Artist's Blog

Buelteman Retrospective Opens!

Written by Robert Buelteman 2 July 2016

Robert Buelteman's Who Speaks for the Land? exhibit opened Wednesday evening the 29th of June under the historic Rotunda of the San Mateo County Historical Museum.  Here is a copy of his speaking notes from the evenings festivities:

Twenty-two years ago, I wrote this for the introduction to my book on the Crystal Springs Watershed, The Unseen Peninsula:

"As a child growing up on a hill overlooking the Sierra Morena Mountains, I had dreams of what secrets might be hidden in their heartland — dreams of Indians, pirates, and new worlds to explore. During the forty years that my family has lived on the San Francisco Peninsula, I have hiked those mountains, explored creek beds, slept under the stars of summer nights and wandered amidst the beauty of redwood forests. It is a place I am intimately familiar with, but more importantly, it is a place familiar with me. I am what poet, farmer, essayist and author Wendell Berry might call a placed person, and this is my home."

Well, those 40 years I wrote of now number 62, and during that time it has been my unique privilege to explore the lands of San Mateo County like few others have. That hill I referred to in my introduction now overlooks eight teeming lanes of Interstate 280. As a boy in the 1960s, the sight of bulldozers flattening the woods behind my house made an indelible mark on me.

My best work expresses that which cannot be said, and on which I found it impossible to remain silent. Mine is a life well-lived, owing, in large part, to the work I have been able to do in partnership with the organizations represented in tonight's exhibition. They are:

Sempervirens Fund, California’s oldest land trust. Founded in 1900 by local photographer Andrew P. Hill, who, when photographing the clear-cutting of old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was confronted by the owner of the logging company who demanded his negatives and, when asked, told him that these 2,000 year old trees would become firewood and railroad ties. Disgusted and angry, Hill began a campaign that resulted in the creation of California’s first state park, Big Basin Redwoods.

Twenty-six years ago, I received the first commission of many from the Peninsula Open Space Trust in support their campaign to protect the Phleger Estate, now a part of San Mateo County Park system. During POST’s short lifetime, they have protected over 75,000 acres of land here on our peninsula, providing the kind of quality of life for those of us who love open space that makes living here on the Peninsula a dream come true.

In 1995, POST commissioned me to photograph the lands of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in my hometown of Woodside, with the interest of preserving the 583 acres on which the Program is located. The following year I was given a residency there, resulting in the publication of my second book, Eighteen Days in June. The program was founded by the late Dr. Carl Djerassi in the memory of his daughter Pamela, and has supported and enhanced the creativity of over 2,300 artists from 53 countries by providing uninterrupted time for work, reflection and interaction.

In addition to being a place I played as a child when it was known as Searsville Lake, Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, located between the towns of Portola Valley and Woodside, is a 1200-acre natural laboratory for researchers from all over the world. With diverse research ranging from global climate change, earthquake prediction, ant behavior, bird monitoring, and tick sampling and analysis for Lyme Disease, this is an organization whose work improves the quality of life for all people.

Last, the San Mateo County Parks Foundation was established in 1998 to support the recreational, environmental, and educational programs for the Department. I have many wonderful memories of camping on Martin Wunderlich’s property with my father and sisters before it became a park, and more picnics at Huddart Park and campouts at Memorial that I can count. And of greater importance, for many of our city-bound fellow citizens, these parks are the aperture through which the natural world is revealed to them.

As an artist, I have always found great inspiration in the written word. This quotation, from George Bernard Shaw, sets a standard to which I have aspired, and so, I will close my comments by sharing it with you.

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations."

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