Writers & Artists, Past & Present
INTRODUCTION — In many senses, the artist colony of Carmel-By-The-Sea was born in the early morning hours of April 18, 1906 when an earthquake of substantial proportion (RS 8.2) wreaked havoc on San Francisco, killing three thousand people and leaving thousands homeless. It is this single event that has been credited as the catalyst which delivered the poets, writers and artists to the quiet cypress groves 120 miles south in Carmel-By-The-Sea.
A large portion of Carmel had been established as an artist colony through the efforts of Jane and Albert Powers who made an investment in land in 1902, offering it to those who were interested in living a deliberate life of art and serenity.
In an essay about Jane Powers, included in this feature, Erin Gafill notes 'by 1906, the San Francisco Call had reported that 60% of all Carmel homes were owned and built by artists ... Jane's advocacy for the arts played no small role in the development of the artistic character for which Carmel is famous, for it was she along with her husband who convinced many of their artist friends, left homeless by San Francisco's great fire of 1906, to give Carmel a try.'
Slowly over several years "The Carmel Bohemians" arrived in Carmel to pursue a more deliberate life filled with music and drink and a clear freedom of creative expression. Writers and artists from around the world have since found the quiet sanctuary of Carmel irresistible. Today an innovative and thriving community of artists continues to build on the traditions established a century ago.
In celebration of our rich literary heritage and bright future, CADILLACCICATRIX is proud to present this special feature — a focus on several writers and artists who over the past one hundred years have called and continue to call Carmel, and Monterey County, home.
Among the following pages are those whose work resembles the fog that encroaches upon and retreats from the shores and valleys but never leaves. They are a part of the magic, the mystery, the land, the sea.
One of the writers who had a gigantic impact on the community was the young poet, Nora May French. French was both talented and troubled, one historian notes. Torn between the fervency of a new century and her leanings toward a classical poetic style, she committed suicide in poet George Sterling's Carmel home in 1907. In addition to the reputations of Carmel's artist community, this single event drew significant attention to the area. Some of that attention arrived in the form of interested writers and artists who wanted to experience for themselves a bit of the magic and mystery that they'd heard so much about.
In the coming years, the area would be bombarded by authors and prominent figures, and tourists, all of which yearned for a piece of this beautiful, serene place.
One of those figures was Mary Austin, an outspoken feminist and Native American rights advocate who reportedly spent her mornings writing in a tree house in the woods. Austin radiated the freedom of expression that the Carmel Bohemians stood for and emulated. Her collection of work — one hundred years later — is nothing short of frank, pointed, and introspective.
In 1914, the poet Robinson Jeffers and his wife, Una, relocated to Carmel from Los Angeles. A few years later, on a promontory on the outskirts of town Jeffers built a home for his young family. They called it Tor House. The home, built exclusively from rocks found on the Carmel shoreline, would come to represent the commitment of artists and writers who found a home in Carmel.
Over the next several decades Carmel's reputation for being at the apex of serene avant culture — and the reputations of Salinas, Big Sur, Monterey — grew as authors and artists found enchantment in the creative hamlet and its environs. John Steinbeck, Henry Miller and generations of others have arrived here seeking inspiration and calm. Some of them have found it. Some of them have not.
One-hundred years after the artists began to arrive on its shores, Carmel is more alive than ever. The artists here are dedicated to the community because the community has dedicated its culture to art, food, writing, film — the Good Life. CADILLACCICATRIX is proud to be a part of it, we are very happy to be here, to contribute, to be inspired by this place, if only for a moment.
In the following pages we honor four writers, two photographers, and the extended family of writers and artists who have made and continue to make significant contributions to the myth and magic that is Carmel-By-The-Sea. In their own words, we see how some of us have seen it, the trials that have led us here and the struggles we face to remain in the fog of the muse.
— Benjamin Spencer