Until 2007, the East side of Benicia's Southern waterfront was the site of a rambling collection of classic industrial buildings in various stages of decay. This spot along the Carquinez Strait was where much of California's early industrial history had taken place, beginning in 1850 when the Pacific Mail and Steamship Company built wharves and shops along the city's shoreline to repair paddlewheel steamers. The location along a major waterway attracted many enterprises, and became the first large industrial works in California. There were canneries, a cement plant, a tannery, and eventually the Yuba Manufacturing Company, which fabricated large metal products such as dredging, mining and agricultural equipment; cranes, cannons, marine engines and spillway gates for dams.
By the time the factory closed in 1972, it was the oldest operational manufacturing complex west of the Mississippi. Artists and artisans, including Benicia's renowned glassblowers, moved into many of the spaces, and throughout the 70s and 80s pioneered the beginnings of a vibrant arts community. By the mid-nineties, many structures had fallen into disrepair: Eventually the site was closed, and most of its buildings demolished.
The place where this colorful history came about is interpreted in a new exhibit, Yuba: What Remains, featuring photographs by Hedi B. Desuyo and monotypes and paintings by Linda Grebmeier, on view at the Marilyn Citron O'Rourke Gallery at the Benicia Public Library from September 7th through October 11th.
Just before the buildings were razed in 2007, the artists were able to go onto the closed-down property to capture images of what remained in the decaying structures, and they have used the results of their explorations as inspiration for dozens of luminous artworks, a singular testimony to the multi-layered history of the place. In 2008, the Fleishhacker Foundation awarded them a grant to develop their project, and the first works were shown in the 2010 exhibit Structure and Light at Arts Benicia.
For both artists, this endeavor is ongoing. Memories do not fade, recognized kinships endure. Desuyo and Grebmeier continue to be moved by their discoveries on the now deserted site, and are creating a rich visual legacy for this once vital enterprise on the Benicia waterfront. The buildings are gone, the property is fenced off. What remains are these stirring, indelible images: timeless, palpable repositories connecting us with past, purposed lives and the work that went on there.
Yuba: What Remains
Sept. 7 through Oct. 11, 2014
Artists Reception – Saturday Sept. 13, 2-5pm
Benicia Public Library
150 East L Street, Benicia
Hours: Mon-Thurs 10am-9pm, Fri-Sun Noon-6pm