John Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley and River: Image and Text in the Art of Janet Whitchurch


John Steinbeck’s imagination was occupied by the Salinas Valley and Salinas River of his California childhood. One became “the valley of the world” in East of Eden, a microcosm of nature, nurture, and culture in the turbulent unfolding of human history. The river—flowing north, like the River Nile, and underground, like the River Styx—served Steinbeck as a contrasting symbol of timelessness beyond man, like the tide pools and the stars in Sea of Cortez. Since Steinbeck wrote his books, artists in various media—watercolor painting, nature photography, narrative text—have interpreted the Salinas valley and river with a similar sense of adventure and appreciation. Janet Whitchurch combines all three—original text, nature photography, and watercolor painting—in her exploration of John Steinbeck’s valley and river, published here for the first time.—Ed.


Janet Whitchurch About Janet Whitchurch

Janet Whitchurch, a third generation Californian, grew up in San Francisco and attended Stanford University, where she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in art. Since retiring as a public and private school art teacher, she has devoted herself full-time to creative work and spent 2009 as a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome, where she conceived the idea of exploring John Steinbeck’s Salinas River and Valley in image and text. A gifted linguist, she translated and illustrated a Russian-English edition of a children’s book by Alexander Pushkin, The Story of the Fisherman and the Fish. She lives in Monterey, California and has three children and seven grandchildren.


  1. Steve Hauk says:

    Unique apprach, lovely work.

  2. Kathleen S. Burgess says:

    So attentive, insightful, lovely a lesson in ecology and the value of surrounding oneself with nature, interacting, exploring, returning, in a small but valuable sense, to what formed us and what is in peril. Thank you, Janet Whitchurch and Will Ray!

    • Paul Douglass says:

      This is beautiful work, as Kathleen S. Burgess says. How lucky we are to have it. And it makes me think of the photographic records that have been so deeply established by artists like Richard Allman, who have preceded Whitchurch in her love of the places and scenes of Steinbeck’s life and works.

  3. Herb Behrens says:

    John’s word-picture:

    A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.
    – Of Mice and Men, 1937, 3, first Lines,

  4. Nancy Morris says:

    Dear Janet,

    I loved your ‘story’ which emphasized the hidden beauty in small things–the Salinas River and the shrubbery and gentle hills surrounding it.
    Your paintings and photos are wonderful, like so many people in our world, our community, our schools, who show forth such unique, gentle
    qualities we don’t ‘see’ unless somebody (like you) shows us.
    Thank you!
    Nancy M.

  5. Taun C. Relihan says:

    Wonderful-beautiful art from the heart.
    Taun C.R.

  6. Janet,

    Thank you for your artistic renderings through site and sound in your “Janet Whitchurch Salinas Valley Project” where you give life to your memories and share the outcome of your dreams through watercolors, composition, inquisitive word and explanation.

    You tell the river’s story and how vital it is to the environment from its barren distant silhouettes to its lush vibrant closeups. Rich with history it has colored its environment, and you have colored my heart with your spirited attention to its existence.

    Marguerite Musto Wilkinson

  7. Carol Grames says:

    Janet, I met you this evening at the gathering in Monterey on the lawn. I so enjoyed our conversation & your company, I would love to meet up for a coffee or tea sometime. Your illustrations are fabulous! Feel free to e-mail me anytime. Smiles…Carol from Salinas

  8. Libby Hagman says:

    Dear Janet,
    It has been some years since Sacred Heart, and with a recent move to Carmel Valley I happened upon your book.
    What a beautifully illustrated guide to encourage us to explore these magical back roads; especially here in Monterey county.
    I would love to connect when you have time.

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