I have a painting on display in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) right now. No kidding. It’s the “Where the Heck Are We?” sign! Honest truth, the sign is presently on display as part of Colter Jacobsen’s installation of art work. Here’s how.
Colter, a highly regarded artist, was honored with an invitation to be included in this year’s SECA Exhibition. Colter is the husband of Larry Rinder, who bought Phil and Nancy’s property across the road from our old property at the Ranch. Larry is the director of the Berkeley Art Museum, worked for many years as a curator at the Whitney, and was the dean of the graduate school at California College of the Arts. Both Colter and Larry are recognized and successful in the national art scene.
The SECA Exhibition is attached to an award that is given to four local San Francisco artists every two years. Four artists are selected to participate. This year is the 50th anniversary of the SECA Award. Click here to go to the web page about the award and the exhibition at the SFMOMA. Colter works in a variety of media. He is an accomplished painter. He also creates art from found objects and images. He has always loved the “Where the Heck Are We?” sign, and he asked the people who own our old property if he could put it into his installation. So my sign, that I originally painted and posted on a tree in August 1991, during our first few days at the Ranch, is now “sort of near the back of the fifth floor” (according to Colter) at the SFMOMA.
For those of you who don’t know the story about the sign, here’s the short version. On our first night at the Ranch, after we put the children to bed, Ron and I were in our bedroom listening to the unbelievably loud cacophony of chirping crickets. Ron, a city boy born and bred, turned to me in mock horror and asked, “Where the heck are we?” Sort of, what have we done, what were we thinking when we moved to the middle of nowhere? Of course, we loved our 18 years at the Ranch. Moving there was one of the best decisions we ever made. But Ron’s question was so hilarious that I had to paint it on a sign and post it. I put the sign on a tree beside the dirt road leading to our property. Many a first-time visitor to the Ranch told us, “We thought we were lost until we saw the sign, recognized your sense of humor, and knew we were on the right road.”
Over the years, the sign developed a life of its own. I could tell heaps of stories about that sign, which took on special meaning for many, many people. The question it asks is an important question! Colter felt that the sign belonged in an art museum for a few months. After the exhibition ends in April, he will put the sign back on the tree at the Ranch. In the meantime, he made a stand-in, which says “Where the Heck Are We?”; however, I told Colter that his stand-in sign should really say “Where the Heck Is the Sign?”
Now for some visual aids. My high school friend Suzanne Stratford Parkinson and her family were visiting San Francisco last week and they went to the SFMOMA. Here are some photos of the sign that they took and emailed to me.
First photo: A replica was made of the sign as a stand-in while they were assembling the exhibit. The original sign is on the left (mine) and the replica is on the right.
Second photo: Suzanne's beautiful daughter Alex with the sign.
Third photo: A photograph that Colter took of the sign in its natural habitat (on its tree) at the Ranch. The photo is part of Colter's installation and accompanies the sign and its replica. Beautiful Alex once again shares the sign!
Fourth photo: Added after my initial post, here is a close-up photo of the sign on the tree taken many years ago by my dear friend Jessica Nelson, who says eventually the sign began to mean, for her family, that they had arrived at a place of respite, fun, and abundant love. (Thank you, Jessica.)
Fifth photo: (Also added after initial post.) Mendocino Co. friend Margo Frank had her picture taken with the sign at the MOMA and did not realize that it was the same sign we had posted at the Ranch for all those years until she read my blog! (The sign is a sign of Margo's failed memory now.)