Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Via Keller

by Steve Sparks, March 31, 2010

I met with Via at her house that she shares with partner Dave Martin on the Prather Ranch, just off Hwy 128 past The Grange Hall. She made a good strong cup of coffee and we sat down to talk.

She was born Victoria Keller but was never referred to by that name. Growing up she was known as Vicky among family and friends and changed her name much later to Via. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1956, the 4th child of Ed Keller and June Ritze, and she has three older sisters, a sister three years younger, and a brother 13 years younger. “My parents are from several generations of German Catholics. I have visited Germany and in the south there are lots of Kellers. It’s where they particularly enjoy lots of beer, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. My parents are still around. My mother is 76 and my Dad 86.”

Via’s father worked for Ford Motor Company for 35 years, selling cars to the various dealerships, and he traveled quite often with his job. The family grew up in Forest Park, “a beautiful suburb” and, although the German influence was not great, beer-drinking was done and Via grew up eating lots of sauerkraut. “It was a very conservative place but my parents, although strict and somewhat conservative in many ways were Catholic so they had voted for Kennedy in the 1960 election. When he was shot I remember being shocked to see my mother sitting on a footstool and crying and I knew something terrible had happened. They changed at that point and voted for Nixon in the 1968 election.”

“My parents followed authority and were set in their ways about how things should be done. My mother was a ‘clean-aholic’; she was meticulous about it and we were all on a cleaning schedule. If somebody was smoking the ash was cleaned out of the ashtray as soon as the cigarette was finished. I did not get the full-on German gene though. I think I thought I had better things to do. I went to a Catholic grade school and high school but in my sophomore year I was always in trouble, minor stuff like skipping school, never at odds with the law, but it was horrendous for my parents, so when I announced that I wanted to go to the public school they agreed. I calmed down at my new school and loved my last two years in high school. Nobody was mean, there was no dress code, and I was encouraged to be creative. I remember I organized ‘glitter day’ and spent all day painting faces. I hung out with the liberal crowd and got good grades; it was not hard for me and I’d get my homework done quickly and then do my own thing. It was a great school and I still have a dozen or so friendships from that time.”

Via’s favorite subjects were humanities, literature, art, ceramics, painting. “I didn’t take wood shop and auto because I was too chicken — not quite as adven­turous as I wish I’d been. I loved art and had taken private art lessons with my oldest sister when I was thirteen. I remember my mother saying when she was pregnant with my much younger brother, ‘I hope he’s not another artists’ — a temperament she classified as hard to handle... She thought all longhaired people, hippies, were like Charles Manson and put those who protested the war in Vietnam in that category. I guess the whole anti-establishment movement of the late sixties must have seemed very scary to my parents... I loved to hang out with school friends, many of whom were over-achievers in activities such as music, acting, writing, and art. My tastes were formed in those years; I just soaked it in.”

Via graduated from high school in 1974 and with no desire to go to college joined the workforce and left home at nineteen. She had various jobs, including working at the concession stand at a cinema and a short-order cook at Friendly’s Ice Cream, an East Coast restaurant chain, where she stayed for four years. Then in March of 1979 she was driving in freezing weather when she hit a patch of black ice and crashed into a power pole, totaling her car. “I had been getting very restless anyway, so when the acci­dent happened I said to myself, ‘That’s it, I’m leaving.’ I was sick of restaurant work and my life in Ohio, and so with my friend Valerie, I hitchhiked across the country to California. A few sleazy truck drivers picked us up but we had learned a form of sign lan­guage to use in church when we were in 4th grade so we got out of a few scrapes by being able to ‘talk’ to each other that way. It was a great adventure and gen­erally people were very protective of us and we were invited to their houses and fed. It was pretty safe to hitchhike in those days.”

Valerie had friends in Richmond in the East Bay and the girls stayed there on their arrival. One of these was Ron Davis and immediately he and Via started a relationship. “Things were moving very quickly, too quickly for Ron, and after five months I took off to Louisiana to give him some space and went to stay with my oldest sister. I hated it down there and after a few months I returned to live in Richmond permanently in March of 1980, moving in with Ron and other roommates. I found work at a health food store, which I loved. It was a ‘Ma and Pa’ operation and many of the staff were radical lesbian feminists. I was really into the whole Berkeley scene and started to take psychedelic drugs regularly. I was very comfortable on it, having first taken it at high school when I can still remember sitting at home eating dinner with my parents and giggling as the green beans stared at me! Most of my drug experi­ences were very positive and I remain very pro-psy­chedelics although obviously it is not for everyone. You have to pay great attention to the set and settings to do it right; you can’t be a dumb ass with that kind of thing. They can be really bad and strongly affect your sense of well-being but equally they can be a potent tool and very positive inn the right set up and environment. The world can be seen in so many dif­ferent ways and it helps to keep you more flexible with regards to this.”

In 1981, Ron wanted to visit an old friend in Santa Barbara so he and Via moved down there with no job and no place to live, staying initially in a motel. Soon however, she found a job at another health food store, Ron got a job in the office of a lumberyard, and they decided to stay. They were to be there for ten years. “I worked part-time and after a few years we moved into a mansion owned by a friend of ours. There were other tenants and we managed it for our friend, living there for free. Santa Barbara is very clique-ish, very appearance-oriented, and for a long time we found it hard to make friends. Then one day a long-haired hippy guy came into the store. His name was Richard Aaron, a poetry seller, with one of the biggest collec­tions in the country. I recognized his name and told him that Ron sometimes bought books from him and immediately wondered if I could ask Ron if he would want a job working for him. Ron jumped at this, he loved poetry, and began doing the cataloging for Richard.”

In 1982 Via discovered the band R.E.M. and found listening to them really helped her creativity. She would spend hours doing art and listening and began to contribute art, words, and poetry to Short Fuse magazine, based in Santa Barbara. “Most of those involved with the magazine were ten years or so younger than me, in their late teens. It was a mix of punks, hippies, beats, and weirdos. I began doing more and more cut and paste work in creating my collages. It was during this time, in the mid-1980's, that I was fortuitously introduced to the work of Jess (Collins), San Francisco's superb beat-era paste-up artist, whose art and correspondence was my greatest source of guidance and inspiration. He also served a lovely and gracious lunch when I visited his home in '94. I became a ‘collaholic’ and put on shows around town and my work featured in the Santa Barbara cal­endar one year.”

In 1988, Via gave birth to a son, Ellery, at the man­sion where they lived. “I was terrified both physically and of the responsibility but it was an awesome experience.” Then later the next year, Ron’s employer, Richard and his wife Lilia, visited Anderson Valley and soon after announced they were moving here. They told Ron he could keep his job but would have to move up here too. “It was ironic. We had finally settled in Santa Barbara. We had taken a second room in the mansion, had a new baby, many friends, and were enjoying the scene.

“Ron thought it was a good move though and I agreed. In December 1989, we got a U-Haul and drove up; when we passed through Boonville at night I remember thinking ‘Is this it?’ We moved into a rental mobile home on Airport Road in Boonville — one of the worst places I’d ever lived in, expensive, cold, and ugly. Our neighbors were Dick and Lovella Sands and they were very nice to us. There were cows nearby and Ellery’s first word was ‘mooo.’ We were married in the sheep field behind the Senior Center in 1991 but for the first few years I met hardly anyone except mothers of other toddlers. They were very nice but not necessarily the kind of people I was used to speaking with. I did make a great friend in Kathy Pis­tone at the pre-school. We were like-minded and we became best friends. Eventually, when Ellery was about four, I got a part-time job working for Leslie at ‘All that Good Stuff’ gift store.”

For a time they lived at Van Zandt’s property on Ray’s Road just north of Philo and then Richard decided he did not need Ron anymore, preferring to catalog and sell using the internet. Ron became the bookkeeper at Wellspring Retreat, later becoming the director there. They moved again, this time to the property owned by Kevin Burke, south of Philo on Ruddock Road. By 1996 Via was working for both Leslie and at the Rookie-To gift store and gallery. However, things were not working out between Via and Ron and she moved out in 2000. She moved into a cabin on Mountain View Road and Ron lost his job soon thereafter and he left the Valley, taking Ellery, who was unhappy here, with him to Chicago where Ron’s sister lived. “My cabin was very small so Ellery stayed at his father’s place. He was at the high school but wanted out. He’d grown up here and had lots of friends but he was a creative kid and his options here were limited. He thought they’d be better in a big city. Besides, he was a great support for Ron who was having a difficult time. We were no longer friends at that point.”

Via lived in the cabin for six years during which time she left her job at ‘All that Good Stuff.’ “I was not doing a good job there, although I stayed at Rookie-To and continue to work there to this day. I continued my collages through the years. In 1988, I had become friends with Michael Horowitz who was psychedelic guru, Timothy Leary’s editor and also father of the actress Winona Ryder. We kept in touch and this led to some of my illustrations being included in Timothy’s book ‘Chaos and Cyber Cul­ture’ when it was published in 1994. I met Timothy at some of his book signings and he loved my work, telling me I had ‘got it’, which was very nice to hear. I have done my own art shows here and there and at times have produced collages like crazy. Not all great of course. My collage work can be defined as the magic of using common imagery from popular culture to explore, de-construct and reassemble one’s per­spective provides an endlessly rich opportunity for in­sight and creative expression. It’s through these unex­pected juxtapositions that the logic of linear thinking is stripped away, revealing something both indicative of human experience and transcendent of it.”

“Having settled happily into rural valley life, I've taught classes at several county schools while contrib­uting to local events and various commercial projects. Most recently, I designed CD covers and websites for the bands Outersect and II Big, and have had my art­work animated and projected by the talented folks at Coil and Radiant Atmospheres for various Bay Area events. I've also made illustrations for a book and an audio CD for Sentient Publications and Wetware Media in Boulder, CO.”

Along with some of her students Via has entered work in the County Fair over the years. One of those students, Vanessa McClure, attending the Elementary school at the time, had some work censored by the Art Department of the Fair Board, causing quite a stir and making the front page of the AVA. “It was an anti-war piece and I thought it made wonderful statement. I guess some people thought otherwise. The following year I held an Alternative Art Show across the street, containing art work that questioned the norm. Art can help you stay sane and I feel very strongly about that. Sometimes too much academics can lead to jobs that can build ‘crippled’ people. We must feed the soul if we expect people to lead produc­tive lives. Extreme puritanical thinking is a dangerous thing and people are educated how to make money and not how to have a fulfilling and beautiful life. No wonder there are few ethics and aesthetics at the top. I believe the ‘American Dream’ is empty of beauty at this point and political discourse in this country is far too full of hatred.”

Via has expanded her talents to include web design and now does her collage work using Photoshop on her computer. She works on designs for book and CD covers, mainly for friends and has produced the annual Variety Show’s poster for the last 16 years. She also spends time on the Twitter network site on-line. “In many ways it is stupid but it has proved invaluable in getting news out sometimes, instead of relying on the usual media outlets. I heard about the recent brutali­ties in Iran on Twitter and saw the Iranian woman Neda die on YouTube. It’s too bad though; if Twitter is someone’s lifeline to getting their story out then what does that say about our news services? The com­puter has greatly influenced my life in terms of work and contact with friends and I am on-line a lot.”

Via was at a New Year’s Eve party at Lauren’s Res­taurant a few years ago, performing with The Valley People Band that included Bob Day, Terry McGov­ern, Kevin Burke, Burton Segal, Captain Rainbow, and Morning Hollinger. The soundman with the band was Dave Martin and they began to date. “We fell in love and following his split with partner Barbara I moved in with him here a couple of years ago. Ellery came back for a year and a half recently and stayed with us. He worked at Dig Supplies, which has now closed and reverted back to the AV Farm Supply and we had a great time together. He and Ron are cur­rently in Mexico.”

“I love it here in the Valley. The air smells fabu­lous, so clean. The countryside is beautiful. This is the best community I have ever lived in. We have lots of fun here; they are good people and have their hearts in the right place. People will give you the benefit of the doubt here and I appreciate that. And we throw the best parties here in the Valley...The only negative is that we are too far away from everything, which is a good and bad thing. Most of us are all relatively far apart from each other and have to plan to get together. You cannot just go next door and talk, the Valley’s landscape keeps us far apart and getting together is not easy. Oh, and I have all kinds of aller­gies here, that’s another thing I guess I don’t like.”

I asked Via for her brief responses to some Valley issues.

The wineries? “I am a wine fan but there are too many wineries here now and that sucks. The water issue is getting worse and people’s supplies are being affected. Why should a winery’s requirements take preference over people who want bath water? Of course they are providing jobs but we need to have a limit.”

The school system? “It does not seem set up to moving the kids forward except in terms of passing tests in academic subjects. I’m sure they mean well but Ellery was not given the best support when he wanted to pursue music. He was helped at grade school but then lost his way. Money seems to deter­mine too much and it becomes ‘corrupt.’ Music and art need to be as equally encouraged as pure academ­ics”

The AVA? “I have always loved it. It is well writ­ten and often funny. People say it makes mistakes but I believe its heart is in the right place and I’m sure editor Bruce Anderson isn’t doing it for the glory.”

Drugs in the Valley? “I don’t care about pot at all; legalize it, tax it. It’s pot, for god’s sake! As for meth­amphetamines, that is the worst drug of all. I know from personal experience that it messes you up with­out exception. You cannot play with that drug. Lis­ten, people have been doing drugs since the beginning of time, they are not going to stop. It’s all about per­sonal responsibility. Kids need to be told the truth. Not all drugs are in the same category so tell them the truth, not ill informed crap. They can find out about so much on the pro’s and cons on line these days and I am very open to discussing my previous drug experi­ences, not that I have covered everything.”

KZYX local public radio? “I’m not a big listener but I do like some shows — Pippa’s World Music, Trading Time. And it’s very helpful in times of power outages or road closures.”

I posed a few questions from a questionnaire fea­tured on TV’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Collaboration; beauty; people who keep their hearts open to others; creative expression of all kinds; the natural world.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Close-minded­ness; disrespect; stupid people. It costs nothing to be kind.”

Sound or noise you love? “Birds singing.”

Sound or noise do you hate? “The noise of traffic.”

Favorite food or meal? “Indian food. Libby’s mole sauce; Lauren’s mushrooms in creamy sauce over noo­dles.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one, who would that be? “Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers. He was a Buddha, I’m telling you. Read his autobiography.”

If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three posses­sions would you like to have with you? “My prescrip­tion glasses; I need to see; my computer (no internet, I told her); and my camera, as I love taking super close-up micro-shots and seeing them on a bigger screen. That way, I get to see parts of the natural world I could never see with my own eyes, even with the glasses!”

Favorite film/song/book? “For a book I would say a tiny novel called ‘The Holy Man’ by Susan Trott. I've bought more copies of that book for gifts than any other. I even sent it to my dad for his birthday last year (which befuddled him greatly, though he took it well.) It's the sweetest, most unpretentious, wise little book I’ve ever read. A song would be ‘Sanvean’ by Lisa Gerrard of the band ‘Dead Can Dance.’ As for a film, probably ‘Serenity’ a film based on the television show ‘Firefly’ — heartfelt, female empowered, and some important things to say.”

Favorite hobby? “Collaborating. Singing. Garden­ing.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “An art director in the movies.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “A secretary or any sort of office work.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “The day my son was born. It’s a miracle; awesome. The most psy­chedelic thing you can imagine.”

The saddest? “I have not had a purely sad day. The passing of Gail Ednie here in the Valley. It was an honor to be with her and her family as she passed. The death of our family dog, ZuZu Belle was a very, very sad day too.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself physi­cally/ mentally/ spiritually? “The bottom line is that I really believe in life and that I have a profound capac­ity to love and that is the only thing that really mat­ters.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? — “Well I think he might say ‘April Fool’s!’ But it would be nice if he just said, ‘You did ok, Via’.”

(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Kurt Schoeneman of Ferrington Vineyards, Boonville and much more prior to that. And I shall also be present­ing the first in a series of interviews with the Candi­dates for the 5th District Supervisor position: Wendy Roberts.)

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