Main Stem: the main branch of a river. Nickname applied to San Francisco’s Market Street. Any main street.
The Valley of the Moon, sometimes called Sonoma Valley, was so named by General Vallejo, who probably mistranslated it from a Coast Miwok language. Jack London, who lived there in the last years of his life (his ranch is now a wonderful California state park) used the name for the title of a novel.
Geothermal water was discovered (by Europeans. Native people surely used the waters previously) in the valley in the 1880’s. The area became a thriving resort spot, mainly for residents of summer-cold San Francisco, and continues to be to this day, although much has changed.
Long before I moved there (from San Francisco) I happened to take a drive down Highway 12 from Calistoga Rd. to the town of Sonoma. The setting, the buildings and the place names, Agua Caliente, Fetters Hot Springs, Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano, immediately and permanently enthralled me. Later I became acquainted with the history of the place, which furthered my fascination. I started to make art with and about my new home. Finally, I came up with this project.
With Ed Ruscha in mind, I photographed every building and lot on Highway 12 between Agua Caliente Rd and Verano Ave. I am creating a series of photo collage/watercolor panoramas. In addition to recording what is there now, I am incorporating photographs of buildings that are gone so that I can recreate the street as it would be if all had survived. I am collecting historical information about the street, the buildings and people who built them and used them, which informs the visual work. (Of course, my photographs become “historical” as soon as i make them.)
I want to capture the “ghosts” that inhabit this area and intertwine them with contemporary images. I love the idea that all these different eras can exist at once, at least in art. Since change is constant, this project could continue indefinitely. I’m constantly producing revisions of older work.
The project is part historical document and part personal interpretation of images of the area in which I live, that I love, and that fascinates me. It is a celebration of the “order in complexity” of this particular built environment.
Many thanks to the late Diane Smith of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, collector Gary Heon, historian Robert Parmerlee, and many others. In 2017 I published The Springs. The Resort Towns of Sonoma Valley, a photo history, from Arcadia Press: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467124300
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Please see https://www.valleyofthemoonmainstemproject.org/ which presents the entire project. There are 83 collages, including revisions, as of August 2020. See about the original 2008 photos here: https://springsmuseum.org/the-valley-of-the-moon-main-stem-photo-archive/ Also see in Boom California-https://boomcalifornia.com/2017/08/16/sonomas-fading-images-of-hwy-12/