Tai Chi at Spreckels Lake, Golden Gate Park, Oct. 11, 2014 (sketches by Heath Massey)
Last Saturday morning at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park I was mesmerized watching a Tai Chi class performing a graceful series of moves on a sandy peninsula that juts into the water. The synchronized movements, reflected in the slightly wind-rufflled water, seemed to flow in widening ripples into the surrounding morning, radiating calm. This class, led by Master Bill Chin and other experienced practitioners, is offered free of charge every Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. in this idyllic setting. Anyone can join; beginners are encouraged to participate and learn by following along. Advanced participants wearing red wristbands are interspersed among those less practiced. The class ended while I was still sketching, but I’m planning to get there in time to join in next weekend.
” Landscaping Golden Gate Park,” 1933, watercolor, David Park (FAMSF, Auchenbach Foundation)
On Wednesday night (Sept. 24), I will be talking about “Artists in Golden Gate Park” at the Canessa Gallery (708 Montgomery St., San Francisco). The talk begins at 7 pm and the gallery will be open before and after to view the wonderful exhibit of photographs by Stephen Kane: Welcome to Fogland. Hope to see you there.
Apple cider press statue in Golden Gate Park by Thomas Shields-Clarke, 1892 (sketch by Heath Massey)
For some reason I always assumed this sculpture was about wine. That muscled, bare-footed figure evokes for me a beautiful Greek god (Dionysus, Greek god of wine?). Even on a typical foggy day in the park, he conjures a warm day in late summer, the grape harvest, abandonment to the pleasures of the vine. Wrong! Those are actually apples scattered around the base of the sculpture, which actually depicts a cider press. Perhaps that’s because the sculptor, Thomas Shields-Clarke was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where apples are no doubt much more common than grapes, especially in 1892 when this statue was made? It was cast in Paris though, (by Jaboeuf and Bezout) so maybe that’s where it picked up the whiff of wine? In any case, Michael de Young and the Midwinter Fair Commission purchased it and exhibited it at the Midwinter Fair in 1894. It was originally a drinking fountain, but the metal cup that used to be attached by a chain disappeared long ago, along with the water.
Which set me to wondering about when and where public drinking fountains were invented. Turns out modern, sanitary drinking fountains first appeared in public spaces in this country in the early 1900s and two inventors apparently share credit. Halsey Taylor, in Ohio, developed a fountain prototype after his father died of typhoid, which he contracted after drinking contaminated water. Around the same time Luther Haws, a part time plumber and sanitary inspector in Berkeley, developed a faucet designed for drinking after inspecting a public school and seeing children sharing a tin cup attached to a fountain. The Halsey Taylor Company and the Haws Company are still prominent in the public drinking fountain business.
Steve Kane has a new photo exhibit opening tonight at Canessa Gallery. Included are many beautiful photographs of Golden Gate Park. I will be giving a talk on “Artists in Golden Gate Park” in conjunction with this exhibit on September 24 at 7 pm. Hope to see some of you there.
Brewer’s Blackbird (sketch by Heath Massey)
A fairly common bird in Golden Gate Park, the Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) is easily recognizable by it’s bright yellow eyes and blue-black plumage. The iridescent blue-green sheen of the male is gorgeous in the sunlight, belying the dull-sounding “blackbird.” Often lined up on telephone wires or flying in flocks that gracefully rise and fall, these birds are well adapted to urban parks. But sometimes they miscalculate. Here’s a funny video of a Brewer’s blackbird defending an ill-considered choice of real estate in Golden Gate Park (near Stow Lake). The video was made by Mila Zinkova in June, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qQcM9yytSI#t=27
Statue of John McLaren, Golden Gate Park (sketch by Heath Massey)
The statue of John McLaren in Golden Gate Park is a little bit shorter than I am (I’m just under 5’7″). Is it life-sized, I wonder? Somehow I always imagined John McLaren as a major physical presence, given the stories about the fear and trembling that he induced in his gardening staff. (see former post: http://fromthethicket.com/2010/10/09/john-mclaren/) Come to think of it, though, the man depicted in the statue, although not tall, is actually quite intimidating. Bald and portly, with military bearing and deep-set eyes fixed on a pine cone, he seems formidable. I would hesitate to cross him. Obviously stature is about much more than physical size.
Lawn bowling in Golden Gate Park (sketch by Heath Massey)
The bowling lawns in Golden Gate Park are vivid green and very flat, a striking backdrop to the traditional white that lawn bowlers wear on tournament days. To me these lawns are beautiful, but they also look almost unreal, more like carpeting than grass. And like antique carpets, they seem to be showing signs of age. I wonder how they are constructed and what kind of maintenance is required.
A search of the literature reveals that, not unexpectedly, the design and construction of a bowling green is highly specialized. The substrata must be perfectly graded and compacted to support the growing medium (soil) with absolutely no shifting or slumping. A drainage system installed beneath the green removes excess water quickly. The soil is engineered to retain water and nutrients, withstand compaction and drain well. The surface must be 100% flat, so once the substrata is compacted and graded, the growing medium is installed in thin layers and rolled after each layer. While hand methods were used to level the surface of bowling greens for many years, a machine mounted laser level is often used now. The turf grass must be carefully selected not only with local environmental conditions in mind, but also to withstand the stress of frequent close cutting, compaction and high wear. Irrigation must be designed to deliver water evenly over the surface. Whew!
This summer the oldest bowling lawn (#1), nearest the 100-year-old Club House, is undergoing renovation. It’s interesting to watch the process and it will be great to see the results. The scope of work appears to include repairing parts of the drainage and irrigation, replacing the rotting wood edging that surrounds the green (with concrete), adding new ADA walkways, repairing benches and fences and adding new planting to beautify the edges. Parts of the bowling green will also be brought back to level by addition of sand (around the edges, at least).
So here is my remaining question: What about gophers?