Image

Goldsworthy, Again

On a Saturday morning, Grasshopper Sparrow and I went down to Stanford University to do some urban sketching.

We parked near the Oval and headed towards the Center of Visual Arts. A red-tail hawk was very vocal from above and we soon found out why as a much larger golden eagle flew low over the museum, circling up on rising rounds and then disappearing to the south. This had to be a great sketching omen!

Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone River (2001) is a touchstone in my sketching world. As I have written before, a touchtone is subject that I return to again and again. Usually a touchstone is a building, a bird, or a piece of sculpture; something that is not going anywhere, anytime soon and can be sketched from different perspectives. This was my third time sketching this outdoor sculpture on the Stanford campus and I was excited to share the experience with Grasshopper!

Our sketches of Goldsworthy’s Stone River, resting on Mrs. Fayer’s lawn.

After about a 20 minute sketch I called up a fellow teacher from my school who lives on the Stanford campus. She was Grasshopper’s favorite 3rd grade teacher and rumor has it, that I was his favorite 4th grade teacher. She was home and invited us over. She happens to be one of my favorite people.

We walked through campus and had a lovely time in Mrs. Fayer’s backyard, from ten feet of course! To see the care and love Mrs. Fayer had for her former student was inspiring! This was no idle, simple conversation here. She challenged Grasshopper and asked about his hopes and dreams. When he answered, she dug deeper. It reminded me that all good teachers are also students that never stop learning; about their students or former students (there really is no difference) and life.

On Sunday I wanted to sketch another Goldsworthy touchstone in the Presidio. This was the wooden sculpture called Spire (2008). Goldsworthy has four pieces in the Presidio and I have sketched them all. The last time I sketched Spire was in December 2010.

I parked at Inspiration Point on Arguello Boulevard. I looked up at Spire against the gray summer skies of San Francisco and when I saw some of the trails barricaded off, I should have known something was wrong. Perhaps just another closed area during the ongoing pandemic.

It was a typical gray day in western San Francisco at this time of year, when colors are drained of vibrance and contrast is muted. Spire looked just the same as ever before. Then I noticed that the area around Spire was fenced off and people were milling about as if before some somber memorial. Not a spire then but a funeral pyre.

I found out from one of the visitors that Spire had been burned in an act of arson on the morning of June 23 (2020). It is unclear if this fire was part of the recent protests in the City or if it was set by illegal fireworks. At least the piece is still standing in a somewhat altered and charred state. Andy Goldsworthy, often the creator of ephemeral works, commented on the burning of Spire:

The burning of “Spire” goes too deep for my own words. Besides “Spire” has always spoken for itself and will perhaps now speak with an even greater eloquence after what has happen. If anything, its epitaph will be better written in the memories, thoughts and words of those who have lived with it over the past twelve years.

I would also add that it is also “written in the memories, though, words, and sketchbooks“. This response from the artist to what could be viewed as a tragedy is, well, very Goldworthian. His pieces are always subject to the elements and time, whether from the wind and rain or at the hands of an arsonist.

Vistors stand in silence, looking up at the burnt remains of Spire. The sculpture was still standing!
Image

Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides

“We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” ~Andy Goldsworthy

During shelter-in-place I made some time in the evenings to rewatch some of my favorite movies.

These consisted of independent films, foreign language films, and documentaries. Here is a short list of some of the films I have watched recently: Amelie, Being There, Butterfly (La lengua de las mariposas), Chariots of Fire, Cria Cuevis, Delicatessen, The Fog of War, The Lives of Others, Odd Man Out, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Third Man, Spirited Away, Sunset Boulevard, and Rivers and Tides.

The last is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen about the artistic process (and a profile of an amazing artist.) This 2001 documentary was filmed, edited and directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer and it’s full title is Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time.

The English sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy, is an artist I am familiar with because I have sketched many of his pieces in the Bay Area. His medium is nature and his sculptures are often ephemeral, being destroyed (he would say altered) by the wind, rain, and the rising tide.

A sketch of Goldsworthy’s Wood Line in the Presidio from 2015.

Rewatching Rivers and Tides, made me want to go out into the San Lorenzo watershed and make a sculpture out of nature. To do that, I needed river rocks and there was no better beach for this than Rocky Beach.

Rock cairns at Rocky Beach, telling the river which way to flow.

I headed upstream from the beach to Upper Rocky Beach, to gather stones. I tried to “shake hands” with the place and the stone and I worked on making a stone cairn, a pale imitation of Goldsworthy’s work.

Once I finished my Apprentice-piece, I sat down and sketched the work, much like Goldsworthy does. I do love sketching rocks, attempting to get the lines, contours, and textures onto paper.

A 2015 sketch of another Goldsworthy sculpture on the campus of Stanford. Stone River (2001). This riverine design influenced the lines work under the title of the featured sketch. A very Goldsworthian motif.
Image

Menlo Park Station

It was now time for an after work train station sketch.

I headed south to one of the oldest stations in San Mateo County and one of the stations furthest south on the line before heading into Santa Clara County. Menlo Park Station is the oldest active train station in San Mateo County. Rail service to Menlo Park began on October 18, 1863. At that time, a simple shelter was on the site before the depot was built. It is considered the oldest active passenger railway station in California. It was built by the San Francisco and San Jose Railway in 1867. The Queen Anne expansion, included a Ladies Parlor, was added to the south side which is featured in the sketch.

When Southern Pacific consolidated the line (in 1870), Victorian ornamentation was added in the 1890s to appeal to the students (and parents) of nearby and newly built Stanford University.

At one time Menlo Park Station had two separate waiting rooms, one for men and one for women. In the office, Stanford University co-founder, Jane Stanford, wife of rail tycoon Leland Stanford, would wait for her train in a private room by herself. In 1905, Jane Stanford died of strychnine poisoning and her murder has never been solved. It is claimed that her ghost has been seen pacing back and forth in the station.

The station is on the same level as the main line just as it was when it was first constructed. The interior is no longer used as a passenger waiting room. Southern Pacific closed the station in 1959. It now houses the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce.

This fancy vending machine has replaced passenger stations on Caltrain. I always prefer to buy my train tickets from a human being. You can’t do that here in Menlo Park. Nor can you buy tickets on the train from the conductor. Although you can chat with the friendly people at the Chamber of Commerce.

I sat on a north facing bench and started to sketch the elevation view of the station. There was something very comforting about this sketching experience. All around me I was surrounded by commuters. Both high school students and high-tech workers with their bikes milling about the platform or sitting on benches texting their friends waiting for their train. The overall feeling was of a vibrant station that is still in use and gave me hope for transit in the Bay Area. The scene at 4:30 PM in 2020 could not be too much different from a weekday scene at this same station, 70 years ago. Of course it helps to squint.

Menlo Park is a busy station on a Wednesday late afternoon. A southbound and northbound train pull into the station.

Engine Number 905 “Sunnyvale ” is on the point of a southbound train to San Jose. This engine is named after my hometown.

The train station at Sunnyvale is long gone. I never remember it as being an amazing piece of Southern Pacific architecture. The station has been replaced with a ticket shelter that connected to a parking shelter.

Quenching my thirst after my sketch at the redesigned British Bankers Club. I raised a glass to my father, who had to come to Menlo Park when he was at “The Farm” to buy spirits because Palo Alto was a dry town.