Fletcher Benton – The Sculptor






Let me say it again, I feel so fortunate that my life is filled with creative people, and none more than the sculptor, Fletcher Benton, and his wife, Bobbie.

Not long time ago Steve and I spent a quiet afternoon at their Napa summer house, surrounded by Fletcher’s steel sculptures.

And so we walk around ‘the hill’ under the warm autumn sun, behind the Benton’s minimalist, box-shaped house. We stroll past geometric forms of steel angles, rods and circles. We go past cherry trees with burgundy color leafs and somewhere else, palm trees surrounding large scale vibrant painted sculptures. It’s all a beautiful harmony of forms, with the sun drawing out a rich luster from the rusted steel set against the blue sky behind.

The sunny Sunday afternoon was spent in a place where simplicity and complexity connect , like the nature and art connect in the harmony of light and shadows, creating dramatic abstract compositions.

Fletcher’s sculptures are often displayed in urban settings, in museums and universities, but better to see them in the wild, where the contradiction with nature is most profound.

The way

Point Bonita photo Steve Werney

Point Bonita-6355

Is not the road to a destination often more interesting than the destination? We say that, but is it? Not always, perhaps; the road out of lost hope for example.

The journey to the Lighthouse at Pt. Bonita, the getting there is the thing.

This lighthouse featured the first foghorn to roar and blare on the West Coast, so that a pilot on a ship’s bridge seeing nothing at all, had a sense of the narrows.

And so to get to the lighthouse, you follow the coastal route, which starts at the northern end of the Golden Bridge and winds along the Headland on that narrow road along the edge of a cliff, with few barriers. You keep going, past the World War II bunkers and then you come upon the trail head.
The short, steep pathway takes you down to the hand-carved tunnel, framed in bright red ironized stone, etched with gold veins.

The tunnel is dark, wet and medieval smelling, and when you come out there’s a suspension footbridge above the furious waves. And now here you are at the lighthouse, with its beaming Fresnel lens, which can be seen 18-miles away. You wonder how anyone could build a lighthouse on such a perilous point.
In 1877, the Pt. Bonita lighthouse was moved to its current location because the original place was often too obscured by fog for the light to be visible from the bay. The story goes that the lighthouse keeper had to have his kids tied up on the leash so they wouldn’t be blown away.

It is one of the most dramatic places around San Francisco. I see it as a symbol of the way life works, the pathway that encourages you to overcome a dark tunnel, a fragile bridge, all to reach the beautiful point with the light. But even when you reach the point, you could still be blown away, you could still be lost at the very point of reaching your destination, and so you must be mindful and watch for a supportive hand.

An artists muse


Every artist has a muse, or wishes they had one, or need one but don’t know it.  Some choose an aspect of nature; some, a beautiful women — the way Roger Vadim chose Brigitte Bardot; or photographer Mario Testino  Kate Moss, or the artist Mel Ramos, who chose his wife, Leta, a true beauty with her dark hair and olive skin. She has been celebrated for nearly fifty years, riding a rhinoceros, sitting on a Coca Cola top…

Leta became an iconic pop image, always nude, always provocatively posed, always conveying the siren on parade.

Not long ago I was looking at books about interior design and came upon the “Interiors Now” series, published by Taschen. Among the photographs was one of a summer house in Rio De Janeiro. The house is as exotic as you can imagine and accessible only by boat. The structure consists of two reinforced concrete boxes, one on top of the other and a span of glass windows. It reminded me of an Eichler-style house, but with two levels. And then in one of the photos, on page 350, I noticed an unexpected detail: there, hanging in a hallway,  a picture of Leta, as a surfer girl in her bikini, with colorful surf boards behind her.

Which made me think how muses become an inspiration not only for the artist but many of the art collectors who come in contact with the work.  And so muses end up in the minds of people they could not imagine and in places they might be very surprised to be in —perhaps in a bond trader’s Upper East Side penthouse in Manhattan;  or maybe in some historic Fin De Siecle building in Vienna, where a collector fell in love with that image. And perhaps she’s in somebody’s house in Beverly Hills, in someone’s bedroom, along with photos of Eva Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and other classic beauties. At the other extreme, perhaps she’s in a castle in Scotland, hanging on a thick rock wall, in a recently redecorated living room, along with family portraits of people with flaming red hair and furious expressions, family ghosts dating back to the 1500s….

It would make a great book:  “the muse’s journey”; Such a book would be about the connectivity of art, collectors, interiors, as well as the  effects of obsession.

Cork models

Roundtemple, Tivoli (2)

D. Cöllen, Forum Triangolare

D. Cöllen, Kapitolstempel 2008 (33)

Cork, not the county but the bark from the Cork Oak, always suggests to me the extremes of youth and age.  Youth, because of cork’s elasticity and flexibility; age, because of the way, especially in its untreated form, it looks dry and wrinkled.

When my friend Dieter Collen was searching for a material to build architectural models, his research brought him back to the 18th century, when souvenirs of ancient roman architecture were made of cork (Cork Oak  is grown all around the Mediterranean but particularly in Portugal and Spain). The souvenirs in the 1700s were bought up by wealthy English aristocrats who brought them home and set them down as centerpieces on their dining room tables.  And so a starting point for reminiscences about travels to the Mediterranean, along with tales of Amaretto and ancient civilizations.

Dieter has revived this forgotten craftsmanship, and his models have become not merely talking points for architects but art pieces by themselves. Each piece is made to scale, precisely following dimensions and accuracy of the ancient buildings, temple ruins, bridges or towers. But at the same time he elicits sentimental nuances form the tactile natural look of cork. If you look closely at his model of the Coliseum, you can actually hear the roaring crowd as the gladiators and the lions stalk each other. Each of his pieces conveys its signature ambiance.  And so if you lean close to the Great pyramid of Cheops you can hear Napoleon coming out of the Great Tomb trying to tell all of his astronomers, artists and astrologers, about his mystical experience. “No, what’s the use,” he reportedly said. “You would never believe me.”

My questions to Dieter:

In what era of history would you live if you could choose?
In the 4th dynasty (2500 BC) in Egypt as an architect for gardens and irrigation.

Where would you go if you had to leave right tonight to an unexpected vacation?
To our house in France near Cahors, having picnic with friends on the banks of the Lot.

What was the last great architectural object you saw, that makes you want to build the model of?    The destroyed Buddha statues of Bamian / Afghanistan, helping to rebuild this treasure as a symbol against stupidity of men.

Who inspires you the most?
Antonio Chichi, the Italian master of cork modeling in the 18th century.

Your favorite building of all the times?
The great Pyramid, because it is the only human construction where 25 000 people worked over 20 years together to reach at last one point at its top which was seen as the connection to universe.

The Vanishing Points of Andy Goldsworthy

GG Reflection-10

GG Reflection-7

My appreciation of Andy Goldsworthy’s art installments began in 2001 shortly after I dragged my seven-year-old daughter, Adriana, to the Roxie, a one-hundred-and-four-year-old theater in the Mission District which, you could argue, looks its age, to see the documentary, Rivers and Tides.

Rivers and Tides has become a classic and a great inspiration to would-be artists wishing to collaborate with nature. Goldsworthy is the master collaborator, and his genius is his ability to fit things together, particles of ice, a pile of stones, a string of leaves. To fit things together, but subtly — not in an effort to decorate nature or to try to one-up natural beauty but merely to add an unexpected caption.  As though to say, ‘I offer this by way of thanks and appreciation.”

Most of Goldsworthy’s art decomposes or otherwise disappears back into the earth over time. One merely needs to look at his installations at Oliver Ranch in Sonoma. All were temporary: the longest lasted three months, the shortest, just a few minutes.

Yet the Bay Area has become a home to three of his very rare permanent installations.

The first, Drawn Stone, was installed in 2005 for the entry to the De Young Museum. The work features a continuous crack thru the floor and stone slabs, representing the fault-line of the Great Earthquake.

The second work, Spire, stands in the Presidio. It’s a 100-foot-tall structure composed in 2008 of Cypress tree trunks that were removed as part of the replanting of the Presidio’s historic forest. The wooden tower, reminiscing of Trans America Tower, looks like a natural mirror to the building that dominates the downtown skyline.

The third work is Stone River, a 320-foot wall-like serpentine on the campus of Stanford University, constructed in 2001 with sandstone from University buildings destroyed in the 1906 and 1989 earthquake.

Like Venice, where each rise in the water line reminds residents that the city is slowly disappearing into the sea, San Francisco shares the fear of a similar vanishing point, a great earthquake..

It reminds us of the recurring metaphysical message: Don’t get caught up in what might happen, even what will happen — but focus on the beauty and mystery of nature and the intersections between the man made and the mother nature-made.

Goldsworthy reminds us that everything is temporary and more important that this is all nature’s way, and our way, and not to be fought.

When Goldsworthy is done with his project, his art companion, nature, continues on with the process.

Christmas Angel

There is one photo of Adriana that I particularly treasure, taken when she was just a little girl. It was shot by Heward Jue, one very cold December evening.  I remember it exactly. You could see your breath.  We were down at the Embarcadero.  Evening just breaking.  The strong scent of the bay.  The benches, the wooden planks, the light stands along the pier, the Bay Bridge sparkling, stretching off into a mechanical rainbow.  It was all like a postcard from the 19th Century, from some nameless metropolis. And here’s this little child, in a scarf and white hat, with her trademark smile. The very center of the world.

Happy holidays!

Donald Judd’s Marfa

Marfa is the West Texas town where minimalist artist Donald Judd found refuge in the early 1970s. He was fleeing the New York art scene and accidentally, or purposefully, fell in love with silence, unlimited space and the prospect of doing something with several empty residential and commercial buildings, which he purchased with help from the Dia Art Foundation.

Judd saw Marfa as an opportunity to fulfill his aesthetic beliefs about the display and preservation of his work. Everything is Minimalistic. The buildings are stripped of embellishment, exposing raw structural details. Along with permission to manage the presentation of his work, the town of Marfa allowed Judd an abundance of exhibition space and in effect enabled him to play the role of both artist and curator.
On our trip into the wild of Texas we visited the Judd Chinati Foundation, plunked down in the fields of tall yellow grass, surrounded with gently slopping mountains, everything touching an incredible big blue sky.  You walk for nearly a kilometer through an art installation of large concrete boxes.
It’s not an entirely pleasant walk, the grass blades are sharp, the air is full of bugs and there’s always the fear of rattle snakes. I felt like some sort of art pilgrim enduring the local travails to reach this very unusual synapse of art and nature.

All of a sudden the cement bricks made so much sense to me: The shadows, the placement, the balance.
I remember the first time visiting the Louvre and stopping in front of Nike, that most beautiful winged goddess. This was an oddly similar sensation. I can’t possibly explain it, only to say that it is abstract in the truest sense, and what you come away with is wonderment at the way he found a way to balance the material and the immaterial; and so these ordinary objects are set on a three dimensional canvass of weather and geography, and then enlivened and tuned, by time, sound and light.

Judd’s friend, Rudi Fuchs, described the artist’s vision in Marfa, and in life, this way: “In Judd’s scale of values … beauty and perfection are ultimately matters of dignity, not only of the artwork but of nature and culture in general. Beauty is a very special and noble state. Yet Judd fervently believed that such an idealistic notion of beauty … is, in the end, much too limited. Like the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, people have a right to things beautiful.”

Prada Marfa Texas

A few weeks ago Steve and I took Hwy 90 East out of Van Horn,  West Texas on our way to Marfa. The speed limit is 75, but even at 100 it feels like you’re hardly moving at all.  It’s just ranch land, tumbleweeds and the big nothing on the either side of the highway, no traffic, just train tracks to keep you company.

After an hour I started to wonder if we would ever again see another human being.  Suddenly we see something off the road, a low modern building.  We’re past it and we’re thinking, “wait a minute”.  We make a U and half a mile back, there’s a Prada store right in the middle of nowhere, the symbol of haute couture in the middle of the big nothing. It was truly surrealistic: the dream of a feminine world in the ultimate cowboy country.

Prada boutique is an art installation by Berlin artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. The installation’s door is nonfunctional, it will never be opened. On the front of the structure there are two large windows displaying Prada shoes and handbags, which you can’t buy; they will stay there forever, and we will always know what the 2005 fall collection was, picked out by Miuccia Prada herself. The building was intended never to be repaired, so that eventually it will degrade back into the natural landscape.

And it reminded me of the last lines of Shelley’s poem, inspired by a statue of Ramesses II.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bar

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Bar Agricole

I fell in love with Bar Agricole the first time I stepped in the place, and not just because of the way it’s been designed, and those heavenly cocktails, but because it evokes so many associations with where I came from.

As you know by now I live as much in the past as in the present.  Each is my parent.  Each tries to drag me away from the other.

And so yes, I admit it. The glass skylight sculpture takes me back to Trieste, to the feeling of those strong winds, the Bora, raging across the Adriatic through the Kras area. Sidewalks in Trieste have railings just so passengers don’t get blown away. Roofs of the houses are covered with extra bricks, so tiles don’t fly away.  It will take your mind if you’re not careful.

Incidentally, the skylights fixtures are made of a thousand fused tubes of clear glass, a masterpiece by Nikolas Weinstein. They appear like curtains blowing in the wind or air- dried laundry catching the wind, with the ever changing light hitting the fabrics and in this case, glass, a material that adds the most dramatic effect to the space. The skylights are surrounded on one side by a wood siding crafted from reclaimed whiskey-tanks that fold down behind the tables, like a wave of warm evening air following the winter coldness of the blowing glass.

Bar Agricole is a perfect mix of the old country and always inspiring California, the minimalistic and at same time dramatic interior, all designed and made by local artists, designers and craftsmen. Chairsbenches, even the waiters uniforms are designed by a local designers.

Steping into this eco-perfect tavern. designed by architects Aidlin-Darling, it’s like visiting a gourmet showcase of San Francisco Crafts and Design, with the perfect esthetics and there you are, sipping a seductive classic cocktail, shaken and stirred by the tavern owner, Thaddeus Vogler. The drinks are fresh and at the same time celebrate the old traditions of farmhouse distilling, mixed with fresh fruit, every sip dangerously delicious.

My father and my grandfather were masters of distilling plum brandy, which makes me respect and enjoy those beautiful cocktails all the more. Thank you Thaddeus Vogler for giving us the gift of locally made food, drinks, art and design. More please.

The aqua-blue, clear swimming pool

Scotts VAlley-4

One-hundred-years-of-solitude ago Santa Cruz was much like the weekend refuge Napa Valley has become. And so in 1916 a Berkeley residents Sarah and Warren Gregory decided to buy a charming old country house in the foothills above the town.  The house, in South Pacific Railroad colors — red, green and gold — had been built in 1890’s on a green hillside with a creek running underneath.

They had four children and imagined that each would have their own house.  Sarah hired a friend of hers, the renown Berkeley architect, William Wurster, who was well known to build “frames for living: spaces that could be fully transformed by the occupant to meet their needs and desires, well-designed canvases for homemaking.” Wurster designed the  houses, building them just far enough from each other so that each enjoyed privacy, and so gave life to a fairytale lifestyle for families to enjoy warm summer evenings.

In the 1920’s and 1930’ the Gregory compound attracted Sarah’s friends in the Arts and Crafts Movement, who built their own houses nearby. The result became an artistic and intellectual summer colony, filled with young families. In late 30’s Sara, who had become something of a matriarch, decided that with the increasing number of children a pool was in order. And so, between all the houses, in the middle of the forest, at the geographic center of the compound, she commissioned the building of an aqua blue, clear swimming pool.

Over the years the pool, an attraction for life both wild and demure, has been the setting for various stories and myths.  One story involves a famous neighbor, Alfred Hitchcock, the great American master of suspense, who lived nearby and did a considerable amount of entertaining.  But he didn’t have a pool and, so the story goes, one extremely hot Sunday afternoon, his guest Ingrid Bergman came to the Gregory’s hoping to go for a swim in the aqua blue, clear pool. You will remember that Ingrid Bergman starred in several Hitchcock films, not least Notorious, which among buffs is always noted for one of the most erotic kissing scenes in cinema history.

Nevertheless, on this particular afternoon her desire was refused; someone raised the question of liability. One can imagine she must not have been amused. Nor Sir Alfred. Not long afterward, “Hitch” sold the house — to an alleged Mafioso who didn’t need a pool so much as a helicopter-landing pad.

The Gregory family still enjoys summers there. I visited not long ago,  joining my friend Sydney, a 4th generation member of the family, along with her daughter Natalie, the 5th generation to enjoy warm summer evenings next to an aqua blue, clear swimming pool.


I am an interior designer, drawn to beauty in all its forms, especially in art, architecture and fashion. As a designer, I take my inspiration from my clients, and from what I find in the world.

Read More »

Friend me on FacebookJoin my network on LinkedInFollow me on Pinterest



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: