Local author documents Wilsonia Historic District

 

It takes some serious talent to transform the idea of an entire community into pencil drawings. Yet somehow, Jana Botkin of Cabinart in Three Rivers has done it. 

Jana’s recently published book, The Cabins of Wilsonia, documents a cabin community in Kings Canyon National Park that makes up the Wilsonia Historic District. The book is packed with intricate pencil drawings — 272 to be exact — of the cabins, as well as quotes and stories from members of the cabin community.

“What originally drew me to Wilsonia wasn’t the history of the place,” Jana said. “I’m in love with the architecture of the cabins themselves and the tightly knit community that makes Wilsonia a very special place indeed. It is a place to slow down from the fast pace of our modern lives and to really remember the simple life. The faster paced our lives become, the more technology we use… and the more of an oddity it is to have a quiet cabin in the woods.”

Jana was reluctant at first to take on such a big project, given the distance to Wilsonia from her home in Three Rivers (about 55 miles on mountain roads and two to three hours travel time depending on weather conditions) and the sheer size of the cabin community (211 cabins). 

Too much to be able to capture it in a book, she thought. However, she was given access to a friend’s cabin in Wilsonia and quickly fell in love with the place.

Through her art, Jana wanted to highlight how cabin communities are unique in and of themselves. They are isolated and self-contained, she said, with a unique culture, personality, and set of traditions. 

People in cabin communities rely on each other and have an old-fashioned connection with their neighbors that is all but lost in this modern world of anonymity. 

Jana’s goal was to capture this essence of community, but she doesn’t necessarily focus on the past, instead shines a light on the living history of today. 

“It has taken me three years to complete this book,” she said.  “And it is already out of date. Things are constantly changing. History is happening now.”

The book’s illustrations show not only the unique architecture of the cabins, which were built between 1918 and 1945, but also the essence of what is the community of Wilsonia.

“My mission is to find and celebrate the things about Tulare County that are unique and, most importantly, beautiful,” Jana continued. “We live in an era now where new is best and people do away with the old. For example, people tear down old buildings because they’re not to code. I think to lose the historical art contained in those old structures is a tragedy. It’s to lose a little bit of ourselves.”

She said that oftentimes cabin owners would misunderstand her purpose and try to give her a complete history of the place. “They would begin to tell me the entire story of their cabins — when they were built, how they were passed from generation to generation — and I wanted to say ‘No!’ I wanted to capture what this place is here and now. I’m an artist, not a historian.”

Wilsonia is located on 100 acres near the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. The community was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. 

The Cabins of Wilsonia documents the community’s journey through time via its architecture. To purchase the book, contact Jana at (559) 561-7606 or cabinart06@sbcglobal.net. 

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