To ring in the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau commissioned the comic, cheese-ball parody of Murphy Goode’s controversial “A Really Goode Job” campaign below. The quick flick premiered at the conference’s opening night and I’m? happy to report that it was well received (according to the several kind emails, tweets and texts that have come my way while I was at band rehearsal. Kudos to the bureau’s Tim Zahner working the word “duodenum” into the script with frightening ease.
Something peculiar occurred when Karen Hayden-Jaffe hosted a recent artist’s reception and fundraiser. The brains behind the 501(c)(3) nonprofit NomaArt, Hayden-Jaffe noticed the reception brimmed with patrons and donors, but no one from the general public, including the artist, had bothered to show up. That’s when the former Hollywood studio executive had a revelation.
“With the economic downturn, underwriting an arts organization is a needless extravagance for all but a tiny few, whose generosity is our life’s blood,” said Hayden-Jaffe. “Then it occurred to me, why not cut to the chase and create a gallery exclusively for the people who can afford it. That way, we don’t need the general public or even artists to be sustainable as an organization. The patrons become the public as well as artists.” As can be expected, Hayden-Jaffe’s so-called “artron” concept has raised some eyebrows in the arts community, but a number of patrons don’t seem to mind that they’ve become complicit in what amounts to a private art club.
Hayden-Jaffe describes artrons as those who have already made their fortunes and can now afford “La Vie Bohème,” but without having to suffer the indignity of actually being bohemian, which is to say broke. Hayden-Jaffe’s critics, however, suggest that she is preying on the largesse of her patrons with a mix of flattery and circular logic that goes something like a) Artists are eccentric; b) The affluent can afford to be eccentric; thus c) The affluent can afford to be artists. Among the emerging scene of local artrons is Lars Haskell, who describes himself as “The biggest ‘cork dork’ in the Valley,” given his passion for creating wine-cork sculptures. What began as an avocation assembling statuettes hewn from everyday objects akin to folk art one might see hewn from wire or match sticks, has blossomed into a full-time obsession creating life-size replicas of everyday objects. Take his living room.
Haskell has built not only a replica of his living room in the capacious NomaArt gallery, he also included its contents. From the divan to an entertainment center replete with HD television and surround sound – everything is made from wine corks. When asked how one differentiates between a hi-definition and a standard definition, flat screen TV made of wine corks, Haskell smiled and said “True aficionados can tell the difference.”
It doesn’t take a cork-sculpture expert, however, to tell the difference between Haskell’s wife and the cork mannequin he constructed of her, which is laid supine on the cork chaise. The female figure is rendered in exacting detail, sans her breasts, which are notably larger than their inspiration. “We can perfect in art, what we can’t perfect in nature,” Haskell laughed as he sat next to his cork-wife in his cork living room. According to Haskell’s wife, Linda, her husband, a retired aerospace engineer, spends much of his time in the simulacra of their now under-populated living room, occasionally clicking the cork-remote control.
“It’s quieter here,” said Haskell, who is often misconstrued by fellow patrons as part of his elaborate art installation.
In the weeks since Haskell completed his work, titled simply, “Wine Cork Living Room with Furniture and Wife,” he has inspired several of his fellow artrons to embark on their own works to be featured in upcoming exhibits.
Among them is a series of watercolors painted exclusively with rare vintages of wine (“There is great pigment variation between the varietals” explained an artron, who wished to remain anonymous) and a performance piece dubbed, ironically, “Sour Grapes” in which artron Tim Reichling is fed the namesake fruit by an art student.
“There’s no dearth of talented rich people. I’ve found the richer they are, the more talented they are,” said Hayden-Jaffe, who recently launched NomaArt.com. “There’s definitely a relationship there.”
Sonoma Valley’s wine country is one of the most beautiful places on earth, which is why everybody, including your sundry friends and relations, want to visit all the time. Many of these folks, in fact, consider our homes their personal Bed and Breakfasts and will find cause to stay with us on the slimmest of pretenses. “The Wingo Regatta? Why not? Let’s go to Sonoma and stay with our friends for free!” They don’t want to visit us, they want to visit Sonoma – on the cheap.
Consider Rhonda S. whose college girlfriend suddenly materialized from the late 80s upon learning of her former dormie’s 95476 zip code. The tipster in this case was Facebook where Rhonda absent-mindedly listed her actual city of residence not having considered that a cyber-stalker with whom communication had lapsed 20 years prior was looking for a place to crash after wine tasting. This is why all Sonomans using social media are encouraged to list their cities as “Guantánamo Bay.” If some weirdo on your “friends” list still wants to visit you, encourage them to book a reservation with the Department of Homeland Security. You will never hear from them again. Here’s the number (202) 282-8000.
Despite the fact that eluding the “transitory occupancy tax” culled by our local hoteliers contributes directly to the degradation of our city, many of our guests still insist on slumming in our spare bedrooms. Worse, however, are those who offer to “housesit.” These are people you should charge for the privilege of doing so. Fact: Several neighborhoods surrounding the Historic Sonoma Plaza are zoned for use as B&Bs. People who live in these areas are encouraged to hustle down to City Hall and file the appropriate paperwork ASAP because your relatives “have never seen wine country during harvest and thought it would be a wonderful time to visit.” Splendid. Now, you can legally charge them. When they furrow their brows upon receiving your bill just remind them “It’s the law.” Call the City’s Planning Division. Here’s the number (707) 938-3681
If a visitor manages to manipulate your affections such that they are now sleeping on your couch, be assured it doesn’t take much to turn one’s de facto hostel hostile. When encouraging an offender to leave your home an effective tactic is to bait them with their own misguided illusions of “wine country living.” Tantalize them with visions of “Wine Cave Spelunking,” which is similar to rappelling through a cavern but completely bogus. Your guests will look like complete idiots when they show up at the tasting room wearing a “seat harness” and inquiring which cabernet to pair with their carabiners. If the shame doesn’t drive them away, then your evident cruelty surely will. Mission accomplished.
Of course, you can always make your guests history with “historical tourism.” Send them to local history scholar George Webber, who, in the guise of General Vallejo, hosts an “Historic Sonoma Walking Tour,” which he will lengthen, by $pecial request, to include such points of local interest as Petaluma. Here’s the number (707) 694-5097.
If the above notions should fail, one’s final course of action is to simply move away. Imagine the chagrin you’ll inspire when some forgotten acquaintance passive-aggressively asserts their ignorance about local lodgings and you gleefully explain that you no longer live in Sonoma, but the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau could surely help. Here’s the number (707) 996-1090. If you choose this rather radical solution, however, please consider that you must never return without a hotel reservation, lest you become one of them.