Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Irreplaceable Classroom

Artist Robert Schick in the J. Gilbert Smith Historic Landmark Orchard at the Los Altos Civic Center.

I met Los Altos artist Robert Schick at the Paint Out we organized at Moffett Field last autumn--designed to support the Moffett Historical Society and Museum and to call attention to the demolition of historic Hangar One. 

This spring, he, in turn, supported the effort to keep Los Altos from demolishing its J. Gilbert Smith Historic Landmark Orchard. Today, with the threat abated, he brought his sketching class out to enjoy the recently-reprieved beauty.

Temperature? About 68° F. No humidity. No bugs. (Sorry, Florida friends: it is almost always like that here!)

A Los Altos art student has learned lesson one: always find a shady spot from which to work.

You couldn't create a better classroom for sketching than the one that is just out the door from our Hillview Community Center, just around the corner from our Library, and just steps away from our low impact City Hall.  It is an island of serenity amid the growing density of the Santa Clara Valley.

As we talked and his students sketched, Robert shook his head and said; "We're losing so many landmarks every day I just can't count them all."  One of his efforts is to sketch as many as he can before they disappear.

Robert Schick and a second student work at his al fresco sketching class.

Today, he was relieved not to be doing that. He brought his class here because he likes to. He, too, has noticed that the city's horticulturalists are back at work in the orchard--mowing the weeds and thinning the fruit on the trees.

Thinning the fruit and preparing for summer in the orchard.

This is the kind of maintenance that had been deferred on all the Civic Center property, for two years, while the proposal for a much larger City Hall project was debated. When a poll showed just 22.7% of the voters would support the plan, the city had to put it on the shelf. And, put the gardeners back to work in the orchard.

Robert Schick, like many of us, has wondered why we don't have an annual Los Altos "you-pick-it" event in the orchard? An annual Paint Out, during blossom time? Or, why the fruit isn't harvested for a local food bank? Or sold: with the proceeds helping some local cause? There probably is something useful done with the fruit--it is just that the city has not had a discussion about it for a long, long time.

The now-green fruit with its rosy highlights will be sweet to eat and ready to harvest in late June or early July.

Even as late as 1991, when the city passed its last resolution to preserve the orchard--as is, in situ--there was still such an abundance of fruit, in every yard in the valley that nobody thought of these things. Then, the valley really boomed--with Google, Yahoo, and eBay creating billionaires around every corner--and newcomers did not know of these things.

As one art student said today: "We have to talk about all this so it will still be here for our kids in the future."

For now, there was art in the classroom--and the classroom as art. A combination so fitting it raised its hand for recognition on a sunny spring day in California.

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Cynthia Riordan said...

It's wonderful to know the Los Altos Heritage Orchard is safe, at least for now from the City Council. Spending a million dollars before even seeking public input is just plain bad judgment.

Cyndy Riordan

Robin Chapman said...

Sadly, we seem to be losing the sense of government as the servant of the people. There was no groundswell of support for this or any of the other non-conforming projects taking place at present in Los Altos. Just greedy people doing greedy things, alas.

But we do have a nice reprieve in the orchard. Let's plan a Paint Out for the spring!