I’m so excited as I sit down to begin this latest post. I’m excited because with this post, I’m interviewing Living Sonoma County’s own Julia Hallisy, my dear friend of over 50 years, about something wonderful we have created together.
SI: Julia, I’m looking at this – well, what I can only call this beautiful homage to Sonoma County in front of me, and I absolutely love how it turned out. It appeals to me on so many levels. What inspired you to want to create this Sonoma County art print?
JH: I live and work in San Francisco during the week, but where my heart truly lies is in the peace and natural beauty of Sonoma County. I rely on art in my home and my office to keep me connected to Sonoma County when I can’t physically be there.
I have some prints by local artists – vineyard scenes are a favorite of mine – but one day I started searching for something that captured the unique essence of the very distinct identities of the entire county. I wasn’t able to find what I could so easily picture in my mind’s eye, so I decided it would be fun to try to create the Sonoma County art print I envisioned – and possibly share it with others.
SI: Yes! I remember how excited I got when you first mentioned your vision. You and I have spent many wonderful times together all around Sonoma County, and I immediately connected with the concept and recognized how so many people who love Sonoma County would as well. How did the concept, design, and aesthetic of this graphic tribute to Sonoma County evolve? I know a little bit about this because we collaborated on it, but I would love for readers to hear your story.
JH: Sonoma County is expansive and has many cities and towns within its borders. We couldn’t include all of them, but one common thread that stood out early on in the project was the roads that connect all parts of the county. Just seeing the “North 101” sign as a kid signaled that we were on our way out of foggy San Francisco and into summer fun. Roads such as Highway 1, 12, 121, 128 and 116 wind their way through several regions in the county and every town or city has its own unique personality and landscape shaped by the twists and turns of these roads.
We decided to use the road signs as a unifying theme in the spirit of how they connect the county and then to backdrop them with iconic images that capture the essence and the history of each area.
It became clear early on that we could envision what we wanted to do, take photos, and finalize a layout, but we definitely needed a graphic designer to help with the project. It was an easy decision to work with Katrina McHugh from Flight Design as I know members of her extended family. And as a Sonoma County native growing up in Santa Rosa, she immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish. Katrina is a master of subtlety. Her eye for color and composition elevated the project to a whole new level – and the resulting print is a testament to her expertise. She was also a dream to work with!
SI: I have to say, when I heard about Katrina, her work, and your connection to her, I could not help but think the stars were aligning for this all to come together. She really did a beautiful job. And I’m honored to have had a part in the development and evolution of this nostalgic homage. What’s so sweet about this piece is that those who know Sonoma County well can immediately identify with its iconic images — for example, the image of writer Jack London for Glen Ellen is quintessential for those who know of Jack London’s deep connection to Glen Ellen — while those who are new to the county and all that it has to offer are being taken on something of a “tour” with all of these images, piquing the interest and enchantment of the viewer.
Can you share with us one some highlights of your Sonoma County memories? I could go on and on answering my own question, but don’t get me started!
JH: My earliest memories of Sonoma County were our family vacations at SummerHome Park in Forestville along the Russian River. The River was a haven for families from San Francisco looking for a warmer place to be near the water, to escape the notorious summer fog in the city, while cooling down at night to allow peaceful sleep. The River checked all those boxes – and many more.
I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to why those memories are so vivid and enduring, and I think it’s because it was a time that we were able to fully live in the moment.
SI: That’s so true. And as I reflect, so many of those moments pop to the surface of my mind: Lazily floating on a warm inner tube, gentle breezes wafting over my wet skin as I lay drying off beneath our beach umbrella, picking and eating ripe blackberries.
JH: We had freedom from structure and schedules. No one wore wristwatches – you learned to tell time by the shadows the redwoods cast on the River. Immersed in nature, we happily and naturally followed her rhythms – we slept until we woke up, we ate when we were hungry, and we lived and enjoyed each moment as it came.
No one was thinking about where they were going to go to college, their future job earnings, or what they were going to do with the rest of their lives – heck, you didn’t even think about what you were having for lunch that day. The worries of life – both small and large – didn’t seem to matter as much at that time, in that place.
The River gave us the gift of a childhood that not every child experiences. One could actually be a child – carefree, exploring, and spontaneous. We were free to amuse ourselves with unfettered imagination and ingenuity. Curfew was set by the sun; not by a clock. The River was the one venue that allowed us (and likely, our parents) to simply breathe and to abandon the distractions and underlying sense of vigilance that came with life in the city.
I also have early memories of the town of Sonoma where we would take a drive and enjoy a day walking the Plaza. Once we turned off of Highway 101 and onto Highway 37, the anticipation grew as we waited for the Sonoma Plaza to finally come into view. The Plaza was a beacon. Seeing it meant we had finally arrived, and our exploration and adventure in Sonoma was about to begin.
SI: Absolutely. For me, the Plaza invoked that small-town feeling. It also meant the Cheese Factory with its many delicious samplings was nearby, as was the Basque Café with its amazing scones. Two longtime institutions on the Plaza that I always want to visit to this day (fingers crossed that the Cheese Factory reopens soon!)
JH: The connection we felt to the outdoors, the pace, the anticipation and the sense of contentment couldn’t be matched anywhere else I had ever visited. And that is still true for me decades later.
SI: Having lived part-time in Sonoma County for the past 20 + years, what does Sonoma County mean to you these days?
JH: It means even more now than it did as a child because I now have the perspective to fully understand the impact it has made – and continues to make – on my life. A simplistic answer is that Sonoma County is my “happy place.” A more thoughtful response is that it affords me a profound sense of peace by being a respite from the pressures and worries of life that are unavoidable in our modern world. I feel like a different person when I’m in Sonoma – much more like that young girl who had so few worries and who easily lived in the moment. Sonoma County is my conduit to a life that is more contemplative and mindful. The painful and difficult parts of my life matter less when I’m here – and the happy and carefree parts seem to grow and flourish.
SI: I know exactly what you mean. How can your readers and their friends or family secure one of these gems for themselves?
JH: They are just back from the printer as we speak and are available on our website at LivingSonomaCounty.com and on Amazon. We are also hoping to have the support of Sonoma County businesses who will keep them in stock for local purchases.
SI: I’m so looking forward to framing and hanging my Sonoma County art print. I know so many people who will want one of these to call their own – and they are an excellent gift or souvenir idea.