CAMPING OUT AT PINE MOUNTAIN — IN 1887 STYLE

This article was run in the JUNE 2019 issue of “THE SESPE WILD” (the newsletter of the Keep the Sespe Wild Committee). It is reprinted here with their permission. It was placed in the newsletter by Alasdair Coyne.

CAMPING OUT AT PINE MOUNTAIN — IN 1887 STYLE


In an article first published in March 1887 in The Century, a popular quarterly publication of the time, “In these pages,” writes John Hassard, “I propose telling how we lived without hardship on a remote mountain, hunting, fishing, exploring the wild places, and idling in the shade of the pines.” Excerpts follow, from this lengthy story of two months’ camping —

“We were five comrades, including one lady, and we were served by a guide, Soper, and a Chinese cook.” And, as well as their horses, they took along a cow for fresh milk!

“Our point of departure and base of supplies was the little hamlet of Nordhoff” [now Ojai].

Their route went through Matilija Canyon and thereby up to near the summit of what is now Hwy. 33, before heading up to the Pine Mountain ridge. They enjoyed a leisurely two weeks camping out in Matilija Canyon.

“The Dolly Varden trout, which is caught in these California brooks, is named from the brilliant and varied colors of its sides and belly. No special art is needed to take it; worms, flies, grasshoppers, bits of bread or of meat — it swallows them all. I think with a few accidental exceptions we had trout with every meal as long as we remained in this camp.

Farther up we afterward found still finer fishing. There was a spot on the left fork of the Matilija where the doctor and the Chinaman, resting a day on the march to the mountain, hooked trout almost as fast as they could throw their lines. Here Ah Hing performed his great exploit of catching forty-eight fish with one worm, which has always seemed to me the most remarkable illustration of Chinese thrift in my experience.”

“We spent a week on the road from our first camp to the mountain. Once we set up our tabernacle in a group of bay-trees, and made our beds of the fragrant branches. Again we halted in a copse by the Sespe River, where we caught trout of prodigious fatness.”

Arriving at Pine Mountain, they “had no water; that had to be brought from the glen, about a mile distant, the trail comprising a breakneck ascent of five hundred feet which was much worse than anything we had passed on the journey. If we had realized the full extent of the water difficulty before starting, we should have directed our expedition elsewhere; and indeed I must confess that, in many respects, Pine Mountain, as a camping place, is open to objections. I will not rehearse them all, for I am more concerned to show how one can live comfortably in camp.” They let loose their horses, which fended for themselves during their six week stay.

At their camps, their set-up was magnificent: “In the midst of our grove we set up a capacious table, which not only served us for the meals but marked a place for social gatherings. We leveled a broad platform, raised a stout awning-frame, made benches of split logs, and built on the north, or windward side, a thick screen of wattled hemlock branches, which we hung with sundry housekeeping articles, and decorated, after a while, with deer-skins, and other trophies of the chase. At one side was suspended a vessel of drinking-water; at the other was a little covered fireplace; with a flue running so far back into the hillside that smoke would not annoy us. Here we made the coffee and kept the dishes hot, while Ah Hing held undisturbed possession of the kitchen.

That department was about [10 yards] distant, in a clump of fine trees, and was nearly surrounded by a wind-screen of hemlock boughs and odd pieces of canvas. With poles, and lengths of split pine, and a few empty boxes, the cook made a dresser and a set of shelves. We had and excellent stove of sheet-iron, highly effective and easily transported. It was about three feet long, eighteen inches high, eighteen inches wide; it had no bottom, no legs, nothing that would break; the pipe telescoped and went inside; the weight of the whole was eight pounds, and the shape was convenient for packing.”

“The greatest affliction of this savage existence is dirt, and the greatest comfort is a basin of water.”

“Our party hunted [deer] in moderation. Two of them took to the woods for the benefit of their health, and those who were better able to carry a gun did not depend upon shooting for their daily amusement. They read, they sketched, they strolled about the mountain in search of the picturesque, they made excursions on horseback to various parts of the long ridge and to the valley below, they lounged and chatted in the shade. The ordinary work of the camp and construction of chairs, tables, washstands, and innumerable little conveniences gave everybody some occupation. We had a few carpenter’s tools, and they were never out of use.”

Regular pack animals came up from Ojai — “rawhide bags which hung from the pack-tree were filled with parcels of tea, coffee, sugar, small groceries, powder, shot, nails, flour, and meal, can of honey, a ham, a pail of fresh butter, a peck of potatoes, onions and whatever young vegetables could be got, and on the load were a few young fowls in a sack, a box of eggs, a box of apricots, pears, and apples and a plethoric mail-bag.”

Their camp menu is worthy of description:
“Breakfast: Oatmeal porridge of cream; deer’s liver and bacon; broiled kidneys; hot biscuits; coffee and tea.
Luncheon: Lamb chops; canned salmon; honey and cream.
Dinner: Soup; haunch of venison; mashed potatoes; pudding.” The lamb was bought from herders in the valley a few miles below.

“We paid the cook $1 a day. We paid the guide $3 a day for his own services and the use of his two horses. Reckoning supplies, wages, and the rent of the cow, the living expenses of the whole party of seven, with the 8 animals, amounted for sixty-eight days, to $562.31, which, divided among five, gives a cost of $112.46 a head. Or $2 a day. As we lived like gourmets, and made no great effort to economize, this, we thought, was doing pretty well.”

Their full adventure is at this link: httlps://yankeebabbareno.com/2012/04/18/camping-out-in california-pine-mountain-narrative-1887/

Phil Harvey: Oh, What a Beautiful Life

Phil Harvey with Sally Carless and Myrna Cambianica

This article ran on the front page of the Friday January 15, 2021 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with the permission of the newspaper and reporter Perry Van Houten.

Phil Harvey: Oh, What a Beautiful Life

By Perry Van Houten

Phil Harvey with Sally Carless and Myrna Cambianica
Phil Harvey in 2014 with two of his many friends, Sally Carless (left) and Myrna Cambianica.
Photo by Sally Carless

Phil Harvey, an Ojai icon who entertained generations, passed away Jan. 5 in the valley he loved.

Harvey was 99, just four months shy of his 100th birthday.

“He enjoyed life so much, and that rubbed off on all of us,” daughter Jeannie Harvey told the Ojai Valley News Jan. 12.

Born and raised in Emporia, Kansas, Harvey’s rich show business career as a singer and actor included operas, musicals, and movie and television roles in westerns and science fiction movies.

As a contract player for Universal International Pictures, his movies included the sci-fi classics “monolith Monsters” (1957), “The Land Unknown” (1957), “The Deadly Mantis” (1957), and “The Thing that Couldn’t die” (1958).

In his late 30s, Harvey was cast in “Touch of Evil” (1958), written, directed and co-starring Orson Wells as a corrupt police chief, which includes a scene with Harvey and epic film star Charlton Heston.

While acting in Hollywood paid the bills, music and singing remained Harvey’s main professional passions, and he pursued them energetically. “He was always busy with a show or teaching music,” said Jeannie, who now lives in Idaho.

Phil and Margaret Harvey raised two other children, Babette and Jim. When the kids were grown, the couple moved permanently to Ojai. Margaret passed away in 2010.

The couple first met when she was playing piano at the Ojai Art Center and he was doing a show. Naturally, the Harvey household was a musical one. “We always had a piano in the house, and there were always sing-a-longs and musical instruments around.” Jeannie said.

When Margaret turned 70, she wanted a baby grand, so the couple purchased one and installed it in a back room of their tiny house on South Montgomery Street.

The Harvey home may have been small, but Phil is a remembered for having a big heart and a big voice.

In a rich baritone, he sang in live stage shows such as “Oklahoma!” “Showboat,” “The King and I,” “The Barber of Seville” and “Girl Crazy.”

For years, he would Perform a song to open meetings of the Ojai Retired Men’s Club. At one meeting, he sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” after first loading up on boxes of Cracker Jack at Vons. “He went and bought a whole case of them,” said Jeannie, “one box for each man.”

Harvey once led the Ojai Photography Club (which he founded in 1984) in a round of the very same song. Unimpressed by their performance, he made the group sing the song again, only with more enthusiasm, said Myrna Cambianica, a close friend and longtime club member.

In the mid-‘90s, while attending her first club meeting and wondering what camera she should buy, Cambianica consulted the photographer whose work impressed her the most. “And, of course, it was Phil. He was bigger than life and so welcoming,” she said.

Cambianica’s new mentor taught her how to mat and frame her images, which she did for Harvey when his eyesight deteriorated later in life. “It was a real sweetness he gave me, and toward the end of his life, I could give back to him,” she said. “He was always joyful; always happy. I’ve never met anyone else quite like him.”

One of Harvey’s favorite places to take pictures was Lake Casitas, where he and dear friend Sally Carless would snap photos of the bald eagles, earning him the nickname, ‘Eagle Boy.”

“He was so enthusiastic about nature and the eagles and life,” Carless said. “It was just magical to be there together, and on the day my father died I called Phil and he met me at the eagle tree.”

He received the city of Ojai’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award in 2003, and was named an Ojai Living Treasure in 2010.

In the early ‘80s, Harvey became music director at Ojai Presbyterian Church. He started the Ojai Community Chorus in 1987, recruiting a group of talented amateur singers.

During Ojai Summer Band concerts at Libbey Park, Harvey would open each performance with the song he’s perhaps best known for, “The Ojai Song.”

Band director Laura Denne remembers Harvey as “a real people person,” which sometimes caused her nervous moments during performances. “I would have to rein him in a bit, because he was so involved with the audience; walking around and talking to people. I was afraid he wasn’t going to come in when he was supposed to,” she said.

Harvey never tired of singing the song celebrating Ojai’s mountains, oak trees and warm summer evenings. “It was his song,” Denne said, “and I don’t know how we’re going to find somebody to replace him.”

Harvey died peacefully in his sleep, of natural, non-COVID causes, according to his family.

Jeannie Harvey hopes a memorial service or remembrance party can be held as soon as gatherings are allowed again. “We’d love to have a way for friends to get together and say thank you for what he brought to all of us,” she said.

People wanting to make donations in Harvey’s name can do so at the Ojai Art Center, Audubon, HELP of Ojai, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy or any organization that supports conservation.

Phil Harvey’s family has created a memorial webpage where visitors can leave comments and post photos at forevermissed.com/philharvey/about.

Harvey, starring as Curly in “Oklahoma!” Phil Harvey Collection
Phil Harvey performs with the Ojai Summer Band in 2019. Photo by Stephen Adams
In a 1960 production of “The Barber of Seville,” Harvey played the barber, Figaro. Phil Harvey Collection

“No action” critics challenged

The following article first appeared in the Sunday, February 19, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page 16. It is reprinted here with their permission.


“No action” critics challenged
————————
Our
environment
———————–
by
John E. Nelson, M.D.

This columnist is pleased to note that the Our Environment column has again stimulated a community dialogue on the crucial issue of overdevelopment in our valley.

This time the dialogue has taken the form of letters-to-the-editor from two city councilpersons who chose to speak in rebuttal of last week’s column. That column chided the council for it’s lack of activism which led to the federal government’s seizing the initiative in demanding a halt to increasing air pollution which inevitably follows overdevelopment.

Surprisingly, the author of the letter which most vigorously defended the present council’s inadequate posturings has been its most active force in the struggle to keep The Ojai’s environment both rural and healthy. He has often waged solitary battles against urbanization of Ojai’s streets and the council’s penchant for granting untimely exemptions to the building moratorium. On numerous environmental votes he has found himself to be in a minority of one.

For this reason it is difficult to understand his defense of a council which has been anything but “activist” in pursuit of environmental quality. Other towns with far less to preserve than ours have elected councils who themselves have taken the initiative in improving their environment rather than simply slowing its destruction. They have brought their imaginations to the fore in initiating such measures as litter cleanups, firm population ceiling reinforced by downsizing, tree-planting projects, container laws, bicycle path construction and limitations on driving during smoggy days.

A SECOND LETTER quoted rather dubious statistics which seem to show that the City of Ojai has grown in population by only 400 persons since 1970. Yet during the past seven years there have been 381 single-family dwellings, 113 condominium units and 135 multiple family units built here for a total of 629 new dwellings. Although a few of these are still in construction, it does seem unreasonable to assume that there have been more dwellings constructed than new arrivals to occupy them.

Based on a conservative estimate of 2.5 persons per dwelling, a more realistic figure for this town’s population increase would be 1, 572 persons in the past seven years. Too many by any standards.

From the time Socrates debated his adversaries in the streets of Athens, an unfortunate technique of argument has contaminated political discourse. Later labeled “ad hominum” by the Romans, it is a method of attacking the person who makes a point rather than answering the point itself. Experts in debate consider it a desperation maneuver with little heuristic merit.

Sadly, ad hominum agruments seem to be infiltrating the exchange of legitimate views in our town. The crucial challenge of preserving a healthy and livable environment deserves better.

FOR INSTANCE, this columnist was criticized for not regularly attending city council meetings and thereby missing the opportunities to “get the true facts.” This criticism presupposes that such facts have been available during generally obfuscatory council meetings, a questionable assertion at best. Each of us must arrange our priorities according to our talents and available time, and the four to five hours per week spent on research and preparation of this column leaves little remaining time for attendance of lengthy meetings.

This column has been virtually the only medium to offer any criticism of the city council during the past year on any issue. Yet the community response which has been generated clearly indicates that these views represent those of the majority of environmentally concerned and oft-frustrated valley residents. To remain viable, the democratic process requires vigorous and regular criticism of the humanly imperfect persons who govern us.

The entire issue once more underscores the importance of the upcoming March 7 election in which Ojai voters will have an opportunity to seat a majority of environmental activists who will aggressively pursue the public health interests of this community. This column again calls upon all concerned to keep the ongoing debate high-toned and issue oriented.

DR, JOHN NELSON

Tourists big depositors in city’s bank account

This article first appeared in the Monday, June 5, 1989 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page A-1. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown.

Tourists big depositors in city’s bank account

Like it or not, Ojai is a tourist town and the city is becoming more and more dependent on the taxes visitors pay.

City Manager Andy Belknap, who has prepared the tentative budget for 1989-90, said three revenue sources — property tax, sales tax and bed tax — account for 64.4 percent, or nearly two thirds, of the city’s $2,852,000 general fund.

The bed tax is tied directly to tourism and the sales tax is indirectly related.

The bed tax has become increasingly important in the past 10 years, Belknap noted.

In the 1979-80 budget, he said, it accounted for 7.5 percent of general fund revenues, but in the new fiscal year it will amount to 17.2 percent, an increase of 229 percent in a decade.

The bed tax was increased by a third in 1985 and this accounts for some of the increase, but Belknap said the figures still show more and more tourists are coming to Ojai and leaving their tax dollars behind — an anticipated $490,000 in the new fiscal year.

Sales tax figures also point to the impact of tourism on Ojai. About 25 percent of the general fund comes from the sales tax, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the years, but per capita comparisons tell a different story.

Ojai had the third highest sales tax per capita in Ventura County for the fourth quarter of 1988, according to the State Board of Equalization. Belknap noted the per capita figure for Ojai of $2,017 was exceeded only by the cities of Ventura and Thousand Oaks, both of which have regional shopping centers.

These retail centers account for much of those communities’ sales tax revenues, Belknap said, noting that Ojai lacks such a center.

And, Ojai’s annual growth rate of .64 of a percent makes it the slowest growing community in Ventura County. This, said Belknap, means that a populations shift is not accounting for the sales tax locally.

The manager said all this is a mixed blessing for Ojai. While it brings money into city coffers, it also makes the city vulnerable to economic shifts.

The tourist-based economy puts a strain on several city services. Traffic is the most obvious, according to the manager, but there are others as well.

Belknap said he would like to see Ojai approach the situation by building a large budget reserve for bad times and to diversify the local economy.

Belknap used the Oxnard city budget by way of comparison.

Oxnard’s reserves equal about 15 percent of its annual budget, while Belknap is trying to build a 30 percent reserve locally.

In terms of revenue sources, the manager noted that property, sales and bed taxes account for less than 40 percent of Oxnard’s general fund compared to roughly two-thirds in Ojai.

Belknap cited Houston as an example of a city that relied on a single-based economy. When the bottom fell out of the oil market, Houston’s economy collapsed.

The answer for Ojai is to be conservative, Belknap said, adding the city must expand it economic base and increase its reserve for bad times.

Memories of times before freeways recall life as simple, safe

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, May 17, 1995 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page A-8. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author, Lee Strohbehn, was a longtime dentist with a practice in the Ojai Valley. The photo of Dr. Storhbehn was added by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.

The Golden Years
Memories of times before freeways recall life as simple, safe
by
Lee Strohbehn

Before freeways, was it only the exuberance and vitality of spirit of young parents that drew us to downtown L.A.?

Some of the fondest memories I have are those when my wife and I took our family to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. How well I remember Richard Kiley and the Man of La Mancha at the Mark Taper Forum and Ingrid Bergman at the Amanson Theatre.

And the concerts — we were there to see Zubin Meta conduct and to hear the L.A. Phiharmonic. And afterward to take the family to dinner right there at the Music Center, or to a favorite, Edwards Steak House on Alvarado St.

Let’s do lunch
And then there were trips to the Hollywood Bowl. What a delight, to take a lunch and sit high up under the stars to listen to programs which, as a farm-bred Iowa boy, I never thought I or my family could be part.

As parents, we had a feeling of fulfillment to realize that our three children enjoyed these experiences as much as we did and that we could provide them.

Life was affordable
Admission prices at that time seemed affordable. Nor did I have the feeling the environment was unsafe, or that the drive home late at night was an ordeal.

How times change! How could I afford those adventures now for five people?

And if Edwards Steak House were still there, I wouldn’t dare take my family to a restaurant on Alvarado. Somehow to drive the freeways, especially at night, is daunting to me now.

As our family grew older and we began to rely more on local entertainment events, Frank Salazar came along and the Ventura County Symphony orchestra was born. We subscribed immediately as charter members.

How delightful it was to recognize Ojai’s Frank Roller and his violin, Dorothea Walker and her cello, and Lavonne Theriault and her drums down there among all the other Ventura County musicians. We truly felt linked to beautiful programs.

I’m one of those untalented people who knows nothing about music but enjoys it endlessly. There are times when I lose myself, when I’m oblivious to everything around me and I feel one with a composer who has struck the chords I like. I cherish those moments.

Oldies missed
I confess that I was confused when Maestro Salazar left the orchestra. I had, in a sense, matured with him musically and I must say I miss him. I understand there has been a parallel experience for those audiences who have been attending performances of the Conejo Valley Symphony Orchestra.

Now those two orchestras are undergoing further transition. The apparent objective of those behind the podiums is to produce a “World Class” orchestra by combining talent and weeding out those who do not perform to and exclusive standard. I have heard that they hope to attract excellence from outside the area.

My limited knowledge of music doesn’t allow me to discriminate the finer levels of quality. I always enjoyed Frank Roller’s violin but I seriously doubt that his talent would have allowed him to survive the judgments that must be made to seat one orchestra instead of two in Ventura County.

I love Ojai’s summer band concerts on Wednesday nights in Libbey Park. I like the sound and revel in the incomparable social ambiance.

Memories linger
I used to feel something akin to that when the Ventura County Symphony was young, especially when I could bond with Roller’s violin. Although Frank isn’t with us now, his memory still lingers and epitomizes a homegrown spirit I miss in the Orchestra.

“World Class,” if it means change in community participation, simply doesn’t mean that much to me. I’m sorry to see the Ventura County Symphony Orchestra elevated to a class conscious status beyond my ability to enjoy or afford.

Lee Strohbehn

Santa will visit homes Xmas eve

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, December 6, 1967 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on page A1. The article is reprinted here with their permission.

Santa will visit homes Xmas eve

Santa Claus will be making personal visits in the Ojai Valley on Christmas Eve, according to the Ojai Valley Jaycees.

Once again, as for the past 19 years, the Ojai Valley Jaycees have persuaded Santa to visit homes in the valley between 6 and 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Entry blanks have been sent to the elementary schools and any school child, seven years of age or younger, can have Santa visit his home.

Santa will visit areas as follows: Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Ojai Highlands, Mira Monte, Skyline and Oak View.

Applications or notes to Santa must include: child’s name, age, sex, parent’s name, address and phone number, names of pets or other information that may help Santa on his visit. Send to: Santa, c / o Jaycees, P.O. Box 1057, Ojai, Calif. 93023 no later than 12:00 midnight, December 18th.

Santa will deliver gifts that parents have placed outside the front door and will present each child with a candy cane, courtesy of the Ojai Valley Jaycees.

Anyone who has a child not yet in school may obtain an entry from one of the following stations: In Ojai – Fitgerald’s, Van Dyke Travel Service, The Yellow Door, Rains, Callender’s, Cole’s Mens Shop or Hammond’s Union Service; for Mira Monte – Trudi’s Dress shop and in Oak View – Dickinson’s Family Kitchen.

Anyone wishing more information may contact Project Chairman Jim Michalopoulos at 646-2783 or Jaycee President Orville Kiso at 646-3397.

OVN’s Van Houten honored for sharing city’s history

The following article first appeared in the Friday, November 13, 2020 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on page A1. The article is reprinted here with their permission.

OVN’s Van Houten honored for sharing city’s history
by
Austin Widger
awidger@ojaivalleynews.com

The Ojai Valley News’ very own senior reporter Perry Van Houten has been recognized with the city of Ojai Annual Historic Preservation Award for 2020.

Van Houten, along with Darwin McCredie, had his Historic Preservation Commission recommendation for the award ratified by the Ojai City Council on Nov. 10.

Van Houten was granted the award because he met the criteria for historical research, including oral history supporting historic preservation.

When asked what the award meant to him, Van Houten said: “It’s a real honor to receive this award from the city. My interest in Ojai history was sparked by Patricia Fry’s “The Ojai Valley: An Ilustrated History,’ and later, after I began exploring the valley, Fred Volz’s ‘Ojai Hikes.’ Credit for these historical articles really goes to the folks at the Ojai Valley Museum: the late David Mason, Dawn Thieding, Wendy Barker, Craig Walker, Elise DePuydt, Judy Mercer and Drew Mashburn. And, of course, many thanks to the Ojai Valley News for supporting my interest in the history of our valley.”

The resolution stated: “Perry Van Houten has long been involved in Ojai’s historical preservation. Back in the days of (Ojai historian) David Mason, Mr. Van Houten tirelessly interviewed David for articles appearing in the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide (such as Ojai’s historic gas stations) and could often be found in the Ojai Valley Museum Library poring over 100-year-old publications and historical images from the museum archives. Mr. Van Houten also moderated Ojai Valley Museum’s Town Talks making Ojai’s history come alive.”

Van Houten continues to document Ojai history to this day with his in-depth historical articles in the Ojai Valley News and the Ojai Magazine. His excellence in reporting was recognized by the California News Publishers Association when his oral history profile piece, “Sole Survivor,” received second place among all California weekly newspapers with 4,300 or fewer subscribers.

The resolution continued: “Following in OVN past-publisher Fred Volz’s footsteps, Mr. Van Houten has been particularly keen on preserving Ojai’s natural history. He has researched and documented unique and historical Ojai trees as well as local hiking trails. His OVN Hiking Trails column earned him the OVN Best of Ojai ‘Favorite Columnist’ in 2018. Mr. Van Houten also lends his hands and energies to United States Forest Trail Projects and Keep Sespe Wild Highway Cleanups and leads free hikes as a docent with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.”

The resolution concluded: “Mr. Van Houten’s historical research efforts culminate in the publication of articles that promote and preserve the City of Ojai’s unique historical and cultural heritage. His balanced and accurate reporting of the news of today creates the history of tomorrow.”

The city plans to award Van Houten with a plaque at a City Council meeting in January.

In addition to the Historic Preservation Award recipients, Don and Sheila Cluff, and Patricia Clark Doerner received the Historic Preservation Lifetime Achievement Award.

‘His balanced and accurate reporting of the news today creates the history of tomorrow.’

— Resolution honoring Van Houten


Artists in Paradise

“Topa Topa Bluffs” pastel on paper by Alberta “Bert” Collins.
Permanent Collection, Ojai Valley Museum

This essay by Anca Colbert originally appeared in “Ojai Studio Artists – 3 Decades” a book published in  2013. Colbert is an art adviser, curator, writer, and long-time resident of Ojai. It is published here with Colbert’s permission.  ©2013 Anca Colbert – All Rights Reserved. 

This book offers a glimpse into the lives of 60 artists who live and work in Ojai, a small town, more of a village really, nestled in a fertile mountain valley surrounded by nature of breathtaking beauty and bathed in legendary light. Together as members of the Ojai Studio Artists, yet always alone as individuals, they weave stories reflecting their life and their vision in this magical place.

Consider the spectrum of artists in this group. Stylistically, they represent a vast range of visual arts creativity, from figuration and hyperrealism to expressionism and abstraction, from traditional to experimental, from plein-air to political. They use most media: painting in oil, acrylic, encaustic or pastel; drawing with pen and ink; printmaking; photography; collage; assemblage; making sculptures, ceramics, pottery.

If one of art’s highest purposes is to ask questions of those making it and of those experiencing it, it seems relevant to ask questions about the OSA group: why does it exist? And why here?

Geography and nature have much to do with the group’s existence. Ojai, an old Chumash Indian outpost, was always a land cultivated for its agricultural abundance. In the late 19th century it was embraced by many newcomers for its beneficial climate. During the 20th century it became a magnet for educators, writers, artists, celebrities, creatives in all fields, and seekers of life’s meaning and higher purpose.

By now Ojai is renowned as a fertile paradise for its orchards and its artists.

My first visit to Ojai was an invitation to lunch at Beatrice Wood’s. It was the early 1970s. I had just moved from Paris to Los Angeles, and Beatrice had just moved to her new house and studio in the Upper Valley, facing the Topa Topas. I was mesmerized by Beatrice’s iridescent luster glazes and whimsical sculptures, and charmed by her conversation and personality. On that very first trip I fell under the spell of the Ojai Valley.

Why have so many visual artists chosen to settle here? Ojai is a place unlike most others. Those drawn to this valley have a strong sense of belonging here, of living in an earthly haven. A few other art communities are famous for their singular settings. Taos comes to mind. The Hudson Valley. St. Paul de Vence. Similarities abound: natural beauty, spiritual energy, space, silence, light quality, a protected environment, a gentler life than in the cities, yet a convenient proximity to important art centers.

Artists use their imagination to create worlds: theirs, and ours. The process is fraught with uncertainty and doubts about the purpose of their life work, about exposing it and exhibiting it, about financial survival, about recognition. That takes courage. A support system is essential. Ojai offers a nurturing environment for all creatives, but members of OSA choose to participate in a somewhat structured community of kindred souls. Their homes and studios are within minutes from each other. So they meet, they party, they talk, they bond.

For “Reflections,” an OSA group exhibition organized by the Ojai Valley Museum in 2013, the museum asked participating artists to ponder what it meant for them to belong to the group. The painter Elisse Pogofsky-Harris wrote on that occasion: “Art making for me is a solitary undertaking, which being an only child, suits me well. But as I journey down the path my paintings require I follow, I am grateful that there is an OSA to provide the possibility of having colleagues, peers and even friends with whom to share moments of joy as well as times when the muse is hiding.”

Being an artist carries the central contradiction of a self-enclosed, isolated life trying to connect with others in the world. Not an easy balancing act. As Georgia O’Keeffe famously wrote: “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” Artists tend to favor solitary lives, and usually do not like to talk about their work. Yet here they come together once a year in October for the OSA Tour.

The tour has drawn thousands to Ojai over the years. Most art lovers cherish the opportunity of being welcomed into the artists’ studios, to connect with them in an intimate manner: It’s a highly charged personal experience, one of immersion into that individual life, work and environment. The power of images in an intimate setting has a singular quality far different from their effect in public museum spaces, or in the often desensualized world of big city galleries, or in the all-encompassing, fast-paced, consumer-oriented international art fairs, which in recent years have changed the nature, geography and economics of the art world.

Picasso’s comment about art being “just another way of keeping a diary” rings true as one looks at the stories told by this group of OSA artists. As painters, sculptors, photographers, et al., they leave a palpable trace of what they see and what they feel. Yes, artists do tell stories: about fruits and vegetables; mountains and skies; their loved ones, dreams and visions. The thread of a singular life’s story interwoven with others creates the fabric of their connection. It keeps changing slowly under our eyes, just as do the shifting rays of light in this valley.

Familiar face, old recollections

The following article was first printed in the Friday, September 12, 2008 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on page B4. It his reprinted here with their permission.

Familiar face, old recollections
Mashburn’s life has been a “Bee” movie

Nao Braverman
nao@ojaivalleynews.com

If your ever see a flash of yellow go by on Ojai Avenue it might be Barbara Mashburn.

The lifetime Ojai resident has frequently been seen driving a bright yellow electric vehicle around Ojai. It’s yellow now, but freshly decorated every season. On Christmas it has splashes of red and green, and on the Fourth of July it’s patriotic.

“For Halloween it’s going to have autumn leaves and pumpkin lights,” she said.

“It was just an old yellow thing when I got it,” she adds dryly, “But people were about to run me over, so I decorated it for safety.”

She says all this with a smirk that suggests she might know something that you don’t, but she isn’t about to tell you just yet.

If we’re lucky Mashburn will get dressed up as a bee for the holiday. But if not, her electric vehicle, dubbed “Barbara’s Hummer” as if says on her license plate, has its fair share of black-and-yellow bumble bee accessories. The contraption has a built in heater, powered by solar energy, and is always lt with solar powered lights that she put in herself.

“There are probably a lot of people wondering who’s driving around town in this little yellow hot rod, but don’t have the nerve to ask,” she said. “Of course the kids always do.”

Up until this year when the school district had to make budget cuts, the school bus would stop right in front of Mashburn’s house and the children getting off would stop to marvel at her eye-catching front yard display. The lawn is crowded with porcelain bees, stuffed bees, plastic bees of all shapes and sizes. There’s even a wrought iron bench covered in toy bees, and a wreath that says “bee happy”. Sometimes her manx cat, Bee Bee, wanders in and out.

“I used to hide in the carport and listen to the kids making comments about my yard,” she said. “But it don’t bother me.” The front yard is nothing according to Mashburn, “You should see the back yard and the inside of the house,” she said.

People have been giving her bee toys ever since she acquired the nickname, “Bar-bee.” In high school there were seven Barbaras in every class, so they called her “Bobby Bean Pole” because of her tall wiry frame. Then there were too many Bobbys. So when she started to tend bar, Bar-Bee just stuck, she said. After getting so many bee gifts, she decided to add to the collection herself.

For those who have seen the Signal Street home that belongs to the “Duck Lady,” with an impressive toy duck collection in the front yard, strikingly similar to Mashburn’s bee garden, that’s one of Mashburn’s best friends. She was the one that Mashburn called on after suffering a heart attack several years ago, Mashburn said. And, of course, they shop together.

Mashburn says she’s lived in only two places her whole life. The first house in Mira Monte had a farm with pigs, cows, and old mule, and one of Ojai’s first organic gardens. As a young girl she climbed Mount Whitney with the Suphur Mountain Girl Scouts and helped found the Frazier Park Girl Scout Camp. At 27, she moved out of that house into the home where she has been living for about 40 years. That was when Ojai was known for having a church, a bar and a gas station on every corner, she said.

Mashburn, who served Ojai’s oil rig workers at two of the valley’s oldest bars, The Hut and The Hub, claims to have worked her way down the streets of Ojai as a bartender and waitress years ago. Back then there was only one cop and he wasn’t even a cop, really, just a constable, she said. “He drove an old Ford Model T pickup. And he didn’t look like a cop but more like the Lone Ranger with a white hat and all those guns on his belt.”

Since then a number of establishments have changed names or closed down but Mashburn served plenty of drinks at the Elbow Room bar in the Arcade, which was next door to the Mighty Bite hamburger joint with a card room in the back, and she also had shifts at the Hitching Post. She later waited tables at Boots and Saddles, a bar and grill where the Golden Moon restaurant now stands.

After so many gigs, Mashburn designed a float for the Independence Day parade dedicated to Ojai’s veteran waitresses, called “Old Waitressess Never Die, They Just Lose Their Tips.”

Only waitresses who had served tables for 25 years in Ojai were given place on that float which was adorned with T-bone steaks made of Styrofoam. Little kids would throw change onto the float as tips.

“We never planned it that way, but by the end of the day there was enough money for each of us to ge a drink at the Elbow Room,” she said.

By the time Mashburn was managing the snack bar at the Soule Park Golf Course, she was raising her two kids, Icy and Kevin Mashburn. Icy is now a teacher at Mira Monte School and Kevin manages a Carrows in Camarillo. Icy’s real name is Isaline, she added, but since her grandmother was Isa for short, they had to give her daughter a different nickname so there was no confusion.

“I went into labor on my mother’s birthday,” said Mashburn. “I was supposed to have my daughter by midnight. But I didn’t, so to get out of the doghouse I named her after my mother.”

Mashburn also had a stint at the O-Hi Frostie. “I went to City Hall more than once to protest when the owner got run out,” she said. She knew owner, Rick Henderson when he was just a busboy at The Oaks at Ojai and she was a waitress. “I was his first boss,” she said.

The Frostie was one of the last remnants of the old Ojai that Mashburn remembers as clear as day. Back then, few people had fences and you could pick an orange or an apricot form their trees because they could get a peach from your yard, it didn’t matter, she said. You could also swim an day in the Ventura River because it never dried up. There was more for the kids to do back then, she said, with the bowling alley still thriving and a miniature golf course across the street where the fire station is now. When she first got a job at The Hub, it was owned by old-time Hollywood actor Rory Calhoun and his friend, Specks Edde.

Edde left the bar to his ex wife, Verna. Verna’s ghost was later blamed for anything in the bar that was missing or wasn’t put where it was supposed to go. “But she also bought you drinks on your birthday,” Mashburn adds. Those were the days when almost every bar was owned by a woman, she said. Mashburn claims to have known everyone in town and said the only real celebrity visits, aside from Calhoun, were from actresses Loretta Young and Ann Miller.

For her last working years, Mashburn was an occasioanl care giver. She also done a lot of plumbing around the valley. As a single mother she laid the shingles on her own roof, and did all the handiwork herself.

“I’m also know around town as Josephine Plumber,” she said. “That’s my other nickname.”

Now it’s just her, her miniature cat, and a vegetable garden she tends out back.

“How are you going to get almost 70 years in that little space in the corner of the newspaper?” she asked.




Barbara Mashburn pauses in front of The Hub, just one of many places she has worked in nearly 70 years of living in the Ojai Valley. (Photo by Nao Braverman)

Intangible Spirit of The Ojai (No. 1)

The following article first appeared on June 6, 1961 in a newspaper that became the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with the permission of the “Ojai Valley News”. The author is Ed Wenig. Wenig wrote a series titled “Intangible Spirit of The Ojai”. He did not title each of his articles. Therefore, the “Ojai Valley Museum” has added “(No. 1)” to the title to distinguish it here from other articles with the same name. 

Intangible Spirit of The Ojai (No. 1)
by
Ed Wenig

DENNISON ENTRANCE — Earl Lively, caretaker of Dennison Park, points to a huge 40 ton rock pushed into place at entrance to park by pioneer Tom McGuire.

Beautiful, oak-covered Dennison Park is known throughout the Ojai Valley as a “family” park –– a place where people can come for quiet and rest. Earl Lively, park caretaker, points out that while other parks, by demand, have concessions in food and drinks and facilities for games and entertainment, there is only great natural beauty to lure the visitor to Dennison Park.

From the several lookouts on the 33 acre expanse at the top of the Dennison grade, one sees two entire Ojai Valleys — Lower and the Upper — simply by turning around. It is no wonder that in 1924, when the Dennison family deeded the property to the county the local paper stated, “A more beautiful and charming park site could not be found in the county.”

There is some significance to the picture above showing Mr. Lively pointing to a spot on the huge rock at the park entrance. For he, along with members or the Dennison family and other pioneers have often wondered why the plaque that was promised by the supervisors of 1924 was never made, or, if made, was never fastened to the rock 37 years ago.

In 1924, the year the county supervisors accepted the property as a park, and Tom McGuire of the Upper Ojai was ordered by the Board to bring this 40-ton rock from the east to the west side of the new grade road, as a unique and permanent entrance marker. “This I did,” said McGuire recently, “and what a job it was for my cat of that year! I understood that a special bronze plate was to be securely fastened to the rock explaining, and commemorating the generous gift of the Dennison family. Why it was never completed I, nor anyone else, has ever found out.”

According to Mr. Lively, the park site seems to have been a favorite camping place and home for at least three different and unrelated Indian cultures. While historians may write their speculations of the long, unrecorded past, Mr. Lively takes pleasure in showing visitors the mortars on a huge rock made undoubtedly by the Oak Grove Indians, the first Indian culture of 10,000 or more years ago. Then he describes the second culture, the so-called Hunter Indians, who, with bow and arrow and stone ax were able to hunt large animals for food, clothing and housing.

But when caretaker Lively talks about the third Indian culture, the Canalinos or Chumash, a note of sadness creeps into his voice. “With the coming of the white man, with his impatience, his faster way of living, and his disregard of nature’s balance, the Chumash disappeared. But, with real enthusiasm, Lively concluded: “I Like Dennison Park. It’s still a little world all of its own, high up here between two lovely valleys, just as it was for the Oak Grove, the Hunters, and the Chumash. When I occasionally find artifacts of one or the other of the three cultures, I go back in my imagination to the days of long ago when this little mountain top was a real paradise for the Indians.”