June 5 -11,2015
PLEIN AIR painters seem to be everywhere in Monterey County — even at the remote site in Upper Carmel Valley where the San Clemente Dam is being removed.
Painter Paola Berthoin has been charting the progress of the $83 million dam removal project with her brush and easel for nearly a year. With the blessing of project contractor Granite Construction, she has made more than 20 trips to the site, which is located 18 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean.
After visiting the site as part of a tour Granite Construction was leading, Berthoin asked project manager Bill McGowan for permission to paint the stages of the removal of the dam, which will come down this summer.
“He didn’t really hesitate,” recalled the painter, who lives in Carmel Valley. “He said, ‘I think we can make this happen.’”
When Berthoin first learned about the project — and the massive impact it would have on the valley — she was wary of it.
“When I read the environmental impact report a few years ago, I was skeptical,” the artist said.
But after spending so much time at the construction site, Berthoin has accepted it.
“While the action to cut out a large section of mountain to reroute the river is philosophically hard to accept, it is a small excavation relative to the benefit to the river in the long run,” she explained.
Still, Berthoin is feeling a little melancholy over the dam’s impending demise. “It’s a beautiful structure that was built by a lot of people by hand,” she said. “I feel a little bit of sadness that it’s coming down. But if it helps the river, that’s a good thing.”
Using oils on canvas, Berthoin has painted the project from a variety of perspectives — in fact, she has even set up her easel on top of the soon-to-be-demolished dam.
“To see this excavation up close is dramatic and mind-boggling,” said Berthoin, who’s looking forward to painting the site again once the dam is removed and the area is restored. “I consider myself very lucky to be doing this. It’s an interesting experience.”
The artist hopes her work will help the public better understand why the dam is coming down — and how its removal will benefit the environment.
“It is a unique opportunity to observe and paint the changes first-hand, and use the paintings to educate people locally and beyond about the dam removal,” she added.
So far, Berthoin has completed eight pieces, including a diptych and a triptych. The public will have its first opportunity to see Berthoin’s dam removal paintings up close when the visitors’ center at Garland Ranch Regional Park unveils an exhibit next month.
The show will be on view from July 12 through November 2015. A formal opening will be August 9.