Common Ground: A Celebration of Our National Parks

To celebrate the centennial of the National Park System, and to highlight the centrality of art in advocacy for the natural world, the David Brower Center asked Bay Area artists to reflect on national parks and what they mean to us. Common Ground features the work of twenty local artists who have found inspiration and meaning in our parklands.

Art was crucial to creation of the National Park System. Paintings by early 19th century artists like William Bartram and James Audubon made wild nature real to the public. The oils of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, Thomas Moran, William Keith, and other painters of Yosemite moved President Lincoln, in 1864, to protect that valley as a park. The success of David Brower and Ansel Adams in getting a copy of Adams’s portfolio, Sierra Nevada: the John Muir Trail, into the hands of Franklin Roosevelt tipped the balance in the creation of Kings Canyon National Park.

The Organic Act of 1916 established the National Park Service and defined its mission: “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

“The best idea we ever had,” Wallace Stegner wrote of the national parks. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

Over a century since its inception, America’s best idea has evolved into an even better one today. We see our reserves of unspoiled nature not just as places for human enjoyment but as refuges for organic wholeness and spiritual renewal, with implications for human survival. The essential virtues of the national parks – wildlife, wilderness, ecosystems, biodiversity, open space, silence – need no economic or recreational rationale for their existence. They exist because they should.

Featured artists (bios below): Alexis Arnold, Jenny E. Balisle, Tony Bellaver, George-Ann Bowers, Mariet Braakman, Hopi Breton, Kimberley D’Adamo Green, Marshall Elliott, Tanja Geis, J. M. Golding, Jeff Greenwald, Andras Ladai, Malcolm Lubliner, Kara Maria, Kim Miskowicz, Karen Preuss, Ansley West Rivers, Caroline Seckinger, Paul Taylor, Christopher Woodcock

2016 jurors: Stephanie Hanor, Director, Mills College Art Museum; Katrina Traywick, Director, Traywick Contemporary; Laurie Rich, Executive Director of the David Brower Center; and Sean Uyehara, Director of Programs, Headlands Center for the Arts.

Artist Bios

Alexis Arnold is a San Francisco artist whose work explores the visual display of time, perception, and natural history through the transformation of varied materials and objects. Her artwork has been exhibited internationally, including the Aspen Art Museum, The New York Hall of Science, Whatcom Museum, Bergdorf Goodman, Southern Exposure, The Workshop Residence, Art on Paper, The San Francisco Center for the Book, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Alexis’ work is included in the collections of SFMOMA, the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Commonwealth University, and MediaMath, and has received review in Colossal, Hi-Fructose, Art Practical, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, boingboing, designboom, and Beautiful/Decay. She holds an MFA in sculpture from the San Francisco Art Institute, as well as a BA in art from Kenyon College.

Jenny E. Balisle earned a B.A. in Art and Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a M.F.A. from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. She has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows including the de Young Museum Artist-in-Residence, Art Museum of Los Gatos, Gallery 555 of the Oakland Museum of California, Chicago Cultural Center, Korean Cultural Center, Harvard University, Farmington Museum, Museu Brasileiro Sao Paulo and 188Art in Shanghai, China. Her work has been featured in such publications as ZYZZYVA journal, Sculptural Pursuits Magazine, The Drum Literary Magazine, and NONPROFIT QUATERLY. She was also commissioned for the original Hearts in San Francisco public art and South San Francisco Utility Box Mural Project. Balisle currently works as an artist, curator, advocate, writer, lecturer, and M.F.A. instructor at the Academy of Art University. Locally, she serves on the Public Art Advisory Committee and as a Richmond Arts & Culture Commissioner.

Oakland-based artist Tony Bellaver creates mixed media sculpture and drawings inspired by his love of hiking and nature. He incorporates maps, drawings, photographs and found foliage gathered on his many hikes to create texture and meaning in his diary-like works. While backpacking over hundreds of miles at a time, Tony makes small journals during his treks to capture the experience of the places he’s traveled through. This exercise gives him a better understanding of himself as an element in nature rather than the focal point. When back in his studio, away from the wilderness, the journals become the source for larger sculptures, sometimes in book form, of what is in his mind. He tells a layered story of his journeys Using materials such as wood as the framework, plus found objects and photographs. Tony grew up in the South Bay where he was somewhat indifferent to the typical high school sports hero. Riding his bike and hiking to fishing spots with like-minded friends were his norms. After undergraduate school in San Jose, he went to the San Francisco Art Institute for graduate school to study painting and sculpture. Along with exhibiting nationally as well as internationally, he spends a good amount of his summer as a National Sierra Club trip leader.

Textile artist George-Ann Bowers has created woven artwork for exhibition and commission for more than 30 years. Her formal training includes early studies at the California College of Arts in Oakland, and Fiberworks Center for the Textile Arts and Pacific Basin School of Textile Arts in Berkeley, California. Bowers exhibits her weavings regularly in venues throughout the United States as well as internationally, having shown work recently in England, China, and Toronto, Canada. She finds inspiration for her artwork during frequent adventures in the outdoors, and has completed artist residencies at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, Acadia National Park in Maine, Alaska’s Denali National Park, and the Grand Canyon. Bowers’ artwork has appeared in publications including Fiberarts magazine, the Surface Design Association Journal, and is included in the 2012 compendium Textiles: The Art of Mankind, by Mary Schoeser. Her work is represented in the collections of King County, Washington (Portable Artwork Collection); Home News Enterprises of Columbus, Indiana; the National Park Service in Arizona, Maine and Alaska; and in private collections.

Mariet Braakman was born in The Netherlands where she received her formal education resulting in a BA in Education and a BA in Fine Arts. There she worked as a High School art teacher and also taught a special arts program for children and adults. In 1983 she immigrated with her family to the United States and currently resides in Kensington, California. The opportunity now to live in the USA after having lived in France, Brazil and The Netherlands, combined with an extensive international travel experience, made her extremely aware of the geological differences in nature. Especially because of her growing up in a country below-sea-level she became intrigued by mountainous landscapes. Her voyages to China and Japan deepened her reasoning to bring back memories, resulting in her recent body of work in which images formed through the mind are deconstructed into new landscapes.

Hopi Breton heads the sculpture program and serves as chairwoman at Diablo Valley College in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has taught sculpture and metal arts since 2002. She earned a BA from Loyola University in New Orleans and an MFA from Montana State University. Hopi proudly celebrates a family filled with artists, including her mother and grandmother. As a third generation California resident, her relationship to our protected lands has profoundly shaped her work. Land Blanket was a year-long project involving the molding of a Navarro Beach cliffside in Mendocino, Ca. The work was cast and painted in latex, and incorporates fiber, transforming the replica into a conceptual security blanket wall work.

Fascinated by cell biology, Google Earth, and our emotional connection to the natural world, Kimberley D’Adamo Green’s current work focuses on Pacific Coast ecosystems. Through painting, she explores how our notion of scale is shifting as a result of new technologies. Her painting is influenced by Rothko, Monet and the notion of the sublime. Her training includes a BA in Fine Art and Philosophy from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, and an MA in Secondary Education from SFSU. Most recently, D’Adamo Green was Artist in Residence at the Lucid Art Foundation in Inverness CA, where she spent 3 weeks studying the Point Reyes Seashore. In addition to exhibiting regularly, she is writing a book about how to teach arts-based research. She teaches Interdisciplinary Art at Berkeley High School and lives in Oakland, California.

Marshall Elliott received his BA in Film Studies and English Literature at the University of Colorado, and his MFA in Sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he was awarded the Anne Bremer Memorial Prize. He has also studied and practices meditation, wilderness medicine, poetry, massage therapy, yoga, theater set design, folk music and woodworking. In addition to numerous San Francisco-area spaces such as The Headlands Center for the Arts and the Jules Maeght Gallery, he has shown work in Colorado, Oregon, Chicago, Nebraska and Puerto Rico. He currently lives and works in Oakland.

Tanja Geis makes paintings, installations, videos and participatory events that explore liminal and mongrel spaces as zones for the transformation of ecological perception. Geis was born and raised in Hong Kong and lives in Oakland, CA. Geis holds an M.F.A. in Art Practice from UC Berkeley, an M.R.M. in Marine Management from the University of Akureyri, Iceland, and a B.A. in Fine Art from Yale University. Her work has been exhibited at the Berkeley Art Museum, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History and other venues in New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Japan, and Iceland. She co-founded Wildfjords Artist Residency in Iceland and has taught at the UC Berkeley. Geis’ awards include a 2015 Graduate Fellowship at the Headlands Center for the Arts, a 2015 Eisner Prize for Art Practice from the UC Berkeley, a 2014 Murphy and Cadogan Contemporary Art Award from The San Francisco Foundation, a 2014 Graduate Arts Grant from the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, and a 2014 Peacebuilding Leadership Fellowship from the Shinnyo-en Foundation.

M. Goldingis a fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She holds degrees from Yale University and the University of California, Los Angeles. J. M. chooses plastic, pinhole, and vintage film cameras as her primary photographic tools: plastic cameras for their playfulness, spontaneity, and capacity to help create dreamlike images; pinhole cameras for their simplicity and contemplative quality; and vintage film cameras for the subjectivity of the images that are possible. J. M.’s photographs have been shown internationally in numerous juried exhibitions; for example, the Annual International Juried Plastic Camera Show and Juried Pinhole Show (RayKo Gallery, San Francisco, CA), Krappy Kamera (Soho Photo, New York), and the Somerville Toy Camera Festival. They were included in Bending the Light (Oakland Museum exhibit at Oakland International Airport, CA, 2011-2), Time in a Can (Fundacion Diario, Madrid), and Obscura: 121 Views (Galerie Pflüger68, Berlin). She is the recipient of the 2013 Holga Inspire Award, the Lúz Gallery Curator’s Choice Award (2009) and several Honorable Mentions in juried exhibitions.

Oakland resident Jeff Greenwald has published six books, including Shopping for Buddhas (recently out in its 25th Anniversary Edition), The Size of the World (for which he created the first Internet travel blog) and Snake Lake. His tales and essays have appeared in many print and online publications, from Afar to Wired. Jeff’s acclaimed one-man show, “Strange Travel Suggestions”— which premiered at The Marsh in San Francisco in 2003—continues its run, most recently in San Leandro. An inveterate traveler and planetary advocate, Jeff is also the Executive Director of Ethical Traveler (a project of the Earth Island Institute), an alliance dedicated to human rights and environmental protection. He frequently leads trips to Cuba and—this year—Nepal and Lithuania. For more info, visit

In his professional role as a photogrammetrist, Andras Ladai’s photographic activity is focused not only on engineering applications, but artistic statements as well. His personal and professional interests lead him to a wide scope of experiments with a broad range of imaging technologies. He makes fine art using pinhole photography, traditional black and white technology, digital photography, multispectral imagery, and the latest 3D capturing technologies. When working on a new concept, he is inspired by both the intellectual exploration of the topic at hand, as well as the new visual possibilities presented by the chosen technology. While often creating surrealistic images, he also pays tribute to the documentary roles of photography. Andras is Hungarian, and currently lives in Berkeley, CA. He graduated as a photogrammetrist engineer and earned his PhD as a geoscientist at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He also completed extensive extracurricular studies in fine arts and photography under several prominent Hungarian artists. He displays artwork in group exhibitions internationally.

Malcolm Lubliner received an MFA from the Otis Art Institute in 1962 and spent several years teaching painting and drawing in private and community classes throughout the region including the graduate painting and drawing department at Long Beach State. In 1968 Lubliner decided to pursue a career in photography and became the contract photographer for Gemini GEL, the renowned Los Angeles graphics publisher. He was also the contract photographer for The LA County Museum of Art’s Art and Technology Program and spent several years documenting what came to be known as the L.A. Art Renaissance. As an exhibiting artist Lubliner’s work is in several public and private collections including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, New York Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Oakland Museum of California, The Crocker Museum, Syracuse University, The Bancroft Library, Saint Maries University and The Getty Research Institute. His work has been published widely including principle photographs in the Getty’s 2011 Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions and publications. In 2012 The Getty Research Institute acquired Lubliner’s L.A. Art History archive and many of those photographs are part of the Getty Images archive. Lubliner continues to produce and exhibit his work locally and regionally.

Kara Maria is a visual artist working in painting and mixed media. Her work reflects on political topics—feminism, war, and the environment. Maria received her BA and MFA from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the San Jose Museum of Art, the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University, the di Rosa in Napa, Mills College Art Museum in Oakland, and the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, among others. Maria lives and works in San Francisco; and is represented by Catharine Clark Gallery. For more information please visit

Kim Miskowicz is a visual artist based in Oakland, CA. Her work has been exhibited at numerous Bay Area venues including Artists’ Television Access, Headlands Center for the Arts, San Francisco Cinematheque, Southern Exposure and Krowswork. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico and did post graduate study in painting and experimental film at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work focuses on a response to material and data overload creating breaks in continuous thoughts similar to a building obstructing a view of a simple horizon. Her paintings and films are inspired by the belief in therapeutic effects of viewing distant forms in the landscape. She uses film and video as a multiplier and quick viewer of minutely varied compositions and makes large scale found paper collages. She explores media and material absorption in relation to determining what of our personal, emotional and informational lives one preserves versus invalidates.

Karen Preuss has been a free lance commercial photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than thirty years, specializing in location photography of people. Her experience has been wide ranging, shooting assignments for businesses, non profits and magazines. She has also had a number of exhibits including Workers, Esalen Institute, Crete, abstract close ups of flowers and Gravenstein apple growing in Sonoma County. Her academic background was in anthropology. A summer adventure and job at a salmon cannery in Alaska started her on her journey to becoming a photographer. In July of 2015 she went on a Road Scholar trip to visit Yellowstone National Park for the first time. She was astounded by the beauty and dramatic impact of many of the park’s features. This image is of the Grand Prismatic Spring, an hypnotic location where the orange color comes from microbial activity. She appreciates the opportunity to share this image with the visitors to this exhibit at the Brower Center.

Ansley West Rivers is a photographer who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her BFA from the University of Georgia and MFA from the California College of the Arts. Her work is featured in many public and private collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, LaGrange Art Museum and The Mayo Collection. Additionally, West Rivers’s work has been shown at the Wattis Institute of Contemporary Art (San Francisco, CA), Sous Les Etoiles Gallery (New York, NY), Burrard Arts Foundation (Vancouver BC), Root Division (San Francisco, CA), L1 Gallery (Atlanta, GA), Kala Art Institute (Berkley, CA), Carmel Visual Arts (Carmel, CA), Kiernan Gallery (Lexington, VA), and The Print Center (Philadelphia, PA). She has taught Photography at the California College of the Arts. She currently lives in the Low Country of Georgia.

Caroline Seckinger is a conceptual and performance artist with a working repertoire of printmaking, drawing, sculpture in metal, fibers, animal parts, wax; film, and digital media. Seckinger counters this diversification of modalities with a honing of content, focusing her inquiry fairly specifically on a phenomenon in contemporary social and esoteric discourses. The result is work that is increasingly conceptual, intellectual, spiritual and political, and yet unrelentingly lyrical and aesthetic. Seckinger uses meditation and ceremonial space in her practice to deepen her conversation with the seen and the unseen worlds. Working with skills of markmaking, stitching, knitting, knotting, weaving; she allows the repetitive nature of these working practices to permeate both the content and the form of the work, much of which is based on serial presentations and narrative expositions. Seckinger is a graduate of University of Santa Cruz (BFA) and California Institute (MFA). She has worked as an activist, investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker which informs her practice as artist as a social lens. She is the recipient of numerous film awards and artist grants.

Paul Taylor was born in Minnesota and lives in Berkeley, CA. He received a BA from Carleton College and an MFA from the University of California, Davis. Paul works across multiple media including sculpture, video, performance, photography, and drawing. His work explores the effects of increased digital immersion on our lives and examines the unseen structures and systems that support our existence and modify our behavior. Paul has participated in exhibitions at the Headlands Center of the Arts in Sausalito, CA; the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, CA; and Munch Gallery in New York, NY among others. His videos have screened at festivals nationally and internationally. Paul has published articles in the Parsons Journal of Information Mapping and Media-N Journal.

Christopher Woodcock was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographs investigate narratives of exploration, urbanization, and preservation of wilderness. A graduate of the UC Davis Master of Fine Arts program and the San Francisco Art Institute, he is a recipient of several awards including the University of California Office of the President Mathias Grant, the Valentine Eastern Sierra Grant, and the David Robertson Residency Fellowship in the Arts. He has shown nationally and internationally and his work is held in many private and public collections. The Benrubi Gallery in New York represents his work.

Image credit: Prismatic by Jeff Greenwald, 2015.