City of Trembling Leaves
On a recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey, Joan Arrizabalaga visited the Museum of Innocence, an actual museum filled with exhibits based on author Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 novel also called The Museum of Innocence.
“It’s great to see how the words have been transformed into an art piece,” Arrizabalaga said. She’s a Reno-based artist whose own work often exudes a strong sense of place, and she felt inspired to create something similar. She and fellow artist Marti Bein, both members of Wedge Outside the Box, a group of artists centered around Wedge Ceramics Studio on Dickerson Road, decided to curate an exhibition based on the iconic Reno novel City of Trembling Leaves by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. The 1945 novel is a love story that doubles as a portrait of the city and the region as it appeared in those days.
Bein was childhood friends with the daughters of another renowned Nevada author, Robert Laxalt. “He told me when I was a kid that you should read Walter van Tilburg Clark and Steinbeck because there are no words to throw away.”
An exhibition with the same name as Van Tilburg Clark’s book is on display at the University of Nevada, Reno. It features a variety of media by contemporary Nevada artists, including Ahren Hertel and Frances Melhop, as well as works by local legacy artists like Craig Sheppard and Robert Caples, borrowed from the university’s Special Collections and the University Galleries’ Permanent Collection.
Some of the artists used excerpts from the novel for inspiration. Some pieces, like Candace Garlock’s “Homage to City of Trembling Leaves” and Katrina Lasko’s “Rachel and Mary,” incorporated excerpts of text. Garlock’s acrylic-on-wood painting intersperses words among gorgeous, brightly colored geometric patterns. Lasko used text as a background for illustrations of characters from the book.
“We wanted them to take a phrase out and see where it led, and it went in all kinds of really strange directions, which was a great,” said Arrizabalaga.
All of the pieces are accompanied by excerpts cut directly from the book. And the cut-up copy of the out-of-print book—decimated for quotes hung within the show—is also part of the exhibition.
“We had to put it in because people were upset by it,” said Arrizabalaga.
Rather than following the course of the novel, the exhibition is grouped thematically. Some sections focus on characters from the book. Others on its geography—places like Reno and Pyramid Lake.
Bein has a piece in the Pyramid Lake section, an acrylic painting depicting a girl at the lake. The title, “Pyramid Has Long Since Ceased to Keep Even Its Millenniums Straight,” comes from the book, as does the accompanying excerpt: “But to understand the world of the children, you must imagine Pyramid also in its childhood.”
In Caples’s oil painting “Leaves,” from UNR’s collection, the titular subjects indeed seem to tremble. It’s the first piece visitors will see upon entering the gallery. With its connections from contemporary artists back to Northern Nevada authors, like Clark and Laxalt, and earlier generations of artists like Caples and Sheppard, the show doubles as a cultural history of Reno, connecting back to an earlier era.
“It’s that period of time in Reno that’s great—when there used to be a racetrack here and all that kind of thing,” said Arrizabalaga. “There were way more trees.”