Sinking The Rising Sun

Grandma Moses began painting in her seventies. Montecito resident Bill Davis became an author in his eighties. He had a successful book signing recently at Borders with many friends and acquaintances coming to hear how “Sinking the Rising Sun” had morphed.

Bill explained, “When our two daughters were young and we lived in Los Angeles we used to make the long drive to Mammoth to ski. They asked the proverbial, ‘When are we going to get there?’ There was no TiVo to keep them entertained, so I would tell World War II war stories about when I was a Navy fighter pilot. I didn’t think the girls would be interested, but when I had run out of stories they said, ‘Tell them again.’ This went on for years, so I honed the stories for my book.”

He also had kept a rudimentary diary during his military days but said, “If I’d known I was going to write a book I would have written a lot more in it. I was a senior in college when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. I always thought it funny that I signed up for the draft on April Fool’s day. The recruiting officer told me that once I got the wings and the uniform, every woman would follow me. It never happened.

“I also spent some time in Maui, where I was in charge of R&R or parties. I auditioned many hula groups for at the Maui Country Club. We military were honorary members. We wanted our gunnery scores to go up and our golf scores to go down.”

As you read the book, you’ll see things got much more serious. Bill seemed like the cat with the proverbial nine lives; he had so many near misses with Japanese planes and ships. Though it sounds like a Hollywood production, it’s a miracle he survived to write about it. Bill earned the Navy Cross because he was one of those that helped sink the Zuikaku, the last Japanese carrier afloat that had been part of the Pearl Harbor attack.

As Bill was signing books, Jonathan Winters sat beside him signing books too, because Jonathan had written the introduction. I asked Bill how that happened. “When we first moved to Santa Barbara,” he explained, “my wife and I were building a house and we ate many meals at the Pharmacy in Upper Village. One day I saw Jonathan wearing a jacket with RAF wings on it. When I asked him about them, he told me he’d always wanted to be a Navy carrier pilot. I said I was, and he joined us for lunch. We’ve been friends ever since.” Jonathan enlisted in the Navy during the war and was an admiral’s orderly and a gunner on the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31). Bill’s Torpedo Squadron 19 (VT-19) was aboard the USS Lexington.

Part of what Jonathan wrote was, “I’ve met Orville Wright; Jimmy Stewart, Army Air Corps; Jimmy Doolittle, Army Air Corps; Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I ace, and Neil Armstrong. But I must stop here and mention after reading this book and knowing Bill for a number of years; if you’re in need of a role model, this man ranks to me with the men I’ve mentioned. So put the canopy forward; you’re about to take off on a wild and wonderful adventure.”

Perhaps soon I’ll say, “I knew Bill when…” Ken Burns wants to use the book as one of five memoirs he’ll be producing for the Public Broadcasting System.

In Plain Sight

There wasn’t any red carpet but there was a premiere not long ago at the Museum of Art Mary Craig Auditorium. It was the first showing of the hour-long documentary “In Plain Sight: Public Art in Santa Barbara,” which follows the history of public art from ancient Chumash cave paintings to modern works like Herbert Bayer’s Chromatic Gate.

Besides invited guests there were City and County officials, production staff from City TV 18, artists, film interviewees, City Arts Advisory Committee members, County Arts Commissioners and staff, City Redevelopment Agency staff and the funding partners attending.

Penny Haberman, who was one of the first people I met in Santa Barbara in 1976, got me involved. Her friend David Jacoby gave $15,000 through the family trust in memory of his late wife Janine and son Daniel. Other partners were Santa Barbara Beautiful and the City of Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency.

Director of Education Jill Finsten from the Museum of Art welcomed the audience and introduced Executive Director of the County Arts Commission Ginny Brush (Do our jobs reflect our names?). She explained, “This is the end of a three-year process, which began with a public art tour given by Christine Palmer for Executive Director of the Country Arts Commission Patrick Davis (retired) and me.” Tony Ruggieri and Christy Zwicke from City TV 18 used Christine’s script as the basis for the documentary. They interviewed local artists like Donald Davis, Aris Demetrios and Joseph Knowles, Jr., and dignitaries such as Hal Conklin to give the film a voice. Tony said, “Those were the easiest interviews I’ve ever done. I would ask a question and they would just take off with their answers.”

The documentary showed the artist David Shelton, who put corn and stalks on the light fixtures on Milpas, as he explained his creative process for the project. He began with the historical fact that Milpas means maize and corn once grew in fields there. We learned that the original sculpture plans for the wharf were not Bud Bottoms’ dolphins but a three-sided monstrosity the public protested. So they put all the drawings from various artists in the library and locals voted. The dolphins won. Historically it was very appropriate, since the Chumash revered dolphins in their legends.

Artist Marge Dunlop said in the film, “It’s important to have art outside, singing aloud.”

Another artist, Hank Pitcher’s, point of view was that all art should be inside, not thrust in our face if we don’t want it. According to the video, some adults will see a piece of public art and say, “What the devil is that?” Children don’t have the baggage of what art should be and are more accepting of the unusual.

Everyone adjourned to the new Edward Cella Art and Architecture Gallery at 10 East Figueroa Street, Suite 3 for wine and bites and to chat about how much they liked the work. Donor David Jacoby brought along his daughter from Colorado, Naomi Ryerson, and his three granddaughters Michaela, Lia and Jordana, for the event.

The DVD will be sold beginning in the fall, when the accompanying brochure with public art sites marked, is completed. Profits will be used to maintain Santa Barbara’s public art and to revise the DVD as new pieces are added. If you want to appreciate some things in Santa Barbara you’ve walked by many times and taken for granted or perhaps not even noticed, you’ll love this video.

Made In Santa Barbara

When did Santa Barbara become known as a photographic community? After World War II both the Museum of Art and Brooks Institute of Photography opened their doors. Sixty years later the largest exhibition of photography titled “Made in Santa Barbara” opened to the public with 100 images by 45 Santa Barbara-based photographers. Check it out; it will be up through Sunday, October 7.