I've just had a tremendous experience painting with a group of twenty-two incredible painters at a national landmark. I had received an invitation earlier this year from Friends of Hearst Castle, to paint two days on the grounds of this museum and State Park. Although this year’s event is the second plein air event at the Castle, it marks the first time that artists have been able to paint on the grounds of the Castle itself.
Castle staff titled the event “A Brush with History.” California plein air painters (who work outdoors) were invited to participate based on a selection criteria focusing on artists with regional or national recognition, gallery representation, juried membership in art societies, and exposure in national and regional media. Participating artists have studios located in Northern, Central, and Southern California. Noted Central California artist Libby Tolley was present, as well as award-winning Laguna artists, Lynn Gertenbach, Michael Obermeyer and Michael Situ. David Gallup, vice-president of the long-lived California Art Club, was also painting.
The wealth of subject matter to paint was almost overwhelming, at first. What a location! Located near San Simeon on the central California coast, Hearst Castle was the former home of William Randoph Hearst, publishing magnate, whose life inspired the film, “Citizen Kane.” The home and grounds was donated by the Heart corporation to the state of California in 1951, and is now a State Historical Monument and a National Historic Landmark.“ La Casa Encantada” (The Enchanted Slope) was familiarly known to the Hearst family as “the ranch,” and appeared in the 1960 film, “Spartacus.”
The buildings themselves sit atop a tree-studded ridge where tour guides treat visitors to breathtaking coastal views and mountainous vistas, and reveal the treasures of the past that abound in the Hearst collection of arts, artifacts, and antiquities. A caravan was organized to escort artists to the hilltop.
From the parking lot near the museum, we were guided by security staff and volunteers to one of two designated painting areas, either the North or South Terraces, adjacent to the main buildings. Drop-cloths were required to protect the tiles of the terrace from paint spatter.
Artists painted the architecture, surrounding vistas, and each other from 9 am to 4 pm over the two day period of May 12th and 13th , with the goal of creating three paintings that will be available for sale at the “Twilight on the Terrace” event hosted by the Castle upcoming on June 5th. Approximately 300 guests will be in attendance at the Castle to view and purchase the paintings, and sample gourmet food sand wine as the sun goes down over the ocean.
Weekday tours were being conducted without interruption during that time, so we were often surrounded by tourists pointing, commenting and taking pictures of a sight never before seen by tours. Visitors were politely advised by guides to stay at a reasonable distance so that artists might work without interruption. And, except for the monologues of the guides and comments from visitors, it was quiet on the terraces. The South Terrace receives little shade during the day, so many artists worked under their painting umbrellas. Temperatures on the mountain can vary dramatically, as the Castle is 1600 feet above sea level, at the end of a dramatically-inclining road that takes the visitor a half mile away from the coast. I was working in acrylics, as usual,while many of the other artists worked in oil—watercolor and pastels were also being used. Every artist using an umbrella was glad they had it!
Both days, we were treated to a catered lunch prepared by Friends of Hearst Castle, the supporting and administrative arm of the museum and state park. During the noon break, I had the opportunity to speak with Carol Schreiber, the executive director of Hearst Castle, who informed me that a “small but excellent” staff is responsible for the operations and programs of the Landmark and surrounding thousands of acres of State Parklands. Included in these programs is the Hearst Castle “Artreach,” which pairs at-risk local youth with an artist in the creation of a mentored artwork. "The Artreach students will be the ones benefitting the most from the sale of these artworks at the Castle," Director Schreiber told me, “as we will use these funds for the purchase of materials and other necessities for them to have the opportunity to work within the Park, and with a professional artist. So ‘Twilight on the Terrace’ is one of the most significant annual events we present here at the Castle.”
If you would like to join us at the “Twilight on the Terrace” gala and art exhibition, you may purchase tickets from Friends of Hearst Castle on their website at www.friendsofhearstcastle.org, or contact Friends at (805) 927-2138. It promises to be a very unique and enjoyable event!