Preserving California’s Rural Landscapes: Northern Californian artist Chella Gonsalves captures Central Valley scenery

As development continues to encroach upon valuable California soil, moments to capture the beauty of this home feel fleeting. That is why Chella Gonsalves, an artist based in Modesto, spends her days painting before the land and the valley as she knows it disappears.

The small hobby she picked up when she was 10 years old would lead Chella to find her place in the central valley as a community member and an artist – but her roots don’t only lie here.

“I’m originally from Indiana, I grew up on a 100-acre self-sufficient farm,” Chella said. “I came out in the 50s to teach.”

Chella said one of her good friends from Michigan had moved to Modesto for a teaching position. When her friend heard of a vacancy in the Modesto City School District for an art teaching position, she told Chella and the two drove from Indiana to Modesto during the summer of 1956.

It wasn’t until two years into her retirement that Chella began to find what was going to be the muse of her artwork – farmland.

Upon entrance to her backyard studio, three paintings serve as a reminder to the locally renowned artist as to why she has continued pursuing this passion of hers.

The three pieces capture different moments merely miles from her home where she witnessed the development of rural spaces. What used to be open fields or orchards are now places that new generations will only know as local shopping centers and high school facilities.


“I made this series of paintings and that’s when I knew that was my purpose,” Chella said.

Pointing at one of the three impressionist style paintings, Chella described the moments that she came across each scene and why these instances mark the beginning of her purpose as an artist in Northern California.

“This barn was on Floyd Avenue near Modesto,” Chella said. “This shows the new housing that was going in. This is the painting that really illustrates why I’m painting because you can see the houses going up right next to this rural setting.”

The painting next to it is a snapshot of what is now Modesto’s Crossroads Shopping center. Chella was able to capture the moment right in the middle of the development process – half of the painting is the newly paved space and the other half, remnants of what once was a farm. She stumbled across this scene before they even had a chance to take down the farmer’s mailbox.

More images of Chella’s work can be found at Chella Plein Air Artist (