While cemeteries are often associated with mourning or loss, the Davis Cemetery District is celebrating life. Since its first burial in 1855, the cemetery has evolved into a venue for local artists, a study haven for neighboring students and an aesthetically pleasing, natural area for community members to enjoy.
According to Davis Cemetery Office Manager, Susan Finkleman, the cemetery also provides UC Davis students with various internship opportunities. In fact, student interns have spearheaded many of the recent projects the cemetery has taken on.
“We have four ongoing categories of internships,” Susan said. “There are business management, landscape architecture, event planning and writing internships.”
The internships allow students an opportunity to gain hands on experience in their specific area of study. Business management interns learn about opening and running a business, landscape architecture interns design and plant their own flowerbeds and event planning interns help organize and publicize art shows.
Sophomore environmental horticulture major, Marissa Jacobi, said she has enjoyed her internship experience with the Davis Cemetery. Jacobi works three hours a week taking care of garden beds and designs flowerbeds of her own.
“It works for me and gives me a chance to work with gardens,” Jacobi said.
Writing interns are currently working on an oral history of Davis.
“We’re doing a living history project right now,” Susan said. “Students have interviewed people in the area about growing up in Davis, and living in Davis. From that, we would like to produce a DVD.”
Davis Cemetery’s Community Outreach Director, Joe Finkleman, said the oral history project has been both a large and enlightening task for interns.
“We want to cover over 100 years of stories of living in Davis,” Joe said.
As the research for the project has progressed, Joe has enjoyed witnessing an emerging pattern.
“It’s interesting to see that people are really doing the same things,” he said. “A person at 20 is usually doing just what a person who used to be 20 was doing at that time.”
Outside of the cemetery’s different internship opportunities for students, the Davis Cemetery has also become a popular venue for local artists. The cemetery features one to two local artists a month and has an open house for them on the second Sunday of the month. Those who cannot make the open house can view the art in the Davis Cemetery office any weekday.
“We have people stop in during the week just to see the art,” Susan said. “Every month we have a theme-this month the theme is ‘Celebration of Life.'”
This month’s artists are photographers Jerry Berry and Michael Radin. Susan said Berry’s style is distinctive because of the Vaseline he uses on his camera lens, making a unique photograph. Radin takes his photographs from a car his friend drives at 50 miles per hour.
In addition to the art shows, the Davis Cemetery also hosts dance performances, poetry readings and local composers. One poetry event last year pulled in a crowd of 122 people.
Susan believes that the careful landscaping and ecological planning has made the Davis Cemetery a prime location for these shows.
“We try to make it visually beautiful- a place for people to go for healing and contemplation,” she said.
Joe designs annual and perennial beds, along with many of the other horticultural aspects to the cemetery. According to him, the cemetery practices sustainable horticulture. This means the cemetery plants species native to the area and considers the different working pieces of the cemetery as a whole.
“We have built bird habitats so we don’t have insects, and we try to create a habitat that invites the good insects that kill the bad insects,” he said.
Joe believes it is thorough this planning and integration that has enabled the cemetery to thrive without pesticides.
“If you think about how everything works, you can really make a place weed and pesticide free,” he said.
Two of the more unique aspects of the cemetery are its two scent gardens. These gardens are designed for the visually disabled and contain strong smelling plants like the Drawf Curry Plant, Lemon Mist Thyme and Chocolate Mint.
“We wanted something that a non-sighted person could enjoy,” Susan said. “People can touch the plants and enjoy the smells.”
The Davis Cemetery’s May art show will display the works of artists Pete Eckert and Joe Finkleson himself. Students can attend the opening reception and meet the artists on May 9 from 1 to 4 p.m.
AMANDA HARDWICK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.