River Road

Who is responsible for the odd sculptures along River Road?

Meet the Forestville artist whose unique recycled art built from reused items collected on his 132-acre property is turning heads. | 6

The sculptures that flank the edge of David McGraw’s River Road property across from Sunset Beach in Forestville look like colorful totems as they zoom by at 45 mph.

Close inspection reveals that the works are far more complicated.

The multimedia pieces combine used and recycled elements to convey one-of-a-kind stories about McGraw’s 132-acre ranch in the Russian River Valley. One features an old furnace, while another features the top of a wood chipper. A third depicts an ancient truck chassis. A fourth, possibly the most striking, consists of two corroded metal rectangles hanging by purple-painted steel.

McGraw, 65, is the artist responsible for all of this. He has built roughly two dozen sculptures in an ancient apple orchard and on other portions of his property visible from River Road over the previous five years. The pieces are unnamed. There is no overarching topic.

They simply exist, as McGraw puts it.

“The pieces are melodic to me, they suggest nature, they depict living things, and they blend architecture and engineering together,” he remarked. “I’m not making a statement with this art. I enjoy making it out of historical stuff. “I enjoy making it and seeing what happens.”

With such a broad artist statement, it’s no surprise that McGraw’s work exudes mystery – while many are familiar with it, most have no idea what it is or why it’s there.

But who is this individual, and what is the significance of his eye-catching artwork?

acquiring land and erecting sculptures
Davingy is a humorous and whimsical homage to Leonardo DaVinci and a contraction of his first two names (David Ingram McGraw). He has been creating art under this alias since he was 25 years old.

McGraw, a welder, has drawn into sculptures in that period, primarily geometric ones that loosely resemble other items, such as people or animals.

Metal, fibreglass, wood, ceramics, and other long-lasting materials are used to create the sculptures.

Almost all of his work is created in a studio in San Francisco, where he has lived since moving from his hometown of Portland, Oregon, to attend the San Francisco Art Institute. McGraw and his wife decided they wanted to live in the country about 2005 or 2006, so they bought 44 acres of the steep hillside just west of Mother’s Beach in Guerneville.

McGraw continues to create artwork from his San Francisco studio, and once completed, he will drive it up to Sonoma County. He drives down to his studio when he finds items he wants to include in his pieces. He’s also in the process of constructing an open-air studio on the land.

Because the original property was shaped like a shark on the map, they named it Shark Mountain. Almost soon after purchasing it, McGraw began erecting sculptures there – a road from the River Road entrance to a meadow near the top winds past dozens of pieces, many of which are hung from the trees.

“A lot of these are older things,” McGraw remarked during a recent tour of the private property. “Most of these have bizarre stories about my putting them together by myself.”

McGraw and his wife, Amy Lynn McGraw, then purchased another 88-acre lot near River Road, which they name the ranch. It is related to the original property they hold. This parcel once housed a circa-1857 farmhouse, which has since been demolished and rebuilt during the previous few years. It also houses the orchard along River Drive, as well as the two-dozen sculptures that are currently on show.

Around 100 Davingy originals are dispersed across 132 acres, rising from the earth, hanging from trees, and looming like huge totems.

“Everything here is site-specific,” stated McGraw. “It’s all part of the experience.”

Davingy’s repurposed art style
The Davingy estate is like stepping into a Dr. Seuss book. The majority of the sculptures range in height from 10 to 25 feet and seem different depending on your vantage point.

McGraw’s style has been called “durable.” He tries to reuse old sculptures and forms into new works whenever possible. He frequently obtains materials from scrap yards; some of his sculptures use old garbage pails purchased in bulk.

He has also included antiques he has discovered on the ranch throughout the years, such as furnaces, wood chippers, tillers, and hay balers, to mention a few.

The forms of his sculptures vary, but many of them include what he refers to as “pods,” lantern-like trapezoids and rhomboids fashioned of rebar and fiberglass. Tiny pods are roughly the size of a lawn chair, while larger ones can reach 7 or 8 feet in height. McGraw layers pods in some cases, resulting in towers with a characteristic ribbed appearance.

Another prevalent shape is asymmetrical spherical objects that he refers to as “boulders.”

The largest of the boulders stands on a sculpture with two massive wood platforms, which he refers to as “the asteroid.”

The majority of the pieces are emblazoned with vibrant colors such as purples, oranges, golds, and greens. Instead of painting the parts, McGraw sends them to a San Francisco auto detailer who employs a process called powder coating, which uses an electric charge to ensure the powder adheres to a surface rather than any form of adhesive.

“I’ve discovered that this manner the colors are more bright and remain longer,” he explained. McGraw noted that the more colorful pieces often remind him of birds.

The colours surely catch the eye.

Wendy Gause, owner of the Russian River Tavern across River Road from McGraw’s property, said locals and visitors alike come in all the time to inquire about the art.

“People are often asking, ‘What’s the narrative behind those sculptures?’ and the fact is that I don’t really know,” she explained. “I spoke with him about them, and he remarked that they represent nature in some manner, which I guess I can see. It’s certainly intriguing to me.”

Gause isn’t the only one who thinks Davingy is a mystery. Locals in the Russian River Valley are familiar with the art but know very little about the man who created it.

McGraw said he plans to open the orchard and other areas of his property to the public for tours of some kind. While he is unsure whether the tours would be guided or self-directed, he hopes to have them operational by the end of the year.

He’s also working on signage for the property line that borders River Road so that pedestrians can know where they may go to learn more about the artist and his work.

(There is information at Davingy.com, but McGraw admits he needs to revamp that site as well.)

“I really want to foster a spirit of discovery,” he explained. “Come look and have one experience. Come back, look around, and have another experience.”

Until then, the greatest way to appreciate McGraw’s inventions is to drive, bike, or walk along River Drive. You’ll notice something new every time you pass by, no matter how many times you pass by. That is precisely the point.