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Preview: SFGate: Sam Whiting

Sam Whiting


Nick Walrath, attorney and MIT grad with brilliant future, among victims of Oakland fire

Thu, 8 Dec 2016 21:21:10 UT

After completing highly sought-after clerkships at the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, attorney Nick Walrath had his choice of law firms to join in the city. When he signed with the litigation boutique Durie Tangri LLP, “His credentials were as good as anyone you could hope to meet,” said founding partner Ragesh Tangri. Walrath planned to specialize in intellectual property litigation, dealing with patents and copyrights, and do as much pro bono work as he could. Walrath’s bicycle was found chained outside the Ghost Ship warehouse, and his death in a fire there that killed 36 people was confirmed Thursday by his mother, Deb Walrath, a Pittsburgh lawyer. Walrath grew up in Point Breeze, an old neighborhood on the east end of Pittsburgh, and attended Taylor Allderdice High School, where he played soccer and lacrosse and was valedictorian in 2003. After a year pursuing his PhD in atomic physics at the University of Colorado, he switched interests and earned his JD at New York University School of Law, where he was on the Law Review. [...] Walrath also wanted to come west because “he liked to explore new places, especially places that had a vibrant art and music scene,” said his mother. After working a year at the appellate level, Walrath wanted to round out his education as a clerk in district court.

Ghost Ship fire from the eyes of an ever-present chaplain

Thu, 8 Dec 2016 18:01:53 UT

When the second alarm buzzed his cell phone at 11:31 p.m. Friday, the Rev. Jayson Landeza got out of his bedclothes and into his “turnout” in the rectory of St. Benedict in East Oakland. By the time he’d driven his black Crown Victoria 10 minutes to the Ghost Ship fire, he’d transformed himself from Catholic priest to “minister of presence.” What he does is stand there with his coat open so his clerical collar is visible, with an open expression on his face to show that he’s approachable. “We don’t do the Catholic thing,” he said in an interview Wednesday at the nearby Wendy’s which has served as his temporary sanctuary during the five days and nights he has been at the scene of the tragedy that claimed the lives of 36 people. When he was not at the scene of the fire, among first responders, onlookers and media from all over the world, he was back at the rectory in quiet prayer and reflection over what he had seen and heard and felt. Officially, Landeza is a volunteer chaplain for the Oakland Fire Department, Oakland Police Department and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which also houses the county coroner. “He brings a certain calm to situations, where families show up that are grieving, and it’s invaluable” said J.D. Nelson, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office. Police officers and firefighters will come up to me and say ‘Jeez, you know, I’ve got a kid the same age,’ and that’s all they have to say. Strangers would approach him to go take a photo of the fire scene, or ask him to place a flower at the door, “just so they would have a sense of closure about the place where their loved one passed away.” Even after the coroner’s office had removed all the victims, the fire department and demolition crews had pulled out, and the family members were gone, there was Landeza, in his white helmet and turnout with the word “chaplain” in yellow letters on the back. [...] he left the site and drove his cop-style Crown Vic to visit his mother at a rest home four blocks away.

Ancient medium of wax makes a comeback in Marin

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 22:03:46 UT

Using objects and pieces of fabric she dips into hot wax, Miot creates what she calls “wall sculptures,” which include wax painted on by brush and wax poured from a pot. “Poured, painted and dipped” is how she describes the finished product that will be on display starting Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, located at the Novato Arts Center where Miot keeps her studio. All five windows in the gallery have been covered in sheets of rice paper painted in pigmented wax, alternating aqua, blue, purple and red. When the sunlight passes through the waxed windows onto the wall sculptures, the effect “will be like being underwater and looking at an astonishing array of creatures,” Miot says. Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, Novato Arts Center at Hamilton Field, 500 Palm Drive, Novato.

Tribute to Steve Harper, pioneer night photographer

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 19:21:30 UT

Harper would teach students to use a tripod and leave the shutter open long enough to make night light as sharp as daylight. Harper’s class, said to be the first in night photography at any college in the country, soon made the Bay Area a destination for shooters of darkness, who eventually formed a loose collective called the Nocturnes. Steve Harper and the ‘San Francisco School’ of Night Photography, which opens Thursday, Dec. 8, at RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco. “Steve was an advocate for night photography as a transformative experience,” says Tim Baskerville, founder of the Nocturnes and curator of the exhibition. To curate the show, Baskerville sent out a call to Harper collectors, who include Michael Kenna, the well-known night photographer of the Golden Gate Bridge. Kenna loaned half the images in a show that amounts to 25 photos, ranging from urban grit in black-and-white to lush landscapes in Death Valley. There is a mix of razor-sharp black-and-whites and ethereal color prints — and you won’t find an image of Christmas lights, fireworks or neon lights in the show.

Riley Fritz, bass player and animal lover, identified as among fire victims

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 02:39:02 UT

Riley Fritz, bass player and animal lover, identified as among fire victims Riley Fritz, a garage band bass player and art school graduate who was always trailed by one or two rescue dogs, was confirmed dead Monday in the fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland. “A very soft, sensitive, caring person,” said her father, Bruce Fritz of Westport, Conn. Riley Fritz, who was 29 and also went by the name Feral Pines, was a transgender woman and one of several queer people to perish in the inferno. “Always loved animals,” said Bruce Fritz, who noted that as her childhood Eagle Scout project Riley had built wooden bird houses and placed them around Westport in an attempt to lure back the native kestrel, a member of the falcon family. Sure enough, the birds returned, attracted to those houses and habitat. “She identified as a woman and I considered her my sister and always will,” said half-brother Ben Fritz, 39, a Los Angeles journalist. “She was a synthesizer genius with impeccable musical taste,” said Wicks-Frank, by email. Riley Fritz moved to Oakland in September, to “be part of the trans community where she was more comfortable,” said her brother.

Feral Pines, 29, was a bass player who loved animals

Mon, 5 Dec 2016 21:32:49 UT

Feral Pines, a garage band bass player and art school graduate who was always trailed by a rescue dog, was confirmed dead Monday in the fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland.

Commercial pilot lands 2nd career in fine arts

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 21:52:37 UT

Commercial pilot lands 2nd career in fine arts Piloting a Boeing 767 wide-body from San Francisco to New York, American Airlines Capt. Louise Victor never consciously thought about her second career as a fine artist. [...] the mountains and sunsets and patterns of the rivers crept into her consciousness, and during a 14-hour layover, those images would work their way out through her sketchbook. By the time she’d finished the trip and was back in her home base of San Francisco, those sketches were ready for treatment in oil on canvas, a process that could take weeks or more. [...] the public can see the result behind the third door on the third floor of the Industrial Center Building, at the north end of Sausalito, during the ICB Winter Open Studios this weekend. The ICB studios contain nearly 100 artists under the curved roof of a factory originally built to crank out Liberty Ships in World War II. The factory has been broken into rooms, but the ceilings remain open and you can hear everything. Victor is more inclined to tell a studio visitor that she is represented by Mythos Gallery in Berkeley than she is to brag that she was just the second woman in the world to captain a Boeing 767. Above a couch in her studio is a table display of a model jetliner next to framed pictures.

With helping hand, Bay Area family puts RV life in rear-view

Thu, 24 Nov 2016 03:37:55 UT

With helping hand, Bay Area family puts RV life in rear-view After nine months living in an RV that had to be moved every three nights, Andrea Johnson thought she’d lost her two children behind one of the many doors in their new two-bedroom apartment. Johnson was doing dishes when the place went silent so she mounted a search and found them in the last place she expected — already tucked into their slots in their new bunk beds, Jose, 12, on the bottom, Amber, 8, on top. “It was the first time they ever put themselves to bed on their own,” said Johnson, 43, during an interview on her only day off from work, a Wednesday. The bunk-bed set, with mattresses, built-in drawers and twin dressers, came courtesy of the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund. The Sunnyvale apartment complex where Johnson had grown up with a single, working mom, and where she was raising her own kids as a single, working mom, was sold. Eight years on a month-to-month lease became a 60-day notice to vacate. The favorable rent she was able to cover while working as an in-home care provider could not be found anywhere else. “I’m used to doing everything on my own,” said Johnson, who has a diploma from Homestead High School in Cupertino, Steve Jobs’ alma mater, and national certification as a medical assistant. Truth is, she didn’t mind life in the RV, getting up at 5 a.m. to boil water to get the kids washed before getting them off for school. “The kids never missed a day of school and I never missed a day of work,” she said. It was crazy trying to move cars and move kids, finding places to do your laundry and homework and juggling doctors appointments. [...] looking for a place to live at the same time and everybody telling you ‘no’ because they only want the techies to move into their building. There were only two aspects to it Johnson couldn’t work around. The other is the parking restrictions in Sunnyvale. Stay anywhere more than three nights and she’d be towed. Stay anywhere for two nights and she’d be ticketed. Because the organization is located just outside a residential community, she could stay more than three nights without attracting police attention. Johnson was trying to stay discreet but was unknowingly on the radar of Stephano Joseph, a case manager for Sunnyvale Community Services. When Joseph knocked on the RV door, Johnson “didn’t know what a case manager was,” she said. Here I am, a stubborn independent female who is used to doing everything on her own. “The living room is bigger than the RV,” Johnson said, pointing from her front door to the vehicle in its own designated parking spot. By next year, she expects to be able to cover the entire rent. [...] she never could cover the furnishings. “I worked my butt off to get this stuff,” she said. [...] she never could find free beds, so the three of them slept on blow-up mattresses until the day Joseph caught wind of this arrangement. Sunnyvale Community Services has a three-way arrangement with the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund and a furniture store in Silicon Valley. The bedroom set, which has a double mattress on the bottom for Jose and a single on top for Amber, is the only brand new furniture in the apartment. “We’re finally home, Mom,” Jose said when Johnson found her kids tucked in on their own that first night. [...] he slept through the night for the first time since their eviction. Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Instagram: @sfchronicle_art Donations to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund help thousands of people in the Bay Area throughout the year. Assistance is in the form of grants paid directly to the supplier of services, such as a landlord. Individuals do not receive direct grants. For more information, visit Where the [...]

Found-art exhibit in building supply store

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 19:00:02 UT

Michelle Echenique begins each of her mixed-media works by scouring the streets of her Noe Valley neighborhood with her head hung low. Once she has a garage full of inspiration, she starts pulling stuff out and fitting it together in her own form of collage art. If it’s a table, the top may be made of tile shards and chunks of redwood siding, trimmed in Champagne bottle caps. The goal is to keep stuff out of the landfills,” says Echenique, “and also to save money, since I don’t have to go to the art supply store as often. Echenique’s exhibition bears the utilitarian title “Reduce, Reuse, Make Art,” and it involves both furniture and works that hang on a wall and are pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Pampanito submarine out of dry-dock, back in the water

Wed, 16 Nov 2016 23:09:49 UT

Turns out the worst thing for a World War II submarine is seawater. Add salt to the bronze of the torpedo tubes and the steel in the hull, and the sub becomes fast food for corrosives. Starting in mid-September, a crew of shipwrights, welders and painters at Bay Ship & Yacht in Alameda worked in two shifts, running from 7 a.m. to midnight, five days a week. The hard work was in replacing rusted and rotten steel in the area below the water line, which is two-thirds of the boat. When the 311-foot fighting vessel is put back into the service of tours and Cub Scout sleepovers Wednesday at Pier 45, it will be in the best shape since it slithered into the War in the Pacific on March 15, 1944. The Pampanito, which usually carried 10 officers and 70 sailors, has a storied history, having sunk six Japanese ships while on patrol in enemy waters. [...] the Pampanito was able to rescue 73 British and Australian troops from the water, dangerously doubling the capacity of the sub, and carry them three days to safety. [...] 60 unpainted steel plates were attached below the water line. The hope is that the corrosives in the seawater will attack these plates instead of going to the trouble of eating through paint to get to the steel hull. For its return trip out of dry-dock to Fisherman’s Wharf on Saturday, the Pampanito was towed along the San Francisco waterfront, visible from the Veterans Day Parade along the Embarcadero. On Wednesday, it will reopen for tours, and for the first time in its history as a museum, the Pampanito will be armed with both types of torpedoes it fired in battle — gas and electric. The watertight hatches that separate compartments will continue to offer the opportunity to trip and bang your head seven times going fore and aft and seven more times returning aft and fore.

Mammoth woodblock war prints at USF Gallery

Wed, 16 Nov 2016 22:16:57 UT

Woodblock prints with their heavy lines make everything more bold and ominous, and you can’t get bolder or more ominous than mural-size musings on the atrocities of the Iraq War. The scenes are dense with military action and political content. The labor in the printmaking was so intense that it took two years and two artists to create it — painter Sandow Birk and master printer Paul Mullowney, who was trained at Crown Point Press in San Francisco. “The idea was to do a series of prints that commented on the war in Iraq while also connecting to the history of artworks and warfare throughout the last 500 years,” says Birk. Working at his studio in Long Beach, Birk would do a drawing the size of a place mat, then blow it up and glue it onto a sheet of birch plywood from Home Depot.

San Francisco Art Institute names new president

Thu, 10 Nov 2016 20:00:00 UT

The son of a U.S. diplomat, Knox grew up around the world and across the country, coming to California to attend UC Santa Cruz, where he earned his bachelor’s in social anthropology in 1977. Since 2002, he has lived in Bernal Heights. “We are in the midst of the most interesting year in the history of the Art Institute,” said Tellis, who attributes that to the modern art renaissance in San Francisco in general, and the upcoming opening of a new $19 million SFAI graduate school campus in Fort Mason specifically. When that campus opens next fall, it will return grad students from temporary quarters in Dogpatch to a permanent home nearer to the main campus on Chestnut Street, where Russian Hill slopes down to North Beach. Founded in 1871, SFAI is one of the oldest academic institutions of higher learning dedicated to the study of contemporary art in the country. Knox said the biggest challenge ahead of him is “to rejuvenate student, faculty and staff culture around the core values of fearless disruptive thinking and sublime communication.”

Art show looks at war’s impact on those who wait at home

Wed, 9 Nov 2016 19:00:00 UT

Art show looks at war’s impact on those who wait at home Exploring Bonds Between and With Members of the Armed Forces, an ambitious group exhibition that opened Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the War Memorial Veterans Building. The show is in the San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery and is co-curated by SFAC Galleries director Meg Shiffler, the daughter of a World War II veteran and sister of a Vietnam vet. The point of view is from people like her — family members and friends who stayed at home to worry and wait, and otherwise support active-duty servicemen and women, and veterans. The commission Main Gallery normally closes at 6 p.m. but will stay open until 8 p.m. on Veterans Day to coincide with the dedication of a San Francisco Veterans Vietnam Memorial to be installed in the lobby of the Veterans Building. San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery, Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

Prop. 56: Voters approve cigarette tax

Wed, 9 Nov 2016 08:08:11 UT

SACRAMENTO — California voters on Tuesday approved an increase in the state’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack of cigarettes. The tax is expected to raise $1.4 billion a year for health care, smoking prevention programs and research. With 26 percent of precincts reporting, Prop. 56 had opened a 62 percent to 38 percent lead despite proponents being outspent 2-1 by big tobacco. Steyer, who lost his mother to lung cancer caused by smoking, spent $11.5 million on the campaign, noting that this is the first time “the Goliath of big tobacco” has been defeated in 17 consecutive attempts to raise the tobacco tax both on the ballot and in the Legislature. Research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that increasing the price of cigarettes reduces the demand for them, particularly among teens and young adults. The tobacco industry took several blows in California this year, including legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown to increase the smoking age from 18 to 21. Prop. 56 calls for Medi-Cal to receive the largest portion of the tax revenue — between $710 million and $1 billion in fiscal 2017-18, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Opponents of the measure, including tobacco companies and antitax groups, called Prop. 56 a “tax hike grab” by insurance companies and wealthy special interests that ignores the state’s pressing issues, like underfunded schools and a massive transportation infrastructure backlog.

Trees and stars in the dead of night

Wed, 2 Nov 2016 20:54:29 UT

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah, is a name too desolate to resist for photographer Beth Moon, who likes to lug her gear out into the dark places beyond human reach. Once she has found isolation, Moon sets up her tripod and makes a 30-second exposure in the dead of night, to freeze the interplay between trees and stars. “To make these photographs you must have the right degree of atmospheric clarity,” she says. For the sequel, Moon has advanced to digital, which allows her to capture enough light in the exposure to work under the stars, and in color. Moon, who splits her time between Novato and New York City, will be at a reception Thursday, Nov. 3, to sign copies of the accompanying monograph “Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees.” Moon is shy, but with goading she might be willing describe the experience of standing knee-high in mud on a soggy overnight in Croft Castle, England, or in the salt flats of Botswana, “with the entire Milky Way stretched from one end of the horizon to the other.”