An exhibition featuring stories and portraits of San Juan Ridge residents is currently on display at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center. Entitled “A Landscape Full of Stories,” the topics range from what it was like to be a child during the Great Depression living subsistent to the parable of a principled, punked-out teenager running for Nevada City Council during the late 1990s — and almost winning.
In 2011, the North Columbia Schoolhouse received a $10,000 Community Stories grant from Cal Humanities to conduct the project. Throughout 2012, project team members steadily compiled more than 30 hours of audio recordings from 18 interview sessions with a total of 21 people spanning 34 to 94 years in age. Painted and photographed portraits of the interviewees were also created.
All the stories and portraits have been compiled into a thoughtful and rich exhibition on display through Feb. 3. The exhibition can be viewed during office hours from noon to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays or by appointment. The material is also available on the center’s website.
“‘A Landscape Full of Stories’ was not intended to be an exhaustive oral history,” said project director Jeff Adams. “The project merely presents one particular vista through time and place of the vast, ever-changing terrain of the San Juan Ridge community. The choice to combine portraits, written excerpts and audio recordings was made to provoke different senses of perception and to consider how we might experience a person through different media.”
The project team selected excerpts based on several criteria: significance to the life of the person (or persons) interviewed; whether a story stood on its own merit simply as a good yarn; relevance and importance to the history of the San Juan Ridge community; and the capacity of a story to express an essential quality of the person or, for that matter, our collective humanity: humor, depth, forthrightness, creativity, diligence, remorse, courage and so on.
Some of the stories include Robert Erickson on the story of Oak Tree School built by local labor during the mid-’70s and which subsequently burned under suspicious circumstances; the late Toki Steele on moving from Okinawa and running her restaurant in North San Juan for 39 years; Joseph Selbie on living the life of a yogi at Ananda Village; Doc Dachtler on being a school teacher at the historic one-room North Columbia Schoolhouse just before it closed down as a school and subsequently became the cultural center; Gene Covert on becoming a county supervisor and fighting environmental interests; and John Konze on being a postmaster in a small community.
In experiencing the exhibition, Adams recommends viewing the portrait and listening to the audio recording first so that when you read the written excerpt, you’ll have the image and voice of the subject in your mind.
“Visitors are, of course, welcome to experiment with their own iterations of the material,” said Adams. “To maintain and convey the rhythm of dialogue, we decided to leave the written excerpts mainly unedited.”
However, in some cases, minor changes were made for the sake of clarity and to acknowledge that the spoken word doesn’t always transfer to the written page as eloquently as we might like.
A team full of extraordinarily committed individuals produced “A Landscape Full of Stories.” Local poets and longtime San Juan Ridge residents Steve Sanfield and Gary Snyder provided essential guidance on how to collect a story with integrity and purpose. Radio producer Catherine Stifter brought a high standard of excellence and professionalism, especially to the audio recording. Former executive director Shana Maziarz collaborated on the early vision of the project. Artists Aram Larsen and Rebecca Seary skillfully translated the essence of their subjects onto a canvas. Photographer Samantha Hinrichs offered her keen eye and rich knowledge of the San Juan Ridge, which was invaluable for conveying the community’s diverse spectrum.
To view the exhibition online, visit northcolumbiaschoolhouse.org/landscapeofstories. Jeff Adams may be contacted at 530-265-2826.