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Calvin Canepa
Updated On: Feb 10, 2016

Calvin Canepa and the Art of Union Membership


Not many people are “discovered” in kindergarten, but Calvin Canepa’s artistic talents were apparent at the age of 5.

“The superintendent of the Lake Tahoe school district saw a painting I did and was impressed,” Canepa said.

“He contacted my mother and told her that she should expose me to as many outdoor scenes as possible so I

could further develop my artistic abilities.

“I had the first exhibition of my work when I was in the first grade.”

 Canepa is a self-taught fine artist. He concentrates on outdoor scenes and still lifes. The area around Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada foothills serves as the subject for most of his paintings.

When Canepa isn’t painting or exhibiting his art, he works as a clerk at the Bel-Air market in Cameron Park. “When my daughter came to live with me, following the death of her mother, I needed a job with health benefits that would cover both of us,” he recalled. “I also wanted to work less than 40 hours a week so I


could have more time to concentrate on my painting. “That’s why I applied to work at Bel Air. It was a Union job and I could work less than full-time and still be eligible for benefits.

The only way to go’

“I also had an uncle and two cousins who were Union members and worked for Lucky. I saw how they lived a solid middle-class lifestyle, so I knew Union was the only way to go.”

Canepa works the overnight shift because it lets him paint and market his art during the day.

“Selling paintings is an up-and-down business,” Canepa said. “Having a secure Union job with benefits has been a lifesaver for me.”

His union-negotiated health benefits were especially useful when he had to have back surgery seven years ago.

“I was out of work for six months,” Canepa said. ”Everything was taken care of.

I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to pay for the surgery and could concentrate on getting better.”

Canepa’s goal is to get his art into more galleries and eventually into museums. “Having your work hang in a museum would be very prestigious,” he said.

 “But showing my work in as many galleries as possible is also important, because I can sell more of my paintings.”

One of Canepa’s paintings sold for $14,000 to Bank of America and still hangs in the bank’s corporate offices.

Although he is nowhere near retirement age, Canepa plans to keep working as long as he can.

“Work sharpens my artistic abilities,” Canepa said. “Having less free time is good, because you need a sense of urgency to paint. If you have too much time on your hands, you can get lazy.

More information about Canepa’s artwork can be found at his website,

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