Margaret Eldred

I took a lot of art in high school, but I wasn’t nearly as passionate about art as I was about literature. I read Jane Eyre five times before I graduated. I became an English major in college, eventually earning a PhD in English from the University of California at Davis. I spent most of my working life as a lecturer in the writing program at UC Davis, specializing in scientific and technical writing and in advanced composition. Since retiring in 2002, I have taken several art studio classes at Sacramento City College and am currently taking private lessons from Philippe Gandiol. Without exception, my teachers have challenged me to go beyond what I felt comfortable with and try new things. Anything I do well, I owe to them.
Currently, I am focusing on pen and ink drawings of California native trees and acrylic paintings of agricultural landscapes and local gardens. My interest in these subjects began way back in my childhood. One of my dad’s favorite dinnertable conversations was about the little farm he was going to buy in Auburn or Colfax when he retired. I remember picking peas and squash in what started out as a Victory Garden in Berkeley. Later, we had a garden in southern California with oranges and Fay Elberta peach trees, with a little room left over for Mom’s flowers. We also went camping every summer. Our favorite activity was hiking-Dad taught my sister and me to identify trees on our walks and Mom showed us the delicate blossoms of wildflowers. I am strictly a studio painter and work from photographs that I or my husband and sons have taken. My husband and I travel around California and indeed the world, looking for interesting crops and trees to photograph. Then I do more research in field guides, botany books, and the web. I don’t do botanical drawings, but I like my valley oaks to look like valley oaks, my apricot trees to look like apricot trees. More than that, though, I try to capture what makes this tree, this crop, this garden scene unique and worthy of our attention.
I love that I am still learning, still developing my craft, still seeing the landscape with fresh vision, and not knowing where all this is leading me. I first became interested in Mediterranean agriculture when my older son, Steve, joined the Peace Corps and was sent to a small village in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. When my husband and I visited him there, I was struck by how similar the landscape was to the landscape of northern California-hillsides studded with oak and olive trees, wet winters, wildflowers in spring, dry summers with brown grasses. I was amazed by the sheer number of crops common to Morocco and California: olives, wheat, almonds, figs, wine grapes, citrus, apricots, artichokes, peaches, prickly pear, persimmons, and pomegranates, to name a few. I’m equally fascinated by the differences in agricultural practices. Farmers in California plant crops in uniform rows and keep the ground free of weeds. Moroccan farmers jumble date palms, almonds, olives, and pomegranates together into the same watering basin. The availability of water, machinery, and labor, the quality of the soil, the geography, the size of plots, and the farmer’s production goals-all affect his or her farming methods. In this series of paintings, I reflect on the richness of Mediterranean agriculture and on each region’s unique relationship to the land and its resources.
I paint in dabs of red, yellow, and blue, akin to the technique of the Impressionists. Using dabs of bright, pure color is the best way I know to capture the brilliant sunlight of these hot summer regions. This palette might seem confining, but it is in fact freeing. The limited palette forces me to consider more fully the quality of light and the range of colors of the scene. And it encourages experimentation. I am constantly learning new things about the nature of color and of art.

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