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Monday, September 25, 2023

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Eva Struble's painting, "Navy Yard." Eva Struble's painting, "Navy Yard."

Remembering the Rain

An SDSU professor’s work is featured in an art exhibition on drought and climate change at the San Diego Public Library.
By Lizbeth Persons Price

A new exhibition is coming to the Central Library Art Gallery and it tackles the big issue of the day — drought.

One of the first pieces visitors will see upon entering the gallery is from San Diego State University painting and printmaking professor Eva Struble. The artwork reflects her desire to link history, her sense of presence in a place and her ability to reimagine both.

The exhibition, Rainmaker, opens Saturday, September 19 and runs through November 29. It’s timed to coincide with the anniversary of what may be the worst flood in San Diego history.

Toward the end of 1915, San Diego was booming from the attention brought on by the Panama-California Exposition. City leaders worried that the water supply wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand. Rainfall was close to normal but sparse in the areas feeding the reservoirs, and Lake Morena was dangerously low.

Bring in the rainmaker.

Charles Hatfield was a “moisture accelerator” with a track record of success. He promised to launch his secret blend of chemicals into the sky and fill Lake Morena to the brim — 10 billion gallons of water. The City Council accepted his offer.

What followed still shapes the city today. Whether caused by nature or Hatfield, a storm came, bringing the wettest period in recorded history. More than 30 inches of rain fell over four weeks, resulting in homes and bridges being wiped out, dams collapsing and farming communities swept away.

The story of “Hatfield’s Flood” is the launch point for Rainmaker, which explores the boundaries between magic and science via sound, sculpture, painting, poetry, photography, video and digital animation.

Memory of the past or vision of the future?

Struble’s large, striking painting, “Navy Yard,” is a surreal image of an empty dry dock in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, once a driving force in New York’s economy that employed as many as 70,000 people.

The facility closed in 1966 and was largely dormant for decades before becoming a massive redevelopment project with offices, retail, manufacturing and high tech. Struble’s painting, done in 2011, shows a time when it seemed that the Navy Yard might never come back. There are familiar elements of urban decay: loose drips evoking creeping vines, the unease of a bilious sky. But vibrant color and cryptic geometrics make this more than a simple landscape.

And when placed in this context — a gallery high above San Diego, overlooking the bay — “Navy Yard” becomes a question: what would San Diego be without water?

Rainmaker will be on view in the Art Gallery on the 9th Floor of the San Diego Central Library. A reception is planned for Saturday, September 19 from 12 to 2 p.m. Both the reception and exhibition are free and open to the public.