Gary Snyder & Tom Killion: The Art of Friendship

LIKE NATURALIST JOHN MUIR, Pulitzer-prize winning poet Gary Snyder’s words about the Sierra point to its extraordinary beauty, ecological importance and rich cultural history. In The High Sierra of California, Snyder’s prose, Tom Killion’s woodcut artistry, as well as Muir’s writings, capture the multiple facets of the region.

The two famous artists—who share an appreciation for “deep ecology” and the Sierra—are known for their book collaborations. “Gary’s my big hero,” Killion said in a recent interview. “He has influenced the way I look at the world.”

“Tom’s an old friend,” says Snyder, a Zen Buddhist who spent considerable time in Japan and has long admired Killion’s 19th century Japanese woodblock techniques that depict the state’s natural landscapes.

Killion recalls the first time he heard Gary reading his poetry: at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco in 1968. Since then, the two have hiked together at 11,000 feet in the Sierra, addressed the local literati at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, and attended performances at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center on the San Juan Ridge.

Their friendship represents a melding of cultures of the California Coast and Sierra Foothills, an ongoing theme of our magazine. Snyder, 86, lives “off the grid” on the San Juan Ridge. Killion, 62, is a longtime resident of Point Reyes in western Marin County.

In January, the two will be among the headliners at SYRCL’s 15th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival, happening January 12-16, 2017, in Nevada City and Grass Valley. This year’s theme “At the Edge” is redolent of their book California’s Wild Edge and as Killion points out reflects the perspective of much of his artwork: “peering down” on nature. Snyder calls the Sierra “the Pacific Ocean’s most eastward edge.”

This summer, over lunch at New Moon Cafe in Nevada City, the two discussed an upcoming collaboration. They are creating a collector’s edition “broadside” as a fundraiser for SYRCL. It features a Sierra adaptation of one of Gary’s poems, “For All,” and one of Killion’s prints, “Kaweah Lake.”

The broadside is being printed letterpress and litho by Judith Berliner’s Full Circle Press in Nevada City. Killion knew Judith’s father, letterpress printer Harold Berliner. Killion’s artwork is on display at The Alexander Gallery.

Nature Noir

When Tom Killion visits Nevada City, he also enjoys getting together with another friend, author Jordan Fisher Smith. Smith’s acclaimed Nature Noir describes his 14 years as a park ranger patrolling remote American River canyons. His new book is Engineering Eden.

(Photo: Katsunori Yamazato)

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