Behind the San Rafael

1972 - Behind the San Rafael

This particular location out behind the old San Rafael ferry has memories attached that are etched in my mind forever. It was on the back deck of this fine old ferry where I met the legendary Shel Silverstein as he sat on his overturned skiff at the entrance to his floating home the "Evil Eye." I think Shel may have been reading a book at the time I unexpectedly interrupted him, but I'm not really sure. Actually, as far as I know, as I look back at this momentous and somewhat surreal occasion that changed MY life forever, I honestly can't remember what Shel may have been doing, or not doing, at the time. For all I know he may have been thinking of a new idea for another one of his new children's books, such as the "Giving Tree," or "Where the Sidewalk Ends." He could have been thinking up lyrics for a new song such as "I Want to Get My Picture on the Cover of the Rolling Stone" for all I know. This unique character I had just interrupted was so multi-talented, and into so many different things back then, he may have been thinking of an article to write & illustrate for Playboy, or even writing lyrics for "A Boy Named Sue" for all I knew. Good God! - when I showed up and surprised him - was he actually writing "A Boy Named Jane," what a pain, instead? Did I possibly change his train of thought? I certainly think not!!!

Actually, the ONLY thing that is REALLY still etched in my memory about meeting Shel as he sat doing whatever, when I suddenly showed up and obviously interrupted him, was that I started rambling on about myself, for a VERY long time, from Shel's point of view. Maybe THAT is why he casually looked up at me after a while, as I continued to ramble, and said "So, who gives a shit! ! !" HELL - if I was the one quietly sitting down on my overturned skiff in front of my floating home, possibly doing something really important, on the back deck of an old ferry, which was hard to get through, that I figured was out of the way enough NOT to be bothered by anyone and some complete stranger showed up and started rambling on about himself forever, what would I have done? I won't get into what I might have said or done since things might have gone quite differently.

When Shel looked up at me and said "I'm just kidding, you seem like an interesting character," then added that he was willing to introduce me around to some of his friends at the community who might be able to help me out, this honestly did change my life forever. Soon I would meet incredible characters, such as Shel's best friend Larry Moyer. As a filmmaker and photographer Larry had accompanied Shel for years as they travelled the world. Larry documented the numerous trips they took together as Shel wrote and illustrated his various articles for Playboy Magazine. They often worked together for the first two decades of Playboy. One such trip they took together, back in 1967, resulted in their very first visit to the houseboat community. Moyer recalled that in 1967, around his birthday in February, while they were each living in Greenwich Village he received a birthday present from a lady friend named Nicki, who had just returned from San Francisco. She suggested that the blossoming Haight-Ashbury scene would make a great feature for Playboy. As Moyer so aptly put it in his strong New York accent "So Shel and I got sent out West. We spent three months in the Haight. While we were there we visited a friend of Nicki's - rock guitarist Dino Valenti, who had a floating home on the Sausalito waterfront."

Moyer and Silverstein looked around at the few hundred boats there and felt the total freedom of the community. They were both taken in by the music, the people, the architecture, and the nudity, and could only say "WOW" as Moyer put it. The rest is history. They immediately both bought boats, and that was that. Moyer purchased the Becky Thatcher for only a thousand dollars. It can be seen in my scene "Entrance to the San Rafael." Shel bought a boat designed by Chris Roberts, an architectural genius and a resident of the community. Shel's boat (which he named "Evil Eye" after his music publishing company... and his habit of staring people down with one eye) originally a World War II balloon barge, is to the left of the San Rafael off its back deck, behind the skiff I first saw Shel sitting on. The "Madonna" a large structure created by the master craftsman Chris Roberts, which could be seen from anywhere at the Gates back then, is seen behind Shel's boat. Just off this scene to the left was the "Owl," with its horned wooden tower and wide-eyed windows, which was also designed by the multi-talented Roberts. Chris, who I met while I was working on location creating this scene was living on the "Owl." For me, this was THE most favorite of all my locations to work from as I created my Master's project at Waldo Point. At the same time I was creating my original "sepia pen & ink wash drawing" at this incredible location I would often hear Chris hammering a board into place on his unique home (which is still seen at the community to this day, and is featured on the cover of the book "Houseboats" The Aquatic History Of Sausalito.

As Chris and I worked on our individual projects at the same time, only feet away from one another YOU COULD FEEL THE CREATIVE ENERGY IN THE AIR, especially if Shel was home working on one of his projects.

Behind the San Rafael

Prints & Pricing
Please contact artist John A. Kendall if you would like a custom size: or 603-763-3295.