When artist Michael Acker moved to Boyes Hot Springs from San Francisco in 1996, he took to walking the streets.
“I would walk up and down Highway 12. The old buildings in the Springs inspired me. I could see traces of history,” Acker said in an interview over coffee at Barking Dog Roasters.
He said he then started hanging out at the Depot Park Museum in Sonoma, researching the Springs’ history and learning more about the buildings. From that experience he became inspired to record the buildings as photo collages.
Acker said in 2008 he took photographs of every single building on Highway 12 between Verano Avenue and Agua Caliente Boulevard, 477 shots in all. He has since provided copies of his photographs to the Sonoma County Historical Library in Santa Rosa.
“At the time I was taking photographs I thought, wow, what if someone had done this in the 1920s or 1940s,” he said.
Acker creates his collages using the computer program Photoshop blending old images with new. The old images mostly come from old 1950s and 1960s post cards. He has a collection of old post cards of the Springs, which he mostly acquired through eBay and by attending post card collector shows. He also met a post card collector who allowed Acker to scan his collection.
Acker currently has about 60 collages in the series. One of them is used as the banner on the Springs Community Alliance’s Facebook group. You can also see and purchase Acker’s work at mca-studios.com.
Acker’s work and historical knowledge of the Springs also got him the attention of Arcadia Books, the publisher of the “Images of America” series. He’s currently working on a book for the series that tells the history of the Springs through photographs. Acker said he’s collected about 230 photographs for the book, which covers the history of the Springs from the 1840s to 2016. Acker spoke with excitement when he said the book would have a copy of a hand drawn map of Rancho Agua Caliente and a portrait of Thaddeus Leavenworth, the first American to own a large piece of land in the Rancho. That land eventually became Boyes Hot Springs after Leavenworth sold it to Henry Boyes in the 1880s.
Acker is also the artist responsible for the colorful mural on the front of the Sonoma Valley Grange Hall on Highway 12. He designed the mural, which depicts the history of Boyes Hot Springs. A member of the Grange himself, Acker presented the idea for a mural to his fellow members after the front entrance of the hall was eliminated in 2010 when the sidewalk was installed. The Grange was able to pay for the mural thanks to a façade improvement loan from the former county redevelopment agency. Randy Sue Collins painted the mural. The Grange pays the maintenance to keep the mural looking fresh.
Acker is also providing his artistic skills and historical knowledge of the area to Mid Penn Housing, the developers of the100-unit affordable housing project on Highway 12 next to the Sonoma Charter School. The site is the location of the former Fetters Hot Springs resort, which burned down in the 1960s. Acker said he would be installing a series of historical photographs inside the new buildings. He also said that he and Mid Penn’s project manager, Scott Johnson, have been in discussions about what else can be done to install public art in the project that respects the history of the property.