This year’s Art Hikes are just around the corner in mid-September and will bring a community of artists, performers and musicians to Spooner Lake and Donner Summit. Hikers are the roving audience, and they’re in for a sumptuous treat.
Conceptual artist Lesley Ehrenfeld Chapman, whose Sept. 10 piece at Spooner is inspired by in the interconnected nature of aspen groves, calls the two-day, guided event “kind of an art buffet—meaning if one piece doesn’t appeal to you, you’re sure to enjoy something else down the trail.”
Chapman, for one, will weave together dancers’ hair to symbolize a root system that draws parallels between aspen trees and people.
“Aspen trees are unique, in that each tree in a grove is actually a clone of the mother tree,” explained Chapman, who’s catering her performance, Roots, to a site-specific location. “They’re connected by their root system”—Get it? Roots? — “so if one tree gets a disease or gets a lot of water, they can send it to the other trees. They are very interdependent. … I’m saying we’re ultimately one organism as well.”
The summit will provide its own creative inspiration, with sweeping views of the lake and a traipse through granite bluffs that once drew Washoe and Paiute traders.
“Whatever we find beautiful, like that cliffside with all the granite,” said Trails and Vistas Director Nancy Lopez, gesturing toward a massive rock formation that resembles a human profile, “well, that’s where the aerialists will be. … There are so many places that inspire [performers].”
A Japanese harp and folk music from the Oakland-based T-Sisters will give way to more primal music, she said, then a poetry dance, and later a performance from renowned sculptor and costume maker Angelique Benicio. That’s just a touch of what you’ll experience in the roughly three-hour walk.
The summit leg isn’t a lengthy one—plan for a little over two and a half miles —but rugged enough that participants should be well-shod and bring a bottle of water. The Spooner Lake hike is longer but much softer and easier, with more of a meadow feel and a similar array of musicians, performers and visual eye candy.
“It takes you on a journey through music and dance and the visual arts, too—kind of around the world,” Lopez said. Hikers’ reactions vary, but the goal is essentially to bring folks together, ground them and watch them mellow out as they process a confluence of art and nature.
Trails and Vistas, the parent organization Lopez launched in 2004, operates via grants and sponsors, with offerings that now include small, summertime art hikes and aptly dubbed “cultural land tours” to bring the curious into community green spaces. Local third-graders take truncated hikes “to learn about their own backyards,” said Lopez, a sculptor by trade who began her own creative journey with interactive installations.
For now, she jokingly calls herself a one-woman band—one that books other bands, organizes workshops and field trips, connects with performers and sells tickets to a growing list of programs and happenings. It’s going well.
“As an artist, it’s a rare opportunity to perform in a natural environment, which for me is a key component of my work,” said Chapman, one of many participants who’ve reached out to Lopez over the years and asked to be involved in Art Hikes.
“I said, ’Hey, I want to be part of this. It fits.’”