Thursday, March 17, 2011

Painting the Marshes of the Bay Area

   Most of the Bay Area was once ringed by ancient marshes and wetlands. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century more than a third of the original bay was filled in, drained, and paved over with roads, bridges, cities, military bases, docks, industrial parks, shopping malls and suburban development.  In recent years large areas of bay wetlands have been restored, but much is gone forever.   Arrowhead Marsh, one of the few large protected wetlands on the Oakland shore, is a favorite spot of mine, and I have painted it several times. In clear weather you can see San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais, and Oakland from the marsh, and sometimes hundreds of birds. I love the abstract shapes of the landforms, the huge sky and the reflective water in marshland, which changes in mood so dramatically with the time of day and the weather.

   Wetlands also exist in unexpected places.  Port Chicago, on the banks of Suisun Bay north of Martinez, is where the waterway Walnut Creek eventually flows into the bay.  The creek has been routed through concrete conduits under the towns of Contra Costa County, but ends up as an open waterway and then a river wetland at Suisun Bay.  Waterfowl like the swans I painted overwinter here, sharing space with the nearby Naval Weapons Station, refineries, salvage yards, and gravel plants. The sight of these huge birds flying over the fortress-like gravel plant was an amazing experience, and I hope my painting of it captures some of the drama of the moment.