CASA Magazine Review

In Search of the Dark Watchers by Mark M. Whitehunt PhD

The intriguing beauty of Big Sur has given birth to many stories, drawings, and paintings.  A rich tradition to this oeuvre was recently introduced in the book In Search of the Dark Watchers (2014) by artist Benjamin Brode and author Thomas Steinbeck.  It’s divinely simple narrative of field notes, sketches and paintings capture the landscape and lore of this pristine portion of California’s unique and stunning coastline.
Explorers with keen eyes and big hearts themselves, both Brode and Steinbeck peer into many meadows and caves to discover the mystical wonders of a great forest.
The field sketches by Brode add both life and relationship to his landscape paintings that offer a glimpse of this special space in the heart of the Los padres National Forest.  In all there are 15 sketches and 25 oil paintings along with a thoughtful and brief narrative annotating the journey of explorations and memory, like the musings of an old friend.

Sacramento Bee's Review of the Book

By Sam McManis

This may be the trippiest – and most beautiful – coffee-table book on the market this winter. It’s the combination of Steinbeck’s words (yes, he’s related to that Steinbeck) and the sketches and oil paintings of 77-year-old Santa Barbara artist Ben Brode. The subject is Big Sur, which launched many a tall tale (see Kerouac and Henry Miller). Specifically, it’s about the legend of the “Dark Watchers,” said to be diminutive hominids who haunt the landscape. The only thing haunting are Brode’s gorgeous paintings.


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SB Independent Review of Dark Watcher's Book

They live in the misty hillsides of Big Sur. The early Spanish explorers and Mexican ranchers and their vaqueros who followed, called them “Los Vigilantes Oscuros.” The Dark Watchers, as they came to be known, are migratory beings, possessed of incredible hearing and impeccable eyesight. Like crows they can sense the presence of gun oil and the smell of plastics and weatherproof coatings, therefore they are immune to high-tech detection and only reveal themselves to trekkers simply equipped with sticks and hats. Who or what the Watchers are, no one knows. Where they came from and where they go is a mystery. They leave without a footprint.

Discover their meaning in an exquisite new book that is part adventure, part history, party legend, filled with illuminating sketches and lavish oil paintings that are flush with mystery, shadow, and light. In the process you may learn more than you ever expected about the legendary Dark Watchers as well as the origins of landscape painting itself. 

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Santa Barbara News Press Reviews Dark Watchers Book

Ben Brode was hiking on a breezy day at Big Sur, a quiet, forested fantasy land on the Central California coast.

Suddenly, he heard voices.

"It sounded like two women having a conversation. I looked all over the place, but there was no one there," the 77-year-old artist told the News-Press in his Santa Barbara home studio full of his Big Sur oil paintings. "I decided it may have been the wind, tree trunks rubbing together. But I swore there were human voices."

They might have been the mysterious little people who, according to an ancient legend, live only at Big Sur: the Dark Watchers. They're California's counterpart to Leprechauns.

The legend inspired Mr. Brode, who heard about the Dark Watchers from his friend, Montecito author Thomas Steinbeck. The two — the soft-spoken Mr. Brode and the enthusiastic Mr. Steinbeck — went on to collaborate on "In Search of The Dark Watchers: Landscapes and Lore of Big Sur" (Steinbeck Press, $40), which was released in September. Mr. Steinbeck wrote the book. Mr. Brode illustrated it with his paintings, as well as color sketches that he did while hiking in the area.