Artists Live and Work at Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards

Hazel House - Sonoma County
The hearth of Hazel House, where artists are billeted during their stay.
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Perhaps it's more than a coincidence that Alice Warnecke and her aunt Margo Warnecke Merck showed up to work on a cool Sonoma County June day dressed alike in gingham blouses and sturdy caps.

Perhaps it's a natural response to the synchronicity these two have created since they took over operations of the 100-plus years-old Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards in 2011.

Alice, an artist, lives on the property with her fiancé, an architect. Margo, an architect, lives across the street with her husband. Both devote their lives to the legacy left to them by Margo's father, John Carl Warnecke, an architect, and his father, the prominent San Francisco architect Carl I. Warnecke.

Gingham blouses, sturdy caps, the study of architecture — and don't even start asking them about Stanford. Suffice it to say that commonalities abound.

John Carl bought the land that would become the Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards around 1910, eventually subsuming some 280 acres and a full mile of Russian River beachfront.

Building a company that came to have five national offices, Warnecke designed several buildings for the Stanford campus as well as the state capital building in Honolulu and a goodly piece of Logan Airport in Massachusetts.

He also saved historic Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., from ruinous action, making him a favorite of First Lady Jackie Kennedy. When her husband was assassinated, she turned to Warnecke to craft the grave with its immortal flame that stands today in Arlington National Cemetery.

Passing away in 2010 at the age of 91, Warnecke's legacy fell to his daughter Margo and her niece Alice, a painter who had just received her MFA. Neither woman had forgotten that when he incorporated the property in the early 1980s, John Carl had envisioned hosting artists and architects there.

Partly to keep herself supplied with the company of creative types, Alice explored the idea of an artist-in-residence program. It seemed more than possible.

And so in 2011, she and Margo — their primary jobs are to oversee the ranch's flourishing grape-growing operations — took the plunge and began what is known as the Chalk Hill Residency.

A juried invitation that runs two to 10 weeks, depending on an artist's availability, the residency allows for normally abled artists to work with those who are differently abled. This is homage to Margo's brother Roger, a talented artist thought as a youth, she says, to be "the next Frank Stella." Roger was deep into his training at Stanford when, at age 21, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. "His drawings just got smaller and smaller," she remembered. "He eventually stopped drawing for 25 years."

New medication finally made a difference for Roger and he was able to pick back up his career where he had left it as a young man. His work was recently showcased at the Sonoma County Museum in a one-man show accompanying a group exhibit of work by disabled artists.

Artists must not only show current work to be considered, they must also propose a project to result from their tenure. Once approved, the artist is given a cabin, named "Hazel's House" after the longtime family housekeeper who lived there, to inhabit during their visit as well as the use of a barn.

On that same cool June afternoon, Romanian painter Emma Harris-Sintamarian was working in the barn on the third day of her stay at Warnecke. Admitting that she hasn't explored the property on foot since Alice warned her of bobcats, Emma is nonetheless excited.

"It's really nice to have a chunk of time," she says, "when you can just fool around and figure out some ways that, when you go back to a much more regimented life, you can see how to stay free."

A self-described "asphalt person," Emma also sees the value of looking at organic forms.

"When you're not exposed so much to the curvilinear, to nature, it's a big shift in your thinking," she says.

Asked where she might take this new shift, she grinned.

"I'm a free dog running around."

Exchanging a fond glance, Alice and Margo haven't looked happier all day.

Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards, 13427 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg. The Ranch is open by appointment and on various occasions for the public.

Check their Events page for any details.

Applications for the 2014 Chalk Hill Residency are accepted through July 15, 2013. For more details, write info@chalkhillresidency.com or phone 415-218-4912.

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