External players fund art projects in the area that locals may take exception to. The root of the problem is not that Gerlachians or are reticent to embrace new concepts or ideas. They invite appropriate investments in the area, including some art. For decades, they’ve been expressing themselves through their community rock exhibits and have seen bad players trash their sites. From this, Gerlach residents learned that sincere efforts can become magnets for vandalism, increasing their burdens as oversight must expand to monitor and conserve every additional project.
Backlash also occurs when designers fail to understand the place and lifestyle. Anyone can push a bold statement, but the locals that have to live with it.
Here we provide some moderate guidance to those pondering art or enhancement projects. Foremost, the community design aesthetic aligns with rustic and natural materials and historical cues. Art and icons enjoyed by residents are evident in some common areas and private properties.
Rusty metal folk art from recycled materials is a favorite and prone to be a winner in almost any context. Gerlach was established as a train stop and much later in 1973, land acquired from the railroad was partitioned into the lots that exist today. The preserved redwood water tower on the southeast end of Main Street is the town’s primary icon, representing the identity perhaps more than any other element.
Before humans arrived, Lake Lahontan covered over 8,000 square miles and was 500 feet deep in some places. When the waters receded, the eons of silt settled into one of the flatest places on earth. Gerlach sits on the southern edge of this 120-mile plain known as “playa.” People living here full time generally avoid it, but it offers a similar serenity as any community bordering a vast ocean. The view is soothing and melancholy, anchoring a moody environment that swings from dead quiet to frothing tempest. It is a very different place and experience of which Gerlach is the gateway.
Like many western destinations, locals resonate with the wild west, more akin to the buckaroo legends, so art that follows this theme may be acceptable even if created with less rustic materials such as stainless steel. Traveling back in time much further, bones of woolly mammoths that roamed the area 20,000 years ago have been recovered from the Black Rock Desert.
Communities tend to feel most comfortable showcasing what the professions and activities they’ve enjoyed. For this reason, art reflecting occupations, hobbies and adventuring is more acceptable.
The town wouldn’t exist if not for the economic anchor of mining and many residents remain who share that heritage. Prospecting is part of the history, both directly and as the course traversed by those traveling between Oregon and California during the Gold Rush. There are many acceptable derivatives with artistic potential that stem from this, creative uses of stone and cast iron among them. There are many hunters and it may be difficult for city dwellers to think of those who harvest animals as conservationists, but many are exactly that. Like their pioneering ancestors, some rely on hunting and fishing for sustenance and more than most, they are keen to preserve the natural spaces so their prey can flourish.
Other sports that compel interest include land sailing which a number of residents partake in. Sails are a pervasive element in coastal community artistry and may also be acceptable here. Rocketry and land speed records draw summer visitors for related events, but may not be embraced because they aren’t activities locals partake in.
In sum, if you are pondering grand art for Gerlach, think first of: horses, mammoths, wildlife, rail, prospecting, stone, and weathered industrial infrastructure.