Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Blast from the Past

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Blast from the Past

Article excerpt

When she was a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Laura Cunningham always wondered what her house and her neighborhood looked like before the creation of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland. For the next 30 years she went about acquiring the artistic skills and scientific knowledge that would enable her to give substance to that wonderment. She studied paleontology and biology at UC Berkeley, and for many years she has worked as a field biologist, researching rare and endangered species such as the Owens Valley pupfish and the Yosemite toad. Cunningham is a scientist, to be sure. Her drawings and paintings of flora, fauna, and fossils are detailed, well researched, and trustworthy. Yet suffusing her work is something else, something so rare and welcome that it's startling--a tenderness, a yearning, a slow-burning love of the land in which we live and the creatures that have inhabited it. Her images express the wonderment of that long-ago child looking out the window and daydreaming another world into existence. Cunningham's latest work is at once a celebration of California's past--its natural legacy of abundance and diversity--and of change. In A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California Cunningham imagines what a prehistoric California must have looked like and juxtaposes those fancies with photographs of today's reality. As she writes in the book: "Change is always happening. Change is the most natural part of our landscape, and change is what we must embrace and learn to live with. …

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