsam and jetsam can be engaging too.

Dry dock

Dry dock

Tug snout

Tug snout



What’s not to like?

“Concrete and rubber and steel, Oh my!”

The bridge after the fire

After spending time at Tassajara again last weekend I read the dramatic account of how five monks stayed behind after the main evacuation and risked their lives to save the building at Tassajara. You can read the blow by blow account and see the dramatic images of the fire racing down into the deep Tassajara valley along 5 separate fronts here.

Here is an image of the bridge taken by Mako immediately after the fire passed through.

I don’t know how it survived!

Smoke lingering in the air

The Tassajara Bridge

The Easter weekend was a time of resurrection for me personally. The Tassajara Bridge was rebuilt by an extraordinary team of friends – faculty and alumni from CCA. Following fires and floods the bridge is now standing astride the Tassajara River again marking the transition from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center to the Ventana Wilderness.

The bridge was designed by Richard LaTrobe Bateman when he was the Wornick Distinguished Visiting Wood Artist at CCA in 2005. I made a small catalog of the whole design, construction and then building of the bridge on site in 2005-6 which you can get here. This little book proved an invaluable guide to putting the Bridge back up again; as I was the only original crew member on site for the second coming of the Bridge and much water has passed under the metaphorical bridge since then.

2008 Basin Complex Wildfire from space

Russ Baldon and I took down the bridge in 2008 following  the 2008 Basin Complex Wildfire (the third largest in Californian history). Thankfully a few hardy souls stayed on at Tassajara when the valley was evacuated to fight the fire. The bridge was outside of the zone protected by hoses and sprinklers but the crew there were mindful of it and thankfully it wasn’t damaged. Here’s a photo of the bridge immediately after the fire – photo by Judith Keenan.

Now that the valley has greened up again and the threat of major silt flows and flooding has passed I was asked to collect a team to restore and rebuild the bridge. I am always delighted to spend time at Tassajara and this time I was able to introduce 4 friends to this extraordinary community.

The Bridge Crew!

Shawn Hibma-Cronan - unbridled enthusiast

John Randolph - balletic yet powerful

Lawrence LaBianca - master of the redundant system

Moi - corporate memory

Russ Baldon - chief gabion engineer

Adrien Segal - the yellow-legged, blue billed, Tassajara segal.

Barbara Holmes - the barefoot Diva

Barbara Holmes - the barefoot Diva

and many visitors over the four days...

First we had to clear the site of all the new riverine regrowth.

The site awaiting the bridge.

Including our old friend and constant companion – Poison Oak.

Nice and red and juicy!

Next we had to make sure we still  had all the bits.

Everything present and accounted for!

One team built a trestle to support the major beams mid-stream.

A worshipful thing!

The trestle in place, braced nicely against the far bank

A second team made needed repairs to the main beams with new material provided by Paul Discoe (who donated all of the original material for the bridge – Thanks Paul!!)

The scarf!

Many hands make light work.

Hi hooo!! Hi hooo!!!!

Lawrence busting a move, as we prepare to hoist the first beam into place.

Joining the three beams.

Once all three beams were atop the trestle we could join them together, attach the rigging and cross beams and raise the bridge with a chain hoist – I wish it had all gone as smoothly and quickly as this short little sentence! After a full day and a bit and a few setbacks we raised the bridge as the day faded to evening.

Thankfully at the end of every day we could look forward to delicious vegetarian meals and the best hot springs in California – to show us where our scratches were, to put the fear of poison oak contamination on us (it’s tricky finding the technu in the dark) and to soak out the stresses in our muscles.

The first portion is to end all evil...

Enjoying good food and good company.

By the fourth day we were ready for the footways.

More Hi Hooo!

Footway #1 in place.

Footway #2

Footway #3 lowered into place!

Then its was just tweaking turnbuckles, fitting handrails and cleaning up.

The rain started in earnest just at that moment – perfectly timed.


Mako, the Director of Tassajara, seemed pleased with the outcome.

And we were high as kites!

Barrows stacked under the eaves of the Zendo to keep dry

Rain dripping off the Zendo eaves being lapped up by the irises

"Cloud hidden ... whereabouts unknown"

Its always hard to leave.

Thank you Tasajara.

Thank you Bridge Crew!!

Bulb updates

I haven’t posted anything new from the Albany Bulb in a long time. Its been a welcome escape from my teaching, traveling and studio work over the winter months. Nico and I head down there whenever we need to blow out the cobwebs. It’s always a treat. Always changing. Its one of the best art experiences to be had in Bayarea!

The winter light is stunning as the sun sets behind Mt. Tamalpais!

Nico enjoys the grasses and I love the Australian wattle flowers - very nostalgic!

The painted ladies are all dolled up for Easter.

Everyone gathers for the sunset,

Even the wise dude seems content!

Though there is always a dissenting voice!

The sunset turns everything electric,

And really sets off the westernmost wall,

Which changes with every visit.

There are some good new characters out there,



And some familiar faces


Some sweet juxtapositions,

And some incipient invasions.

Nico and I had a close look at this totem for the first time today.

Dolphin and dog!

'Nuff said!

FOR-SITE Foundation

I’m working at the FOR-SITE Foundation up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada just outside of Nevada City with a group of graduate students from CCA this weekend as part of a studio entitled NorCal Musings which has its own blog. I’ve been coming up here on my own, with Sandra and with students for 5 years now and every time I come here I find fresh inspiration.

Its raining here today, in a sweet soft NorCal way.

The view over the South Fork of the Yuba River to the Coastal Range beyond.

And so I’m in the ‘barn’ working through images I took yesterday down at the Yuba River. I’m making a set of digital prints of water and another set of stereoscopic images of the local environment as my contribution to the NorCal studio – and of course doing a bit of whittling by the fire when I can.

Here’s a taste the textures of the Yuba.

Polished granite boulders stacked

Stacks of 'natural whittling'

One of the water images I've been working on.

Focussing on a detail and then fiddling with illustrator.

I’ll post more of these images when I have them better resolved.

Walking back up from the river through the the manzanitas.

Reminds me that its time to get off the computer and do some whittling.

Bob Darr and the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding

The CCA Furniture program faculty went on a research trip last week to the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding in Sausalito. Bob Darr the master boatbuilder and heart of Arques spent an afternoon showing us around the beautiful boat works loaded with delicious eye candy. I’ve been in hundreds of workshops, studios, boatyards, lumberyards and junkyards in my life – but none as sweet as Arques.

There were boats in various states of construction on blocks, hanging from the high ceiling, outside in the yard and Bob introduced us to some sweet ladies out in the water waiting for a turn on the Bay.

Boats galore

Sweet lines in Pepperwood

Not a straight line on her!

Lawrence couldn't get the smile off his face!!

Bob showed us all stages of the process from drawing out boat lines by hand – no 3-D rendering programs here!

Ducks lined up in a row!
These are used to hold thin battens in place when drawing curved lines in lofting plans.

Through model making and a nice little rowing dory under construction by students.

Model under construction using identical tools and methods as the finished boat - except for those teeny weeny little hammers!

From model to full size!

And of course the real test!!

Down on the water we could see some of the other wonderful craft that Bob has built and overseen.

A gill-netter once used for salmon fishing up the Sacramento River delta.

A sweet 16' sailing dinghy, built from 'scrap'.
I'm wondering if I can get in, cast off and sail away before anyone notices.

Arques has been restoring the Freda for many years. A major project to breath life back in to the oldest active sailing yacht on the West Coast. Built in 1885.

Freda's shapely stern

Thanks Bob, for such a rich encounter!

Bob Darr, master boatbuilder.
In his element.

NorCal Musings

I’ve been working with a great group of graduate students at CCA this Spring in a Studio Research Lab entitled NorCal Musings. We’ve been spending time at the ForSite Foundation near Nevada City in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and at the Headlands Center for the Arts in the Marin Headlands. You can follow along on our explorations and see the works we are making in process at the new blog we’re creating.

NorCal Musings

Subscribe there if you want to be notified of updates!

The Giant Camera

My colleague Peter L’Abbe has been researching Camera Obsucra recently and inspired me to visit the Giant Camera last time I was down at Ocean Beach! It had been years since I was last inside it and it was even cooler than I remember.

The Giant Camera perched on the cliffs at the northern end of Ocean Beach

It’s the last remnant of the various amazing entertainments that were found at this end of the beach back in the day. The Sutro Baths (burned down in 1966) and Playland (closed after a series of unsolved macabre murders – just kidding) were the big pieces in this now long gone picture.

Sutro Baths

Now the only amusement left is the Giant Camera. Standing alone on the cliff edge it has a bittersweet nostalgia about it. As if it too is waiting patiently for the end to come – watching the sun set on a bygone era – sniff, sniff.

Giant Camera and Seal Rocks

Roll up! Roll up!

Lots of helpful signage. from antiquity...

You pay your $3 and go in through the narrow squeaky doors to the darkened room. Eventually the MC comes in from the ticket booth, opens the all-seeing oculus and the world outside is magically projected on to the 5′ diameter dish in the center of the room.

The deep dish diorama

Its remarkably bright and the detail is incredible. As the upper tower rotates the full 360° panorama unrolls across the screen. You have to walk around with it otherwise the world starts to slip and slide.

Its a great experience! The curvature of the screen, the rotation, the constant sliding of the image, the incredible clarity. I want one in my house!

It looks like we are about to slide off the end of the world.

Day 25 – the Rodeo Project

Despite the fact that I have only a few days left here – boo hoo – I’m starting some new projects. I might not have time to resolve them fully, but it’s exciting to see new directions opening up.

Though the ‘Rodeo Project’ (working title) isn’t entirely a new direction. It harks back to my first Australian residency in Hobart where I made Correspondence, which turned out to be the first in the Genius Loci series of works which aWay station is definitely part of.

I’ve been collecting stones along Rodeo Beach. I tried to resist but it’s impossible!

These stones with quartz veins through them drew my attention. The strong contrast between the quartz and its matrix conjures thoughts of larger landscapes or the foam of the nearby surf. I enjoy this fractal quality – the tiny reflects and embodies the huge and vice versa.

All of the work I’ve been making in the aWay station has been using scale and medium translations often mediated through at least one digital technology. When I’m not building furniture, whittling or cutting out and lashing skin forms, I’m on my trusty laptop fiddling about with video, imagery, or 3-D models (and blogging of course). The digital seems to be where the forms, images and concepts are abstracted. The output might be purely digital or result in a second (or third) round of hand-work. I’ve become interested in the ‘artifact’ – both the tool and the coincidental characteristics that adhere to a certain technology – the facets left by a knife on a whittled form, the curlycue patterns and abstracted color choices resulting from live trace, the strange natural/technological double vision provided by zipties.

Rodeo Beach selection

A collection of pebbles from Rodeo beach has been arrayed on the trestles for a few days. I was thinking about transposing them by hand with pen and ink illustrations that I would then modify digitally in some way. But I started fiddling with ‘live trace’ in Illustrator, which I experimented with during my residency at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center a few years ago. I want the final images to conjure contour maps, and some of the extraordinary close up images we have recently seen of asteroids. And for them to have that fractal quality adhere to them so that they reflect themselves at all scales.

I’ve started working with these two stones. Which I’m calling Rodeo alpha and Rodeo bravo – in honor of the former uses of Fort Cronkhite.

Rodeo alpha and Rodeo bravo

Here is just a sneak peak of the fine detail of some of the in-process images from Rodeo bravo.

Flows, within flows, within flows…

You will have to come out to the Headlands this coming Sunday at 1pm to see the completed prints and to enjoy the other works in the aWay station.

Day 24 – Out and about

Despite the inherent attractions of the aWay station, I’m trying to spend as much of the precious few days remaining of my residency exploring.

I snuck down to Rodeo Beach and surfed the point at Fort Cronkhite on my inflatable airmat this morning. What a hoot! My sinuses are much clearer now.

On Saturday, I wandered the bunkers above the beach with my darling wife Sandra Kelch and two old friends Mary Little and Peter Wheeler (of bius fame). Sandra took some very cool images of the patina and graffiti on the steel shutters and doors of the bunkers.

Day 10 – Bunker Archaeology

The Headlands is truly a remarkable place. On one of my exploratory meanderings last week I found myself up on the headlands above Fort Barry exploring the abandoned bunkers and gun emplacements. It’s amazing how much energy (and $’s) went into (and, of course, still goes into) defending the US from threats and attacks that never materialize. I am grateful that so much of the Bayarea that was dedicated to military purposes was never bought into action and was kept (or un-kept) in a more or less ‘natural’ state. So now that the military has finally abandoned their previous outposts, we can have some amazing parks and refuges that otherwise would have been turned into suburbia. And we have the picturesque, patinaed, remnants of the military establishment perched overlooking the peaceful Pacific.The aWay station is of course located in the former military barracks of Fort Barry. But all along the coast is a series of gun emplacements, observation posts, bunkers and barracks that were built from the Civil War onwards. Mostly the emplacements were rendered redundant before they were even completed and none were ever actually used in direct defense of the coast. During WW2 there were some massive 16″ guns installed – weighing 1,000,000 lbs each, capable of launching a 2,100 lb shell accurately to 27miles offshore. They were cut up for scrap in 1948, without ever being fired.

It’s haunting and provocative to wander the abandoned emplacements now.

Look out!

Knock! Knock!

Gun emplacement

Seeing the almost archaeological remnants reminded me of a book I read years ago – Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology.

Virilio explored, documented and theorized about the German built emplacements along the Atlantic Coast – the Atlantikwall.

Virilio comments – “The immensity of this project is what defies common sense; total war was here revealed in its mythic dimension”

And asked – “Why this analogy between the funeral archetype and military architecture? Why this insane situation looking out over the ocean? This waiting before the infinite oceanic expanse? Until this era, fortifications had always been oriented towards a specific staked-out objective: the defense of a passageway, a pass, steps, valleys or ports. Whereas here, walking daily along kilometer after kilometer of beach, I would happen upon these concrete markers at the summit of dunes, cliffs, across beaches, open, transparent, with the sky playing between the embrasure and the entrance, as if each casemate were an empty ark or a little temple minus the cult.”

And later still – ” These concrete blocks were in fact the final throw-offs of the history of frontiers, from Roman limes  to the Great Wall of China; the bunkers, as ultimate military surface architecture, had shipwrecked at lands’ limits, at the precise moment of the sky’s arrival in war; they marked off the horizontal littoral, the continental limit. History had changed course one final time before jumping off into the immensity of aerial space.”

Here are some of Virilio’s images –

Channel Island observation post

Observation post revealed by the erosion of the dunes

'Barbara' firing control tower in the Landes

West Oakland Soul Food Cook Book

My friend and neighbor Katy Polony discovered this awesome mid 60’s community cookbook from here in West Oakland and kindly agreed to let me scan and distribute it.

Don’t miss the home remedies on the final two pages!

To read or print, click on the following link! It might take a little while as it is fairly hi-res.

West Oakland Soul Food Cook Book