In August of 2014 we were staying at a house on the Russian River and I checked the Armstrong Woods State Park website to see what time the park opened. A small blurb on the side of the home page about the efforts of the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods to save Pond Farm piqued my curiosity and I clicked on the link.
We had never ventured beyond the sacred beauty of Armstrong Woods so I had no idea that pristine rolling hillsides sat largely untouched above the tops of the towering redwoods.
It was a revelation to learn about Marguerite Wildenhain, a French-born artist of Jewish descent who attended art school in Berlin and in 1919 started her master potter training at the now world-famous Bauhaus. In 1926, she was the first woman in Germany to be awarded master potter status by the Bauhaus and she has work housed in the Smithsonian. Wildenhain made Guerneville her home after she left Europe in 1940 in response to an ever-growing Nazi presence. I had been coming to the river since I was a child but had never once heard anyone mention an artist’s collective, a pottery, or an art school in the hills above Guerneville.
The origin of Pond Farm Pottery and its continued existence for over three decades exemplifies the impact of political unrest on world history, the significance of cultural change and evolution on a society and the power of a perceptive and indomitable human spirit.
Future posts – and there will be many in order to even begin to explore the Pond Farm legacy- will examine the “back to the land” movement and its influence on art, the unique struggles of female artists, artists fleeing Nazi oppression leading up to and during World War II, and the ability of remarkable individuals, when faced with profound disappointment and loss, to exhibit an inspiring amount of resilience.0