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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Arts All Around...Napa Valley Art Among the Vineyards

By BARBARA-LYN MORRIS | August 24, 2008

NAPA VALLEY, Calif. — When my daughter chose Napa Valley as the destination for our annual mother-daughter adventure, she was surprised I had no immediate list of art venues to put on our must-do list. The arts are hardly the BIG draw of the Valley known for vineyards and wineries, spectacular vistas, and renowned culinary delights.

However, two stops were enough to supply us with all kinds of information about viticulture AND the arts: Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food, & the Arts at 500 First Street and the Visitors Center at 1310 Napa Town Center in the city of Napa. Napa is the commercial and historic hub of about 70,000 at the southern entry to the scenic 30-mile-long, five-mile-wide Napa Valley.

Several wineries pair their offerings with art. Number one in this category is Artesa Vineyards & Wineries, located a bit out of the way at 1345 Henry Road west of Napa. Artesa, Spanish for "craftsman," is definitely an arts destination for its sculpture garden, fountains, and the work of resident artist Gordon Huether, who has held that distinction since 1997. A painter who also works in metal and glass, Huether recently opened a large production studio and exhibition space at 1821 Monticello Road, about a mile outside town in an area called Atlas Peak.

Huether's new operation joins a 25-year-old, 12,000-square-foot gallery and fine gift shop, Jessel Gallery in Atlas Peak. Owner and watercolorist Jessel Miller told me, "We are becoming NapaHO, like SOHO, except we are art in the country."

Miller is best known as the author and illustrator of five children's books and most recently one for adults, The Slow Down Book. Miller's watercolor, "Mustard Goddess," is the 2008 poster image for the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, held annually during the winter months when grapevines are dormant and the blooming wild mustard paints fields and hillsides with a golden hue.

In Yountville, a mid-Valley town of 4,000, two galleries stand out among many gourmet restaurants in what is called "the culinary capital of the Valley." RASgalleries at 6540 Washington Street is a showcase for glass. I was thrilled to find recent pieces by Knoxville artist Tommie Rush. I had not seen her work since an exhibit in The 1912 Gallery at Emory & Henry College several years ago. Then her pieces were petite and delicate; now her new vases are large and bold.

The other gallery in Yountville, Images Fine Art at 6505 Washington Street, is an eclectic venue featuring an international array of artists. I was particularly drawn to a small bronze, "For the One You Love," by English sculptor, Mackenzie Thorpe. The mental image of that sculpture depicting a cloaked shepherd carrying a lone lamb has stayed with me for weeks. Such is the gift of looking for art all around.

Many vineyards showcase wine-related art in their visitor centers and tasting rooms and offer concerts in courtyards or outdoor theaters. Most notable for its concert series is Robert Mondavi Winery at 7801 St Helena Highway near Oakville. The art collection of Sterling Vineyards at 1111 Dunaweal Lane near Calistoga, the northern most Napa town, is recognized for its outstanding quality.

However, the dedicated space for art at Mumm Napa is most museum-like. Located at 8445 Silverado Trail near Rutherford, Mumm offers two galleries featuring photography. One gallery is dedicated to a long-term installation of original signed prints by Ansel Adams (1902-1984), the master of large format black-and-white outdoor photography. The other Mumm gallery focuses on changing exhibits of contemporary photographers. We saw a stunning exhibit of large (8 feet x 30 inches) panoramic Napa views in bold color by California photographer Bruce Fleming.

Another facility on Silverado Trail, which runs parallel to Route 29 through most of the Valley, is Napa's newest winery: Black Stallion Winery. Horse lovers are drawn by the majestic signature sculpture of a bucking horse atop a modern fountain base by California sculptor David Spellerberg. The winery has recycled the historic buildings of a former equestrian center as its main centers of operations.

Driving from winery to winery in Napa Valley is like turning the pages of an architecture and garden digest. Several recall the ambience of the Old West, suggesting the days when the area was known for ranching rather than agriculture. Sutter Home at 277 St. Helena Highway boasts an 1874 Victorian mansion and showplace gardens. Contemporary angular construction, such as Whitehall Lane at 1563 St. Helena Highway, is the choice of some new wineries. Favored architectural styles among the nearly 400 wineries include California Mission with its Spanish flair, stately English Tudor homes, German castles, and Tuscan villas. My daughter and I chose the South African Dutch Colonial style of Chimney Rock at 5350 Silverado trail as our architectural favorite.

We left the Valley with a long list of unexplored sites and galleries, such as mj schaer gallery in the historic Napa Mill and Art on Main in St. Helena at the northern end of the Valley.

"Mustard Goddess" by Jessel Miller