The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Jane Wolff Delves Into The Delta


568 Installation view of Jane Wolff's exhibit at CLUI. CLUI photo

IN NOVEMBER, 2004, JANE WOLFF was invited to present her remarkable work about the California Delta at the Center’s exhibit space in Los Angeles, as part of the Center’s Independent Interpreters series of lectures and presentations.

Ms. Wolff has studied this vital, mysterious, and often overlooked part of the Californian landscape more than anyone else we know, and she has presented her findings in an unusual and engaging format.

The largest estuary on the west coast, the Delta is the lowlands of the Central Valley, where the Sacramento River meanders towards the San Francisco Bay area. It is a totally engineered land, much of it below sea level, preserved by a precarious system of levees. It is a land of hidden rural Chinatowns, monolithic agriculture, heavy recreational boating, and nearly bayou-like backwaters. All of this is captured and distilled by Jane Wolff’s trained eye and hand.

After studying the region for at least seven years, making numerous visits, she has chosen to depict the Delta, and the issues it faces, as a set of drawings of selected sites, combined with the site’s related USGS map, and a spare but lucid bit of text. The renderings of place are grouped into four categories, and ranked, becoming a set of playing cards.

These cards, as well as electronic versions of her drawings, maps, and photographs, were shown at the CLUI over the period of the exhibit. Ms. Wolff also came and gave a presentation of this work, to a full and grateful audience at the CLUI.

The work is available as a book, published by the meticulous and selective William Stout Publishers of San Francisco, with a preface by the literate and prolific State Librarian, Kevin Starr.

The project is also available in its purest form, as a set of playing cards, which is perhaps the best way to experience it, as a multitude of orderings and juxtapositions are created, depending how it is played. 

The Center's Independent Interpreter series of lectures and presntations is supported by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.