Title of Work
Arthur Harold Beal Nitt Witt Ridge and Romano Gabriel
Date of Work
Super 8 film
Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection
Stored: JSP.FAST.FILM BOX 2
UND Art Collections Repository
Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.
This film features two separate artists.
About Arthur "Art" Harold Beal:
Arthur "Art" Harold Beal was born in Oakland, California, and lived with his mother, a member of the Klamath tribe. She passed away in 1906, and Arthur spent the rest of his adolescent life in an orphanage. Once he was of age, he began working in the steel industry and as a merchant seaman. Arthur was also known as Dr.Tinkerpaw and as Captain Nittwitt for his most famous creation Nitt Witt Ridge.
In 1928, he purchased 2 ½ acres of hillside in Cambria Pines, California, covered in Pine trees. On the 250-foot ridge, he constructed a series of buildings with only one rule during construction: Do not pay for anything except cement. He collected shells from the ocean, broken plates from the neighbors, wood from his hillside pine trees, and anything and everything from the dump.
Construction on the environment took nearly 50 years as he used only hand tools. Arthur used stone and concrete to create the foundation's base, which he constructed wood-framed structures on top. Once the structures were stable, he adorned them with scrap-metal, shells, glass, and other industrial discards he found. To terrace the property, he used only a pick and shovel. Once finished, rock and mortar were used to retain the walls. He designed handrails that also functioned as irrigation pipes and sprinklers.
Nitt Witt Ridge boasts nine levels that are all connected with winding walkways. As age progressed, site maintenance proved harder for the aging Arthur to do so. In 1975 volunteers founded the non-profit Art Beal Foundation, which allowed Arthur to live on the property as long as he wished. The non-profit organization's founding allowed access to public funding to protect Nitt Witt Ridge from developers or future destruction. 1981, the site was awarded California Historical Landmark status. Beal remained on the property until 1989, when he moved to a nursing home and died a short three years later. Years passed, and in 1999 a young couple purchased Nitt Witt Ridge and began restoration. They shored up staircases and cut back the landscape, which had become overgrown. The final restorations consisted of repairing the walls and portions of the foundation.
About Romano Gabriel:
Romano Gabriel was born in 1887 in Mura, Italy. Gabriel worked as a furniture maker with his father until he immigrated to America in 1913. He then served in WWI before settling in Eureka, California where he worked as a carpenter and gardener. Gabriel is mostly known for the wooden sculpture garden he built on his property. He began the wooden garden in the early 1950s in lieu of real flowers, which he was unable to grow. Over the next three decades, Gabriel continued adding various wooden decorations to the garden.
Most of the sculptures were made from scrap wood and fruit boxes, which he cut out using a hand saw and painted. Several of the piece within the garden served to express his political views instead of being purely decorative. Some of these pieces were more complex and contained various lighting and animatronic elements. Over time the sculpture garden began to gain more notoriety, being frequently featured in drive-by tours. Photographs of the sculpture garden have been exhibited at both Harvard and M.I.T and featured in various magazines and other publications. Several of the pieces themselves have toured around Europe and been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Gabriel had originally intended to leave the sculpture garden to the city of Eureka but passed without an official will in 1977. His property was subsequently sold and the garden dismantled. After community efforts in the next few years, many pieces were acquired, restored, and reassembled. They are now permanently displayed in public exhibition in Eureka.
Digitally preserved, 2021.
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