The Addendum

Book Launch Tour for Railway Palaces of Portland, Oregon

City Auditor - Archives & Records Management - Auditor s Historical Records - A2004-002.648   a coaching party at the Portland Hotel

It’s celebration time!

It’s been a few months since the release of The Railway Palaces of Portland, Oregon: The Architectural Legacy of Henry Villard. Because things have been busy, I’ve had little time to mark the occasion. At the end of this month, I’m correcting that, with a (slightly belated) book launch day!

Join me on Thursday, March 30th, for one of two events.

> First, at 2:30 pm, I’ll be hosting a walking tour of Henry Villard’s architectural legacy. This two-hour tour will take us from the city’s waterfront past Villard’s two station projects, then wind up at the site of Portland House, the hotel designed for Villard by McKim, Mead, & White. Along the way, I’ll explain how Villard’s many projects have profoundly reshaped the city of Portland. Tickets are $12, but the tour has limited capacity, so reserve your tickets soon!

> Second, at 6:30 pm, I’ll be giving a short talk and doing book signings at the Architectural Heritage Center. Seating is limited and first-come-first served. Please RSVP to reserve your seat to Val Ballestrem, AHC Education Manager, at

If you’d like to make one or both events, please, register early! If you can’t make either event, I’ll be having a few more talks and signings later in the Spring, so stay tuned.

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I have an ambivalent relationship with dawn. For most of my life, I have avoided it, I have been one who smacks the alarm clock and sleeps in. Partly I justified that by my work habits, for I often found that my most productive time of the day began around 4 pm, and so I would stay up well past midnight, stretching that part of my day until my eyes could no longer stand it. To see dawn, then, was to have gone to bed earlier, was to have cut short my writing time, was to have got less done.

Was, was, was.

In the last several years, I have increasingly become a morning person. I have found, for example, that I very much enjoy waking up and knowing that I still have several hours before I have to be anywhere, or do anything, that the morning can be a quiet space of my own time with no demands upon me. I have found, also, that I can read far more and far faster immediately after I wake up, so that a paper that would take an hour to read at 4 pm would be only ten or twenty minutes at 8 am. Even my writing is better, for in that liminal space just before full alertness, ideas float freely in my mind.

But these are all simple practicalities. They are almost rationalizations of my mornings. I’m suspicious of rationalizations in general, from anyone, and especially from myself. There’s something more at stake than the practical, for at heart human beings are not practical creatures. We are impetuous, instinctual, emotional, and contradictory at heart. Practicality? It is like rationality and reason: in the little things we exude it, but in the deeper motivations of our lives, we make of it an indifferent guide.

To sleep in is a luxury of childhood. It is the act of someone who sees the future as vast, so that the idea of rolling back over and sleeping a little more does not seem like a wasteful act. Somewhere along the way, between childhood and now, I have lost that ability. I can no longer look forward to life and see a great unpainted sheet of paper. I’m in the thick of it. My hands are covered in paint.

Dawn. Watercolor on birch plywood board, approximately 6 in x 6 in, 2016

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Alcatraz Avenue and Racine Street

The days and nights have been beautiful of late. We are in transition—all of us, now more so than ever—and what comes next is anyone’s guess. Yet let me repeat this—each morning has been beautiful. Wednesday? A day of purple-haze mountains, deep azure sky, with crisp air and warm sun, as if someone somewhere had flipped the switch marked “Autumn” and there we all were. Thursday was as grand, and Friday started with a gray that was not cold, perhaps in part because of the reddening leaves on the trees across the street from my apartment. These are days made for walking, for parks, for respite. I know it is just my imagination, but I swear that sometimes I can smell burning leaves, woodsmoke, and the sweetness of windfall on the ground, rotting gorgeously in the late season sun.

At night, when I go out, I tend to head eastward, because that is where the nearest stores, restaurants, and coffee shops are. I rarely go west of my apartment, because west of me is that lost portion of Shattuck that hasn’t really been anything since probably the 1920s. It is, however, where my nearest laundry is, and so errands took me there Saturday night. The walk there was in gold, but for the walk back, the sun was gone. Instead, I was greeted by what the French call the “blue hour,” highlighted all the more by a moon nearly full. Below it, in the distance, were the hills of Berkeley and Claremont and Oakland. Although the lights of the houses on those hills glowed, they could not compete with the moon, and the deep inky blue of the night.

Such scenes are in my blood. I grew up in a house that faced east, faced towards a range of low hills that served as the horizon of my life, a foil for the reflection of the setting sun as well as an entrance point for the moon and the sun.

I would like to take comfort in that, comfort in some cliche of the lunar and solar cycles continuing despite what we below do. Yet it is more urgency, not comfort, that I feel. Given my age, my statistical life expectancy, and the average of a full moon every 29.53 days, I will see this sight only 509 more times. (By contrast, according to iTunes I have already listened to Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s Blue In Green 734 times.)

509 more full moons. Give or take. On average. And I want to savor every one of them.

Alcatraz Avenue and Racine Street, Watercolor and gouache on birch plywood panel, 6 in x 8 in, 2016

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Driving through the vast spaces of the American West is sometimes like taking part in a road film. Yes, the horizons are wide, but they also obscure—even if only by the curvature of the Earth. What we see is constantly changing, unfolding, as ridge after ridge pass away, revealing in sequence ever more distant ridges, ever more distant peaks.

The lesson came home most on my first visit to Nevada several years ago. Sure, I knew from looking at maps and aerial photographs that Nevada was not flat, but having never been there I had anticipated it to be merely a rough high desert on the other side of the Sierra. Yet in person, I found the state to be series after series of mountain ranges, some just as high and just as dramatic as anything in the Cascades, Rockies, or Sierra, yet relatively unknown to the outside world. Pilot Butte, for example, stands more than 11,000 feet high—nearly as high as Oregon’s tallest, Mount Hood—and yet it is relatively obscure outside of the state. The West, then, is so large, and the ridgelines so vast, that it’s possible for entire monolithic peaks to be hidden from view.

But this work didn’t begin there. When I first set out to make Anticipation I had several experimental ideas in mind. First, I wanted to make something with more physical presence than my previous paintings. To have any piece of art evoke the idea of “love” is a near impossibility—such directness may in fact be part of the drive to make art at all—but if there was a way, size and physicality would be key. I was thinking a lot about icons, altarpieces, shamanistic objects, and other quasi-religious items, and how physical they all are. So for this week, I handled a lot of smallish wooden art panels at an art store, trying to find one that had the right feel. This was the largest of the three I picked out, and I ran with it because I wanted to try another landscape.

Second, I wanted to try a different color, in this case cobalt violet, first synthesized in 1859. I set out to find it without even knowing what it was, only liking the name and the date (for me, a sly reference to the year of statehood for Oregon). I wanted to use the piece as an opportunity to think about the mid 19th century as well as where I am from.

Lastly, I wanted to use the materials to guide the image. With watercolor on paper, this mostly comes from the way that washes are used, and playing with how the water interacts, but the paper itself contributes relatively little because it is so consistent, even when rough textured. The wood panel, however, would offer the grain at least, and possibly a unique way of carrying the water. as it turned out, this was true, but limiting—the grain provided opportunities, but it also prevented washes from spreading very far, and limited many of the techniques that I had developed over the past year. (I don’t think that “printer’s tears” are possible on this grained surface.)

All this is very technical, isn’t it? All of this is very cerebral—not particularly romantic or emotional. Yet the intense color, the way that it is so thinned through wear (helped out by a sanding block) speaks of handling, touching, intimacy. Is it love? Ambiguous. But as the mountains peak over the ridges—as the image is both barely clinging to the wood, and yet inscribed in a color halfway between the blue in the artery and the red spilt on the ground—there’s something of a promise.

Anticipation. Watercolor on birch plywood, 6 in x 12 in, 2016

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Golden Gate in Red

It’s an apartment living problem—or perhaps more specifically an urban problem. To live in a building such as mine—built around 1915, three stories, 14 units—in a neighborhood filled with such buildings, is to live in a dense “community.” If my apartment structure is on a lot ¼ of an acre in size, then that means the equivalent zoning representing this density is R56—a very high density indeed, very urban.

Numbers, however, explain relatively little. Density—so vaunted by urban planners as a solution to so many problems—does not in fact produce “community” at all. Of the inhabitants of the other 13 units in my building, I know none of them. Oh, sure, sometimes I catch sight of someone in a window in the hallway’s interior light well—a woman one floor down who works on a laptop at a kitchen table, covered in yellow check oilcloth, another woman straight across from my unit who is cooking something. Sometimes, when I am coming home at night, I can see from Telegraph Avenue below some snippets of my neighbor’s lives—a television screen blasting blue a ceiling; a spice rack through a kitchen window; a set of festive holiday lights set up far in advance of any commonly observed day. For the most part, though, we are strangers to each other.

Now multiply that by the two-story building next door, or the sprawling Art Deco apartment behind me, or the odd, ham-fisted Spanish Colonial multi-units down Alcatraz Avenue, and the story becomes exponentially grown. Recently, in a class I am taking, the subject of where we live came up, and it turned out that one of my fellow students lived on Alcatraz, too, just a few buildings away—and yet I cannot ever recall having seen them, and I still have not encountered them on the street.

This is, of course, one of the benefits of urban living. For almost as long as there have been cities, there have been people who sought them out not because they offered more opportunities for interaction, but because they wished to escape the surveillance that comes from small town and rural life. Not knowing my neighbors means my neighbors not knowing me, means not having to explain or be consciously evaluated, means that home becomes a haven from the very sort of things that traditional homes, being bastions of family, are laden with—the expectations, the potential for disappointments, the possibility of guilt. While such pitfalls have been rare in my family—I am more fortunate than most in this, I suspect—the specter of such minor disasters is stubbornly present in my mind. Perhaps it is something deeply evolutionary, a kind of holdover fight-or-flight mentality once useful to organizing society? Certainly logic cannot defeat it, yet space seems to at least push this mental monster from immediacy.

In a strange way, then, we urban apartment dwellers do become a community, but a community that is defined more by a shared experience than by interaction. Put another way, we commune alone together. When the evening is near, and I look out my side window across the built landscape and out to the Golden Gate, I sometimes catch a solitary window lit at the back of some other house, some other apartment building, and I wonder who is there, and what they are thinking, and what they are like. I recall a story from E.B. White’s Here is New York, in which he recounts how many different people and different events had occurred within just a few blocks of radius from where he was sitting on Manhattan; perhaps such stories would not be as glamorous in a similar radius around this, the border of Oakland and Berkeley, but still I often wonder what they would be.

Golden Gate in Red. Watercolor and gouache on paper, 12 x 16 in, 2016

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Field in Winter

Field in Winter. Watercolor and Gouache on Paper, 18.5 in x 30 in, 2016.

“The first event leads you to notice further events which may be consequences of the first, or which may be entirely unconnected with it except that they take place in the same field.”(1)

And I ask—who is this guy?

The Ocean, lately, seems to haunt me. I was never one for beaches. Until I was an adult, they seldom were a part of my life, and by the time that they came within easy reach, I was past the age of acting exuberant without self-consciousness. And besides, the beaches of my world are not places for laying in the sun or for frolicking—unless you are a dog, anyway. The coast of the Northwest is not warm even when it is sunny. It is a place of wet suits, pea coats, of sand in your gray woolen socks. Yet the presence of the ocean—of the Pacific Ocean—is a salve, even if it is only because I can look out over the hills and know it is out there, its magnificence over the next rise, or the rise after that. That invisible but visible sea compensates, somehow, for the Hokusai-like tsunami of books that have thrown themselves up against the walls of my apartment, ever more menacingly.

Funny, though, that every painting I have made so far this semester is a landscape in my mind, and not a seascape.

But Berger is talking about fields—unbounded, “continental” fields that offer “defined edges, an accessible distance… an attendant openness to events, with a maximum possibility for entrances and exits.” (2)

Again, who is this man? And how did he get in my head? There’s not room for more than two in there without it creating a right mess.

* * *

If education is about credentialing, about the gameification of leveling up, or about training for the specialization of a narrow discipline, then I’ve done it all backwards. I’ve been mesmerized by the dog, the butterfly, the horses, the woodpecker. I’ve chased them, too, following pools of sunlight through the field rather than cutting straight across it, touching upon the common-law path only now and then. My choices do not fit easily in that self-directed “narrative” that I am “continually retelling and developing….” (3)

You relate the events which you have seen and are still seeing to the field. It is not only that the field frames them, it also contains them. The existence of the field is the pre-condition for their occurring in the way that they have done and for the way in which others are still occurring. All events exist as definable events by virtue of their relation to other events. You have defined the events you have seen primarily (but not necessarily exclusively) by relating them to the event of the field, which at the same time is literally and symbolically the ground of the events which are taking place within it. (4)

Who is this man?

And I recall Joan Didion writing of Sacramento. It was an earlier effort, something from the mid 1960s: “Notes from a Native Daughter.” And I recall, too, using it as a way of teaching students about that great river town. At least twice in the essay, without preamble or warning, Didion stopped and set, in italics, a block quote:

Q. In what way does the Holy Land resemble the Sacramento Valley?
A. In the type and diversity of its agricultural products.

My students never “got” why she repeated this catechism.

* * *

Opening up the blessed Oxford English Dictionary online, I find the following:

discipline, n.
II. Senses relating to training, instruction, or method.
4. a. Instruction or teaching intended to mould the mind and character and instill a sense of proper, orderly conduct and action; training to behave or act in a controlled and effective manner; mental, intellectual, moral, or spiritual training or exercise. Also applied to the effect of an experience or undertaking (as, study, adversity, etc.) considered as imparting such training. (7)


field, n.1
II. An area of operation or observation.
12. a. An area or sphere of action, enquiry, or interest; a (wider or narrower) range of opportunities, or of objects, for activity or consideration; a theme, a subject. Freq. with of. (6)

A wider or narrower range of opportunities. A catechism.

* * *

John Berger—who is this man?—had an ideal field in mind, and set out to delineate it. He prescribed grass—a field is wild after all—and a slightly sloped position on a hill. This field would not be “hedged in” on all sides, for entry and escape are always possible.

Berger was talking metaphorically of course, yet there’s also a phenomenological aspect to “Field,” his 1971 essay. The symbolic and the real are collapsed, telescoped into each other—after all, his book it titled “About Looking”—surely a play on the idiom “looking about.” Just as events make sense only in the context of other events (and the “event of the field,”) so too the conceptual is intertwined with the tactile, with the field “seen” best by the braille of walking through it and touching the tops of the grass.

Yet Berger also offers one proscription on the ideal field. “Not a field in winter,” he cautioned. “Winter is a season of inaction when the range of what is likely to happen is reduced.”(8)

But in the Phoebe Hearst Anthropology Museum stand two carved wooden statues that testify against this. Hewn from great cedar logs, these are ceremonial sculptures, meant to adorn the interior of a great chieftain’s house among a British Columbia native tribe. Their journey to Berkeley is long and convoluted, but one of the things that is most compelling about these statues is that they, being made from wood, have never died. Sure they were severed from their roots long ago, cut out of the forest to be converted into these great looming figures, but even such displaced wood continues to breathe, to shrink and expand with the weather, to age. They show a great deal of the latter. The paint that human hands once consecrated against their carved features is now but a whisper—and a subject of great speculation and investigation by art conservators.

Each figure featured heavy painted eyebrows; those on the female figure were noticeably rounder. Beneath each eyebrow, the carved socket was decorated with stippling in red pigment. The black outline of each eyelid framed a circular white iris, and black ovoid pupils were set within. On either side of the pupil, the eyes were filled in with red. (9)

Red—black and white and red, but with red the most dominant color, not because it was used the most, but because “although red is the first colour to be suppressed or ‘turned off’ as light levels fall, by virtue of the optical qualities of local illuminants it is also the easiest to activate or ‘turn on’.” (10)

The people who made these sculptures have a bone to pick with John Berger. These sculptures were made for the winter, and their winter was “conceptualized as a sacred time associated with the supernatural and its reenactment in song and performance.”(11) Summer fields like those Berger considered ideal are the place and time for gathering food, for work, for toil, for matters that while important are also earthly. It is in winter—with the seed heads of the grasses turned to bitter red, the hills to black, the sky white—when the known and unknown spirits took to the field. “The range of what is likely to happen”(12) does not decline in winter. The stretched shadows, the earlier twilight, and the longer nights are nothing if not opportunities for magical change.

* * *


1.  John Berger, “Field,” About Looking, 1980 edition, 196-197.
2. Ibid., 195.
3. Ibid., 197.
4. Ibid.
5. Joan Didion, “Notes from a Native Daughter,” Slouching Towards Bethlehem. (Originally published 1965 in Holiday.)
6. “field, n.1″. OED Online. September 2016. Oxford University Press. (accessed October 21, 2016).
7. “discipline, n.”. OED Online. September 2016. Oxford University Press. (accessed October 21, 2016).
8. Berger, 194.
9. Jason Underhill, “Forensic visualization of two Kwakwaka’wakwḱiḱw,” World Art 6, 2, 298.
10. Ibid., 307.
11. Ibid., 303.
12. Berger, 194.
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Seeing the real thing

Sometimes you just have to see the real thing.

Recently, I visited the conservation labs at the Legion of Honor, also known as the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The first thing to greet me, once I got through the doors, was a watercolor of a placid lake surrounded by dark, moody hills, and above which was a gray and red sky. Red. Not pink, but red—a kind of boldness I wouldn’t normally associate with this medium. And even from forty feet away, even without being certain that I’d ever seen this particular painting before, I blurted out, “that’s a Winslow Homer.”

Below is the painting in question; it’s called Sunrise, Fishing in the Adirondacks, and dates to 1892:

Winslow Homer, Sunrise, Fishing in the Adirondacks
Approximately 13.5 x 20.5625 inches)
Watercolor on paper, 1892.
Photo: FAMSF

I know Homer’s work and admire it, but I haven’t felt tremendously influenced by it. He has been so often imitated that his style and subject matter has become a kind of schtick, a genre that borders on cliché. Rugged New England scenery—seacoasts or mountains—and a loose and watery painting style. Lots of burnt umber, lots of indigo, lots of viridian. And if you, like I, have only seen Homer’s work in reproduction, you may be forgiven for feeling the same sort of dispassion about his work.
Then you see one in person. Even framed (as this painting was) in a historic but worse-for-wear gilt millwork, even (as this painting was) behind glass, the work draws you in. The colors, first of all, pop in a way that no reproduction ever can. The photograph I have posted above was made by the FAMSF itself, but it looks terrible, the colors muddy, the tones totally missing. (I’ve tried to correct it in Photoshop but even that work has only gotten the image so far.)

Getting closer to the image, my preconceptions about Homer’s style disappeared. His dark areas are not at all as luminescent as his later imitators, and in fact the hills and river are so thickly laid they might well be impasto. (The thrill of thinking: we share a technique!) The line for the fisherman was made by using a knife to scratch into the surface. The sky? He used a sponge to lift away color and, as it dried further, scrub and smear it. The whole painting exudes a kind of earthiness that few watercolors manage.

Later in the day, I was able to see work by a painter who I greatly admire, Childe Hassam. One of the “American impressionists,” Hassam had painted in Oregon off and on, mostly in the seldom visited area of Harney County in the southeast portion of the state. The Portland Art Museum has several of his paintings. I saw them on the enforced culture trips of grade-school visits, and their presence stuck. I can’t recall any specific details, only the general sense of beauty and the light. It has been years, however, since I stood before one—possibly decades—and so I wasn’t prepared when a very real Hassam watercolor sat (framed, of course) in my hands.

From across the room, the painting titled Rainy Night (1895) appeared to be a fairly simple if striking impressionist-style painting of New York around the turn of the century. Buggies, pedestrians, street lamps, soaring gothic buildings. That sort of thing. For a semblance, see this photograph:

F. Childe Hassam, Rainy Night,
8.25 x 11.25 inches,
Watercolor on paper, c. 1895.Photo: FAMSF

Holding it up close, however, I became enamored. Not only had Hassam painted a wet night, he had painted it wet. Throughout the image are telltale signs of him working in color with a very small brush, so that (like raindrops themselves) he made a whole out of fragments, working his pigments into a wash underneath that was still damp. Best yet was his dropping of clear or nearly clear water into the damp surface, making a lighter area that is ringed by a dark halo of pigment. In papermaking, this is known as “printer’s tears,” and shows where water dropped onto still damp paper; in watercolor it is usually a sign of an errant water drop from a too-vigorous (or too-sloppy) brush. Here, Hassam used the effect of an error as an intentional technique.

The result is that the pavement especially feels slick and wet. Does this visual reflect the seen reality of the place? No. Does it evoke the wetness of that night sidewalk better than a literal depiction would have? Yes.

Here, then, is a tension I have been struggling with for about the last year: how to move beyond the literal while holding onto—no, while getting closer—to the truth of a moment and place. To be specific and faithful without being pedantic.

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Mouth of the Columbia

I remember the day that I went to go get my California driver’s license. I put it off for a long time, because it felt like some kind of betrayal. Although there are many Oregonians who absolutely abhor Californians and all that California stands for in their mind, I am not among them. I have no great ill will towards California, although I do feel I will always be an outsider here—though isn’t that, itself, a very Californian thing?

The reason I had put off switching to a California license had nothing to do with disliking California, but with what it meant that I was giving up. My Oregon driver’s license, no matter how dull and depressingly bureaucratic an object that it was, was also my last legal and tangible link to the place of my birth.

I don’t just inhabit landscapes; they also inhabit me. Place is like a faith, and I feel like the rivers of my birth are as much in my blood as any parental DNA. I remember reading once that your body replaces millions of cells a day with new ones, new ones that are built up from the nutrients taken in through food and water. Was I not, for most of my life, literally made from the northwest? Was I not cut from the cloth of Washington wheat, fashioned from Bull Run water, reconstructed daily out of grapes and peaches and apples and pears and every other foodstuff of my youth?

Such scientific reasoning is an interesting thought experiment, but it fails to account for why I feel as I do. To belong to a place is one thing, to know it is another. Why did others see a river, when what I saw was my heart pouring out to the sea? It is that same brokenness of love, rending me in two but making me whole again with the same breath.

Although I did not grow up there, Astoria is one place where I feel this strongly. Perched on a little mound of hills at the great mouth of the river, the city is far enough from the beach not to suffer from saltwater taffy or $5 agate souvenirs. Here, the Columbia reveals all her might, widening out to more than eleven miles thick, always moving even under the ebb and flow of the tides. Out beyond the high Megler bridge, the mouth itself lurks. It seems so far away, and so vast, and even if you don’t know the stories, you know merely by beholding its distant merge into the Pacific that it possesses myths of its own.

And even now, even in my mind more than 700 miles away, it still possesses me.

Mouth of the Columbia River, Watercolor on Paper, 12 x 16 inches, 2016.

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Farallones / Islands of the Dead

Light is different at 10,000 feet. Sure, this can be said of light at almost any altitude, but 10,000 seems to be a magic number for me. As a passenger aboard a commercial airliner, 10,000 feet is only experienced when ascending after takeoff, or approaching a landing, so there is a kind of anticipation within me in either case. It is more than that, though, it is real; there’s something about the way the sunlight banks off of the ground and especially off of water that captivates. The distance from the terrestrial world is close enough that details can be seen—branches on trees, makes of automobile—but distant enough that the specific and the relational can be seen at once. It’s a place where at least two scales can be simultaneously experienced, a transition zone that is both/and rather than either/or.

One of my closest friends works in the maritime industry. He serves as an engineer on cargo ships, and so his life—seventy five days on, seventy five days off—is linked to the Pacific Ocean in a very real way. It’s probably why I noticed the little ships, criss-crossing on the shimmering void, as I sat in my window seat on a recent trip south. The two ships made sharp wake lines, out by the Farallones, the islands the natives of California had forbidden as the “islands of the dead” (but that San Franciscans had once made the city’s foraged “eggery”).

It’s all not quite real. It’s all not quite safe. The steel ships—massive in person, massive compared to me—but tiny compared to everything else. The sky and the ocean are filled with colors not of this Earth—yet outside my plexiglass, air-compressed cabin window, they exist.

The first time that I stepped onto a plane, the first time that I experienced the sensation of taking off, I was thrilled and hooked. The feeling of flying has never frightened me, nor mystified me—I could look out at that flexing wing and see the horizontal equivalent of a boat’s sail, working with the air to move. But I am older now, and I’ve stepped onto many planes, and will do so again, and again, and again. In tandem with every flight, my life grows a little more complicated, and my sense of risk increases. It is not merely personal risk; it is not merely that I, or even I and my fellow passengers and the plane crew are at risk through the art of flying. It is that the whole world is flying up there in the air, all of the time—it is that everyone is out there on the ocean with those boats, that everyone is always in motion even at rest.

Farallones / Islands of the Dead. Watercolor on paper, 18 in x 24 in, 2016.

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In the late 1960s, when ABC first proposed to built a television tower atop Sutro Hill, many in San Francisco were agast. Sure, you couldn’t get a television signal worth a damn in the city—too many hills—but parking a big assemblage of erector-set towers where everyone in the city would see them? Where they would loom above daily life? Sure, ABC tried to fool everyone with renderings of golden pylons and rotating sky-top restaurants, but nobody bought that Jetsons foolishness.

Today, though, Sutro has lost much of its stigma. In point and fact, today one can find it amongst the most photographed of landmarks in San Francisco. It’s form adorns many a tattooed arm or leg. Its shapes have become laser-cut wood puzzles. It has also, recently, had its form borrowed to become a coat rack.

For me it’s not hard to see why. Bridges were—to make a perhaps somewhat inappropriate remark—my childhood gateway drug into architecture. Girders, pylons, stay cables, and bright painted colors: it’s difficult for me to see ugliness in anything with these characteristics. Perhaps they aren’t charming in the way that all those little ornate Victorians are to so many, but if to charm is to cast a spell, then Sutro Tower has charmed me.

Sutro (Study in Jade Green). 4.75 x 9.75 inches, watercolor on paper, 2016.

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