Area artists prepare for Sierra Art Trails

William Neill and Craig Pinkerton among 108 artists to exhibit work

Carmen GeorgeSeptember 26, 2012 

More than a hundred area artists will open their homes to the public for the 9th Annual Sierra Art Trails Open Studio Tour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Oct. 5 to 7.

Tour admission is $18 and includes the annual Sierra Art Trails catalog that serves as a "ticket for two." A full list of catalog sale locations is available online at

Craig Pinkerton

For Craig Pinkerton of North Fork, who makes handmade axes and hatchets, his work is more than his craft, it's about giving things a second life.

While the idea for his art came from participating in the North Fork Logger's Jamboree and seeing a void in the market of American-made throwing axes, the inspiration for his work comes from something bigger.

Pinkerton -- also the fourth generation of his family to be born and raised in Mariposa County -- had several close brushes with death within a five-year span.

His woodworking and fine craft is a kind of therapy. Forging together the metal of damaged ax heads to birth something new, or piecing together recycled or gathered wood from the forest to make an ax handle is all a part of honoring the many "second chances" in life he feels he has been given.

"To take something old that has no use and give it a new life -- that's huge," he said. "This is my way of giving back."

"It's taking pieces of wood that have no value, but when you put it together with 15 or 20 of its friends, it becomes something really special and beautiful," says Pinkerton of woodworking. "As you can tell, mother nature has been a very important thing to me all my life."

Pinkerton lives off the grid and retired from the U.S. Forest Service, where he started in 1973 as a firefighter in the Sierra National Forest. He's had a lifetime of experience using the "functional art" he is now making, including at the many timber sports events he attends yearly with his children -- Jason, Mackenzie, Ashley and Janae -- and his wife of 20 years, Sheri, also a Logger's Jamboree ax-throwing champion.

Pinkerton is looking forward to sharing his craft -- fully-functional (or display) axes and hatchets with leather sheaths -- with residents at the KT-Lee Alpaca Ranch, 35625 Road 274, North Fork. He will be sharing the site with woodworking sculpture artist Alexander Lewis and sculpture artist David Olney. Pinkerton will also be selling some ingrained cutting boards and knives. He has no website, with all referrals done through word of mouth.

"That keeps it special," Pinkerton said. "Once you start mass producing it loses that karma, that aura, and it's important for me to keep that intact. That's why every one of my axes are unique."

William Neill

At age 18, William Neill returned to the West of his childhood, leaving his high school years in Virginia behind and stepping into wilderness with an old wooden view camera and some of his father's oil paints and canvases.

With those tools of creation in hand, he's lived in some of the world's most beautiful places, including Glacier National Park and the North Cascades, but it was Yosemite that would become his home.

In 1977, the young man became a staff photographer at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park, working for Ansel Adams' son and daughter-in-law. Yet while things were soaring professionally, Neill -- who also holds a degree in environmental conservation -- was grappling with how he should use his talents.

Ansel Adams, the iconic, world-famous landscape photographer, helped him answer that.

"I asked him (Adams) once, 'What should I photograph?" Neill said. "Places with environmental education in mind, or for arts sake -- the most personal, creative way? He told me, 'Be the best artist you can be and everything else will follow after that.'"

Since then, Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars and posters, and his limited-edition prints exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries nationwide, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston and The Ansel Adams Gallery. He received the Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography in 1995. He writes a column for Outdoor Photographer magazine and teaches photography classes through

Neill is also a resident of Oakhurst, the father of two children -- Tara, 15, and Ravi, 11 -- and the husband of 24 years to Sadhna, who will be helping him welcome guests into their home (40325 River View Court, through the Goldside entrance off Highway 49) during Sierra Art Trails weekend. Along with Neill's beautiful photography, Indian food will be shared with all, courtesy of Sadhna's Kitchen Catering Fine Indian Cuisine.

The three-day event is Neill's big once-a-year inventory sale. All those who make a purchase will also be entered into a raffle for an original photograph.

While Neill has photographed many beautiful famous landscapes, he especially enjoys capturing images that rely on emotional response and perception rather than the spectacle of the scene.

In Yosemite, he's often pointing his lenses down instead of up, trying to break through the "cliche," showing what might seem otherwise ordinary in a way that is extraordinary.

"It's a way to see life around you by looking for things of beauty wherever you are," said Neill of photography, pausing to pull up an image of a blue sky lined with white clouds beneath the tips of two dark trees.

"That was taken on my driveway," he adds with a smile.

A favorite quote of Neill's comes from the writer Barry Lopez: "Wild landscapes are necessary to our being. We require them as we require air and water. But we need, at the same time, to create a landscape in which wilderness makes deep and eminent sense as part of the whole, a landscape in which wilderness is not an orphan."

Neil added, "I can only hope that my photographs convey an enduring sense of wonder, a deep appreciation of the magic, beauty, and mystery of the natural world."

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