1960s: Writer Dave Holleman: I Knew Tunitas Creek Painter Sheri Martinelli

Story by Dave Holleman

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I knew Sheri Martinelli during the early sixties.  A couple of friend’s of mine had been renting a cabin overlooking the ocean near Tunitas Creek.  For some reason or other they decided to give it up and asked me if I would be interested in renting it.  They arranged for me to meet the owner in a hotel on Mason right off Market.  His name was Clark and I agreed to rent the place for $20.00 per month.

When you turned off the hi way you came down a slight incline and there were cabins to the right of the entrance road and cabins to the right.  The ones on the right were a bit more upscale than the ones on the left where my cabin was.  I believe there were six cabins on that side.  Mine was the second from the right and Sheri and Gilbert’s was the last one.  However, time may have clouded my memory about this.

Sheri and I visited together many times and I also became friends with Gilbert.  I am going to compress the recollections of our meetings into one narrative.

These cabins were rustic to say the least as there was no power or water.  Sheri and Gilbert were the only full time residents of our little enclave.  I only went down to my place on the weekends as I was busy trying to keep myself together running a very small trucking company I owned.  One Saturday morning she and I almost literally bumped into each other on our way to the community toilet.  There was a side for men and one for women and both were blessed with power and water.

Sheri was probably in her early forties.  She was wearing a very loose dress that went all the way down to her feet.  She had no makeup on and her hair was pulled back and held together somehow at the back of her head.  She was not unattractive at all and excluded a presence about her that was captivating to me.  I was in the bathroom facilities for a few minutes and when I came out she was there waiting for me.  She introduced herself (her name meant nothing at the time) and asked me my name.  Then she asked me if I would like to come down to her place for tea.

My cabin consisted of only two small rooms, but hers was about twice the size.  Our cabins shared one thing in common though and that was the manner and style of the furnishings.  Early Salvation Army!  Sheri had a little two burner stove furled by propane and she soon had water boiling for our tea.  While the water was heating she gave me  a tour of her place and she was most proud of a huge montage hanging on the wall.  It must have been about 4’x4′ and was a cork board with a cheap wooden frame around it to hold it together.  The montage consisted of at least two hundred various photos and cut outs from magazines and newspapers. After making tea she returned to the montage and began pointing to certain pictures and then relating a vignette about the person (s) in the photo.  There were pictures of Pound, of course, and many who were the cadre of the beat generation whose names I recognized.  She was extremely proud of her creation and told me that she continued to add to it from time to time.

There was a small alcove where she kept a sort of duplicating machine which produced blue letters.  It was not a mimeograph as it didn’t use ink but I cannot recall the name.  Anyway she occasionally printed a little newsletter which she mailed out to a lot of people.  She told me that she mailed her newsletter to people around the states including some in Mexico.  I believe she mentioned Bowen as he was a painter like her.

We spent a lot of time in her back yard near the precipice of the cliff with the ocean a couple of hundred feet below.  She had many little items she had placed in the crooks of branches in some of the Cypress trees, such as little bronze Buddhas or miniature tea sets, and she had a story to tell about them all; just like the pictures in the montage.  Sometimes we would drink tea but usually it was wine.  I have read accounts of Sheri by a couple of people and they say she was a loud and obnoxious drunk, but I never say any of that and goodness knows we drank enough to get there.  If anything, it seemed to me, she would be a little melancholy, especially talking about her earlier life.  I think she was particularly proud of her kinship with Pound and told me several times that he called her “La Martinelli.”  She showed me a passage from a biography of his where she was mentioned and it referred to his nickname for her.

Many times, during our wine drinking, the subject of sex would arise. She was very free about discussing it on vivid terms. I was about 25 at the time and was attracted to her and I think she was attracted to me, but neither of us ever made a move, although I am sure it would have happened had one of us had initiated it. There was a lot of mutual respect and friendship between us and I think we both felt that clandestine sex would have spoiled it, and we were probably right

Gilbert was working as a mechanic and commuted six days a week so I did not spend as much time with him as I did Sheri.  He was a handsome man and tended to be on the quiet side.  I never heard a cross word pass between them.  Sheri related a tale to me that is worth passing on about Gilbert and her painting.  I don’t know how but she had been commissioned to do a painting of St. Xavier for Xavier University in Cincinnati and she used Gilbert as a model.  The university made a show about the unveiling having the painting hung behind a velvet curtain and Sheri was in attendance along with her mother.  When the curtain was pulled aside her mother exclaimed, “why, it’s good old Gi…” but catching herself in time went on: “good old St. Xavier.”

She was an accomplished and talented painter, and I admired her work very much.  One day we were sitting in her back yard, drinking white wine when she told me she had a surprise for me.  She walked into the house and for a minute I thought she was going to come out sans her mu mu.  Instead she came back with one of her paintings and gave it to me.  It was about 3 1/2′ by 3′.  It was beautiful, a picture of houses across a street as seen through a gauzy lace curtain, on a window, that was caught in a gentle breeze.  The houses were like those seen in Pacific Heights, and she told me that was the case.  She had painted it when they lived in S.F.  The picture was unframed with the canvas just tacked to the frame.  I loved it.  But like so many things in my checkered life I let it slip away.

Soon after that I moved on to Alaska and many other places of the world trying to satisfy the wanderlust that I knew.  I never saw her again.

Many years later I was living in Washington state and was driving down to Southern California to visit friends.  I made it a point to stop around noon time at the Cliff House to enjoy a great lunch, a bottle of white wine and the magnificent view.  I continued down the hiway and stopped at the entrance to the cabins near Tunitis Creek.  There was a huge barrier across the road and I could go no further than the side of the hiway.  I think the cabins were still there but I could not be sure as the Cypress trees had grown so much.  I felt a great wash of nostalgia and I thought of Sheri and all of the pleasant times we had spent together.

June, I hope this has been of interest to you.  I enjoyed brushing away the cobwebs of my memory about Sheri.  She was, in may ways, quite remarkable.

I was on the periphery of some things in S.F. of note.  I briefly managed a band called “Teddy and George and the Condors.”  They played at the famous (infamous) Condor club in North Beach where Carol Doda exposed her boobs.  She and I knew each other for a brief interlude.  I also knew Marty Balin, and Ralph Mathis.  By the way Marty Balin, while a great musician, in my opinion, was a better artist.

I am a wannabe writer.  I am working on a memoir and a novel.  I also write country songs and a few poems.  Haven’t tried to get anything published and am sure I lack the talent to do that.  But it is fun anyway.

My best to you.  I enjoy reading your work.


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