Eureka, Humboldt County, California
Growing up, I didn’t think of Eureka, California as beautiful. Never mind that I was a kid, and what would I know about that? Maybe I simply wasn’t tapped in to the art scene, I don’t know, but I don’t recall driving down the street and seeing so many interesting art pieces, or art being as accessible in so many venues as now. I remember the larger than life sculptures on the bay side of Highway 101 north of Eureka. They fascinated the kid I was. But with apologies to the current Eureka in which I live, the feeling that would greet me as a child when my family drove us to town was a depressing dinginess. Permeating everything, standing out from my memories of those times, was the plume of vapor ever rising from the pulp mill on the peninsula, the pall that quite literally put the “reek” in Eureka.
But Eureka has metamorphosed. Now, driving through town one sees many murals, painted utility boxes, and sculptures sprinkled about, and despite relying on kid memories for comparison, it feels as though a lot has changed inside Eureka since my childhood. A great many businesses display local art, and the people come out in droves for Arts Alive every month. The transformation of Eureka has largely been organic, changed gradually and inexorably over decades by the huge numbers of creative people living here. I’m glad to be one of them. The city of Eureka itself has helped spur the change, especially recently, and is now one of fourteen officially designated California Cultural Districts.
In 2017 the city adopted its Strategic Arts Plan (https://www.eurekart.org), which among other things supports artists in publicly visible artistic projects. In one of the most transformative projects, the hideously ugly utility boxes squatting on so many street corners have been transmuted into fascinating, free-standing three-dimensional paintings. Now, wherever the old, hard grey metal boxes once crouched stands a new work of art from an artist’s imagination. Painted on all four sides, each painting tells a different story to those who pass by.
Art does that. It speaks to us. It tells us stories, or it evokes feeling. Visual art has a kind of power akin to music’s, a way to communicate that reaches beyond words to something elemental within ourselves. It opens a dialog within each of us between what we see, what we think, and what we feel. We each have our own personal experience when we take art in; the artist can suggest, but it is the viewer who fills in the story. Now the street corners are filled with stories.
With so many utility boxes telling their tales in Eureka, the idea of photographing them (at night, naturally) became irresistible. I have the urge to seek out the ones with the best night light around them and make images of them. The first in the series shows a work of art by Benjamin Goulart that changed a total dog of a utility box into a very good dog which he named “Harry, my Honorable Hound Dog.” Visit the piece yourself on Buhne Street at the corner of Buhne and Harrison.
You will come away with your own story if you see “Harry” in person. To view it here is to see it through the creative lens of my own night photography, which will influence the feelings evoked; after all, if I create a piece that includes another’s artwork in it, it’s going to come with my own artistic flavor and intention in the mix. But even if this image is all you ever see of “Harry,” your story can’t help but be personal to you.
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