MONCA – Chico, CA

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I have lots to say about Chico, California, a fun and funky town about an hour and a half north of Sacramento. Yeah, you may never have heard of it–with a population of around 90,000, it is roughly the size of one of Boston’s suburbs. It also is the home of California State University at Chico, a smaller Cal State location with a beautiful northern California campus. It’s the second oldest campus in the Cal State network, and has a lovely arboretum and fascinating buildings. It is where my late great uncle James Kuiper was a professor for many years.

The town of Chico is eclectic–everything from taco trucks (great tacos for $1–I would live on this diet if I lived there), to an organic farmer’s market on Saturdays with many “crunchy” attendees, to dive bars and crappy pawn shops. The diversity is fun for me, but there are many who consider the town ugly or nowhere. The detractors just need to look closer.

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MONCA: Opening Night of James Kuiper’s exhibit in November 2017

One of the places you should look closer is the newly-opened Museum of Northern California Art or MONCA (they somehow want their name always in lower case “monca” but hello, let’s be proud of our name. MONCA! Send me a t-shirt!). While I can’t find the info in their bare-bones website, I am pretty sure it opened only in 2016 and is dedicated to art and community for the Butte County and northern California region. It’s a small airy-roomed space with lots of room for expansion. A search for my kids during the opening party brought me into a space with a huge stage used only for storage now. Potential, lots of potential.

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I make no secret that I am totally biased about my uncle’s art. It is because I can see him doing it–making funny comments, coming up with outrageous titles for it. Using more paint than produced in the state of California. But really, folks, I want to own it all–I want to horde it and look at it and share it every single day. The great good fortune for my family (who may not feel the same way) is that California is really really far for me to drive a filled truck back to Massachusetts. James was prolific.

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Okay, back to MONCA. The James Kuiper exhibit filled about five rooms. My aunt Elizabeth had done much of the work with hanging the art, as well as James’ best friend and a colleague/friend now on the board of the museum. The art has not titles–or perhaps they are now there but were not for the opening–but questions, ostensibly for the children who would visit, but fun for me too. Why can’t the lake move away? That makes me think: Why can’t I?

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The different stages of James’ works were in each room–collages of wood items, the “scribble” section, the great Northern California series. I own a tiny work with hearts on it…here at the museum there is a giant one that attracts your eyes like no other. Kids could build towers with river stones. My only dislike in the whole place was a photo of James near his wonderful greeting cards which he made as he got more and more sick. It showed a shadow of the man I knew–still vibrant in his eyes but gaunt of face. That is not James. James was totally 100% alive and LIVING in every sense of that word. I don’t ever want to see that photo again.

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So, in spite of this being more personal than travel blog today, I will tell you that James Kuiper’s exhibit closes this Sunday, January 7. If you are anywhere near Chico before then, please go. It will take only an hour and then I will tell you where to find the best taco truck. I shall talk more about Chico the town on another day…it bears at least one more blog.

All art in this blog credited to James Kuiper, 1945-2017

 

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