There are about 12 covered bridges in California. And like much else such as the coast redwood, giant sequoia, bristlecone pine, and Mount Whitney, these bridges contain a superlative. Now as I teach my fourth graders, a superlative contains “est”as a suffix, and shows that something is without comparison. Such as tallest, largest, oldest tree or the tallest mountain in the lower 48.
California contains the longest single span covered bridge in the United States. The Bridgeport Covered Bridge spans 229 feet across the South Yuba River.
I set up my camp chair on Family Beach and using the waters of the chilly South Yuba River, I painted the span. The beach was lacking families on this December morning and an American dipper kept me company as this amazing aquatic songbird dove in the wintery rapids of the river as if it were a summer’s day. The dipper provided entertain while I waited for my washes to dry. I even included Muir’s favorite bird in the sketch.
I have been familiar covered bridges from an early age. The covered bridge in Paradise Park (featured image), near Santa Cruz, has been the only way to cross the San Lorenzo River without getting wet. This bridge was originally built for the California Power Works which formerly occupied the site. The 180 foot span was built in 1872. Unlike the Bridgeport bridge, this bridge is open to foot and automobile traffic making it a bridge in continual use for 143 years.
The British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy seems to like creating work in San Francisco and he shows a fondness for the Presidio. In all of its 2.3 square miles, the Presidio is home to four of Goldsworthy’s works.
The Presidio, which is nestled into the northwest corner of San Francisco, is a former military post going back to the very birth of the United States. In 1776, it was built as a military base for New Spain. It later transferred to the United Sates in 1848 and on October 1, 1994 it was decommissioned as a military post and transferred to the National Park Service, ending 219 years of a military presence.
What to do with a former military base in prime real estate? How about some art?
I first became aware of Goldsworthy’s work by looking through his monographs at Green Apple Books. I later saw the documentary Andy Goldsworthy Rivers and Tides (2004). This is one of the best documentaries to capture the struggles and passions of the artistic process. Around this time he was being commissioned to do works in San Francisco, the first that came to my attention was Drawn Stone (2005) at the entrance to the new de Young Museum.
So on one Wednesday I headed out to the southeast corner of the Presidio to do an After-Work Sketch. My subject was Wood Line (2011). This Goldsworthy piece sinuously snakes through a eucalyptus grove in what the artist defined as a piece that “draws the place”. I set up my camp chair and started my sketch in the golden fading light. This was my second attempt at sketching this piece. The first time I fitted Wood Line into a vertical spread, this time I decided to go landscape. I used a bit of sketcher shorthand as I kept the sketch to the simple form of the piece and the eucs in close proximity. In other words: I had to leave a lot of information out.
This sketch was much more serene and peaceful than the previous time I attempted to draw the sculpture, which was on a Saturday afternoon when hordes of families and couples taking engagement photos filled the grove. There were few people around and there were no interruptions like my previous sketching experience at Stanford. To add a new layer, a great horned owl started to call at 4:35 from the eucalyptus trees off to my right.
Tree Fall (left) and Earth Wall (right) are two new recent Goldsworthy pieces right off Main Post. Tree Fall is unusual because it is inside a Civil War era powder magazine and is only open on weekends. Earth Wall is in a courtyard of the Presidio’s Officer’s Club.
Spire (2006) was Goldsworthy’s first piece in the Presidio. This is a sketch from December 29, 2010. I have sketched all of Goldsworthy’s permanent works in San Francisco, but the epicenter of Goldsworthy in San francisco will always be the Presidio.