Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jane Rosen's mountaintop ranch

Art-Vent House Report #7


Well God really is on Facebook (see Hiatus below). Before leaving for California, I wrote this Status Update:

Carol Diehl is flying to SF in the early morning, off to Big Sur for son Matt & Michelle's wedding. Sun predicted for the Friday nuptials (yeah!), tomorrow heavy rain and high winds—just the thing for driving down Highway 1.”

….and got this message:

"hi carol, it’s your old neighbor from greene st! i now have a ranch about an hour south of sf right off of hwy 1. the winds and rain are supposed to be formidable (60-80mph sustained!!!). here’s my number if you need a pit stop. you might and it would be great to see you. best jane"

So when I found myself in San Francisco following a white knuckle flight (after circling for an hour in zero visibility, the pilot announced that he’d “never been so happy to land”) looking out the airport windows at trees bent in half by the wind and wondering what to do, I called Jane Rosen, who I never knew that well and hadn’t seen in (fifteen? twenty?) years, who told me the road was washed out from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay and that I should sit tight. A good thing because when I called the Ripplewood Resort, where I was to have stayed that night, the woman at the desk made out like I was being a wimp (“there are other roads to get here…”) and then next day when I did arrive I saw that a giant redwood had come down across the river not 50 feet from my cabin.

I got the last available room in an absolutely lovely airport Marriott with a balcony looking out on trees and the smell of eucalyptus in the air (“Toto, we’re not at JFK anymore”), and the next day on the way to Big Sur stopped off at Jane’s. “I want you to see what a loft on Greene Street will buy in California,” she’d said, her words echoing my mind as I navigated the steep dirt road to the house at the top of the mountain with vistas all around, where Neil Young is her nearest neighbor.



“My lover is a place not a person,” Jane says, “I’ve never loved a man as much as I love this property—I’m romantically involved with it, I hate being away from it, and I want everybody to meet it.”

On Thanksgiving vacation in 1989, while visiting her brother, a physician at Stanford, they were driving the gorgeous stretch of Highway 1 below San Francisco when, she told me, “we got to this road and there was a moment of recognition. I said ‘I want to live here' and my brother said, ‘Don’t be silly, Jane, no one lives here. Cows live here.’ But I was clear, more than I’d ever been in my life.” After renting nearby and going back and forth to New York, there was the miracle of the property not being officially for sale but owned by a woman who knew her work….and when, in 2001, she sold her loft (which she bought, raw, in 1969 for $10,000 when hardly anyone lived in SoHo) her friends celebrated, she says, because they couldn’t stand to listen to her talk about her ambivalence any longer. By 2005, she was living out her "Jewish cowgirl" fantasies full time.



Giving up the loft, the art world, her friends—all New York meant—to live on a mountaintop with her dogs (and now horses, although she doesn’t ride) took a tremendous leap of faith. In so many ways Jane was convinced she’d committed career suicide. But her sculpture, always nature-based, took on new life in the fresh air, and through many connections to regional galleries, her career is thriving. “I didn’t want to be Queen of the Art World,” she says, “I wanted to be Morris Graves and make work until the day I died. I wanted to show people the story in nature so they wouldn’t fuck it up anymore, so found other ways to do business and make the best work I can.”


Recycled Provencale limestone, discarded cut-offs from stone used for building, waiting to turn into sculpture

In that she is enthusiastically assisted by Alex Rohrig and former student Sebastian Ages, who made us a wonderful lunch of fresh, local produce—after which, eager to get back to work, Jane sent me on my way.

Jane with Alex and Sebastian

While the top of the mountain was sunny, the beach at the bottom was still gray from the storm.

3 comments:

Lady Xoc said...

Carol, this happened to me last year when we had to go to Berkeley for my father-in-law's 90th. We stayed with an old friend in Carmel Valley and drove down the coast road albeit, amidst intermittent fires & road closures in the Los Padres Mtns. And even though I never owned in SoHo, and was forced out of my Chinatown loft in the early '80s, I spent a good part of last winter combing through ads for Calif. real estate. I'm still on the fence, but my husband (a 4th generation native) doesn't want to go back.

As for the career, your friend is a smart woman, and I admire her for knowing herself so surely. The art market has turned on its head in the past year and all the old ways & means don't apply.

By the way, the wedding looked lovely. Congratulations!

katharine said...

Enjoyed the post, the pictures but most of all seeing her art on her website.

joan said...

Great story! Beautiful house/studio/land...Now you have to come to my mountain top. So who wants to return to NYC? Ugh!