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 Horst Leissl: A Hulking Piece of Sacramento History

Horst Leissl: A Hulking Piece of Sacramento History

By Corey Rodda

A larger-than-life painting of the Incredible Hulk seemingly breaking though the container wall of a water tower on Riverside Boulevard made quite a civic splash back in the 1970s.

The artist who gave trompe l'oeil reality to the Riverside Water Treatment Plant landmark was the late Horst “Hank” Leissl, who had paid homage to his son’s favorite comic book character.

Painted in 1976, the big green guy in action lasted four years longer than the six months of its commission, thanks to the efforts of three preteen girls who protested the city’s plan to sandblast it into oblivion.

“I was in kindergarten going to Crocker Riverside Elementary,” recalled James Peyton, who has digitized Horst’s work in "The Art of Horst Leissl. " (https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/).

“I would see that water tower on Riverside, and when you are a little kid obsessed with Spiderman and Hulk – it was this amazing thing that you had never seen before. You knew that it was something that was not supposed to be there.”

Horst’s very public art enchanted Sacramento residents from 1974 into the late 1980s. He had no problem with the short lifespan of his works.

“All my stuff is temporary,” Horst told the Sacramento Bee in 1984. “That doesn't bother me. There is room for temporary as well as permanent art.”

The Sacramento Fly, by Horst Liessl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

The Sacramento Fly, by Horst Liessl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

Other notable installations created by Horst include the Sacramento Fly, a 12-foot-by-18 foot cardboard fly on the Alhambra water tower and Hand Laundry which consisted of a series of giant inflated hands that were suspended under the XY freeway overpass. 

He also painted dada juxtapositions of Sacramento landmarks in an exhibit dubbed "Sacramento Dreamscapes," and satirized dessert culture with his "Incredible Edibles" -- ceramic-sculpted confection creations titled "Lobster-Chiffon Cake," "Bambi's Revenge" and "Seagull Chiffon Island." On one of the cake sculptures, plastic hands and feet are so precisely arranged that at first glance, they look like puffs of icing.

Horst’s grandfather, a traveling dentist, taught him how to bake.

Horst, who would create a cake called “A Gift From Nice” that looked like a basket with fruit tumbling from it, often baked for his son, Niko.

“He was very loving, but not in a super affectionate hug and kissing way,” Niko said. “He was very German."

“He was an awesome dad,“ his son added. "I learned a lot from him. As a kid, I was doing small animations. He taught me that being an artist is a skilled craft. You can be a Sunday painter or you can really be a trained artist.”

Original painting by Horst Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

Original painting by Horst Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

“He was an original,” his wife Julia said. “He thought about things and he felt things and there was nothing that he couldn’t do once he put his mind to it. I’ve never met anyone like him.”

“I really believe he was a genius,” she added.

In 1987, Horst suffered a stroke, followed by another a few years later. After his second stroke, he lost his ability to speak. Julia cared for him as his health declined. As his fine motor skills deteriorated, he turned to collage to channel his creativity.

The artist died in 1991, at the age of 61.

“He just faded in the end so in a way it wasn’t a surprise,” Niko said. “It wasn't a shock, you knew it was coming. That’s a better way.”

Horst was fastidious about his life's work, which he cultivated after nearly flunking out of school because of poor eyesight. To him, art was a trade that he could capitalize on.

“I think what made him so unique was that he was a European and he went through the war and it was a terrible thing for him,” Julia said. “He was a dadaist and he was a surrealist. He loved that school of art, the absurd. Going through the war, he saw how absurd things were and that is what gave him a unique background for his art.”

Original painting by Horst Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

Original painting by Horst Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

Born in Augsburg, Germany, in 1933, Horst's parents never married and he never met his father, who died fighting near the Eastern Front during War World II. He escaped being drafted into the Hitler Youth Corps after being judged too weak to join their Aryan ranks.

“He had a maternal grandfather who was very good to him,” Niko said. “He had a farm. When they were bombing Augsburg, they sent all of the kids away. He told us about the camps -- he encountered a lot of deprivation at the children’s camp.”

When he was 19, Horst moved to Redwood City, Calif., to live with his Aunt Paula, who had emigrated there from Germany. She had been working as a nurse in South America, where she fell in love with an American.

In the United States, Horst earned his citizenship and set about working toward a career as a commercial artist. He enrolled at Cooper Union College in New York City, where he majored in graphic design. As a student, he lived on a shoestring budget and a scant diet, including occasional bowls of “ketchup soup” at the automats.

His studies were cut short when he was drafted for a peacetime army and stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He participated in the army as a graphic designer, tasked with curating the Old Fort Bliss Replica Cultural Museum which showcases the history of the fort, built in 1815.

“He wasn’t the most physically fit guy so he used his arts background to become the curator,” Niko said.

Horst Leissl himself working on a painting. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

Horst Leissl himself working on a painting. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

After his service, he ran his own business, Graphic Arts Studio, for five years in El Paso until he moved to San Francisco to join the Steadman, Cooper and Busse advertising firm as a production manager.

Horst was introduced to his wife Julia by a Maurice Read, a mutual friend, at an art gallery opening in Old Sacramento. She was pouring champagne. 

“They locked eyes and the next thing I knew that they had gotten married -- and then they got divorced and got back together,” Read said.

After they wed, Horst and Julia abandoned their careers to open Kiosko, a European-themed restaurant near Lake Chapela, Mexico, an hour south of Gaudalajara. They scouted the restaurant’s location by driving through Mexico in a Volkswagen van with son Niko, then a toddler.

The couple would shutter Kiosko after three years and return to California. They eventually moved to Sacramento in 1974 so Horst could immerse himself more fully in also his artwork and also to be near Julia’s family.

“We came back and he had a lot of friends here” Julia said. “We thought it would be the most comfortable place to be.”

To pay the bills, Horst freelanced and taught commercial art and film at Sacramento City College. He created a quarterly magazine for Blue Diamond, the nut people, called "Almond Facts."

“He hated being part of the rat race,” Niko said.

Horst worked closely with the City of Sacramento to create community installations, including a time capsule to be opened in 2073. He interviewed everyday Sacramento residents about how they felt about their home and their predictions for what it will be like in 100 years.

The artist also took pains -- some humorous -- to explain the rationale behind his works. A pamphlet distributed to his collaborators on the Sacramento Fly on the Alhambra Blvd water tower quotes Edgar Watson Howe, a magazine publisher and novelist: “Put cream and sugar on a fly, and it tastes very much like a black raspberry.”

Original painting by Horst Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

Original painting by Horst Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

“The fly gestated over years and geographic miles and hatched in Sacramento because of its fertile climate,” Horst added.

He came up with the idea to make the fly while he, Julia and Niko were staying at a vacation spot in Mexico overrun with flies.

“He would sit with his fly swatter and his book – [making a]  clunmpf clumpf [noise as he swatted the flies],” Julia said.

The Hulk by Horse Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

The Hulk by Horse Leissl. Credit to https://theartofhorstliessl.weebly.com/

“We would see things and they would be normal and he would see it and turn it around and find something in it that would be unique,” she added.

“Horst took art and turned it around and turned it around inside out,” Julia said. “That’s what he was about turning things inside out and backwards.”

Read praises Horst as "the most underrated artist I know.”

“His art was very eclectic and he would do whatever he wanted to,” said Read, who pointed to one of Horst’s more famous paintings, this one depicting Arden Way. 

"He left out all the buildings and only had the billboards and signs,” Read elaborated. "The political statement was that we are a society overwhelmed by billboards," ruining the beauty of communities.

Niko believes that his father’s artwork is particularly relevant in this day and age and is ripe for a revival.

“I think that there is potential for his artwork to experience a renaissance,” Niko said. “One of the great things about my father is that he was a part of the futurist society. He was really ahead of time in a lot of his arts and concepts and now it comes around again.”

"There is a whole new generation that would be interested in his ideas,“ he added.  "He would have loved the internet. He loved technology.”

Peyton noted there was a small movement to access city funds to reintroduce the Hulk painting  to the water tower. However, currently the big green guy’s place on the Riverside landmark remains a distant memory.

Binchoyaki: Little Space, Big Taste

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Binchoyaki: Little Space, Big Taste

By Jamie Worrall

Today you’ll find a much smaller Japantown here in Sacramento compared to what stood pre-WWII. It was relocated in 1957 after bulldozers and the Sacramento City Council moved forward with The Capitol Mall project and, in the process, uprooted our once-bustling 6-square-block Japanese community. These days, along 10th Street in Midtown Sacramento, mostly between T and W, a small cluster of Japanese owned businesses include Osaka-Ya, Sakura Gifts, June’s Cafe, and a new favorite-- Binchoyaki. This new eatery and small bar has caught the attention of many, including Michael Glascock who came in after noticing how crowded it was inside and then soon after reading about their chart-topping Duck Ramen plate in the Sacramento Bee. Learning that a Pocket-Greenhaven native, Craig Takehara and his wife Tokiko Sawada are behind Binchoyaki made him all the more proud of their success and we were eager to spread the word!

Binchoyaki is an Izakaya-style dining experience, or what in Japan would be your go-to after work gastropub where you meet up with friends or co-workers after a long day. Everything here is moderately portioned, but a plate or two per round of drinks should keep you more than satisfied. Binchoyaki seeks to be a Northern California bent on an Izakaya, so while it most definitely keeps Japanese beer on tap, and the authentic Binchotan (maple charcoal) is fired up on the smokeless grill, at the same time they are not afraid to throw some soul music on the speaker system and use French or European influences in a dish. Plus, they are using locally sourced and organic ingredients whenever possible, which here in our farm-to-fork capital is very much appreciated. The food is delicious and the sense of shared experience is too.

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Here in Sacto we have great Japanese food, but admittedly, mostly sushi. At Binchoyaki you get more eclectic Japanese offerings, ordered either from their grill menu, which burns between 1000-1500 degrees, or from their kitchen menu. If you need help ordering, Faith, our super knowledgable server, offers suggestions and answer questions about the dishes, happy to share methods, ingredients, and history when asked. You’ll also get a little insight into the preparation of your food watching the barbecues just on the other side of the low bar being expertly fanned while the various skewers of meats and veggies are flipped, added, and removed, some after 30 seconds and others not for 20 minutes. It would take a minimum of 6 months, Craig later estimated, to become merely a proficient Sumiyaki chef using those high-heat binchotan charcoals.

Owners Craig, originally from Sacramento, and Toki who is from the LA area, have been in “the industry” since even before the two met at the California School of Culinary Arts. In high-school Craig worked at Oto’s Maket on Freeport Boulevard as a fishmonger, butcher, and deli manager. Both Craig and Toki have culinary degrees, impressive resumes, and years of experience which give them a great depth and breadth of understanding in Japanese cuisine. After meeting 16 years ago they continued gaining experience in various fine dining restaurants, large hotels, and clubs, even serving celebrities such as Tom Cruise among others. Their lifestyle changed, however, in 2009 when they moved to Sacramento to start a family.  After having been headhunted to open 300-seat restaurants, world travel, and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, he is happy here in Sacramento with his comparatively smaller locale. The goal is now to bring alive a variety of food and culture that has not been available to Sacramentans since the disappearance of a prosperous Japantown. And we are happy they have!

Binchoyaki is closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch is served Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2pm with Dinner from 4pm-10pm. They are open late on Friday and Saturday until Midnight!

Binchoyaki is closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch is served Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2pm with Dinner from 4pm-10pm. They are open late on Friday and Saturday until Midnight!

For Craig, one of the greatest revelations after having been in business for almost a year here in Sacramento is how supportive other restaurants and managers from other places have been. “This is my first restaurant; my first time around,” muses Craig, “And it’s nice to have a group of people in Sacramento where not everything is competition.” He recognizes that our cultural identity here is different from that of the Bay Area, and that of LA, and believes in helping Sacramento create great food, whatever the variety, with a strong sense of camaraderie. At Binchoyaki, the expert ownership and the importance placed on countless tiny details amount to a concept as bold and basic as “Good food made well”, which, when it comes down to it, is as authentic here on the corner of 10th and W as it is novel.

 

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Krazy Mary's and Heart Boutique:...My True Love Gave To Me

Krazy Mary's and Heart Boutique:...My True Love Gave To Me

Of course there are those of you that have accomplished the seemingly impossible task of crossing everyone off your list... Kudos! But to the hesitant/indecisive/lazy rest of us.  You have nothing to fear. Just stand up straight and tall, grab the keys, and head out into the damp December air. Good customer service and specialized local shops were invented for just these situations.

Let’s take a large demographic of gift-givers as an example and give you some pointers: Guys, are you looking for something spectacular to give your wife, girlfriend, or significant other? Here are two local women's boutiques in Sacramento that have unique, quality clothing and gifts to offer. If you do a little homework before-hand, and take advantage of the personalized service that small shops offer while you are there, then you’ll have a really happy lady come gift-opening time!

Krazy Mary's

Krazy Mary's

Krazy Mary's

Ladies love Krazy Mary’s. (It’s located at 3230 Folsom Blvd. Run!!) Founded 15 years ago by Mary Kawano, a strong businesswoman with a fashion forward buying sense from Carmichael, her small shop is now a well-known and much larger boutique. They receive new shipments on a daily basis and only order 6 units per style which will make your gift really unique. You’ll need to go armed with some clues to help you. Dailee, a longtime staff-member and store manager at Krazy Mary’s suggests that you “Come in with a certain color that your wife might like or even a photo that you saw she liked.” What’s great is that Dailee has complete knowledge and understanding of their inventory and will give you one-on-one service to help you pick out a few items. There are lots of price points too, from $5 rings to items under $30 to much more elaborate gifts that will, “punch you back in the face when you open them.” (in a good way!) as Dailee puts it excitedly. Use your local resources and track down a piece that will really speak to her.

Heart Clothing Boutique

Heart Clothing Boutique

Heart Clothing Boutique

Heart Clothing Boutique

Heart Clothing Boutique

Heart Clothing Boutique

Or, if midtown is closer to you, Heart Clothing Boutique is another great option located at 1903 Capitol Avenue near the corner of 19th Street. Owner Vanessa Lopez is a true Sacramento native with a successful career in the fashion business and extensive knowledge of the contemporary clothing market. After studying in San Francisco at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and working for years in the industry, Vanessa opened Heart in 2010. It’s a small location but it’s packed with fun stuff! There are bold colors on the racks and large statements on the t-shirts. From locally made jewelry to internationally recognized brands, this “petite” boutique has so much to offer at various price points and in styles from casual to fancy. The week before Christmas is definitely when she sees a lot of the guys come in, but thankfully Vanessa is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about trends, so if you are a terrible gift-giver to the eclectic girl in your life, go ask for help! Your gal will be pleasantly surprised that you did.  Check out their website at www.shopheartboutique.com.

Best Boutiques in Sacramento!

There are also gift certificates available for both places, as well as the possibility of phone orders. So feel free to give them a call or check Facebook for a sampling of their offerings. Follow HEARTBOUTIQUE or KRAZYMARYS_SUGARSHACK on Instagram and see if your gal has reposted or liked anything online. In addition to purchasing a useful gift and beautiful piece of clothing that expresses her personality, you will show her that you put time and effort into a trip to the store just for her. The clothing at Sacramento’s local clothing boutiques is full of unique pieces that she’s sure to get compliments on... and when she does, she’ll think, “Wow, my guy is such a grand supporter of the local economy and hey, he knows my style as well!”

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