To help sustain his livelihood, Clayton was a skilled fisherman. In doing so, he would travel in his 28-foot Monterey Fishing Boat to the mouth of Tomales Bay, and then into the ocean, where he would troll for salmon, rock cod, red snapper, striped bass and sturgeon. Yet he did most of his fishing with a beach seine.

To work the large net, two people would carefully set it by creating a half circle in the bay against the beach. This seine had two large wings on each side of a large bag, where most of the fish would end up. After quietly laying it out into the water with a wooden net boat, the two fisherman would gently pull it in. As the net got closer to shore, the fish went wild, as long as there were fish to be caught. 

On one of these outings with his son, Peter, they pulled in approximately 3,000 pounds of herring in one set. In response, Clayton started the Tomales Bay Herring Festival with some friends across the bay.

Fish caught in the beach seine included 13 varieties of perch, jack mackerel, halibut, salmon, angel and leopard sharks, and sting and bat rays. Most of the fish caught by either beach seine or troller were transported by truck to Chinatown, in San Francisco, where they were sold.

While living at Laird’s Landing, Clayton Lewis was also known for his immense zest for life and legendary beach parties. As the word spread, the entire community would either arrive on his beach by boat, or by car and truck, parking on top of the hill, and then walking a mile down to his paradise below. On arrival, one found a fascinating assortment of buildings, a huge organic garden, and various outdoor sculptures in this enchanted protected valley.

To enhance these celebrations, fisherman and the local oyster companies would donate large quantities of their fresh delights. At times there was also live acoustic music keeping the energy strong. In addition, local families and friends would contribute fresh baked goods and salads to these lively potlucks.


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    View of Tomales Bay, with Hog Island in the distance

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    Lairds Landing (buildings include four Coastal Miwok Indian cottages and Clayton’s sculpting and painting studio)

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    View of Tomales Bay from cottages

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    At Tomales Bay Herring Festival (Art Rodgers, photo: Point Reyes Light)

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    Launching of Rosie Boat with Miguel (built by Clayton and Miguel Winterburn)

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    Birthday Party with family and friends

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    Painting envelope

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    Working on jewelry

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    Casting sculpture in foundry

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    Working on “Three Dancers” sculpture

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    California Historical Society Retrospective: San Francisco, 1983

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    In Paris for one of his art shows (Richard Kirschman, photo)

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    Art show opening: San Francisco

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    In boat at Lairds Landing

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    Helping son renovate San Francisco Victorian: 1989
    (Peter Lewis, photo)

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    Beach seining on Tomales Bay

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    Casting net with Joe Slattery (Richard Blair, photo)

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    Retrieving fish (Richard Blair, photo)

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    (David Roland, photo: Point Reyes Light)

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    Rowing boat (David Roland, photo: Point Reyes Light)

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    With his cat, Perfy, in 1995 (Stephen Wilkes, photo)

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    With pipe overlooking Tomales Bay, in 1995
    (Stephen Wilkes, photo: Life Magazine: August, 1996)

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    With Rosie Baldwin, in Nevada City, 1963
    (his mother and the addressee for most of his envelope art)

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    In Nevada City (1963-64)

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    Sailing in Sausalito (1961)

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    Working on sculpture for Sonoma State Fair (1955)

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    With family in Manhattan Beach, CA, while working at Herman-Miller
    (with Eames furniture and James Weeks drawing) (1952)

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    Designing furniture for Claywood Design Products: Eugene, OR (1947-49)
    (Phil Lewis, photo)

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    Lewis Family Home, Eugene, OR: Designed and Built by Clayton Lewis (1947-49)
    (Phil Lewis, photo)

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    Reading in chair, 1943

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    In studio, 1942

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    On bike, Snoqualmie Falls, WA (1933)

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    With brother, Phillip, Snoqualmie Falls, WA (1923)

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After Clayton died, his family invited the community for a large memorial and potluck, with a eulogy that lasted for over three hours. Over 300 attended. The friends and family who spoke and/or performed included Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, members of the Alexander String Quartet, Sim Van der Ryn (architect), poets, painters, sculptors, fellow fisherman, boat builders, and carpenters.

Soon after, the local chapters of the Audubon Society and Sierra Club asked the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Citizens Advisory Committee to approve the demolition of all the buildings at Laird’s Landing. Their logic was that since none of the buildings were mentioned in the general plan of the park, they should not be allowed to stand.

These included the three remaining Coastal Miwok Indian cottages (built between 1850 and 1895) and Clayton’s sculpting and painting studio. In response, the newly founded Clayton Lewis Institute for Art and Ecology (Peter Lewis, president) opposed the demolition and asked the park service for permission to use the buildings as an artist colony and ecology center.

To educate the public about the ecosystem of Tomales Bay, the Institute would present net pulls with Clayton’s beach seine. In doing so, after setting the net and identifying the various species of fish, the entire catch would be released back into the bay.

In the end, while the GGNRA Citizens Advisory Committee voted to have all the buildings demolished, Park Superintendent Don Neubacher sided with the Clayton Lewis Institute. While he opposed the idea of an artist colony at Laird’s Landing, he offered an alternative location in the park and fully supported the net pulls in the bay as a excellent tool to educate the public.

To this day, all the buildings still stand and the CLIAE continues to do their net pulls, even though the artist colony was never made a reality. In doing so, they’ve been allowed to use one of the Coastal Miwok Indian cottages at Laird’s Landing.

On February 11, 2010, Don Neubacher was named superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

(For several related articles from the Point Reyes Light, please see Article Links, under Press on this web site.)

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