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California Dreaming: Libby Maynard, Artist

Photo by Joanne KimPhoto by Joanne Kim

Libby Maynard is an artist who has lived in the town of Eureka, in the far north of the state, for half a century. She runs an art cooperative called Ink People.


Tell me the story of you.

I live in Eureka, Humboldt County. I’ve been here since ’67. I spent my first 12 years in Washington, DC, where my father was in the State Department. We went to Thailand and Laos. I came back to the States for college, went to Wellesley, hated it, ran away, came West in ’67. As soon as I got here it felt like home. It had something to do with the trees. This sense of connection to the environment and to the earth – there were still these massive forests. And it did rain a lot. I love the rain. When I was a kid I used to walk home in the rain from school.

Now we’re at the edge of not having enough forests for genetic diversity. We don’t get as much rain now, certainly not as much fog. Part of it is climate change, and the ecology of the redwoods. They create a fog that nurtures them. We’ve cut down so many of the redwoods they can no longer affect the climate in this way. But it’s still a wonderful place. It’s a spiritual center, a different kind of tranquility and sense of calm and purpose.

What sort of art do you do?

I was a printmaker and etcher for 20 years. But I became too sensitive to the chemicals, so now I do mixed-media paintings and installations. Animals – I have a long moral piece on the cosmic wolf pack running through the universe. I can’t consistently produce for the last five or 10 years. I’m 68. The community is my palette. The work I do with the Ink People is so absorbing and rewarding. The Ink People is a community arts organization. We’re grassroots. We believe everybody’s an artist. We give peer support to artists, educate the community on the value of the arts and try to create jobs for artists. We work with the Hmong community, the Latino and Native American communities. I’m on the board of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, primarily based in Fresno, [with] offices in San Francisco and L.A. This state is this amazing tossed salad, all these different ingredients, all these different cultures that can express themselves in ways that build community and make it a wonderful place to live. Every language is a different worldview. That means an amazing diversity of viewpoints, of ways to see the world and solve challenges. Witness the fusion and blending and changing as cultures learn from each other and work together. It’s very exciting.

California has had its own bouts of xenophobia and extreme racism, ranging from massacres of Native Americans through to anti-Chinese riots and pogroms, and, more recently, propositions against undocumented immigrants. Yet in 2017 it looks somewhat different.

Somehow we’ve made it through to be a more inclusive society. I really believe it’s the wave of the future. It’s the right way to be.

California is the real future. To me, Trump is the last gasp of a regressive mentality. And of course, the last gasp holds longer and fights harder. I have this theory: I’m a boomer, we tried to change the system and it didn’t work. It got worse. Now we have this administration tearing apart everything we fought for. And it’s woken us up and it’s woken up the millennials. People are saying, “What is really important to me?” And they’re becoming active. We’re going to lead the country to the right place. I’d like to see people rediscover their own communities in new ways and see them with fresh eyes – so that they in their own communities create what they want. I’m still an optimist, even with all this stuff happening with Trump. There are far more people who really believe in the hope of this country than in Trump.

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