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John Allison Water Truck

Oil on linen, 23″ x 21″, plus included frame

John Allison Water Truck, 1887

John Allison was street superintendent and later marshal. Part of his job was to sprinkle the streets to keep the dust down in the summer. In 1887 he had to stop sprinkling because there was no water in the reservoir. On his wagon he also sold ads, such as to James Rutledge, a paint dealer and sign painter. George Beach, real estate and insurance agent also bought an ad. Allison is posing on Oak Avenue. The tower of St. Helena’s first city hall can be seen in the background.

Plowing the Rolling Hills

Oil on linen, 24″ x 20″, plus included frame

Helen Berggruen

I was born in San Francisco in 1945.

My artistic life began, not as a painter, but as an actress. From the age of twelve, I was determined to be on stage. In the 70’s I performed with The Napa Valley Theater Company,  Bread and Puppet Theater, and with the theater troupe of Robert Wilson, throughout Europe and in New York.

In the early 80’s I stepped away from theater life and started painting. The canvases would be “peopled” not with figures, but with objects, trees, cityscapes. Early on I was highly influenced by Van Gogh and by the early 20th Century European painters, especially the French Fauves and German Expressionists. Their emphasis on the “liberation of color” and intensity of expression, their attempts to find the truth hidden beneath the surface, became guiding principles, as well as the idea of the brushstroke as the engine that would drive the movement and rhythm across the canvas.

The Napa Valley has been my home base (including many departures, long and short) since the early 1970s. The landscape of the Valley, with its mighty tractors and trucks, has exercised a profound influence on my work.  When I started painting, trucks and tractors from earlier eras were still much in evidence.  These became the subject matter of my early watercolors and oil paintings, along with interiors of certain local businesses which embodied a sense of history, for example, Saint Helena Feed and Seed, The Olive oil Company, the Tannery in Napa (still functioning at that time), and the Diner in Yountville, where I worked as a waitress, and which hosted my first professional exhibition.

My work has been exhibited in St. Helena, San Francisco, New York, London, and Berlin, and is in the collections of the Springfield Art Museum, Missouri, and the Cedar Rapids Museum, Iowa .

I am honored to participate in this exhibition celebrating the Saint Helena Historical Society. At the core of my work is an investigation into a sense of history and tradition, not in a conservative way, but rather as a way of looking at our place as humans along the trajectory between past and present.