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Community Portrait: Artist captures the true beauty of Placer County produce

By: Story and photograph Michael Kirby
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Auburn’s Paula Amerine is blessed, and she’s appreciative and grateful. Amerine is an artist, a fine arts painter and she has found a personal and professional niche. She’s in a zone. Her artwork is being recognized and appreciated now more than ever, by members of the public, the art community and most of all by herself. Amerine came to Auburn in 1973, spent her career teaching art and retired a few years ago, though she still does some substitute teaching. She taught high school art mostly at Del Oro High School and some years at Chana High School. She also taught at the Placer School for Adults, in all 35 rewarding years of teaching. “What I’m doing right now in my retirement is what I taught for 35 years,” Amerine said. “I had some time to paint when I was teaching, but now that I’m retired I can paint full-time in my studio.” Amerine enjoyed her teaching career and she still maintains many relationships with former students and their families that she honors. Amerine also maintains a working studio in Auburn at the OLAS Old Library Art Studios and a position as a cooperative artist at the High Hand Art Gallery in Loomis where her paintings are shown with other of the area’s premier artists. Amerine is very proud of all of her work, but in her recent efforts she has been able to combine two of her personal passions. With the help and encouragement of author and friend Joanne Neft, Amerine has done 44 paintings for Neft and co-author Laura Kenny’s latest cookbook. The book is the follow-up edition to Neft and Kenny’s first successful farm-to-table cookbook, “Placer County Real Food.” The new book is titled “The Art of Real Food,” and includes Amerine’s striking paintings of different foods grown in local gardens. The book features several seasonal recipe possibilities for each week of the year. On the cover is one of Amerine’s colorful paintings of beets. Inside are more than 40 other paintings reproduced and highlighting everything from carrots, lettuce and turnips to eggs, all cultivated in Placer County. Seeing the foods firsthand right out of local gardens inspired Amerine’s artwork. The farmer’s hands harvesting the produce most times with dirt still clinging to the vegetable, green tops still attached, is what her work captures. “I could see more than just product we eat, I get to see the whole plant,” she said. “It was amazing to me, I had never had that experience with a lot of these fruits and vegetables.” Amerine developed a unique technique for producing her oil-pastels renderings: She uses photography to first go into the gardens to capture photos of the actual produce as it is harvested. Next she uses a computer to manipulate the photos into the composition she desires. She then transfers the images to a rare rough paper and in a traditional Renaissance method begins to paint. “I start with a layer on the bottom, under painting, and I paint forward,” Amerine said. The paintings have a very distinct style, fitting into Neft and Kenny’s cookbook perfectly. They offer a perfect segue from the print of the text to photos of the finished foods on a dinner table. In all, Amerine spent 16 months producing the series of paintings full-time, time Amerine considers a luxury. Amerine’s produce artwork has been transformed into product labels, greeting cards and many of the paintings have been made into custom giclée high-end prints. She also showed the paintings in a body of work during a recent Auburn Art Walk. “I paint this subject because I find it beautiful, I find it enlightening, and I find it an important part of our lives,” said Amerine. “This resource of nature is just eternal to me.”