It takes a lot to trump Napa Valley wines, but for the past few years, resident artists have usurped the throne. Napa Valley’s annual Arts in April, a series of monthlong events, provides hard-to-come-by visits with busy artists. Much can be gleaned from viewing their prodigious portfolios. Breathing the same air with these larger then life personalities can be memorable. You comprehend who they are and how they create.
Surrounded by gardens and vineyards, Carlo Marchiori’s Palladian villa functions as the artist’s portfolio. After working at Disney, he built the villa and hand painted every inch, decorating a Venetian salon and six rooms in trompe l’oeil frescoes. Walk inside and you are in Italy. Over an arched window, Carlo painted himself as the Doge of Venice. He transformed a bedroom into a sexually suggestive birdcage; another into a Native American teepee.
Carlo is an affable guide through his domicile. The villa recalls “the Italy I left behind,” he said. Specially, the Italian Lakes District outside Milan with its Palladium villas from the 1500s. “But I adopted to Californian ways,” he said, pointing to the California-style conversation pit in the main salon. For all his imaginative roving, he reveals a practical side. He lives in Calistoga because, “it’s sunny.” April 25: Carlo Marchiori Art Studio
Renowned winemaker Heidi Barrett’s creative output required another medium of expression. Her wines share the spotlight with her art. As a scuba diver, she encountered the underwater world of color. In an oil painting of a koi pond at her Maui hotel, carp swish their tails underwater. Colossal garlic and artichokes fill other canvases on display. April 1 – 30: Napa Valley Wine Train Station, Napa
When the airport limousine delivers clients from Munich to Gordon Huether’s studio, the staff hardly lifts an eye. Commissions for projects come from far and wide. Gordon’s Hay Barn tour is a head-spinning romp through the artist’s world. Drawings of art installations in wineries, airports, hotels and corporate headquarters only hint at this “compulsively creative” artist’s output. On the drafting table is a model of a golden hand with a crystal ball breaking through the pavement. It will tower over hotel guests when installed next year outside Napa’s Archer Hotel.
This exposure may set in motion a wistful longing to create art. On a recent tour, a table arrayed in glittering glass pieces met with ripples of glee. After Gordon coached us, we sipped wine and worked in silence.
We journeyed to different places with the colors and glass shapes. By the end of the session, our 8-inch square glass tiles had become a city skyline, rainforest, cubist still-life and, on my tile, a red river beneath billowing clouds. I added faceted glass chips and burgundy glass pebbles to make the river ‘flow’ in reflected light. Pearlescent glass chips mimicked clouds you see on spring mornings in the valley. April 4: Gordon Huether Hay Barn Fabrication Studio and Gallery
Harvest Inn’s 8-acre estate immerses you in an artistic landscape. Dozens of sculptures peek from hidden groves or sprawl across green lawns. Ceramic rabbits forage in a redwood grove; a reclining nude curls her toes (recalling a secret pleasure, no doubt); a faceless human atop a ladder contemplates the “glass ceiling,” the work’s title.
On our visit, Shawn Hibmacronan’s gazing chair was a big hit. As he intended, we climbed up to view life from an elevated perspective. If the creative urge strikes, the Harvest Inn is prepared. The art concierge sets up easels, brushes and paints in the vineyards for hotel guests to paint the Mayacamas Mountains. April 1 – 30: Harvest Inn
Creative process: these words cover new territory in the case of Heather Jacks. New York City’s buskers inspired the music journalist to produce the multimedia project The Noise Beneath the Apple. Under-lauded street musicians have their due. April 9: Jessup Cellars
Sculptor Mario Chiodo, whose fabrication studio is in Napa, will drop by Jamieson Ranch to talk about the twists and turns of his creative life, sculpting monuments and memorials. April 8: Jamieson Ranch & Vineyards
You’d have to be a hollow log not to feel the creative charge up and down Napa Valley. View Arts in April activities, events and lodging packages.
—text and photos by Donna Peck