VIDEO: A re-imagining of Spring's world-view.
SPRING'S FORT BRAGG
How does one know a place? Or express a place? Or get beneath the surface of what's abstracted from everyday life?
What follows is a brief glimpse into Larry Spring's Fort Bragg world. Here the influence of 'place' and how it may have informed Spring's thinking and cultural output can be imagined. Spring's experience of place was lived through both abstract spaces — Northern California as a source of esoteric energies — and material ones — the land, the town, the industry, and his building.
While the role and significance of rural Northern California’s peculiarities is unquestionably essential to understanding Larry Spring, it would be easy to overstate its importance. In relation to Spring’s personal biography and cultural production, however, the logic of time, place and changing social processes should not be overlooked.
GALLERY:A selection of photographs that provides a brief historical timeline of Fort Bragg
Navigate left and right using the arrows. Hover over each photograph to access the text.
Northern California has long been held in the American imagination as a place of limitless possibility. Its hardscrabble history is dramatized as what Larry Spring's long time friend Bob Kirtland called the "pioneering American spirit," (2015). This myth has origins in the Spanish colonial era when land originally settled by Coast Yukis, — and later the Pomo people — was exploited by successive waves of outsiders for economic opportunity.
In this stereoscopic card, Pomo shelters are viewed through the distancing lens of virtual tourism.
C.E. Watkins. Rancherie, Mendocino. 1863. Stereograph. Courtesy of Steve Heselton.
After California entered into the Union, lumber barons moved north to forcibly claim Pomo tribal land.
Anne Maureen McKeating. 'California Republic.' 2014. Jpeg. California.
After lumber interests suppressed the Pomo uprising, one hundred years of industrial colonialism followed. Infrastructure — camps, railroads, and sawmill sites — was hastily built on tribal land and the Pomo were forced into indentured servitude.
The 1906 earthquake was a boon for Fort Bragg. Lumber companies sold redwood to builders seeking to profit from the disaster.
Photographer unknown. Acme Lumber Co. Circa 1910. Postcard. Courtesy FB-MCHS archives. Fort Bragg, California.
After timber resources were stripped, the lumber companies sold cheap sections coined 'stump ranches' to economic migrants like Larry Spring's family.
Photographer unknown. The Mathison Ranch 1911. Courtesy of the FB-MCHS archives. Fort Bragg, California.
Farming a stump ranch was a labourious. To maintain an arable plot, farmers had to constantly remove the redwood trees' sprouts from their roots
Larry Spring's family turned to mink farming as a way to bolster their ranch's yield.
Photographer unknown. Sid Spring with mink. n.d. Gelatin silver print. Estate of Larry Spring. Fort Bragg, California.
The timber industry monopolized Fort Bragg's political and cultural economy. The town's first mayor was Union Lumber founder C.R. Johnson. While Johnson was not directly implicated, there was a struggle around the founding of Fort Bragg's first high school. The mill's manager took the battle to California's Supreme Court where he argued that Union Lumber's holdings would be unfairly taxed if a district high school were established.
Photographer unknown. The Spring boys with felled log. N.d. Gelatin silver print. Estate of Larry Spring, California.
The domination of a single resource industry had a lasting impact on Fort Bragg's fragile economy.
McKeating, AM. Billboard. 2013. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Prior to the mill's closure, more than half of Mendocino county's population had post-secondary education or training. However, the 2009 census determined that this figure had dropped to only 16% in Fort Bragg. As recently as 2014, Fort Bragg's College of the Redwoods had only one full-time employee — the custodian.
McKeating, AM. I Graduated! 2012. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Logging culture was a mainstay of leisure time in Fort Bragg. In 1939, Union Lumber established the Paul Bunyan Days festival starring the 6'8" Charlie Buck.
Charlie Buck 1939. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of FB-MCHS. Fort Bragg.
Paul Bunyan Days continues to be celebrated despite the logging industry's legacy of economic and environmental devastation. In the struggle to recover, Fort Bragg trades in nostalgia to attract tourism and to buoy community spirit.
Photographer unknown. Larry Spring and an unidentified woman wearing Fancy Dress. Circa 1970. Colour transparency. Estate of Larry Spring. Fort Bragg, California.
The myth of gigantism was taken from the Pacific northern redwood stands and became tied to northern California's identity. Despite the near demise of the giant redwood from over logging, single log houses and other gigantic timber-themed amusements became part of the leisure economy.
Photographer unknown The Interior of the Famous One Log House N.d. Souvenir postcard. Estate of Larry Spring. Fort Bragg. California.
Postcards from Mendocino also played with nature's gigantism on land and sea. Mendocino's rough waters have been known to cause towering 'sneaker waves' that both deposit and remove life from the shoreline.
Here, residents contend with the unsettling body of a whale, — with humour.
Photographer unknown. Mendocino County Minnow Circa 1925. Souvenir postcard. Courtesy of the FB-MCHS archives. Fort Bragg, California.
Visual jokes combined with hand-written commentary were popular in 1920's-era vernacular photography. Here, a group of friends juxtapose their diminutive bodies with the trunk of a giant redwood tree.
Photographer unknown. A small tree and five big people. 1926. Gelatin silver print with handwriting. Estate of Larry Spring. Fort Bragg. California.
Larry Spring integrated the popular appeal of the oversized into his storefront window. This six-foot chainsaw has been on display since the 1950's and has been cited by a number of visitors as the reason they entered the building.
McKeating, AM. Gigantic window display. 2013. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Union Lumber's 1753-year-old redwood round can be seen as a stand-in for the area's waves of colonization. Noted is the human chronology that features prominent moments in European history — 'Leif Ericson Lands on American Coast' and 'Signing of the Magna Carta' — yet omits regional narratives and any trace of indigenous peoples.
McKeating AM. Redwood slice timeline. 2013. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Fort Bragg's culture is distinctively self-sufficient. Mayor Dave Turner ascribes this to the confluence of outliers, isolation, and the town's flagging economy. "People here have to think for themselves and that means that unique things happen," (2015).
McKeating, AM. Lawn ornament. 2014. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Isolation and hard labour sometimes took its toll in unconventional ways. After his family 'back east' died in a fire, Union Lumber engineer William Bennet, carved a stand-in family out of redwood. According to the Fort Bragg Advocate-News, Bennet could be seen fanning his wooden wife on hot days.
H. H. Wonacott. Fort Bragg's Wood Family. 1911. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of FB-MCHS archives. Fort Bragg. California.
Isolation could also foster positive social change. Lured to Fort Bragg by Union Lumber's recruitment ads, Finnish immigrants introduced an alternative value system through their collective approach to resource sharing.
Larry Spring's storefront was the original Finnish cooperative store.
Oscar Erickson. Sointula Collective (Harmony) hunting party. 1939. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of Sylvia Bartley whose mother, grandfather, aunt and uncles are pictured. Fort Bragg, California.
In the late 1950's many artists who were attracted to the areas' rough coastline and roiling fog moved north to make creative works in relative isolation. Like Larry Spring's craft explorations, much of what was produced was specifically rooted in the area's natural environment.
McKeating, AM. Scrubby coastal rock and plant life. 2014. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Activist Norman de Vall related that many counter-culture migrants came to the north to escape the Cuban missile crisis' militaristic effect on Bay area politics.
Bartley, Sylvia. Redwood Summer. 1990. Gelatin silver print. Fort Bragg, California.
Today, communes develop around the production of organic food, music, spirituality, and marijuana. Anecdotal evidence suggests that close to 70% of Fort Bragg's economy is sustained by cannabis.
McKeating, AM. Farm Worker. 2015. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California
Artists who were looking for alternatives to the middle-class lifestyle came to live in so-called 'Dada' houses where "full-sized adults could have a very simple time swinging in a living room sandbox," (de Vall 2015).
In the mid-sixties, artist Larry Fuente came north to make works obsessively concerned with surface ornamentation.
Madame Chinchilla. Larry Fuente on his Cowasaki. 1969. Chromatic print. Courtesy of Madame Chinchilla. Fort Bragg California.
Larry Spring was fondly recalled as one of Fort Bragg's few 'old-timers' who was open to the counter culture's new ideas. "He was a draw, and people wanted to be around him. He wasn't the only one looking for a different understanding of the unknown," (de Vall 2015).
Photographer unknown. Larry Spring on a dune buggy. 1970. Colour transparency. Estate of Larry Spring. Fort Bragg, California.
Larry Fuente first encountered Larry Spring in 1968, "To me, the world needed to be more decorative, which is why I was attracted to Larry Spring's window. He was cool and had all sorts of weird things scattered around. I went to one of his lectures where he shared the secret of the universe," (2015).
McKeating, AM. Fuente re-enacting Spring's friction demonstration. 2015. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Artist Madame Chinchilla called Fort Bragg a "magnetic vortex" that influenced culture and identity. "When I arrived here 45 years ago, I was given permission to be who I am," (2015).
Spring, Larry. UFO in the Paul Bunyan Days Parade. 1978. Colour transparency. Estate of Larry Spring. Fort Bragg, California.
Larry Spring was an early adopter of solar energy and built miniature motors to harness its power. Spring demonstrated his Larry Spring Magnetic Levitation Mendocino Brushless Solar Motor at schools and selected solar energy events.
McKeating, AM. Motors and Map. 2015. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Nuclear technician Bill Roach described Larry Spring's inventive thinking as "a practical application of consciousness" that came from living on a foggy coastal range. "Water, trees, and isolation created an environment where you had to confront yourself. This resulted in a kind of mental activity that stimulated creativity," (2015).
McKeating AM. Beach Shelter. 2013. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Larry Spring’s storefront eventully became wholly dedicated to the dissemination of his research. The path of Spring's inquiry that began with TV and antennae repair, was fully integrated into his experimental enterprise.
Brown, Heather. Larry in front of the school. 2004. Jpeg. Courtesy of Heather Brown. Fort Bragg, California.
Larry Spring was considered by community members to be integral to Fort Bragg's character. They continue to be very protective of his image and work.
Larry Spring’s school — now a museum — exists namely because Fort Bragg’s disparate economic and socio-cultural make up has made the town resistant to gentrification. After Union Lumber’s closing, the town has struggled to find an identity.
McKeating, AM. Private Barking. 2013. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Historically, Fort Bragg has been a site of property and resource speculation, a cycle that continues into the 21st century. Today, big box stores and chain restaurants look at Fort Bragg as a place of utility. Their presence threatens to neutralize the town's idiosyncratic beauty.
McKeating AM. Spring Realty maps. 2014. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.
Fort Bragg’s isolation and unique cultural mix allowed Larry Spring to creatively produce without the pressure of social or academic consensus. However, these same factors make the work of maintaining his legacy precarious.
McKeating, AM. Westward view. 2012. Jpeg. Fort Bragg, California.