David Osborn and Charles Woods have been an artistic force in Nevada City for over fifty years. We feel lucky beyond measure to offer their original lithographs and silk screened cards and prints from the 1960’s in the shop.
Osborn met Woods at UC Berkeley in the early 1950’s when both were studying to get their master’s degrees in Art History. David was born in Columbus, Ohio and spent his childhood in Princeton, NJ and Los Gatos, CA before getting his undergraduate degree at Stanford. Charles was born and raised in Winona, Minnesota and got his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota. When they started in on their graduate degrees, Berkeley was a fairly conservative place. David began studying medieval manuscripts and Charles set out researching ancient Greek vessels. A course with Alfred Frankenstein, a noted art critic from the Chronicle, turned their attention to the vanishing W.P.A. murals that had been put up throughout the Bay Area during the Great Depression. From then on, their work became documenting and fighting to preserve the murals, both by studying the murals formally at school and continuing to photograph them for years after while they lived in Berkeley.
In 1957, while doing a bit of design work for an avant-garde Christian shop in downtown SF, they came across Jubilee, a new Vatican II pictorial magazine, with a photo of Harold Berliner on the cover. Berliner ran a greeting card company up in Nevada City, and David and Charles contacted him to see if they could work on a collaboration. They were invited to come visit Nevada City, a former mining town 3 hours north of San Francisco that they soon called home.
Their first place was the former outhouse of the National Hotel in downtown Nevada City. They were broke, but they had a car, a few out of town design clients, and teeming curiosity for the geography and the history of the region. Nevada City, situated beside the Yuba River in the foothills of the Sierras, had once been the most important gold mining town in the state. David and Charles took advantage of their relative isolation from the Bay Area art scene to take their time exploring the old mine shafts throughout the county and to experiment with cartography and printmaking. Soon enough, the art scene came to them. By the late 60’s, Gary Snyder, Utah Phillips, and a host of radical authors and musicians were following their footsteps North.
Across the alleyway from their place at the National was George Mathis’s lithograph studio, which he primarily used in his capacity as a historical draftsman. When George left town to work on a series of space paintings for the Aerojet Corporation in Folsom, he gave his print shop with all of his equipment to David and Charles. They set to teaching themselves the ins and out of lithography, as well as silk screening, at the suggestion of their friend Dorr Bothwell. In 1961, the Broad Street studio suffered a fire. All of the equipment was salvaged, but David and Charles were forced to find new quarters. They purchased a place on Commercial Street that would serve as their shop on the ground floor for the next 40 years, and they renovated the second floor loft to operate as their print studio and home.
David and Charles always worked in tandem. Often Charles would come up with the initial sketch for a design and then David would help to convert it to print form, adjust the layout, and select the colors. They developed an extra large screen printing process that allowed them to print multiples at one time, and required the both of them to pull the squeegee across the screen. Osborn/Woods turned out silk screened postcards and greeting cards, lithographed posters, wrapping paper, and assorted paper goods featuring their distinctive designs.
I have long suspected that David and Charles may have been in cahoots with Sister Corita Kent—a contemporary of theirs working in Southern California who also made jubilant print work. On a recent visit with Charles, I was delighted to learn that she was indeed a great inspiration to them, both as a teacher and an artist, as well as an acquaintance. In the early 1970’s, both Osborn/Woods and Sister Corita were contracted with the Westinghouse Group to create designs for their publications. Charles shared with me the delightful story of the evening they were both invited to a dinner as guests of the Westinghouse big wigs. Sister Corita and her partner Sister Mary Magdalen were dismayed that they didn’t have formal costumes for the evening, and so Corita made up two dresses out of an old green velvet piano shawl, full on “Sound of Music” style. Though the cloth was riddled with cigarette holes, she took great pleasure in an evening out of her nun’s habit.
Along with running the Osborn/Woods store, David and Charles took an interest in a whole bunch of projects serving the Nevada City community. Their first big step was to save the old Miners Foundry from dilapidation. Built in 1855, it was once the most important building in town and the birthplace of the famous Pelton Wheel, which revolutionized hydroelectric power. David and Charles purchased the property in 1974 and set about a painstaking restoration. They transformed the building, which had been in use as a service garage, to the American Victorian Museum. The AVM housed their extensive collection of Victoriana, hosted seminars, and provided a venue for the performing arts. In 1978, David and Charles began broadcasting the community radio station KVMR from the Foundry. The station continues to thrive today, and offers an annual Osborn-Woods Community Service Award to the person who, like them, represents outstanding cooperation and advocacy in and of the Nevada City community.
David Osborn passed on suddenly on January 10, 2002. That’s a recent shot of Charles at the top of the page, at home in Nevada City sporting a Teddy Bear Convention T-shirt—yet another one of his projects drawing together artists in the community, now in its 27th year.
These days, Charles is primarily occupied—and tremendously energized—by organizing and contributing to the Northern Sierra Foothills Altar Show, which began in 1998. He tells me that he’s been inspired by some of the older Osborn/Woods work we looked at together recently, and that his work for this year’s altar will include a limited edition of super vibrant prints, an offshoot of his Oceans & Seas series from 1963. I can’t wait to see what’s next.