When you view a painting at the gallery owned by Steve and Nancy Hauk, they will tell you its story. And the stories are always fascinating.
It's not easy to find the gallery — it's tucked behind a corner restaurant, across the street from a Pacific Grove movie theater parking lot and alongside a rambunctious mural in an alley. But it's worth the search if you appreciate early and contemporary California art and colorful tales.
Located at 206 Fountain Ave., Hauk Fine Arts was founded 20 years ago with two goals.
Now the gallery also includes works by such Monterey area art luminaries as Armin Hansen, Sam Colburn, William Ritschel and Charles Rollo Peters, plus many others.
Steve Hauk, a born storyteller who exudes charm and ebullience (with an occasional dash of blarney), was co-curator of the inaugural art exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. A talented writer — he was a reporter at The Herald for many years — he also wrote the award-winning documentary films "The Roots of California Photography" and "Time Captured in Paintings."
He is also a playwright and his latest work, "Fortune's Way, or Notes on Art for Catholics and Others," is based on the late E. Charlton Fortune, a female impressionist painter. One of her works was recently in the news when the Monterey Maritime and History Museum tried to sell one of her Monterey paintings.
"I love to keep discovering artists and finding out their stories, getting down as much history as possible," Hauk says.
Happily blurring the line between art and literature, the gallery recently exhibited a group of 1942 letters from John Steinbeck to former Monterey policeman George Dovolis, asking the old friend to ship a box of guns to the author in New York. Steinbeck cited "self protection" as his reason for getting the firearm. The exhibit included a pertinent painting by Carmel artist/writer Belle Yang and what Steve Hauk described as "a very important painting" by Roger Kastel, used to illus-trate the Steinbeck classic "East of Eden."
Nancy Hauk has a background in art history and a desire "to get just the right paintings to the right people.
Nancy and Steve were high school sweethearts who married in 1965. She supports the concept of combining art and lore. "It's important that stories — the history of our area — go on, because if nobody tells those stories, they're gone. Most of our art is realistic; it really shows what's going on."
The eye is deceiving when one enters Hauk Fine Arts. At a recent book signing, a local woman commented on how small the gallery is. Had the crowd not been there, she would have been encouraged to explore the gallery, which includes a very interesting rear room and - upstairs — two other rooms and two corridors packed with paintings.
Some of the more treasured pieces are in the main front gallery.
A rare 1966 artwork created by Ken Kesey, his son Zane and his grandson Caleb hangs in the rear room of the gallery. Kesey, best known for the novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," was a counterculture advocate for psychotropic drugs. He also was a founder of the legendary Merry Pranksters, and he drove a psychedelic-art bus on a wild cross-country party. The glowing painting was created over a poster of the infamous Second Acid Test, which included a concert by the Grateful Dead. The back of the piece is signed by Arlo Guthrie and Wavy Gravy. "This really is a national treasure," Steve Hauk said. "It belongs in a museum, perhaps in California or Oregon," where Kesey worked.
Nearby hangs an original black-and-white Kool Komix cover by graphic art pioneer R. Crumb. It is inscribed "to Gail," a woman who, according to Steve Hauk, still lives in Pacific Grove. Across the room stands a mahogany bed head board carved by early 20th-century Monterey artist August Gay. The complete suite of two beds and associated furniture once graced the old Del Monte Hotel; because of space limitations, only the headboard is displayed.
The upstairs galleries include too many paintings to hang or even mention. One extraordinary work of farm workers, by Monterey artist Warren Chang, is done in muted colors that somehow capture the glimmering sun. Hundreds of Chang's paintings have been used as book covers.
A trip to the gallery isn't complete without hearing some of Hauk's stories, including his youthful hitchhiking trip when two — count 'em, two — different murderers gave him rides. Or the time a vengeful Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) came looking for him.
But the best tales are hanging on the gallery walls.
"Our gallery has a great personality and a mix of ideas," said Nancy Hauk, "and the point is to keep going so we can keep this transfer of energy going."
Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at MontereyBayAdventures.com.