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The 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 died.

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.

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