There is beauty to behold in the freshly washed sands, the silvery mist of early morning and the shades of afternoon fog that textures the endless western coastline. Yet, there’s something about the California light that is as legendary as the place where artists come to capture it on canvas.
Since the turn of another century, artists have come to the Monterey Peninsula, some as legacies of founding generations, others to cultivate individuality, all in search of the light. They come with their pens and their brushes, their chisels and their lenses to foster a personal vision of art yet a shared understanding that art has preceded them in the crashing sea and windswept shores, the sturdy cypress and mysterious green flash at the close of a scarlet sunset. It is, as the late landscape painter Francis McComas christened it, “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”
Although artists and writers, academicians and wealthy vacationers had been quietly retreating to the Central Coast for years, one of the more dramatic influences on the populous of the Peninsula was the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, an event whose artist refugees found shelter in the cabins and tents erected in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Their colony was preceded by the 1875 arrival of Frenchman Jules Tavernier, a flamboyant bohemian artist who stayed at the legendary French Hotel until his tab at the neighborhood bar reportedly contributed to his departure in 1880, a bit of colorful history that has never overshadowed his artistic contributions to the area.
While the artists and writers brought creative energy to town, the establishment of the Carmel Art Association gave it structure, stature and sustenance. The second-oldest art cooperative in the country, it has been defining the community of art for 80 years.
“I just came from the Tuesday lunch a group of artists has shared for more than 35 years,” said local artist Dick Crispo. “Sometimes it’s lunch, sometimes it’s just coffee. And sometimes it’s four, sometimes six, sometimes ten artists. We talk, we listen, we eat, we swap stories about art, about each other. I’ve enjoyed this kind of support, this camaraderie, the friendships with artists over the years. The arts are not terribly forgiving, right? But to have artists who respect us, who will sit down and talk with us, artists who have been there and have experience to share is priceless.”
The idea of local artists bound by talent and perspective is the foundation on which this community was built. Carmel was once and for many still is a bohemian enclave, a haven for artists and a refuge for writers and intellectuals. It is the setting that inspired Robinson Jeffers to build his tower from which to write poetry about the anguish of waves against a rugged shore; whose spectacular sunsets illuminate the secrets of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and which served as a stage for the lives and times on which Jack London and George Sterling composed their allegories.
A coastal city of now has nearly 100 art galleries continues to celebrate both the heritage and the future of a community whose vision is still to advance the knowledge of and interest in art, and to create a spirit of cooperation and fellowship between local artists and the public.