Behind the senator's desk is a painting of Hetch Hetchy Valley -- with beautiful trees and the Tuolumne River meandering through. No dam or reservoir. Communications Director Brian Weiss writes that, "Senator Feinstein is a fan of 19th century art, particularly paintings that depict California landscapes. She has also hung scenic paintings of Yosemite and San Francisco in the Washington office."
The painting is "The Hetch Hetchy Valley On The Tuolumne River, California" (1878) by Frank Henry Shapleigh, a Boston artist who was the first to paint the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Shapleigh had spent six weeks in Yosemite and met John Muir, who wrote about a July 1870 visit: "Oh, what a world is there! I passed, no, I lived another night there two weeks ago, entering as far within the veil amid equal glory, together with Mr. Frank Shapleigh of Boston. Mr. Shapleigh is an artist and I like him. He has been here six weeks, and has just left for home."
This is the same Sen. Feinstein who has written, "There is simply no feasible way to replace the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, return the valley to its original condition and still provide water to the Bay Area."
The Hetch Hetchy Valley, however, does not have to be a "lost" landscape, appreciated as one might appreciate a painting of the extinct Labrador Duck. Seven major studies since the 1980s have said Hetch Hetchy Valley could be restored without adversely impacting San Francisco's water supply.
It may be wishful thinking, but perhaps the painting behind the senator's desk might inspire a new Feinstein vision of what Hetch Hetchy Valley could be in the future -- with the reservoir drained and the river allowed to take up its winding path again.