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Hoping to tour Douglas Fenn Wilson’s mansion

Sylvia Crawford/Glen Ellen Columnist

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January at midnight, April at noon

As often happens for me on this last Tuesday of the month, I marvel at how it’s nearly time to turn a calendar page again. Can it really be that January 2014 is quickly approaching its final days? With the untimely weather, it’s hard to know what month it is.

Autumn in January

Looking out the window last week, as a few strong gusts of wind blew the last of the leaves off the trees, it looked and felt like autumn. The warmth during the days is doubly deceiving; is this summer? Or is it spring? Back in the day, we used to call days like we’re experiencing now Indian summer, a most beautiful harvest time of year.

Maybe February will finally bring the much-needed rains … or possibly, we’ve had them between the day I wrote this and the day you’re reading this. Goodness knows they are wanted.

Stylish juxtapositions

Last week’s amble down the dusty lanes of Glen Ellen brought more surprises. One aspect of our walk that I found particularly pleasant and uniquely Glen Ellen-ish, was the ready juxtaposition of various styles of architecture in our village.

While standing by Michael Everidge’s creative goat circus, I could easily view the backside of Douglas Fenn Wilson’s elegant and beautiful mansion. Clearly, it’s as much museum as merely home. Both, in fact.

Wilson’s new home that arose on the grounds of his old, smaller house, is truly a remarkable sight. Massive, impressive, and unique, the home inspired a lot of speculation and critique during its long construction. Plenty of folks liked it, a number of folks complained. But then, someone always does.

As for me, I like it. I’m fascinated, too, about how clearly it seems to be a giant manifestation of Wilson’s artwork, echoing those complicated construction pieces where parts of his paintings are built up, forming architectural extensions of realistic scenes.

Diversity the spice of life

Having grown up in a simple Eureka neighborhood that was soon invaded by a huge number of tract homes that popped up like fungi in a wet winter, I especially appreciate the cheek by jowl different houses that make Glen Ellen special. The goat circus next to a mansion? Yes, and both are enhanced by their proximity.

Goats, after all, are no strangers to art. Just ask Robert Rauschenberg about his mixed-media work, “Monogram,” aka “Tired of Goats.” And I saw a photo once of a goat eating one of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans. Marc Chagall’s spritely goats could easily tackle Mike’s Circus. And besides, in the circumambulatory architecture of Danny Everidge’s goat circus, do I detect a sly reference to the Guggenheim museum in NYC, and perhaps a slyer reference to its visitors?

We in Glen Ellen celebrate architectural diversity, as much as we celebrate cultural diversity. That’s my kind of town.

Fantasy glimpse within

As for Douglas’s beautiful house, I’ve yet to actually see the inside. But I do admire it from the outside. It took my friend Kathleen Hill’s glowing description of the house for me to have a fantasy glimpse within. Kathleen and Douglas co-hosted a Sonoma Valley Wet Paint auction last year in his new home. Kathleen, along with Lisa and Chris Lavagetto did the prep work in the Ramekins Culinary Kitchen and then served the elegant repast at the event.

In her column, Kathleen shared, “We all had the pleasure of christening Doug’s new kitchen, introducing smells of fish chowder, garlic, chicken and paprika, Brussels sprouts, potatoes and much more.” While reading Kathleen’s description, I can almost catch those redolent aromas wafting up the creek from Doug’s home to mine.

This is how Kathleen describes that creekside house: “To me, Douglas Fenn Wilson’s monumental Glen Ellen home is a lifetime work of art by a well known artist. This home replaces his original house, which washed into the creek several years ago. It’s such an expression of himself that he may never finish it and will continue to add touches for the rest of his life.”

Kathleen continues, “Each column and panel is hand-sculpted by Wilson and his helpers. Even his handmade table service is sculpted to fit the larger-than-life work, with each plate and bowl fitting within others while silverware rests on extensions of the place settings. His paintings are everywhere, thank heavens, including one of his dear friend, novelist Diane Johnson (“Le Divorce,” “Le Marriage,” etc.).”

Kathleen’s favorite room, not surprisingly, is Doug’s kitchen, “I love the kitchen, which he has designed so that his guests sit on a raised, padded bench opposite him at the stove so that he can look them in the eye at his tall eye level and chat while he cooks.” I appreciate Kathleen’s view of that beautiful house which I’ve long admired, while watching its creation.

Big Ben gets you in

Now, you, I, and anyone else with one of Big Ben’s C-notes to contribute, can tour Doug’s beautiful home. Huh? Don’t know C-notes? Nor Big Ben? That’s my southern Papa’s slang for a $100 bill, a hefty sum for gambling.

But the money’s not for Doug. Oh no. Doug has been sharing his home with various nonprofits in our area, helping them raise money by opening his home to special guests. He entertains, the nonprofits keep the cash.

This time, Douglas Fenn Wilson will be opening his home to a limited number of visitors on Friday, Feb. 28, beginning at 5 p.m. All of the profits will help fund programs at Sonoma’s Vintage House, the Jerry Casson multi-purpose senior center.

I’m letting you know about this event well in advance because there’s no doubt it will sell out, if it hasn’t already. “Art. Architecture. Appetizers. Wine,” is how Vintage House is billing their fund-raising tour of Douglas Fenn Wilson’s home and studio. A call to Vintage House and your donation of $100 gets you in.

Cynthia Scarborough, Vintage House’s executive director (and a hometown gal; Cynthia grew up in Glen Ellen) will be happy to take your reservation as long as tickets last. Don’t hesitate to call her at 996-0311 today if you want to see Glen Ellen’s “Renaissance” artist Douglas Fenn Wilson’s spectacular home.

Here’s how Vintage House describes it: “Doug’s hand-crafted house is a veritable gallery of his life’s work. This self-designed architectural masterpiece marries classical and contemporary in a way you’ve never seen before.” The tour is limited to 50 guests, so I’d call now.

Portrait of the artist

As for the artist himself, Doug has been creating wonderful pieces of art for several decades. He says it’s been “a thirty-year-long creative trek.” That trek has included watercolors, oils, architecturally enhanced paintings, buildings, and writing. Plenty of the former, but lots of the latter, too.

Douglas wrote a 1,600 page first draft of a novel “Postumus Lovers,” finishing in 1992. He spent the next seven years revising and perfecting the final version. He has also mastered the craft of the short story, having written over two stories each year since 2000. The series of short stories based on famous paintings catches my interest. All of this and more can be viewed on Doug’s website: douglasfennwilson.com/index.html.

The last time I visited Doug (so many years ago, I hardly remember when … probably early 2000s) he was very excited about the near completion of his novel and was seeking a publisher. I interviewed him for a long ago column on the recommendation of neighbor Francine Maffei. She admired his artwork and was especially proud of the beautiful bas-relief sculpture Douglas did of St. Francis Solano outside the school in Sonoma.

Douglas’s intriguing description of his work from his website tells the story. “I paint, compose from a point of view of one standing apart from the present – in some imagined future, looking back at the still frames of my life – moments of captured and remembered beauty – their pasts dissolving into eroded structure, into archeology, the future peeled away and still peeling, until all that’s left is a fabulous glimpse of a present that was.”

Remembering Lin Lipetz

I had fond thoughts of Douglas Wilson recently when I read his comments about his friend Lin Lipetz in her Index-Tribune obituary. Here’s what Doug said about Lin, “Her art was an inner journey for her and in her teaching she always gave students the view, ‘Whatever you do has to be your own inner journey to reach the soul and the spirit.’”

Wilson, who knew Lipetz best through an intimate dinner group, said she always dressed “like a million bucks.”

“What made her unique was she was always a curious person and did not hesitate to make choices – even courageous choices,” Wilson said.

Such beautiful words honor his friend, and they tell us about who he is, too. A fine friend who notices the magnificent (in art) and the fashionable (in dress), and who cares deeply about courage and the right choices. Thank you Douglas for your kind words about Lin.

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Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me @ Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks before your desired publication date.