By Dixie Layne, from a story originally printed in the Cedar Street Times
It was an unseasonably warm Friday evening as Steinbeck fans, scholars, historians, students, and enthusiasts joined the artists in an upstairs suite at the American Tin Cannery for the Opening Reception of a brilliant new art exhibit – Steinbeck: The Art of Fiction. Whether by accident or with purpose, the American Tin Cannery is the perfect location for this exhibit – it is in Pacific Grove just across from where the last working cannery on the Row stood, at the edge of the shoreline with its tide pools where Ed Rickets gathered his specimens, a few steps from Rickets’ lab, Wu Chong’s market, and the lot where Mac and the boys lived. This exhibit space has been transformed to an exquisite gallery to showcase artistic interpretations of John Steinbeck’s most memorable fiction by featured artists Lew Aytes, sculptor; Robert Nease, photographer; Warren Chang, painter.
Upon entering the gallery, guests felt as if they had just walked into that place in Steinbeck’s mind where his fictional characters lived – in a real place, in a real time. Greeting them at the door was Steinbeck smoking his pipe, as if to welcome the visitors to his world. Next to him in the corner was a Star Phonograph just waiting for someone to wind it up so the music could play – perhaps Dora would get to that later so the girls could have a dance? Adding to the ambiance are photos from decades past of Cannery Row and the surrounding Pacific Grove and Monterey areas where Steinbeck visited and lived – Steinbeck may have been born in Salinas but Pacific Grove was his muse. Michael Hemp of The History Company displayed photographs of Cannery Row from the late Robert Lewis’ collection (1957-1958). Pat Hathaway complemented the Lewis collection with a display of historical photos of the area from his extensive California Views collection ranging in time and place.
As the guests started their journey through the exhibit, they found Steinbeck’s characters and places he had so artfully illustrated in words take dimension as interpreted by three California artists; Aytes, Nease and Chang – two of whom came of age in Pacific Grove. Documentary filmmaker Eva Lothar “particularly enjoyed the recreation of scenes and characters from Steinbeck’s novels, both as sculpted portraits (Aytes) and mood photography (Nease) and the very realistic depiction of fieldworkers (Chang). An exciting idea that works!” Such pairings that garnered attention is the sculptured portrait of Dora Flood and the themed photography of her “Nile green dress” (Cannery Row) and the Lenny and George portraits paired with the photograph of a brown mouse held in a large, work-worn hand (Of Mice and Men). Hemp remarked that his “most striking impression of the evening was how the Nease photographs had David Armanesco transfixed.” As the visitors further ventured into Steinbeck’s world they found movies screening of his stories that had been translated into film and a chance to sample one of Doc’s beer milkshakes – consensus is they were pretty tasty.
There was a moment when fiction came face to face with reality … writer and publisher Patricia Hamilton found herself admiring a Lewis’ photograph of “Lady and a Cop” – two people that looked like two characters right out of a Steinbeck novel. Hemp was happy to tell the story of the lady and the cop – Peggy Logan, manager of the old Spindrift Hotel with Cannery Row beat cop who was thought to be Herschel Amos.
The cop was only recently identified as Elsworth Amos, Sr., when Hamilton revealed she knew Herschel Amos, who is now in his 70’s, from the library at the Masonic Lodge. Herschel, who is a retired Seaside cop, is the son of Elsworth, a Monterey cop who walked the Cannery Row beat for years. More stories of the 1950’s on the Row are sure to come from this meeting.
At the end of the evening Aytes was “very pleased with our opening reception; nearly 300 guests – and more than a few of them sampled Ricketts favorite drink, a beer milkshake.” He went on with some pride to say, “Avid readers seemed to enjoy the mix of Steinbeck quotes, art, and Cannery Row history. I’m pretty sure those who haven’t read Steinbeck will take up a book soon, and those who haven’t read him for many years will reread their favorite story.“
The exhibit is located in the American Tin Cannery at 125 Ocean View Boulevard, suite 201 – where Pacific Grove meets Cannery Row; the exhibit runs through March 31 and is open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. In February the exhibit will begin welcoming special guests and events: on Friday, February 13, filmmaker Eva Lothar will screen her documentary film, “Street of the Sardine”, at 6:00 PM; on Saturday, February 21, Benjamin Brode will exhibit his original art work created to illustrate Thomas Steinbeck’s book, In Search of the Dark Watcher.