(Oil on Canvas, 24×36)
“Coloma Rapids” captures a fleeting moment in history – a seemingly insignificant moment, at an apparently unremarkable place. However, upon closer inspection and understanding, it provides context and insights for the past and the future. I spent several weeks studying the area and painted it months ago, but only finished recently. The site is on the South Fork of the American River in Coloma, California… and a few hundred yards away from the small town of Lotus. The painting reflects the stark contrast of light and dark…and illustrates motion, time, earth, and shadows. As with many things, sometimes you do not realize the significance of a scene until many months or even years later.
This site of these rapids has changed immensely over the past 200+ years. It is just a few miles downstream from the historic gold discovery site at Sutter’s Mill. Shortly after that fateful event, thousands of eager prospectors, pioneers, and settlers flooded the area in search of riches and a better future for themselves and their families. In the process, and over the decades, man shaped the environment more than the river had in thousands of years. What started with men simply picking up gold nuggets in the stream, evolved into massive quarry mining operations which systematically stripped tons of earth and rock from the banks of the American River. In the end, large corporate interests were sifting through mountains of gravel and debris to find tiny flakes of gold. The unrelenting quest devastated the environment and once tranquil landscape.
In the painting, the jagged outlines of granite reflect that violent past…shaped as much by machinery, explosives, and man…as the unrelenting force of water and turbulence shown in the rapids. However, in recent years, nature has bounced back – like it always has, and always will. The former rock quarry along the American River has been transformed into a 51-acre recreational park, with a beach area, picnic areas, and sports fields. The river and natural areas are protected. Thousands of families and white-water rafters enjoy it each year. The environment is recovering…and something else is being discovered…a balance, an equilibrium between man and nature, between dark and light. The rocks are still being shaped, but standing firm against the elements, and the seasonal cascading flows from the storms upstream.