The Madonna At Sunrise

1971 - The Madonna At Sunrise

In the early '70s' this was one of my favorite scenes that I created while living at Waldo Point as a member of the houseboat community at "The Gates." The lighting at the community was often incredible early in the morning as the sunlight hit the mud flats and turned the pockets of water into tiny mirrors. I often awoke around 6am, or earlier, to watch the sun do it's magic. On one such morning I took a journey out past the old San Rafael ferry with my camera as I watched the sun come up. As I looked over at the silhouette of the Madonna, off to the right of the ferry, I was intrigued by the beautiful design the sunlight made on the dented metal hull of an overturned boat and a neighboring tire in the foreground. As the light caught the curved .shapes of a couple of water lines snaking off in the distance the scene became breathtaking. I took a photograph of this magic event to later work from to create this scene. Nowadays, using a digital camera, you can view your shot immediately, then re-shoot if necessary, make adjustments, or even delete an image. Back then, using my old 35mm Pentax, I never saw my photographs until later, sometimes much later. Fortunately, the photo I took captured the feeling of that special morning and led to this scene.

The Madonna, which I always considered to be a very special place, in the background of this scene was a big part of our skyline back then. It was often referred to as the Tower by locals. This large structure was created by master craftsman Chris Roberts, who was somewhat of an architectural genius and a resident of the community at the time. Chris was well known among the locals, as well as the authorities who took a dim view of his activities. Though somewhat impractical, his creations were both stunning and beautiful. Chris created his amazing structure over a pile driver which had a tall wooden structure about 70 feet high around which he created his vision of Mary, Mother of Jesus, with the aid of friends. Everything in the Madonna was oversized. It was truly a magical place to enter, and I'll never forget my first journey inside. The Madonna gave one the feeling that you were entering a location that might be found in Alice in Wonderland. With its stained glass windows casting beautiful light on the interior you immediately had the sense that you had somehow shrunk to a miniature size upon entering. Since everything inside was huge you actually had to climb up into one of the tall chairs in order to sit at the massive bar within.

Chris Robert's goal of completing his masterpiece that he planned to call the "Madonna & Child" never was realized. I still have nightmares at times about the night the Madonna burned to the ground. Some IDIOT, stoned out of his mind on a combination of drugs, thought that it would be a good idea to pound red hot spikes into this amazing, but very dry, wooden structure to see what might happen. I can still picture the flames shooting off the Madonna to this day. Thanks to the quick thinking of many of the locals such as Joe Tate, Larry Moyer, and scores of others risking their own safety that night, the whole community didn't go up in smoke. Fire hoses, and a bucket brigade comprised of community members risking their own safety couldn't save the Madonna BUT every other structure and dock in the immediate area was soaked down so that the hot ashes pouring down on everyone wouldn't ignite anything else. Many of the community had employed the Madonna as a place to have parties. Although horizontal space was limited, Chris was always happy to make this magical place available. As Joe Tate put it "this allowed Chris to recruit cheap labor from the drunks that showed up. Among these were Dredge, Captain Garbage, Gino, and a number of other local celebrities." We ALL miss this magical place.

The Madonna at Sunrise

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