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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The art of nature: Artists challenge Runnymede visitors to think anew about the space around them The art of nature: Artists challenge Runnymede visitors to think anew about the space around them (April 23, 2003)

By Renee Batti
Almanac News Editor

Why is it that an encounter with the unexpected can abruptly alter the heart's rhythm, quicken the breath, or put the skin's sensors on high alert?

Few people can answer that question, but even fewer can say they've never experienced such sensations. They are the sensations of surprise. And whether the surprise is painful or joyful, profound or skittering, it invigorates. Sharpens the mind. Removes the gauze from our vision.

A hike along the trails of Runnymede Sculpture Farm in Woodside is an adventure abundant with surprise. On 120 acres of meadow, forest, hills and valleys, more than 150 sculptures are situated to interact with the serene landscape.

Some are placed in open spaces, where perspectives shift and fresh questions arise as observers move about and view the artworks from different positions. And others are situated among the oaks, or on trailsides just beyond a bend -- waiting to be discovered. Waiting to surprise.

"It is such a treat for the eye to see something totally unexpected, entirely handmade, crafted ... and allowed to be there permanently" among the familiar shapes of the natural environment, says Gary Quinonez, a sculptor and the head of the sculpture department at Monterey Peninsula College.

Mr. Quinonez recently took a group of students to tour the private sculpture farm, with permission from the Rosekrans family -- owners of the historic property off Canada Road.

The Rosekranses allow periodic tours by school groups upon request, and occasionally open the sculpture farm to nonprofit groups hosting fundraising events. On May 10, such an event is scheduled to benefit the San Mateo County Historical Association (see separate story).

Art history

The property, with landmark stone barns and stables, has been in the Rosekrans family since 1930, when it was bought by Jack and Alma Rosekrans. Alma, the daughter of Adolph and Alma de Brettville Spreckels, used the grounds as home for her hunter and jumper horses.

Alma had a deep appreciation for oak trees, and was responsible for the abundance of the trees at Runnymede, according to a history of the property written by her son, the late John Rosekrans.

The couple had three sons -- John, Adolph and Charles. It was John who, with his wife Dodie, established the sculpture farm in the mid-1980s.

In his Runnymede history, John Rosekrans writes that he was inspired by a visit in 1984 to the Storm King Sculpture Park in New York's Hudson Valley. He was "inspired with how the creation of man, in the form of outdoor sculpture, blended and harmonized with the creation of nature. They seemed to have a synergistic effect on each other. This was the genesis for Runnymede Sculpture Farm."

From then on, John and Dodie Rosekrans made a point of seeing as much sculpture as possible on their travels in this country and Europe, with the goal of collecting pieces for the Woodside property, according to Mary Maggini, former curator at Runnymede.

The sculptures were acquired only from living artists, and most pieces date from 1985 to the early to mid-1990s.

Since John's death in 2001, his brother Adolph has taken over the role of overseeing the outdoor gallery. Although there are no plans to acquire more sculptures at this point, he says, the existing collection is regularly maintained by a crew of two: Sam Perry and Matthew Scheatzle.

The men also are busy restoring an amazing collection of old farm tools and equipment, much of which will be on display for the May 10 historical association benefit.

Art now

In a written overview of the sculpture farm, Ms. Maggini, the former curator, emphasized that Runnymede "is not a museum. It is a living, breathing environment and the sculpture is an integral part of this process."

Ms. Maggini and the Rosekranses "put a lot of work into ... where they placed the sculpture," observes Lucy Snow, a sculptor, art teacher and gallery coordinator at Contra Costa Community College. "They paid a lot of attention to how the sculpture interacts with the landscape."

Ms. Snow also has taken students out to the farm, and appreciates the chance to "stumble upon pieces" that surprise and raise questions. One of her favorites, she says, is "Dango," a 1989 ceramic piece by Jun Kaneko.

The piece is situated within a circle of oaks just up a slope from a winding trail, and there is "an element of surprise at its placement," she says.

The juxtaposition of pieces in sometimes complementary, other times seemingly incongruous fashion, also adds to the interest level, she says. For example, very near to "Dango," which she describes as "mysterious, spiritual ... and contemplative," is Roger Herman's 1988 cast concrete "Ape Sculpture," a representational work likely to produce a totally different set of reactions in viewers.

Ms. Snow also is taken with the series of forms created with clay from Runnymede by British artist Andy Goldsworthy. The sculptor spent two months in the early 1990s at the farm creating the site-specific work, which includes a set of concentric circles burrowing into the side of a slope.

"It's one of those pieces that doesn't necessarily jump out at you," Ms. Snow says. "If you're being observant, you notice another (part of the series), then you're led visually through the landscape.

"You don't get the whole thing at once. As a sculptor, I find that satisfying. The sculpture has taken me on a journey."

Just down-trail of the Goldsworthy is another set of sculptures that, although unrelated, are juxtaposed in a manner that allows viewers to imagine connections. "Tete Endormie," a large bronze "sleeping head" by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj, lies on its right cheek, with horizontal lines dramatically catching the light, wrapping the face in a gauzy sheet of sleep.

Just up the trail, and slightly higher on the slope, is William Wareham's 1990 "Horned Warrior," a fierce steel figure partially painted in midnight blue, swirled with black. Is this warrior, capped with Viking-style horn, standing guard over the dreamer just below?

The meadow on the down-slope side of that same trail is home to a collection of pieces by Israeli sculptor Ilan Averbuch that are among the favorites of both Ms. Snow and Mr. Quinonez. One of them, "After the Reign," resembles a toppled crown, and is made of wood and copper.

The sculpture's placement and green patina ensure that the work "doesn't conflict with the environment -- it just sort of weaves itself into it," says Mr. Quinonez. An enormous piece of rounded shapes, it echoes the terrain beyond.

Mr. Quinonez, who finds it "fun to let your eye roam over the shapes" and consider how the sculptures interact with the environment, also speaks enthusiastically about Charles Ginnever's 1993 "Zeus II," a set of bright yellow steel beams that weave through a stand of oaks, suggesting that the Big Guy of the ancient Greeks' pantheon has hurled a lightening bolt down on the grove of quivering trees.

"I've never seen I-beams in such playful color," says Mr. Quinonez. "Most man-made objects plow though nature. These (Zeus's bolt) say, 'Excuse me -- can I get through?' They make you think, make you consider."

Both teachers say their students have been enriched and inspired by their field trips to Runnymede. "They're still talking about it," says Mr. Quinonez of the March visit.

In her commentary about Runnymede, Mary Maggini, the former curator, writes: "... When you visit Runnymede, come with your heart open to the wonder of this environment, because, more than anything else, this wonder is what animates this special place. The beauty of the landscape, the challenge of the artists and your active presence will make this a memorable experience. Walk slowly, explore everything and let yourself be surprised by the magic."

Runnymede opens its gates for historical association benefit

An opportunity to view the sculptures of Runnymede will be combined with the chance to support the San Mateo County Historical Association when the private outdoor sculpture "gallery" opens its gates for a benefit event on Saturday, May 10.

"A Celebration of Art, History and Nature" will include historic farm equipment and carriage displays; a horse-drawn agricultural farming equipment demonstration by Ray Stacy; self-guided tours to view the more than 150 sculptures peppering the 120-acre property; a silent auction; and music by Dan Newitt and Jim Salveson.

It is set for 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with complimentary food and wine provided by local restaurants and wineries from 11:30 to 2.

Proceeds benefit education programs and exhibits at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City, Woodside Store in Woodside, and the Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica.

The cost is $65 for adults and $25 for children ages 6 to 15; children 5 and younger are admitted free.

Reservations should be made by May 5. To reserve, call 299-0104.


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