By Margie M. Palmer
SOHO produces an artful portrait of San Diego’s crown jewel
The Balboa Park Centennial celebration is nearly underway.
To commemorate the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) has partnered with local artist RD “Randy” Riccoboni and award-winning writer Ann Jarmusch to create the first-ever art traveler’s guide to Balboa Park.
Riccoboni, who has a longstanding reputation for donating his time and talent to charitable organizations, said “The Art Traveler’s Guide: A Portrait of Balboa Park” has been a decade in the making.
“About 10 years ago, I gave myself a personal challenge to create 100 paintings of Balboa Park in advance of the Centennial,” Riccoboni said. “When I was done I started to wonder what I’d do with all of them. I’ve always loved SOHO and all the work they do, so I thought it would be great to partner with them to create an educational outreach program using the artwork I’d created.”
The brilliantly colored paintings span everything from the park’s museums, to its gardens and most-beloved landmarks.
Although some may wonder if Riccoboni had a hard time deciding which landmarks to depict, the artist said it wasn’t difficult at all; he started by painting his favorite spots.
“I think a lot of my favorite places within the park are also the favorites of others,” he said.
SOHO Director of Education and Communications Alana Coons said the portable, soft-cover, saddle-stitched chapbook was designed for walking tours or as a handsome history-and-art portfolio that can serve as a valuable reference.
“It is so nice it really deserved to be a hardcover book, but then we had our goal always in mind, that we want people to really use it, to be able to toss it in a backpack or purse, and easily carry it by bicycle or wheelchair,” Coons said.
Though the full walking tour in the book would take approximately three hours to complete, Coons said it can easily be broken up into several visits.
“[Using the guide] I think people will be able to discover things about the park that might otherwise go unnoticed. It gives them a chance to look at Balboa Park in a different way, whether they do it on foot or by bike.”
Jarmusch, who won numerous journalism and preservation awards during her time as the San Diego Union-Tribune’s architecture critic, provided the text for the guide that accompanies the artwork.
Historic preservation has always been a personal passion, she said, and she’s enjoyed being able to partner with SOHO and do some writing for the cause.
“I love art, architecture and historic preservation equally, so for me, this guide is a bonanza,” Jarmusch said. “You can’t help but be captivated by Randy’s vivid paintings, made with intelligence, love and passion.
“I think of the guide first as a sumptuous art portfolio to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime,” she continued. “Then, as a source of basic historic information about the main exposition buildings and other familiar park spaces, accompanied by a map for a walking tour.”
With SOHO publishing the guidebook just in time to celebrate the Centennial, Jarmusch she hopes it will engage people, especially those just discovering the park.
“So they recognize its deep historic roots and significance, and support its preservation in whatever way they can,” she said.
And while the guide covers the history of the park in a fun, entertaining and visual way, Jarmusch said they were diligent in making sure the text was historically accurate.
“The research and writing totaled about six month’s work over about two years; there is so much to learn about the park’s history,” she said. “Then, two Balboa Park experts reviewed the text and made excellent suggestions and some corrections.”
The revisions took another couple of weeks to complete, but the guidance, she said, was invaluable.
Coons, who edited the booklet and whose husband Bruce — SOHO’s executive director — wrote the forward, said she thinks the guide fits in perfectly with the park’s Centennial celebration, particularly for the art and preservation communities.
“You can look at the historical buildings and cultural landscape and the fact that Balboa Park is a national historic landmark [and] one of the highest and finest forms of art in the county,” Coons said. “It is a beautiful piece and a great gift.”
“The Art Traveler’s Guide: A Portrait of Balboa Park” will be released on Jan. 11, 2015. It will be available for purchase at SOHO’s Museum Shop at the Marston House Museum and Garden in Balboa Park, and at all SOHO Museum shops, for $10.95. For more information about the guide, visit rdriccoboni.com. To learn more about SOHO, visit sohosandiego.org.
—Margie Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.