Connecting with the Camera of Barbara Luzzadder
By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Jen Womack
When Red Bluff artist Barbara Luzzadder heard there would be a super moon a few years ago, she immediately wondered if it would spend any time over Lassen Peak. If it did, she knew she'd strike gold in terms of photographic opportunity. “We scouted the night before and it was pretty close,” she says of the place she and her husband of 58 years, Johnny, staked out on Rio Street.
Things didn't seem immediately promising when they returned the next night, but they remained faithful. Sure enough, though later than expected, “peeping over Mt. Lassen was this huge, huge moon,” she says. “We both just sat there crying with goosebumps.”
The image Luzzadder captured that night is just one of many that cause people to gasp and exclaim when they see it. Not only did she nail the technical details of capturing a full moon, she caught the emotion of experiencing it in person. “I like photography as a story,” she says. “I want my photography to mean something to the viewer, to have a connection with them.”
At 79 years old, Luzzadder has a long history of creating art that summons emotion. As a teacher and school librarian during her career in the Red Bluff Elementary School District, she noticed her middle school students didn't seem to enjoy poetry. So she set out to write and illustrate 17 poems that would appeal to them and turned the project into her master's thesis at Chico State University. “It was so much fun,” she says. “I incorporated experiences that happened at the school.” She then went on to present the poems in person. “I love having children enjoy something I have written,” she adds.
More recently, Luzzadder returned to illustrating poetry when her dear friend, poet Patricia Wellingham-Jones of Los Molinos, asked her to provide a visual narrative of the poems she wrote chronicling her cancer journey. The two women displayed their art side by side at a special Healing Arts exhibit last year at the Enloe Cancer Center in Chico. “It was difficult,” says Luzzadder, “because I had to really get into her writing to walk the journey with her.” It was also cathartic, she adds, because both of her own parents succumbed to cancer and the project helped her process the emotions around those losses.
Petite in frame, with a calm and quiet demeanor, Luzzadder exudes warmth and kindness. “I like people to enjoy my art, but I also don't mind kicking up a bit of controversy every once in a while,” she says. A still life she created of cat food can lids a few years ago took Best of Show at the Tehama District Fair, and the chatter around the piece wasn't always appreciative. She chuckles at the acquaintance who complained to her about it, not realizing that Luzzadder had created the winning entry. “I bet she's never going to forget that image,” she laughs.
In fact, one of Luzzadder's most memorable images is a watercolor of downtown Red Bluff buildings that locals and visitors alike appreciate as a memory of the area. It's so popular that she's had the image printed on greeting cards, mugs and tote bags, which are brisk sellers at Enjoy the Store Red Bluff. “That goes back to when they first started working on the State Theatre. I think I painted that in about 1999,” she says. “I told myself that when I retired I was going to learn watercolors, so I took a watercolor class with Lee Warner and that's when I made that painting.” She ended up using the image as a fundraiser for the State Theatre, saying that it's important for her to give back to the community.
These days, her energy in giving back is spent as an executive board member of the new Main Event Art Gallery in downtown Red Bluff. A collaboration of the Red Bluff Art Association, Tehama County Photo Club and Tehama County Arts Council (Luzzadder is a member of all of them), the gallery hosts rotating exhibits of local and visiting artists in a spacious, historical building. “This gallery,” she says, “I think it's really become the crown jewel of downtown Red Bluff.”
The time and energy devoted to the gallery and her affiliated group memberships are all part of her values of art and community. “I think art in some form is important for everyone to experience in their own lives, whether as participants or observers,” she says. “It has enriched my life so much. And it gives me a chance to give back.”
Main Event Gallery • 710 Main Street, Red Bluff