Artists in Residence: Chris Bauman at HI Point Montara

Point Montara haunted hostel XII

From National Park land to downtown streetscapes, hillside perches to coastal lighthouses, HI USA hostels are located in some of the most beautiful settings Northern California has to offer. So perhaps it's not surprising that so many staff members across our hostel network are talented (and prolific) artists: they've got a lot of inspiration to work with! And now they're sharing their inspiration with you in our new interview series, "Artists in Residence." Next up: Chris Bauman, General Manager and master of all artistic media at HI Point Montara.

Point Montara Lighthouse sign

You might say Point Montara has always exercised an almost magnetic force on Chris Bauman. "Montara's such an iconic place," he says. "It's been such a game-changer in my life." 

Chris first came to HI Point Montara as a traveler in 1994, stayed several years, and then spent several more working at HI USA's (now closed) Redwood Hostel. But Point Montara drew Chris and his partner, Janice, back in 2003, and the two have been managing the place ever since.

Over the years, Chris has left his mark on the hostel in a slew of creative ways, from his colorful and friendly road signs to his intricate and meticulous handmade books illustrating the history of the hostel's on-site lighthouse. But Chris's favorite art project is also his biggest, and his most transitory. Lucky for guests, it's also the one he's working on right this very moment: Haunted Hostel.

For the 12th year in a row, Chris and his staff are celebrating Halloween by turning the lighthouse grounds into a spooky, whimsical, fun-filled autumnal wonderland for kids and adults alike. This year's event will take place on October 25, but Chris took time out from his non-stop preparations to chat with us about time-lapse photography, crafting with yoga mats, and why running a hostel may be the greatest artistic expression of all.

How did your art at Point Montara start?

I first came to Point Montara as a traveler in 1994, and then ended up being a staffer for three years. Before that, I had been traveling around the country and had been working for many years as a freelance artist. While I was staying at Point Montara, I noticed that they had this sign that was really dilapidated, so I offered to paint them a new one. I painted over the old sign, so over time it did that cool, old-crackling thing. If you're in the hostel's Fog Signal building, you can still see the sign today. So that was kind of my foray into hostelling: my work-trade was creating a sign for the hostel; that's how I got my foot in the door!

Paint's far from the only medium you work in, though.

Point Montara hostel serpentOut facing the street, there's a big sign for the hostel that's a wave, and there's an actual scale model of the light house on it. It has a light that goes around and around. I designed that and went through about three or four maintenance guys putting it together!

I've also been doing a lot of time-lapse videos lately, especially on days when you see people, the ocean, everything moving at a different pace. A few weeks ago, there were these anchovies running and they'd come the closest to the shore that I'd ever seen them. So there were tens of thousands of sea birds on the shore, and I was sitting there with a camera filming this crazy event, and then it's gone. 

My degree, though, is in sculpture, and I think I ended up there because I'm not a media-specific type of artist. I really dabble in anything I can get my hands on. I think that's what got me into a career in hostelling: I did have this notion in my head that the ultimate form of art is life itself. And in terms of wanting to work in three dimensions, you can see how a place like Point Montara becomes an ongoing, never-ending work of art, from the aesthetics of the place to how you interact with people.

Rumor has it you also tend to work with some less traditional materials for Haunted Hostel.

Point Montara hostel dragonAfter the second year of Haunted Hostel, I built 'the dragon.' We built it out of PVC pipe, chicken wire, papier-mâché – she was one of those very heavy, traditional things. She lives in the Fog Signal Building, and every year I'd build what would become a bigger and bigger dragon cave around her: a big frame out of irrigation pipe and various two-by-fours, and then I'd cover it with black plastic for a cave kind of look. Each year it got bigger and bigger, with hallways and caverns. 

"Then, one year, I decided we needed a second creature. We live by a lighthouse, so I decided it should be a sea creature. We had all these old yoga mats lying around, so I used some irrigation pipes to build the frame and then started layering it and scaling it, and she became this magnificent, water-proof puppet. The first year, we brought her up from the beach, and she shot water out of her mouth. Eventually, we decided the sea serpent needed a pond with a bridge inside of the dragon cave, so I built that, too.

Check out more of Chris's work online, and come visit us at HI Point Montara and come see some of his work for yourself! 

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