THE VALLEY OF THE MOON MAIN STEM:
A Panorama in Space and Time
Michael Acker
July 2008
Main Stem-the main branch of a river. Nick-name 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 the Coast Miwok. Jack London, who lived there in the last years of his life (his ranch is now a wonderful California state park) used it 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 to the Valley of the Moon I happened to take a drive down Highway 12 from Calistoga Road to the town of Sonoma. The setting, the buildings and the place names immediately and permanently enthralled me. (Agua Caliente!) After I moved here 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.

I have photographed every building and lot on Highway 12 between Agua Caliente Road and Verano Avenue. I am creating a series of photo collage/watercolor panoramas, each about 40”x8”. 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. If a lot or building were once the site of other buildings, the various layers would be presented above and below the panorama. I also intend to collect oral history about the street, the buildings and people who built them and used them, which will inform the visual work.
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.

The project will be part historical document and part personal interpretation of images of the area in which I live, that I love, and that fascinates me.
Many thanks to Diane Smith of the Depot Park Museum, collectors Gary Heon and Marti Kramer, and historian Robert Parmerlee.

I am always looking for photographs or postcards of Highway 12 in the Springs area, of any vintage. I can use photocopies and scans, and I will buy or rent originals (if I can afford them!). I am also looking for copies of The Valley of the Moon Review newspaper published in the 40’s and 50’sA note about the process: I take digital photographs that I process, minimally, in Photoshop, then print out on 140lb Arches watercolor paper. The images are collaged together, built up and painted on.

A note about me: I have been an artist for 40 years. I have an MFA from San Francisco State.
I do not consider myself to be an expert on the history of the Valley of the Moon. Any disputation or correction is welcomed.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

My show at the Sonoma Community Center in October/November was a great success. Thank you to everyone who spoke with me about it. I am applying for a Creative Work Fund grant to be artist in residence there. Stay tuned.
November, 2009:My piece in the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art sold at a fund raiser auction.
I was interviewed in the August 14, 2009 Sonoma index-Tribune
Two collages from the series are currently (December) exhibited at the Arts Guild of Sonoma.
Lucky the cat is sitting in my lap, slobbering.

Michael C. Acker
michaelcacker@sbcglobal.net