Margaret Eldred

Hotel Amar

Margaret took a lot of art in high school, but she wasn’t nearly as passionate about art as she was about literature. She read Jane Eyre five times before she graduated. She became an English major in college, eventually earning a Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Davis. She spent most of her 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, she has taken several art studio classes at Sacramento City College and is currently taking private lessons from Philippe Gandiol. Without exception, her teachers have challenged her to go beyond what she felt comfortable with and try new things. Anything she does well, she owes to them.
Currently, Margaret is focusing on pen and ink drawings of California native trees and acrylic paintings of agricultural landscapes and local gardens. Her interest in these subjects began way back in her childhood. One of her dad’s favorite dinner table conversations was about the little farm he was going to buy in Auburn or Colfax when he retired. She remembers picking peas and squash in what started out as a Victory Garden in Berkeley. Later, they had a garden in southern California with oranges and Fay Elberta peach trees, with a little room left over for Mom’s flowers. They also went camping every summer. Their favorite activity was hiking-Dad taught Margaret and her sister to identify trees on our walks and her Mom showed them the delicate blossoms of wildflowers. She is strictly a studio painter and work from photographs that she or her husband and sons have taken. Margaret and her husband travel around California and indeed the world, looking for interesting crops and trees to photograph. Then she does more research in field guides, botany books, and the web. She doesn’t do botanical drawings, but she likes her valley oaks to look like valley oaks, her apricot trees to look like apricot trees. More than that, though, she tries to capture what makes this tree, this crop, this garden scene unique and worthy of our attention.
She loves that she is still learning, still developing her craft, still seeing the landscape with fresh vision, and not knowing where all this is leading her. She first became interested in Mediterranean agriculture when her older son, Steve, joined the Peace Corps and was sent to a small village in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. When Margaret and her husband visited him there, she 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. She 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. She is 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, she reflects on the richness of Mediterranean agriculture and on each region’s unique relationship to the land and its resources.
She paints in dabs of red, yellow, and blue, akin to the technique of the Impressionists. Using dabs of bright, pure color is the best way she knows 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 her to consider more fully the quality of light and the range of colors of the scene. And it encourages experimentation. She is constantly learning new things about the nature of color and of art.

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