SALINAS – The weekend of May 2-4 marks the 34th annual Steinbeck Festival, taking place in John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas and various locales throughout Monterey County, aka Steinbeck Country.
The National Steinbeck Center, which hosts the annual event, invited three extraordinary artists – visual artist and historian Patricia Wakida, playwright Octavio Solis and filmmaker P.J. Palmer — to share new work inspired by each artist’s participation in The Grapes of Wrath Journey in October 2013.
Wakida’s exhibition (which runs through July 25) and a reading of Solis’ play will be presented from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 2, as part of the festival’s Opening Night Speakeasy, which will include 1930s tunes and Dust Bowl era cocktails. The play is presented in collaboration with El Teatro Campesino.
Palmer’s documentary “The Grapes of Wrath: An American Journey” premieres Saturday night during the festival Barn Party at Palo Corona Ranch in Carmel Valley. Both events are near capacity and expected to sell out.
Each artist issued a brief statement about their works-in-progress:
Wakida: “My body of linoleum block prints draws from the power of visual messages and protest posters, especially those depicting ordinary people at their most vulnerable and most truthful. While traveling down Route 66 on The Grapes of Wrath Journey, I caught similar glimpses of an American landscape that revealed the sheer beauty and diversity of the country, unfolding through passing windows.”
Solis: “I’m crafting a play around the novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and the road trip we took to commemorate it last October. Entitled ‘Mother Road,’ it’s a road trip in itself but taken in reverse gear, from Bakersfield to Sallisaw.”
Palmer: “Stories are best when they are individual and unique, when they are deeply connected to something personal, and when they express a truth about life. All of this comes through in 70-plus stories we documented for this film.”
Tickets are now on sale at www.Steinbeck.org, or by calling the National Steinbeck Center store at (831) 775-4721. Click the Festival link on the homepage for more information.
About Patricia Wakida
Wakida is a linoleum block artist and writer who has worked as an apprentice papermaker in Gifu and as an apprentice letterpress printer and hand bookbinder in California. She maintains her own linoleum print and letterpress business under the Wasabi Press imprint.
She is the editor of three books, “Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience,” “Unfinished Message: Selected Works of Toshio Mori,” and “Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Central Valley.”
For the past 15 years, Wakida has worked as a literary and community historian in California, most recently as associate curator of history at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and lead writer for the Topaz Museum, dedicated to the history of the World War II Japanese American concentration camp located in Utah.
“Last October, I was chosen as one of three artists to join the National Steinbeck Center on a cross-country journey to recreate the trip taken by the fictional Joad family from Steinbeck’s classic novel of displacement, ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’” Wakida said. “This year marks the 75th anniversary of the book’s publication, and we hoped to take the temperature of the country and ask people about resilience and hard times.
“Along the way we completed 26 programs and collected 75 oral histories with folks we met in Sallisaw, Okla.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Amarillo, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Bakersfield, Calif. It was an epic trip, taken by RV and we actually ended up in a still-functioning government camp for migrant workers in Arvin, Calif. (just south of Bakersfield).
“My role on the trip was as an oral history collector and visual artist. In the six months that have passed, I created two sets of images … One is a series of landscape images that I viewed through the window of our RV, and the other is a set of portraits captured from the oral histories we took.
“The portrait series is inspired by protest posters of the civil rights era and the novel ‘Grapes of Wrath’ itself, which I have deemed a ‘protest novel’ connected to history and contemporary American forms of social issues and dissent. I lamented the quality and effectiveness of the signs and posters used by people today at marches, strikes, speeches, and rallies, compared to the electrifying letterpress printed signs from decades before — for example, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I AM a Man’ or the ‘Si Se Puede/Huelga/Boycott Grapes’ posters for the UFW.
“By making these banners — printed on cloth for optimal ease of transport, and to emulate paste posters — I hoped to create powerful and lasting messages, much like the ones used by movement leaders and the media in previous revolutions and protests, but of the ordinary people we met on the journey.”
To see the artists’ blogs about their experience, go to http://www.steinbeck.org/pages/the-grapes-of-wrath-journey.