Scenes to remember
Jake Early’s Chico and Bidwell Park prints are hottest-selling art in town
While visitors to Chico go away remembering its most obvious attractions, such as Bidwell Mansion and its quaint downtown, long-time residents’ memories are often of less visible features.
The water towers. Caper Acres. Devil’s Kitchen in Upper Park. Landmarks such as these stick with people and conjure up the kind of memories that define life in this part of the world. This, in part, explains why several dozen bundled-up Chicoans are lined up outside Chico Paper Company in the chilly shade of a fall afternoon.
For the past two years, the downtown art gallery and framing store has been releasing and selling out of limited-edition silk screen prints by Chico artist Jake Early as part of his Chico Landmark Series. These simply drawn, two-and three-color renditions of local landmarks have become such a hot commodity, some selling out before they’re even released, that tonight’s first-come-first-served release of 10 different prints depicting Bidwell Park landmarks has people literally lined up around the block as the Christmas Preview begins to warm up downtown Chico.
In little garage shop behind his home in the Avenues, Jake Early is on a tear to finish up the last of the Bidwell Centennial Series in time for the Christmas Preview.
“I told her that I’m going to try to get them done by Halloween,” Early says about his commitment to have 150 hand-numbered prints of 10 different Bidwell Park images delivered to Chico Paper Company’s co-owner, Jana Strong.
Surrounded by big metal racks full of drying prints, Early carefully stacks the posters as they come off his one-man assembly line. The genial redhead is surprisingly calm as he adds a layer of green ink to the layer of gold already on each poster depicting a fall scene along the Yahi Trail.
Raised in Chico, the 34-year-old Early is every bit a Chico guy—and a good fit for a project honoring the park. “I was having too much fun riding my bike in the summer to actually start,” he admits, explaining why he’s still busy with the printing.
After studying design at Chico State University, Early got his start as an artist at Media Screen Print, which he and friend Ian Gilmore turned into Sundog Screen printing. The business burned down in the arson fire that destroyed the Reddengray Pub and Chico Sports Bar several years ago.
Gilmore eventually reopened Sundog, while Early went on to Enloe Hospital, where he designs all the hospital’s publications, still continuing to do printing on his own at home.
“I started with the water towers. … I had art lessons across the street from there when I was like 7,” Early says, describing the first print, “Orient & 3rd St.,” in the Chico Landmark Series that made his prints such a hot commodity.
The twin silver-and-green landmarks that hover outside the window of the CN&R offices were easy for a young kid looking for a landmark to spot while riding his bike to his art teacher’s house.
“I didn’t have any plans for it,” Early says about the print that just started off as an homage to the town he loves. “Somehow one ended up at Chico Paper, and they thought they were cool, and they have completely taken it over.”
Now, every six months, Early brings in a new print depicting a local landmark—each limited to a run of 100, all hand numbered—and the demand is such that they sell out almost immediately.
Prints of “Upper Park,” “The Senator” and one of Sierra Nevada Brewery’s huge copper tanks followed the towers, and interest grew fast, with many buyers getting every print in the series. Once a story appeared in the local daily, around the holidays last year, it was all over.
The fifth print, “Caper Acres,” nearly sold out before it arrived, and all 100 copies of the most recent piece, “Trinity Hall,” were bought up “three weeks before it came out,” says Chico Paper’s Strong. Of the next one—known only as “No. 7” until Early brings it into the shop next spring—only thirteen pieces remain. That’s 87 sold, sight-unseen.
The artist is flattered by the popularity of the series but isn’t surprised that the subject has garnered such a strong response.
“I think people are just proud of Chico,” he says.
Such a huge demand for a product with a set limit gives Strong a lot of leeway with markup on the prints. The opening price for a print in the Landmark series without a frame is $45, and by the end of the pre-selling the price can reach $200.
And, given the fact that Strong says she has “a waiting list [of people] willing to pay over $400 for the prints,” the store will even on occasion buy back previously sold prints for the growing resale market. Currently, two “Caper Acres” prints are hanging in the shop with a $400 price tag (without frame).
The Bidwell Centennial Series prints start at $75 ($750 for set of 10), and by the end of the Christmas Preview are going for $90. There are still prints available, but given the fact that the shop is holding on to 70 sets for future sale, they won’t last long.
The shop and the artist aren’t the only ones making a killing on the sale of these prints. Bidwell Park is also getting a take. In sharing the wealth, Chico Paper Company has achieved the "Hooker Oak" donor level for contributing at least $5,000 to the Bidwell Park Centennial Committee.