The Yangtze : Three Gorges, China


Click on image to enlarge

In 2003, the world’s largest hydraulic dam transformed the Three Gorges into a deep currentless reservoir. Water flooded 28,000 acres of farmland, 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,352 villages. Eight thousand recognized archaeological sites were flooded and 1.4 million people were driven from their homes. In May 2002, my son and I took one of the last river boats through the Three Gorges before the Chinese government started to flood the area. I wrote the following poem when I returned from that trip. The drawing is from my sketchbook. While sketching on deck, another artist joined me. Unable to communicate with words, we enjoyed drawing together.


The Yangtze: Three Gorges

Coiled with mist, the cliffs rise

half a mile into the sky.

Looking up, past the trackers’ path,

past the hanging coffins, past the caves,

past the stunted trees,

I see deep blue sky.

Rising  Cloud Peak.

Sage Spring Peak.

The riverboat passes villages, orange groves,

fields of pink peach blossoms.

Tall limestone walls dwarf the town.

The river roars.

Winding narrowness,

shallow rapids,

dangerous whirlpools,


followed by quiet.

Head Rapid.

Chicken Wings.

Fish inscribed on White Crane Ridge:

two carp facing upstream,

one with a lotus sprig in his mouth,

mark ancient low-water levels.

On the road: barbers, plumbers, food sellers.

A welder creates jewelry with his blowtorch,

fired by a garden hose and a bottle of gasoline,

his foot pressing the bellows.

Under a red umbrella a woman sleeps,

sweet slices of watermelon by her side.

Children squat with a deck of cards.

Small groups of people eat noodles out of bowls.

Dressed in a tattered gown of silk

embroidered with dragons, an old man

sits near a persimmon tree.

All this will be underwater soon:

the temple with its wooden pavilions,

pagodas, loggias, reflecting pool,

the monkeys scampering among altars;

the storefronts, streets, houses, fields of rice.

Goddess Peak.

Witches’ Gorge.

What will happen to the Siberian cranes,

the white flag dolphin, the Chinese sturgeon,

the house tucked under a tree?

What will happen to the barbers, sellers, plumbers,

the little girl in yellow jelly shoes,

her mother selling Camel cigarettes?

In a home in Suzhou I saw this poem

on a piece of wood shaped like a banana leaf:

My mind-heart is like the reflection of the moon

in a deep pond on a snowy night

my creativity blooms like flowers

after the spring rain.

The old towpath clings to the rock face, high

on the north side of the mountain.

Trackers pulling boats on the Yangtze

sing back and forth, strange chanting melodies.


Terracotta Warriors and Horses – China, New York, California

click to enlarge

Right now many of the original terra cotta warriors from Xian are on exhibit in New York. At the same time, contemporary artist Gong Yuebin, has a show at the Crocker museum in Sacramento California. Gong has interspersed life size modern warriors marching with copies of  the original warriors, but the modern soldiers are  carrying nuclear missiles.

In the summer of 2002 My son and I  visited East China. We were on one of the last Yangzi River cruises before the Chinese flooded the three gorges. I have many sketches and poems all ready to put together into an artist’s book or an edition – just haven’t gotten around to doing it. I took different weights of paper to draw on. I had some transparent paper along just in case and ended up using it when we were in Xian.

Painting About The Three Gorges Dam – China


Fragments, Fadings and Feelings

Mills College Art Museum

When I was in China the abstract beauty of calligraphy intrigued me. I bought some children’s textbooks on how to write Chinese script. For centuries the children have learned how to write by copying characters within boxes in order to understand their structure and proportions.

I started to copy the lessons.  Soon my strokes freed themselves from the grid. The “correct” version of the letters was replaced by the “wrong” solution.  Using sumi ink, wax and acrylic paint on xuan paper I put down marks. The shapes and colors mixed and spread into new compositions and brushstrokes. The biomorphic forms of nature took over.

As I painted I thought of the world’s largest hydroelectric dam on the Yangtze River. The Three Gorges Dam transformed the river into a deep reservoir flooding farmland, cities, villages and archaeological sites. People were relocated to new structures of mass produced design, buildings with slick, cold, white tile.

Today’s mass production and permanency of materials is replacing an intuitive expression of life. These paintings are made of materials that are vulnerable to the effects of weathering and our touch. The sun will fade some of the brilliant colors into muddy earth tones.  Fragile paper will tear. But the way xuan paper transmits light, the way people carried out their everyday life on the Yangtze. These memories will stay in my heart.