Robert L. Buelteman Jr., a Woodside native and practiced maker of fine art with a camera, is also an admirer of the B-2 stealth bomber, that airborne manta ray with the spider eyes and the deadly payload.
Mr. Buelteman's extraordinary black-and-white photos of serene and unspoiled open space now adorn the walls of Town Hall, and yet he has an appreciation for this highly sophisticated long-range weapon of war.
"I do see beauty in the stealth bomber," he said when asked for an example of something man-made that might approach the beauty and evolutionary complexity of, say, a leaf of grass. As an expression of the efforts of thousands of people and at a cost of billions of dollars, "the beauty of the design of that (bomber) is truly something to behold," he said.
The Boeing 747 passenger jet is another such object. "It is a kind of pinnacle of human achievement that is really quite beyond description," he said.
With his cameras, Mr. Buelteman captured beauty of another kind, images that might also be considered quite beyond description. Over a period of 10 years, he had unfettered access to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission watershed, 23,000 acres of otherwise inaccessible open space located south of Pacifica and north of Woodside.
The result was "The Unseen Peninsula," a collection of 11 images now on display at Town Hall. "Reeds and Water" depicts reeds and their reflections on a gray day. The scene could hardly be more evocative or more elusive to description. "Montara Mountain in the Morning Fog" is also spare in its elements: an elevated view of dark forested ridges, with fog shrouding the valleys in between and the landscape beyond.
Simple scenes and yet sublimely beautiful. Perhaps they're so compelling because modern humanity is only a few thousand years removed from our hunting and gathering ancestors, Mr. Buelteman said. "I think it's very fundamental that that which gave rise to humankind still calls to us," he said.
And the point of capturing it on camera? "What's the point of dancing? What's the point of music?" he replied. "The observation of nature is about being somewhere, not getting somewhere." When you're playing or listening to music, the goal is not to get to the end, he said. "My photography is an expression of being somewhere, not getting somewhere."
Mr. Buelteman, 61 and living with his wife Julie Buelteman in Montara, went to Woodside public schools and worked as a bag boy for five years at Roberts Market, he said. The idea of donating to his hometown a high-end collection of his photos had been a dream, he said, and one seconded by his sisters Anne Buelteman and Jane Ganahl, and by his father, Robert Buelteman, a former captain for Pan American Airways who now lives at The Sequoias in Portola Valley.
While Mr. Buelteman's photos at Woodside Town Hall don't show humans or their handiwork -- an image of Interstate 280 being one exception -- humans can embody natural beauty, he said. A mother working two jobs to raise her kids without a father that mother's integrity, honor and dignity are qualities of beauty, he said. "You scratch anybody deeply enough and you will find their beauty," he said.
Asked if he has favorite poets, Mr. Buelteman said he likes the work of E.E. Cummings and T.S. Eliot, in particular Mr. Eliot's phrase, "At the still point of the turning world," from "Four Quartets." "Except for the point," Mr. Eliot says, "the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance."
"I have found great peace and great refuge by trying to be at that still point in a turning world," Mr. Buelteman said.