Legacy of Marguerite Wildenhain
Marguerite Wildenhain, internationally know potter, born in November of 1897
at Lyons, France, left her mark in Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve and Austin
Creek Recreation Area. She is, of course, best known for her wonderful pottery
and exacting teaching. However, it is important to be reminded of her feelings
about nature and life.
Marguerite trained at the Bauhaus in Germany, known for its demanding apprenticeship
and as the wellspring of the Modernist Movement. She left Germany in 1937 because
of Fascist anti-Semitism, going to Holland. Here she had her first brush with
the U.S., as a result of a 1939 visit from Gordon and Jane Herr who told her of
their dream to build an art colony in the U.S.
As a French citizen, she was allowed to emigrate to the U.S. just before World
War II. However, she had to leave without her husband, Franz, a German citizen
who shortly after was drafted into the German army.
Marguerite stayed briefly in New York before going to teach for a year at the
California School of Fine Arts in Oakland. In 1939, before her arrival, Gordon
and Jane Herrs bought the Walker Ranch, now Pond Farm, which is part of the Austin
Creek Recreation Area. Marguerite arrived to help the Herrs realize their dream
in 1942. She and Gordon rebuilt the Walker Barn into a studio and her house a
few yards away.
Pond Farm, the Art School Colony, really got started with summer sessions in
1949 and flourished for three years until 1952. It was a Mecca for all kinds of
artists who have left a legacy of artistic energy that spread through California
and the U.S.
In 1952, Jane Herr, the practical hands-on administrator, died and Gordon gradually
began to lose interest. The core of the artist group, including Franz, Marguerite’s
husband who came to join her after World War II, began to fall away after many
spirited disputes about the direction of the school. Marguerite was one of those
who felt your life must be given to your art.
By 1960, Marguerite was the only one who stayed to continue teaching summer
courses. Students came from around the world to respond to Marguerite’s
challenge. They had to learn pottery by never keeping a pot. All were returned
to nature as the learning was in the doing, not in the finished piece. She continued
to teach until 1979 and threw her last pot in 1980. Six years later, at 88, she
We remember Marguerite as a woman who was outspoken and passionate in support
of her beliefs. She was a woman who, by example, taught the importance of doing
each piece of life with full heart and soul, a woman who was a “fierce protector”
of the land and nature. She left her students and those who knew her a legacy
of expectation and passion for human excellence in living.
Content created by the California Department of Parks and Recreation