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San Diego Artists Take On Drought In New Central Library Exhibit

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September 22, 2015 1:09 p.m.

San Diego Artists Take On Drought In New Central Library Exhibit


Susan Myrland, curator, "Rainmaker"

Richard Crawford, special collections supervisor, San Diego Central Library

Related Story: San Diego Artists Take On Drought In New Central Library Exhibit


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I am Maureen Cavanaugh. 100 years ago around the time of the Panama California exposition in Balboa Park, San Diego needed more rain. The city leaders contracted with the rainmaker to release his secret formula into the atmosphere. Whether as a result of by coincidence San Diego was deluged with rain and floods so much so that the rainmaker was sued for damages. That crazy story from San Diego's past was the basis of a new exhibit at the downtown library, is called rainmaker. In presents the work of 12 artists representing ideas of drought and climate shape change. Joining me is the independent curator of the rainmaker exhibit.
You so have the supervisor of special collections at the library. Thank you for coming in.
How did Charles Hatfield the rainmaker story serve as an inspiration for this exhibit Susan.
I heard the rainmaker story before, I was familiar with it, and I happen to see Rex display in special collections and revise that we were coming up on the Centennial. To make it the perfect opportunity to bring the issue into the present.
Quite a San Diego want to hire a rainmaker 100 years ago, was a sitting a drought the way that we are in now. Not the way that we are in now. That we have scarcity of water in the reservoirs, and we only had a couple of reservoirs to supplying the waters. We did not have Colorado River water, but did not have Northern California water. So this is an opportunity to address that low-water level.
And Charles Hatfield was not the only rainmaker that anyone had ever heard of.
There were quite a few at the time, it was not consider the crank science as it is look at today. It was quite a few, that he was the best known. And he was very successful compared to the others.
Did he say that he had a chemical formula that would make it rain?
He said he called himself a moister accelerator, he had chemicals that you would put on top of the tower," the rain from the clouds. The thing that he asked for was some type of humidity, he did not claim to be able to do this without clouds, he could I did work in deserts, and he could hundred workers normally dry. He could take work in Southern California, in LA in particular. In the early 1900s he did quite a bit of work in LA.
The craziest part of the story was that it did rain. It poured, it rained so much. How much ranges San Diego get.
We got close to 30 inches. In about 20 days.
And it caused quite some devastation.
It destroyed one damn, it overflowed elsewhere, knocked out bridges, killed at least 14 people's as many as 40 -- as many as 30. He had a contract, but he did not get paid. And he was sued.
This was an art exhibit was expired by his story, what you think artists can do to shape our understanding of water, and drought, that is different from what scientists and politicians can do.
Well scientists and politicians and journalists are required to tell the truth. An artist are able to envision anything. So they can picture a world that is both water and not water. And they can venture into the realm of science fiction, and imagine a lot of things.
What kind of mediums to the artist in the rainmaker exhibit use.
We had everything, photography, painting, sculpture that uses grass, we have a poem, we of a science-fiction form, we have digital animation that is interactive. That people can walk up to and discover that they are controlling it.
And their also sound effects, we have a sample of that rate your.
-- Is a sample of that right here. Now that is a sound the year immediately associate with water, the old speakers.
That is from Margaret noble's piece entitled I have arrived. It is very cheeky witty piece that deals with lawns, and how it shows our wealth that we had so much money that we could just literally poured on the ground, and so she has three that the sprinklers one from the 1930s, one from the 1950s , and month of the 1970s condo sprinklers or company by the sounds. So it takes you back to the set -- the time of nostalgia, and that is the beauty of the sprinklers themselves. And real grass. That is part of the exhibit.
Now one of the themes of this exhibit which goes right to the Hatfield story, is our inability to control the environment and our constant quest to do so. What work addresses that.
There are a few, but one in particular is from Josh to Anaïs, he is taken images from international currency, cut them out and rearrange them in forms that correspond to environmental readings. We might have a shape the relates to rising carbon dioxide levels, and the casual reader one recognizes. And that speaks to the fact that we do not always understand the science. The science is changing.
Or so, you also try to explore the mystery of water. I think that is fascinating. Because water is a mysterious element.
We have a few pieces one is a lovely piece that is right of the title wall right as you walk in, it is iridescent beads that will change as you move around the painting. They will catch the light, and sparkle cost to you might almost be something , and any move and it disappears.
Now there is a lingering mystery about Charles Hatfield as well. And that is did he actually did anything to cause it to rain.
He may have thought so, he certainly had a recipe, use chemicals, and evaporating pans on 20 foot towers. Some use going through the motions, and he was doing it , and he was picking his rainy seasons to do this work. Looking back on the how to field many years later, scientist concluded that we did have naturally occurring whether masses converging over Southern California. There is a pretty good natural explanation for all of this, but Hatfield had a lot of work, he was very successful. People purchased his services all the time so they did believe that he was producing this rain.
Apparently enough people felt that his secret formula was what he knew about meteorology.
He was of educated about that, in our collection at the library we have some of his nose and his books , and netbooks about meteorology that were well used and underlines, he knew his science. As it existed at that time.
And what happened to Charles Hatfield.
He continued to work in the field, he actually got more jobs as a result of all of this. It was devastation for us but success for him in some ways. He did work for the 1920s, into the 30s. Eventually, it petered out, he went back to sewing machine salesman.
So rainmaker was not doing anything for him at that point. Some of his descendents were at the opening of this exhibit at the library this weekend what if they make about this. Well one broad umbrella. -- One brought an umbrella. They enjoyed it very much, they are scattered all over Southern California and Arizona. Their plaintive memorabilia, which their grandfather Paul donated to the library in the 1970s. They have accumulated more memorabilia since then. There are photographs, business cards, letters, contracts with people writing to him, so they brought some of that material and they were sharing it with each other and talking about their memories.
In fact cost some of the Hatfield and mentor on display as part of this exhibit.
Yes, Rick bones meet the scales, the measuring scales and the hand tools that he used to measure out the weights, and his barometer. And the barometer you will notice is worn off, where it says stormy and rain, because those were the conditions that he did the most work. B is this exhibit aims, Susan , and starting a deeper conversation in San Diego about water. Deeper than we usually have.
I hope so. That was one of my goals for this exhibit. I wanted a large and usual crowd to participate in the reception, and ongoing over the front of the exhibit. I think that there is a lot of anxiety about the drought, and for people to be able to think about water in different ways and think about solutions in different ways would be very helpful. What do you think in putting this together in your own thoughts about how this exhibition should go, what you think is missing in the way that we do deal with the fact that we are in a very arid climate, we are in a drought now, and we talk about water conservation, the reservoirs, desalination plant, what is it about this conversation do you think that is lacking.
Long-term vision. I think that we get into very short-term emergency thinking, and that might have been the thinking at the time of Charles Hatfield. The city Council feeling they needed to do something, anything, and we might be in that same role now. There are some pieces in the show that show people geologic time, and show people that cycles of drought and flooding our normal, and we need to take a longer-term vision.
When it comes to Charles Hatfield story and the slide and she talk to us about Rick, do think it's widely known at this point? Was a something is almost forgotten in San Diego history.
I think has been forgotten. I spoke to people who of never heard about this story before. And they see it there fascinated by a but they've never heard about it. People from San Diego surely know it , and will be a familiar story this year because of the centennial of the event.
Exactly right. And also, even if you are classically the lover, you might be a little familiar at least with the character based on Charles Hatfield.
That is correct.
When people go into this collection, Susan, what would you like them to leave thinking about.
I would like them to think about where we are now, where we have been, over a millennium, where we will be in 100 years. What decisions are we making now that may seem silly, hundred years from now. What will make sense.
That is what I want them to think about.
Innkeeper that. The rainmaker exhibit at the central library, is free and runs through the 29th. And speaking to the independent curator, and Rick Crawford supervisor of super collections at the San Diego central library. Thank you both very much.