art

The Valley of the Moon Main Stem Project

By Michael Acker

Michael Acker’s fascinating series of collages documents the changes along a two-mile stretch of highway in the heart of Sonoma Valley. He stitches together (often literally) photographs from every decade of the century, as well as his own photographs from the present day, newspaper clippings, advertisements, and personal stories, to making a living portrait of the buildings and the people who inhabited them. The images question our idea of history as a settled thing, an examination of the past, and they also serve as an endearing portrait of the lives, loves, and hopes of the people who lived and worked along the highway throughout the past, and anticipating a time when today will be part of that history.

Detail

Main Stem: the main branch of a river.  Nickname 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 a Coast Miwok language. Jack London, who lived there in the last years of his life (his ranch is now a wonderful California state park) used the name 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.

With Ed Ruscha in mind, I photographed every building and lot on Highway 12 between Agua Caliente Rd and Verano Ave…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. .


Long before I moved there (from San Francisco) I happened to take a drive down Highway 12 from Calistoga Rd. to the town of Sonoma. The setting, the buildings and the place names, Agua Caliente, Fetters Hot Springs, Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano, immediately and permanently enthralled me. Later 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.


With Ed Ruscha in mind, I photographed every building and lot on Highway 12 between Agua Caliente Rd and Verano Ave. I am creating a series of photo collage/watercolor panoramas. 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. I am collecting historical information about the street, the buildings and people who built them and used them, which informs the visual work. (Of course, my photographs become “historical” as soon as i make them.)

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.

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. I’m constantly producing revisions of older work. The project is part historical document and part personal interpretation of images of the area in which I live, that I love, and that fascinates me. It is a celebration of the “order in complexity” of this particular built environment.


East Side, Going South

East Side, Going North

West Side Going South

West Side Going North


For complete details about the images in the Valley of the Moon Main Stem Project, go to valleyofthemoonmainstemproject.org. To see more of Michael Acker’s work go to mca-studios.com, Facebook, or Instagram.

I have been an artist for 40 years. I have an MFA from San Francisco State. I construct my own version of reality in my work, combining and recombining images of my environment; sometimes “beautiful” images, sometimes the most mundane. To make a work of art, for me, is like a puzzle that I am simultaneously constructing and solving.

The point for the viewer, I hope, is seeing what, in fact, did happen. I hope you engage with the puzzle, trying to discover some of the possible solutions. I hope you engage with my interpretations of what we all see. I hope you are able to unravel the inherent mysteries of the newly created reality embodied in each work.

I compose in Photoshop, combing hybrid views from many angles. Then I print out onto watercolor paper, and other papers, and collage in the real world. Next I paint over them and reprint and re-collage so the surface becomes very rich. I always maintain the original composition, but the layer on layer effect I achieve becomes really interesting to look at. You can get kind of lost in the surface, and then your eye pulls back to the overall image. That is the oscillation I’m going for.

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