Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In this Issue

February 2010

•Steinbeck Center Features Soledad Mission Photography
•Product Information and Material Safety Data Sheets now Online
•Call for Entries - 3rd Annual Alternative Processes Photography Contest
•Impossible Project Press Release
•February 2010 Newsletter Specials

Steinbeck Center Features Soledad Mission Photography Steinbeck Center Features Soledad Mission Photography

Many are familiar with the works of John Steinbeck and his tales of the Monterey, and of the Salinas Valley of California. Most of us have read his novels, Tortilla Flats, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and “Of Mice and Men.” Not all of us, however, are as familiar with the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, or the exhibitions and programs it offers.

In April 2007 more than 30 photographers gathered at one of the smallest of the California mission chain in Soledad California. Located almost fifty miles south of Salinas on the banks of the Salinas River, the mission was established in 1791 by friars of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor as the thirteenth in the chain of 21 missions..

The mission was built in the middle of the Salinas Valley. It’s a hot and dusty place during the summer and not all that hospitable during the winter. A mission church was built, but in 1828 and 1832 the church was damaged, then destroyed by floods.

In the early 1950’s a small portion of the mission was rebuilt. This includes a small chapel, a kitchen, a classroom and the mission office. While picturesque, it has none of the grandeur of a mission such as Santa Barbara or Carmel.

Because it is small and isolated it is often missed by travelers speeding north and south on nearby Interstate 5. So when Formulary instructor Al Weber did stop by the gift shop he found poorly printed postcards that scarcely portrayed the mission. He offered to have better photographs taken, for free, by his friends. The offer was accepted, the gathering of Al’s photographer friends arranged, and history was in the making.

From the photographs a portfolio was produced. Each participating photographer submitted a single image, and became committed to produce thirty copies to include in the thirty portfolios. Al, his wife, Suzie, and a number of friends in the area of Carmel put the portfolios together, boxed them for mailing and sent them to the participating photographers. Two copies were given to Mission Soledad to use for fund raising and for the mission history and a third was designated as a gift to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.

One of the photographers, Martin Vargas-Garcia, contacted Curator of Collections & Exhibitions, Deborah Silguero-Stahl, at the National Steinbeck Center, offering prints from the portfolio for a show in the center’s gallery.

In December 2009 the show opened as part of Salinas’ Art Walk. A closing reception, at which the Soledad Mission photographers were the guests of honor, took place on January 8, 2009.

The Steinbeck Center gallery was lined with the twenty five photographs taken almost three years earlier at Mission Soledad. Photographers from near and far gathered to enjoy a rare moment of seeing their work on the walls, and the chance to talk to many of those who had taken other photographs in the exhibit.

As the evening came to a close, Al Weber stepped forward to talk about the remarkable collection of images. He explained how the project had come into being from his visit to the museum gift shop, and the enthusiastic reception he had received when he invited his friends to spend a weekend at the mission.

Then, changing the focus of his remarks from photography to the history of the Salinas Valley, he told of his arrival in Salinas in 1953. What he found then, he said, remains today. A community of farmers who work the land, who work together and form the bedrock of the valley’s rich agricultural society.

Weber described the “Natural grace of the landscape,” as well as the, “Incredible wealth of the agriculture” as difficult to beat for a place to live and work.

Soledad Correctional Facility, aka, prison, probably causes some travelers to bypass the town. But, said Weber, drive down the center of the little town and you find yourself in what could be a “cutout” of every small town anywhere. He described Soledad and the Salinas Valley as a place with real people and recalled the remark of the man who delivers his propane that, “You know you are leaving the Salinas Valley when the people quit waving.”

Weber joked that he lives on the coast in Carmel, an area that balances out the Salinas Valley because, “We get all the nuts,” whereas the people in the Salinas Valley are level-headed and filled with common sense.

Click here to watch Al Weber’s remarks...

Colleen Finegan Bailey, Director of the National Steinbeck Center, followed up on Al’s remarks. Ms. Bailey talked about the hard working and dedicated farmers of the valley, and the sentiment that they are “real people.”

The major thrust of her remarks, however, was reserved for Al Weber as she recognized his many years as a teacher, and his dedication to his purpose. “It’s almost harder to find a great teacher than it is to find a great artist,” Bailey said, and in the short time she had known Weber it quickly became obvious that Weber is a great teacher.

The exhibit was proof of Weber’s abilities as a teacher, she said, and the work of his students, hanging on the walls of the exhibit is of value to the Steinbeck Center and to the people of the Salinas Valley as a record of the valley’s rich culture.

Then, looking forward to the next exhibit of mission photographs, Bailey welcomed the prospect of some fifty photographs of Mission San Miguel again taken by Weber’s friends and former students. That exhibition will feature the second “Mission Portfolio Project,” and will take place in late 2010.

Click here to watch Ms. Bailey’s remarks. . .

The person responsible for the exhibit, Curator of Collections & Exhibitions, Deborah Silguero-Stahl, recognized the importance of the photographers and their images, and the connection they have to the history of the Salinas Valley. Martin Vargas-Garcia brought her photographs of Mission Soledad as a gift to the Steinbeck Center, she said, and asked for the possibility of an exhibit to showcase the works.

As she dug into the photographs she realized that they form a contemporary view of the history of Mission Soledad, and of the Salinas Valley. She decided to hang the show in a way that would allow visitors to experience a visit to the mission by walking around the room. The photographs are important, she said, because they help to tell the “Mission Story.” They record the architecture of the mission, and at the same time record the history of the valley, the mission and the State of California.

The photographs, said Silgueros, allowed her to bring a visitor into the landscape, then into the church. A visitor could see the mission and its artifacts, and gain a perspective of the mission as though they had been in the mission themselves. Missions and churches, she said, have a mystique, and the Soledad Mission photographs help lift the veil of that mystique to give visitors a greater enjoyment and understanding of what they are seeing.

Click here to watch Ms. Silguero’s remarks. . .


What’s next on the list? Al Weber has already been approached by Mission San Antonio de Padua, located in the middle of Fort Hunter-Liggett, a military reservation to the south of Salinas and Soledad. Negotiations are underway for twenty-five photographers to spend a weekend capturing the essence of California’s most secluded mission located in the Valley of the Oaks in the Santa Lucia mountains just off the California coast. It’s a mission that has been described as the only one which might still be recognizable by its founder, Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded it in 1771 as the third of what would eventually be twenty-one California missions.

We’ll keep our eye on this one, and when the time comes you’ll see what develops.

The entire Mission Soledad portfolio can be viewed here. . . .