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Local artist blends history and activism in paintings

Livermore artist Carolyn Lord draws inspiration from local architecture and vernacular landscape to bring to life her watercolor works, which often feature city landmarks of the past and present.

Livermore artist Carolyn Lord draws inspiration from local architecture and vernacular landscape to bring to life her watercolor works, which often feature city landmarks of the past and present.

Originally from Southern California, Lord moved to Livermore in the fall of 1980 with her husband. While she said it took some time for her to adjust to her new surroundings, her artistry helped her immerse herself into the community.

"For me, moving to Livermore felt like I was in the Midwest -- because I had spent four years in Southern Illinois for college -- and Elko, Nevada, where my father and his wife lived," Lord said, noting how remote Livermore was at the time compared to larger Bay Area cities.

She said that early on she spent a lot of time traveling into San Francisco to purchase materials for her artwork and got involved in the arts community there.

When her son was born, she said she fell in love with the entire Bay Area through being a mother as she'd joined the Livermore Moms Club and learned about different places and adventures throughout the region to take her son, like Children's Fairyland in Oakland and Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose.

"I wanted to be able to say, 'yeah, I really raised my son and got involved' and that was part of what made me feel more comfortable to get involved," Lord said.

While her son is now grown, Lord still remains involved in community issues. She said that most recently, she has been attending and giving input at Livermore Cultural Arts Council meetings for the redevelopment of the city's cultural arts vision plan.

She said that in Livermore, she's found that the visual and fine art scene is not as strong as the music and performing arts, which is part of the reason she's engaging in the process to redevelop the cultural arts plan. Lord said she wants to see more effort and support put behind the visual and fine arts. For example, she said that Livermore lacks an adequate gallery space.

"I'll have people ask me why I don't show in the lobby at the Bankhead -- I don't exhibit art on brick walls with sloped floors," Lord said with a laugh. "The point is, I know the space was not designed to exhibit art," she added, noting that there are other spaces in the San Joaquin Valley that are better suited for showing art, such as the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts in Tracy and the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock.

She also said that another reason she thinks the visual and fine arts are not as robust as the music and performing arts in Livermore is because of the different experiences they offer.

"The theater and music tends to be a group event," she said. "You audition, you rehearse together, everybody's excited and it's sort of like being on a team, whereas the visual and fine artists -- like what I do -- we do all the work by ourselves and all we do is show up for the show and it's just not as exciting," she added.

Lord -- who, in addition to art, is also passionate about climate action -- incorporates her community engagement into her work. She paints where she lives, including her own garden with persimmon and lemon trees, among other plants and flowers.

Beyond her front yard, many of her paintings depict downtown Livermore architecture like the garage bays at what was formerly the site of Groth Brothers Chevrolet dealership at the corner of First and L streets. The site is currently being developed into a mixed-use housing and retail development.

"So, here we have Livermore -- with its historic downtown -- and what did they tear down? The first fireproof auto shop in the state of California," Lord said of the former Groth Brothers location.

She said that her paintings not only pay homage to the city's rich history but they also reflect her views on sustainability and her belief that many of the older Livermore buildings could have been saved and repurposed into community spaces such as a science museum or centers for the youth or galleries for art.

"I know in the green economy, with an already built building you're further ahead than demolishing and building something new," Lord said.

Some of Lord's works also depict the former Valley Pool Center on Railroad Avenue as well as a strip of buildings on North Livermore Avenue, which have housed different businesses over the years but are currently occupied by a martial arts studio, The Good Time Tavern and the city's Housing Services Center.

Lord's painting of the strip is titled "Livermore Tattoo," in reference to a tattoo shop that once existed in that location but moved in 2008 after the owner said he was advised by the city that a tattoo parlor did not fit the vision for the downtown redevelopment plan, according to an East Bay Times report on the issue.

While Lord's paintings of the various buildings do not include signage that says what they are or what they were, the buildings are recognizable as visual downtown staples, particularly for longtime Livermore residents who lived in town when many of these former businesses were still operating.

Lord also paints homes in Livermore that highlight an older style of architecture, including the many duet-style homes and duplexes throughout the city's neighborhoods.

"When people say, 'We don't want change, we only want single-family homes in Livermore,' it's like, no, if you go into the older neighborhoods, it's all right here," Lord said. "This is a part of our tradition, to have duplexes and multi-family houses. It's been around us the whole time," she added.

Lord incorporates environmental concepts into her work as well. In one of her paintings depicting the slide that sat on the roof of Valley Pool Center, she said that she chose to paint it in the winter time with clouds above it to indicate that, "we need our clouds to rain to put snow on the Sierras, so we can have swimming pool water," she said, adding that she titled it "Chutes and Ladders" like the board game to represent the ups and downs of the water cycle.

While Lord said that she would have preferred that the city preserve and repurpose more of its historical buildings, she does support the development of affordable housing downtown. "My feeling is, bring it on in because the ship's already sailed, the train's already out of the station," Lord said.

Lord's art has been exhibited at museums throughout the Bay Area and beyond, including the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Elliott Fouts Gallery in Sacramento and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, among many others.

More information about Lord and her work is available at


Cierra Bailey

About the Author: Cierra Bailey

Cierra is a Livermore native who started her journalism career after college as an editorial intern with the Pleasanton Weekly in 2014. After attending graduate school at Syracuse University, she’s back as the editor of the Vine!
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