Community Connections highlights the many leaders, partners, and neighbors who make a difference in our community. This month we are featuring Obi Kaufmann, Donald Neff, and Edward Rooks, three artists finding creative inspiration in Coyote Valley.
Throughout human history, nature has inspired art of all kinds. Today, landscapes and wildlife in our communities continue to move local artists to create. In the San Francisco Bay Area, one artistic muse in particular is the breathtaking Coyote Valley.
“Coyote Valley is a great example of ‘wild California,’” said Oakland-based author, illustrator, and naturalist, Obi Kaufmann. Kaufmann is the author of the best-selling California Field Atlas, a guide to the state's ecology, featuring hundreds of his watercolor paintings of maps, wildlife, and other aspects of nature, as well as The State of Water – Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource.
Earlier this year, Kaufmann worked with the Open Space Authority to create a series of five watercolor paintings featuring 20 plants and animals in different habitats in Coyote Valley.
Obi Kaufmann, A Restored Laguna Seca (2019), Watercolor
Kaufmann says the Coyote Valley offers our region the chance to promote sustainable habitats that support rare and endangered species, right there in the city limits of San Jose. “It’s still there for us to protect,” he said. “News often puts focus on all the ways we have ‘messed up’ native habitats… but here in Coyote Valley we still have a chance to save much of it,” citing past successful restoration work in the region, including the Laguna Seca wetland.
Another artist is using Coyote Valley both as a creative prompt and opportunity to share the importance of protecting these natural landscapes. San Jose-based artist Donald Neff recently launched the “Preserve Coyote Valley Quest,” a year-long effort to paint one work per month depicting scenes around the valley.
Donald Neff, Foggy Farming (2019), Oil on canvas
“People don’t know the history of this region,” says Neff. “This is the last farmland around here, I think it should be preserved as long as we can keep it wild or in use for farming.” He’s currently about halfway through this project and has captured images of the valley’s rolling hills, dramatic cloud formations, and scenes of agriculture, including aging barns and ruins of a historic winery. He plans to do a mix of on-location outdoor paintings, as well as studio works.
Donald Neff painting at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve
This is not the first time Neff has embarked on such a creative quest. Back in 2013, the artist completed a one-year project called “The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley,” painting one image per week of the Santa Clara Valley and Peninsula region’s hidden and lesser-known creeks and riverbeds. This time around he’ll be re-visiting a favorite subject of his, Coyote Creek. “It’s actually a river, and the largest watershed in the Santa Clara Valley,” he says, commending the many conservation groups that are working to clean up and restore the watershed as a place where steelhead trout and other native species can once again thrive.
On a personal level, Neff enjoys the opportunity to explore and learn about our community that that creative quests like this provide. “The ‘Creeks and Rivers’ project took me all over the county,” he said, from Montgomery Hill, where the first controlled air flight happened (pre-Wright Brothers) to the Guadalupe River, where he learned about the family of beavers that lives in this waterway right in downtown San Jose.
Other local artists make it part of their professional mission to share that joy of discovery in the hopes that it will inspire conservation.
Edward Rooks, Coyote Valley (2019), Watercolor
“My role as an artist is to communicate the importance of nature, the wonder of nature, and the beauty of exploration,” says local artist and art instructor, Edward Rooks. For more than a decade, Rooks has taught nature drawing and painting workshops in the Bay Area, Costa Rica, Trinidad, and Antarctica, and programs hosted by the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Stanford University, and Santa Clara University.
Edward Rooks, Coyote Valley (2016), Acrylic
“I’ve always loved the Coyote Valley and have supported efforts to protect it from the very beginning,” he said. He believes spaces adjacent to urban areas like Coyote Valley are important for preservation because they have such a significant role in wildlife movement and provide the opportunity for people to immerse themselves in and learn about nature.
Over the past year, Rooks has been working with the Open Space Authority to teach plein air (on-location outdoor painting) workshops in our local parks and open space preserves.