Wayne Thiebaud at the PMCA

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There’s not a painter in our time who deserves to be, and perhaps is, more beloved by anyone with eyes — by the forward-looking, the traditionalist, the academic, the pop-ist, the longer for an art that takes massive graphic talent and the picture-looker who just wants to have fun — than Wayne Thiebaud.

Fortunately for Pasadenans, his “70 Years of Painting” is opening Sunday (through Jan. 31) at the ever-better Pasadena Museum of California on Union Street in the Playhouse District. Ninety years old next year, Thiebaud, who grew up in Long Beach and has long lived in Sacramento and taught at UC Davis, will be feted at a gala museum rooftop dinner Friday night. He has the happy circumstance of his luscious but formal iconic cake-on-display paintings being lumped in with Pop, which gives those who look for such a place in which to put his work, while declaiming all the while that his style has nothing to do with any school.

And his assocation with Pasadena is a long one, too. From his Wikipedia entry: “In 1962 Thiebaud’s work was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Edward Ruscha, and Robert Dowd, in the historically important and ground-breaking “New Painting of Common Objects,” curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum. This exhibition is historically considered one of the first Pop Art exhibitions in America. These painters were part of a new movement, in a time of social unrest, which shocked America and the art world and changed art forever.”

I took this snapshot of his paint cans today while getting a tour from the museum’s Emma Jacobson-Sive. As we entered that gallery, I saw Pasadenan Susan Futterman being photographed by our Sarah Reingewirtz. Emma said, “Janette (Williams) is here, too. I didn’t want to tell you guys in case one of you decided not to show up.” I had seen Janette walk out of the office a few minutes before I did. She was there to write about another show opening Sunday, being co-curated by Susan: “Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart,” an astounding series of watercolors and wood blocks that will remake the name of the great Pasadena Arts and Crafts artist of the West who lived with her sisters at Fair Oaks and California.

Treated to Tesla

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My step-brother Bart Hibbs has worked for Monrovia-based AeroVironment since the day he graduated from Caltech with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1977. Bart is a genius — a font of many forms of knowledge, an inventor, a person with a big heart. He is also one of the world’s leading experts on the troubling issue of getting more out of batteries in order to solve our energy and global-warming problems. But he has never been one to treat himself to many luxuries. Finally, he did — he got in line and put the money down to get a Tesla, the fantastic electric sports car that not only gets over 200 miles on a charge — it goes zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. He took delivery a few weeks ago, and invited my nephew Drew Cortrite and me up to his Simi Valley home last weekend to drive it. It’s a luxury Bart deserves. If anyone is going to solve the battery problem — getting them cheaper, better, longer-lasting — it may well be him. Meanwhile, he’s got the best and hottest electric going, gorgeous in its Lotus Elise body. Floor that baby and, yowza, that gas-guzzling Corvette you just blew by has got absolutely nothing on you.

Jackie Robinson, the 1938 White Sox and the Star-News

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Brookside Park south of the Rose Bowl was a favored spring training location for baseball teams before they migrated to duller climes such as those of Arizona and Florida.

The Chicago White Sox did the spring thing in Pasadena in 1938, and the Pasadena Library is planning an Art Night exhibit Oct. 9 featuring negatives from the collection of the Pasadena Star-News and an old sister paper, as described by reference librarian Dan Mclaughlin:

“The library has had in its possession for at least 20 years a box inside of which are a few hundred envelopes with such titles as ‘Pasadena 1938 Baseball White Sox Train Brookside Park’ or ‘Pasadena 1942 Dog Show Junior League Advance.’ Inside each envelope was a collection of negatives that had fused together because of water damage.

“We have had a photo restoration intern separate the negatives and preserve as best she could the documentation that went with the negatives. Based on the notes and the contents of the photos we are guessing that these were photos taken for various photo essays in both the Pasadena Star News and the Pasadena Post from about 1938-1942.

“The library is participating in Art Night this October 9, 2009 with baseball as its theme and more specifically we would like to do a display that features the photographs showing Spring Training, 1938. In addition to being very interesting photos of professional baseball in Pasadena, there are two additional items of interest about the 1938 White Sox here in Pasadena. One is that a team consisting of local ball players, including Jackie Robinson, played the White Sox and did very well. The manager of the White Sox was overheard saying something to the effect of, ‘If that kid was white I’d sign him up right now.’ The other story out of that spring training camp is that of Monty Stratton, a rising pitching star who the following winter shot himself in a hunting accident and attempted to come back as a one legged pitcher. His story is told in the 1949 move ‘The Stratton Story’ starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allison.”

I think I saw that flick on TV in the ’60s. Is Jimmy Stewart not the perfect man for the role?

Out of Poland, into the fire

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La Canada filmmaker John Kent Harrison was in Gdansk the week before last for a screening of his “The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler,” the Anna Paquin-starring flick about the woman who saved thousands of kids in the Warsaw ghetto in the war. Shown on CBS here last spring, it’s been turned into a feature for Polish theaters, and Harrison was presented with a commendation from the Polish president at a ceremony marking the German invasion of 60 years ago this month.

He returned home this week to find that the Station Fire had just spared his Alta Canyada neighborhood, and hiked up into the hills to take this shot.

The Pasadena Hunt Club in Upper Arroyo, way before fire

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This image from the Huntington Library’s collection shows the Pasadena Hunt Club in the Upper Arroyo Seco above JPL sometime in the early 1900s. Just the foundation and a beautiful monument are left. When the fire swept through the mountains last weekend, brush that had hidden the area, to the east of the trail above Teddy’s Place, was burned off, revealing an intriguing archaelogy of the early days of Pasadena.

Mountain lions in the Arroyo before the fire

Johanna Turner has an extraordinary blog, www.cougarmagic.com, with more pictures of bobcats and mountain lions in the mountains just above us than you can shake an ash-laden stick at.

It turns out she also has motion-activated cameras hidden in the Upper Arroyo Seco that take these beautiful movies of the grand beasts all of the day and all of the night.

Johanna read my blog and column about going up into the fire-ravaged zone and asked if Christopher or I could recover her cameras or even the memory card. If we can, we will. After she read my posting about how the Arroyo floor is basically intact, with many areas unburned even though the canyon walls just above are a completely burnt-out case, she said that the news “brought me hope I haven’t had in days” that the lions and her equipment both came out fine.

I just love it when the best of technology and the wild world get together without disturbing the grandeur of the latter.

More pictures from Station Fire aftermath

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Christopher Nyerges walking through the fallen century plants above Gould Mesa campground Tuesday morning after the fire had passed through the Arroyo Seco.


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Horses at the Meadows, returned from weekend evacuation.

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Above Owen Brown’s grave site, above Altadena.

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The Cooper below Brown Mountain, where USFS fire crews bravely saved the two highest houses in the Altadena foothills.

This morning, inside the Station Fire

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I met up with naturalist Christopher Nyerges this morning before 7 at his home in The Meadows neighborhood of Altadena, which had been evacuated Saturday as the fire swept through on its way east from the mountains above La Canada.

We walked down the trail into the Upper Arroyo Seco above JPL, hitting the Arroyo floor about where the ranger’s house is, and headed upstream.

The fire had moved through the area over the weekend, and we were expecting the worst for this crucial watershed which, though wild land, is actually within the city limits of Pasadena so that the city can capture the water from the year-round stream.

In the Great Hiking Era, dozens of cabins and even hotels were there, and the Valley Hunt Club had a clubhouse, presumably from which to … hunt. The only critters we saw were lots of quail.

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It was an amazing moonscape. We were ankle-deep in ashes. But, somewhat miraculously, the alders that line the streambed were mostly untouched, and the stream continues to flow through deep shade. Firefighters had clearly been there days before, defending the area and stopping its spread into The Meadows and La Vina. Trees had been chopped down to stop the flames. It was overwhelmingly quiet. And then we began to see live embers — and then, farther up, trees that were still burning, as well as logs burning alongside the trail. We doused some fires with dirt kicked from our boots and with water from Christopher’s canteen.

The semi-developed Gould Mesa, where I have often camped, was untouched. But the canyon walls on both sides of the stream were entirely scorched. The fire had just not made it down into the canyon bottom in numerous places.

Until we got past Gould, all the bridges were intact. But the biggest bridge, on the way up to Switzer’s, will need to be replaced.

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We visited with USFS firefighters on the way down who were in the area from their Devil’s Punchbowl base. They, and the many hundreds of them who are still battling the blaze, have done an extraordinary job, and all of us, especially those of us who love to hike, give them our deepest thanks.