Nevada City is not a Thomas Kinkade painting — it is much more

Thomas Kinkade’s “A Peaceful Retreat”

Thomas Kinkade was an American painter of popular pastoral and idyllic subjects. The “painter of light” was known for his paintings of cozy cottages with windows that glowed, quaint towns with twinkling lights, and English gardens. “I love small towns. I love their scenic charm, their local history, their strong sense of community and their fast ties to family heritage,” the late painter once said. (For another perspective on Kinkade, read “Dark Portrait of a Painter of Light” here).

If Nevada City didn’t exist, Kinkade would have painted it. We have been residents for over a decade, and we enjoy all it has to offer. This weekend we enjoyed Victorian Christmas. It was packed with locals and visitors alike.

But the “real” Nevada City is much more than that. While romanticized like a Kinkade painting, it also has embraced diversity and differences of opinion — in what is now largely a homogenous, lily-white county.

Embracing differences is not a new theme for Nevada City. “There were black cowboys and miners, and Nevada City even hosted services of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” as Robert Scheer wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “Schools were integrated in 1876 and ‘coloreds,’ including freemen from the East who augmented the ex-slave population, entered the commercial and social life of an area that had been strongly pro-Union.

“The Bonanza market on downtown’s Broad Street, for example, has been run by a Chinese family since I first came to town, and you can check with proprietor Jack Yock as to memories of his family’s history there.”

David Osborn and Charles Woods were two transplanted San Francisco designers who helped shape the town. The graphic artists and partners helped invigorate the town, now known for its arts and culture scene.

Against this backdrop of tolerance, it seems out of the town’s character to propose that its current mayor, Reinette Senum, be censured or demoted. It will be debated at a Nevada City Council meeting on Dec. 10. More details are here.

“I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing Reinette for many years and she still finds ways to amaze me,” said Marching Presidents founder David Parker, who presented a community service award to her at the Marching Presidents post-parade awards banquet at Miners Foundry.

“Her list of community accomplishments is long and growing longer each year. She has helped transform our historic community in ways that have put Nevada City on the cutting edge of the 21st Century,” he said. “The Famous Marching Presidents are proud to honor Reinette with our 25th annual Lambert Award.”

In the agenda packet, I was surprised to read that some of her vociferous critics (read their letters in the link to the agenda packet) were the same people we saw standing in line for the farm-to-table dinners that Reinette organized.

I don’t always agree with Reinette or her approach, and she has made mistakes. But I also appreciate what she has done for our town — as a council member and a volunteer.

Nevada City is not a Thomas Kinkade painting — or the setting for Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” where act of stoning someone somehow “purges the town of the bad and allows for the good.”

To be sure, the punishment directed at Reinette is not that extreme. But the “punishment does not fit the (alleged) crime.” It will set a ugly precedent.

I am hoping common sense prevails when the Council meets on this agenda item, but I am doubtful. This is a provincial town and it’s often “personal.”

We face some real big issues in our town that have nothing to do with Reinette. This is where the Council should direct its attention.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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