Pond Farm includes two small residences and a historic barn repurposed as a pottery studio in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. The property’s modest scale and design belie its historical importance as the home and studio of a nationally-prominent ceramicist, Marguerite Wildenhain. Since Marguerite’s death in 1985, her home and the barn have been unoccupied and the elements and the lack of routine maintenance have taken their toll. Pond Farm is located in Austin Creek State Recreation Area, one of 70 of California’s 278 parks slated for closure in 2012 due to the state’s fiscal crisis. While closure has been averted, the ongoing funding crisis for California State Parks continues to pose a direct threat to Pond Farm’s survival.
Pond Farm was the site of Pond Farm Workshops, an artist colony conceived during World War II by San Francisco couple Gordon and Jane Herr as a “sustainable sanctuary for artists away from a world gone amuck.” Among the European artists invited to teach was Marguerite Wildenhain, an early Bauhaus graduate who fled Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany and Holland to start a new life in this remote Northern California outpost. While the artist colony was short lived, Marguerite stayed until her death in 1985, teaching at the nationally-renowned summer school at Pond Farm for three decades.
- Determine the best future use for Pond Farm.
- Find appropriate ways to preserve and protect the buildings and landscape.
- Develop a partnership that can be used as a model for struggling historic sites throughout California State Parks and across the country.
Ways To Help
Donate to our campaign to save Pond Farm.
Tell us why Pond Farm matters to you.
Written by Anthony Veerkamp, Project Manager
This week, I and countless other art lovers were saddened to learn of the death of famed San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, you very well might recognize her gorgeous wire sculptures or have enjoyed one of the many public fountains in San Francisco that earned her the nickname “The Fountain Lady.”
Countless artists’ lives intersected with Pond Farm and Marguerite Wildenhain, but Asawa’s connections are particularly fascinating and layered. Both Marguerite Wildenhain and Ruth Asawa overcame extreme obstacles to become leading figures in the male-dominated 20th century art world. Wildenhain was forced to flee Nazi persecution of Jews, while Asawa spent the war years in the Rohrer Japanese American internment camp in Arkansas.
After her release from Rohrer, Asawa attended Black Mountain College, an innovative, experimental school in North Carolina. While at Black Mountain, Asawa met many well-known artists like Buckminster Fuller (who would later design a wedding ring for Asawa!), as well as many less well-knownartists like weaver Trude Guermonprez.
Guermonprez, in fact, is another star in the Pond Farm constellation. Like Wildenhain, Guermonprez was German. She attended the Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in Halle, where Wildenhain was on the faculty before being forced to resign due to her Jewish heritage. Both Wildenhain and Guermonprez went on to live and work in the Netherlands in the 30s. Eventually, Guermonprez relocated to the United States with the help of Anni Albers, another Bauhaus graduate (and wife of famed Bauhaus artist Josef Albers.)
While at Black Mountain College Asawa met her future husband Albert Lanier, who was studying architecture and design. In 1948, the two met Marguerite Wildenhain, who was visiting the college to make a presentation—and to recruit artists to join the nascent Pond Farm Workshops faculty. The following year, Asawa and Lanier moved to San Francisco, and soon thereafter the couple made a trip up to Pond Farm to visit Wildenhain. By then, Trude Guermonprez had resigned her position at Black Mountain and was teaching alongside Wildenhain at Pond Farm.
Within a few years, the Pond Farm Workshops experiment was over, but Wildenhain stayed on. After several visits to Pond Farm through the 1950s, Asawa and Lanier were able to buy land nearby. Like Wildenhain, Asawa was greatly influenced by the Russian River valley environment, whose natural forms she incorporated into her art.
In the 1960s, when Wildenhain decided to make some improvements at Pond Farm, she turned to none other than Albert Lanier to remodel her modest home and to design a simple, modern vernacular guest house. Today, the guest house is in good condition, since unlike the barn/studio and Marguerite’s house, it has remained in constant use, serving as park employee housing.
With Ruth Asawa’s passing, there are very few survivors of a generation of influential artists that came of age during the horrors of World War II. Remarkably, Pond Farm Workshops sculptor and metalworker Victor Ries, who like Wildenhain escaped Nazi persecution of Jews, is still alive at the age of 105. While Ruth Asawa’s death is a great loss to us all, she and her fellow artists of her generation have left us with an artistic legacy that will live on. Through our efforts and the support of many, so too shall Pond Farm, the place that has nourished and inspired countless artists and art lovers alike.
Written by Anthony Veerkamp, Project Manager
Talk about getting kicked while you’re down.
Just when it seemed that things couldn’t get much worse for California’s beleaguered state parks this summer, things, well, got worse. In late July, the Sacramento Bee broke a story that the California Department of Parks and Recreation had been sitting on "hidden assets" in two park operating funds totaling nearly $54 million.
Of course, for most of us, finding $54 million under the sofa cushions would cause for celebration. The problem is that these millions were going unspent while California Department of Parks and Recreation was carrying out a plan to close 70 parks to achieve $22 million in state budget cuts. One of the parks on the closure list was Austin Creek State Recreation Area, home of Pond Farm.
While there have been no indications that public funds have been misused, we have been concerned that the mere suggestion of fiscal impropriety could erode the public’s confidence in — and support for — California’s state parks. In August, National Trust Executive Vice President David Brown wrote to Governor Jerry Brown, stating: “We believe that in order to maintain the public faith in California’s state parks, it is essential that these funds be dedicated and appropriated to state parks and recreation purposes as originally intended. To do otherwise risks undermining the support for California State Parks among those who have given generously of their time and money to keep parks open and accessible to all Californians.”
Our letter requested that the funds be used to keep parks open in a way that matches or leverages the investments and contributions of communities across the state, and provides seed funding for “enterprise projects” that could generate revenues.
We were thus thrilled when, on September 28, Governor Jerry Brown gave California State Parks a reprieve by signing Assembly Bill 1478 into law. Most importantly, this bill removes the threat of park closure until July 2014. In addition, the legislation provides $10 million to match future contributions from donors who help keep parks open, $10 million for operating costs, and $10 million in bond funds for park improvements — just as the National Trust and our partners had proposed.
In the words of California State Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein, “Putting this bill into law is a sign of good faith on the part of California’s government that all the hard work of communities, organizations and donors across the state who stepped up to support their parks is recognized and appreciated.”
The governor also signed AB 1589, which among other things, requires California Department of Parks and Recreation to develop a new action plan for increasing revenues in state parks. While the National Trust believes that a core of dedicated, public funding is essential to the long-term health of state parks, we also recognize the need for more self-generated revenue in our parks. In fact, a major goal of our efforts at Pond Farm is to identify programming and reuse opportunities that could generate revenues while preserving those qualities that make the site unique.
Written by Anthony Veerkamp, Project Manager
My name is Anthony Veerkamp, and I’m leading the National Trust’s efforts to save Pond Farm.
We are partnering with the Department of Parks and Recreation, which operates the largest and most diverse state park system in the nation; the California State Parks Foundation, the statewide independent nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, enhancing, and advocating for California's magnificent state parks; and the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, a nonprofit, environmental and interpretive organization that works to support volunteer, education, and stewardship programs in the California State Parks Russian River District.
While our efforts are focused on saving Pond Farm, in fact the entire 6,000-acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area in which this unique historic site is located has been in peril. Austin Creek had been included on a list of 70 parks proposed for closure on July 1due to a $22 million State of California general fund budget cut.
While those funds have not been restored, over the past year numerous local partners and private donors have stepped up to keep most of these parks open, including, I’m thrilled to report, Austin Creek. Our partners have worked together to successfully negotiate an operating agreement to keep Austin Creek open during the worst budget crisis California State Parks has ever known. This reprieve will allow Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods to step up to operate a campground and backcountry campsites, manage trail maintenance, and provide overall protection for the natural and cultural resources in this scenic park.
With the immediate threat of closure averted, together we can refocus our collective efforts to preserve the legacy of Pond Farm.
Ashley Herr on August 07, 2013
I am the Granddaughter of Gordon and Jane Herr, I grew up listening to the stories of Pond Farm and of Marguerite Wildenhain. She was such an inspiration for people like my dad Jonathan Herr who till his death always talked about her and how much she meant to him. I feel that she along with everyone else who spent time at Pond Farm have helped shape the artist's community into what it is today.
E. Breck Parkman, Petaluma, CA on July 05, 2012
For Marguerite Wildenhain, Pond Farm was a place of refuge and inspiration. Because of her exceptional story, others continue to come there in search of their own inspiration. In that way, Marguerite has transcended time at Pond Farm and become a part of all of us. Even today, she continues to inspire, instruct, and transform others a quarter-century after her death. Marguerite’s kiln may have grown cold, but her spirit is hot to the touch.
Janet Gracyk, Petaluma, CA on July 05, 2012
It seems a pretty but lonely patch of ground with a curious barn and two simple wood buildings, but the entrance sign reading "pond farm pottery" hints at the idealistic art school that once flourished here. Observant visitors may yet conjure the formidable energy and intelligence of Marguerite Wildenhain…who landed here and made the place her own. Will we prevent the evidence of her efforts from slipping from the public's memory?