Marguerite Wildenhain was the first woman to receive the designation as Master Potter in pre-World War II Europe. She was the first female master at the Weimar Bauhaus, working with famous architect Walter Gropius. Marguerite left Germany in the late 1930s and eventually accepted an invitation from Gordon and Jane Herr to help create a 140-acre experimental art colony in Guerneville. Although the art colony did not survive, Marguerite purchased the land and buildings at Pond Farm and retained a life estate in the property after DPR’s acquisition of the 5700 acre site which became Austin Creek SRA.
Within the ceramics field, Marguerite is an acknowledged master, as central to the understanding of 20th century pottery as Walter Gropius is to 20th century architecture. High standards of artistic excellence in art and teaching provide an important legacy, mission and “brand” for Pond Farm.
Over a 30-year period Marguerite produced work now recognized as masterpieces. Each summer she led a 9-week intensive, highly disciplined ceramics summer school for promising ceramic artists. Many of the over 300 Pond Farm students became leaders in 20th century ceramic arts.
Pond Farm consists of three original buildings, the Barn/Studio, Wildenhain’s house and a guesthouse and an 8-acre garden and landscape. The Barn/Studio retains the small, Bauhaus-style potters’ kick-wheels, which are still in operable condition. Since MW’s death in 1985, DPR has maintained the historic property using a policy of “arrested decay.” Once rehabilitated, this significant historic resource will be used as planning efforts dictate, and Wildenhain’s legacy can help shape the mission and character of future uses.
In 2012, a partnership was formed to oversee the restoration of this significant cultural resources. Stewards and California State Parks were honored to work with two dedicated non-profit partners. The National Trust for Historic Preservation chose Pond Farm Pottery has one of its "National Treasures" in 2012. The California State Parks Foundation chose Austin Creek SRA and Pond Farm as a "Model of Excellence." The National Trust for Historic Preservation funded cost estimates for the restoration effort. The California State Parks Foundation funded a Business Plan, including an analysis of reuse options for the site. In 2013, Proposition 84 funds were awarded to State Parks to aid in the first phase of stabilization. From 2012 to 2016, the Pond Farm Preservation and Revitilization Project was managed by a strong partnership consisting of California State Parks, the California State Parks Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods.
The partnership successfully achieved the following:
- A contract was awarded for stabilization of the historic barn and Marguerite's Cottage. Work began in December 2015 and was completed
in 2016. Partners worked together to fund cost estimates and apply for Prop. 84 funding to complete this project.
- An Historic American Landscapes Servey (HALS) was completed by PGADesigns Inc. This report was funded by the National Trust for
Historic Preservation and the California State Parks Foundation.
- Stewards formed a Pond Farm Working Group of volunteers who helped to develop of Docent Training Manual for a Pond Farm Docent
Tour Guide Program. A rack card was also developed to publicize the partnership.
- A final report was completed by Caitlin Strokosch from the Alliance of Artists Communities determining that Pond Farm could support an exciting Artist in Residence Program. Below is a quote from the conclusion of that report.
- Stewards developed a partnership with UC Davis' Public Scholars Program. Two graduate students have been accepted to work with Stewards to collect Oral Histories of key people who are part of the story of Pond Farm in 2016 and to complete a story map for the site in 2017. The UC Davis program is funded by a Mellon Foundation grant.
- Stewards began a successful annual benefit for Pond Farm that includes a tour of the site with a reception of champagne and appetizers and a lovely Sunset Dinner at School House Flats in Austin Creek SRA. An auction with pottery donated by Pond Farmers in attendance helps to raise funds for Pond Farm projects.
- A Pond Farmer Reunion took place in March of 2016. This event was a inspiration to project partners and Pond Farm students alike. View Photos
- In 2017, both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the California State Parks Foundation moved onto other compelling projects. We are very grateful for their help and support in helping Stewards increase our capacity to expand our leadership role and partnership with California State Parks to continue to work towards final restoration of this amazing site.
- In 2018, the guest house was renovated by State Parks to be ADA compliant and is now ready for a new Artist in Residence program being developed by Stewards.
- An exhibit of the works of Marguerite Wildenhain and her students took place at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts from March 30 to May 3, 2018. Another reunion of Pond Farmers also took place during the exhibit.
"Pond Farm – as a place, a history, and a crucible of ideas – is widely significant and compelling. The arts offer a path forward for Pond Farm’s future use and as a model for struggling historic sites throughout California State Parks and across the country. Bringing artists to live and work at the site again can ensure the vision of Pond Farm is not lost, as well as provide dynamic engagement with park visitors and the broader community.” —Caitlin Strokosch
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