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Chris Blum

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and the beat goes on...

A few months ago we were confronted with a quandary. Our lives at Barndiva have always been, first and foremost, about creating exciting food and drink experiences. We strive to do this by nurturing new talent, pushing the creative envelope, consistently strengthening the ties that keep the farmer to chef connection thriving.

We are blessed with a Chef who remains fully committed to ‘touching’ every plate that leaves the Barndiva kitchen, but increasing numbers of people want to experience Ryan Fancher's food in spaces we’ve designed. The time had clearly come for us to expand, and where else but next door, in the shiny new kitchen we had built for our events and private parties.

Ryan was hankering to put a new spin on classic French Country, cooking which would reflect the easy, brassier style of our early days in town, and he has an extremely talented sous chef, Andrew Wycoff, raring to lead the new kitchen. I have been longing to curate a highly edited selection of fine artisanal spirits;  daughter Isabel was game to produce a series of B&W film montages and a playlist that wasn’t just about filling space with white noise; Lukka wanted to book more live music. 

The only question that hung over all this enthusiastic dreaming was what would become of the art gallery inside the studio. How could we move forward without giving up what we cherished most about Studio Barndiva as it began to fill with bistro tables, wire couches, deep leather armchairs. 

When we first opened the Studio we produced a card that proclaimed: “We All Forage,” and I still believe that sentiment to be inherently true. We filled the space with "Beautiful Objects, Made with Respect" (another of our early aphorisms), handmade arts and crafts that resonated in a way that things designed by algorithm, easily found on the internet, cannot. Sourcing Vetiver nests from Africa, recycled glass chandeliers from Syria, handwoven Balinese batiks, stinging nettle runners from Kathmandu, brought the world closer, in a meaningful way. Perhaps it even helped a few small artisan economies survive.

But over the years it had become increasingly clear that the real heart of the gallery lay closer to home. Whether showcasing remarkable singular talents like Manok Cohen, Seth Minor, Ismael Sanchez, Susan Preston, Jordy Morgan, John Youngblood, Chris Blum, Wil Edwards, or hosting collaborative exhibits like Laura Parker's Taste of Place and Salon de Sens, the art which captured our attention the most returned again and again to explorations of a similar theme: how we define and encourage meaningful connections to the landscape that surrounds us. One that, like it or not, is rapidly changing. 

 

There is no reason to think a bistro within a gallery that hews to this directive won't inform and delight; if anything it might even allow us to burrow deeper into performance art and music,  venue underrepresented but very much alive in our exceptional and happily expanding north bay community. 

It has been an incredible honor to have a space in the center of town that’s continued to flourish while being able to change, to do its own thing in its own inimitable style. For that we give thanks for your support all these years. We have loved every new incarnation – but it’s a love that needs to keep growing, as much for Ryan, Drew and the kitchen, as for our artists.

While many of the artworks and antiques that surround you as you drink and dine in The 'new' Gallery are now part of our permanent collection, we hope you'll look around for the tags, spend some time with some of the remarkable local artists whose work we will continue to exhibit for sale.

The Gallery Bar & Bistro has only been open for a few months (our prix fixe Sunday Suppers are probably the worst kept secret in town) and we're incredibly pleased it's already become a space that encourages a lively exchange of energy and conversation- for us,  an integral and joyful part of the experience of dining.

On Friday, June 17th, we will add one more piece to 237 Center Street's portmanteau as we open The Gallery Garden to the public for the very first time. Come enjoy the music of Sunday Gravy, the first band up in what we hope will be a monthly series. 

The exhibit that opened Barndiva, coming up on 12 years ago, was called "A Taste of Art."  While so much has changed for Barndiva, and for Healdsburg, in the ensuing years, there is sweet irony that we continue to explore, honor, and expand what those words mean. Having an art gallery- with a bistro inside- is our version of having your cake and eating it too. Come by and have a taste.  Eat the View!

 

 


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Wednesday at the Barn Menu.....Giving As Good As You Get.....

After the sun goes down...

Peace, love and happiness is not a phrase that normally rolls off my tongue, not since the 60’s at any rate, but that’s the only way I can describe the extremely mellow mood that flowed through the gallery and it's gardens Saturday evening when over two hundred kindred souls came to the opening of Salon des Sens.

It didn’t hurt that the weather was sheer bliss, warm and soft, with magical early summer light. Nor that thanks to St. George Spirits and Copain Winery there was copious amounts of excellent drink to enjoy with Ryan’s infamous Quail Egg BLTs, Compressed Watermelon Gin Fizz' and Aviation Bon Bons. At one point, when I thought the evening had peaked, K2 laughed and said "Are you kidding? Have you been outside?” The garden was full. Everyone was smiling. No one had any intention of going anywhere soon.

But if anyone passing by thought the genuine bonhomie of this crowd was just down to alcohol and a sugar rush, they would have been mistaken. In fact, when the next night rolled around and the same mood prevailed as Freddy Cole sat down to play the piano beneath the chandeliers on Barndiva’s rear patio, I realized that while art and music were clearly the driving force behind both evenings, something else was at play besides Freddy.

Salon des Sens is an exhibit brim full of fresh ideas about how we view food, while the music that came out of the fabulous Freddy Cole Quartet was so comfortable and familiar it had all the ease of slipping your hand into a soft leather glove. What made these two remarkably different experiences similar was how well they both captured, without a complicated political or social agenda, something we’ve come to miss in our increasingly isolated WiFi lives. Communal good will.

There is a lot of talk these days about how the “old” Healdsburg is disappearing, and indeed, we do live in a town that’s increasingly benefiting from the kindness of strangers, thanks to our emergence as the new heart of Wine Country. But the crowds that flocked to the barn and the studio this weekend weren’t tourists looking for the latest wine thrill. I saw a lot of familiar faces as I helped pour JCB’s sparkling before the Freddy Cole concert, but I also got the sense that even folks new to Barndiva felt they had found safe harbor; a beautiful garden where for a few short hours they were exactly where they wanted to be.

Which was true. Barndiva hosted the evening, but the concert was made possible because Tommy Sparks and Jean Charles Boisset who joined forces and stepped up to support the festival. Ditto the Bay Area artists who exhibited alongside local artists at Salon des Sens  ~ strangers committed to working together to extend an important conversation about food.

It doesn’t take a social anthropologist to see that the zeitgeist Healdsburg is channeling at the moment is consistently drawing from a mindful collaboration of old and new. It takes it’s cue from the town's most cherished traditions ~ farming, food and wine ~ recharging the mission to protect them in exciting new ways, essential if we are going to survive this current economy without selling out and losing what made Healdsburg so great in the first place. It’s no accident that all the exciting new ventures coming to town ~ Ari and Dawnelise’s new Campo Fina, Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel’s Shed project, Pete Seghesio’s Salumeria are all backed by people with deep ties to the community and a genuine investment in its long term health. All of them, along with newcomers like JCB recognize, as we did seven years ago, that however unique they hope their new ventures will be, ultimately we are all drawing from the same well. Keeping the water clear, making sure it continues to flow even as more and more come to drink from it, must be a shared goal.

Two moments exemplified what I can only call the quality of worthfulness ~ an old-fashioned concept that needs to come back into use. The first was watching Alex Lapham’s beautiful son’s face light up with pride as he watched his dad farming in the video Drew and I made that had it’s ‘world premiere’ at Salon des Sens. What Alex does ~ what all the other ‘stars’ of Eat the View do ~  is backbreaking work, far too long under appreciated as the culture has shifted it’s focus of what’s laudable to a grandiose definition that equates being rich or famous with being valuable.

The second occurred the next night, listening to my friend Joanne Derbort speak about her husband David Dietz moments before Freddy Cole took the stage. Though most of the people attending didn’t know David, who died last year of cancer, the concert was in his honor. A man of rare intelligence and charm, his loss was greatly felt throughout our small community. In a short but eloquent speech Joanne managed to communicate to hundreds of strangers the true measure of a man who believed most of life’s problems, large and small, could be solved by working thoughtfully together. This weekend took a lot out of us ~ extraordinary efforts on the part of everyone here, especially Dawid, K2, Amber, Rachel, Daniel, Ryan and the entire kitchen staff ~ but along with the exhaustion there was a great sense of pride of jobs well done.

It’s an old-fashioned concept that gets no respect in Washington these days, but is very much alive in small towns like Healdsburg, where quite a bit gets accomplished before the sun goes down. Then we party.

St. George's Botanivore Gin includes the following ingredients: Fennel seed, Caraway Seed, Bay Leaf, Cinnamon, Cardamon Seed, Star Anise, Citra Bergamont Peel, Orris Root, Black Peppercorn, Angelica Root, Juniper Berry, Celery Seed, Cilantro Seed, Seville Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Lime Peel, Dill Seed, Coriander Seed, Ginger Root

All text Jil Hales. All photos Dawid Jaworski, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)

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Shaking the TumTum Tree

(originally posted June 9, 2010) Where do you want to be in five or ten years? Do you want to die with the most toys, or do you want to die with the best life and experiences? -Tibor Kalman

In the normal course of our day we are exposed, literally, to thousands of unsolicited messages ~ in newspapers, magazines, on television, billboards and, increasingly, on the web. Whether you live in a farming community, a suburb or a metropolis, this adds up to trillions of images and voices in your ear over a lifetime. It doesn’t matter if you never succumb to any of them ~ never eat the $6 burger for $2.99, cruise the boulevard in the Ultimate Driving Machine looking for skinny jeans, or seek relief from a “serious medical condition” you innocently thought was only heartburn. For your entire life you will be exposed to a tsunami of words and images that will flood your cerebrum pretty much non-stop during your waking hours with the intent to cajole, entice, and manipulate you into believing, then buying, the entity behind the message.

Don’t kid yourself that by not paying attention or rarely succumbing you can avoid the effects of our intensely commercialized visual culture. You can’t. We are basically animals whose survival instincts keep us monitoring the horizon for the next meal or the tiger who wants to make us his next meal ~ we’re programmed not to ever fully turn off perception of our surroundings. Information we don’t need to feed ourselves or keep us safe we still have to store somewhere. ‘Tis the nature of subliminal. For all we know we're dreaming about the the blond in the Skyy Vodka ad while we sleep. (or the brunette in the Ty-D-Bowl commercial). All of which makes it pretty relevant to ask why 99% of the ubiquitous sales-motivated design that’s out there is such crap. Stupid, ugly, habitually misogynistic and, when it comes to misleading political ads (yes, they are selling something too), dangerous in the extreme. The Madison Ave mind set which went global in the 70’s, flawlessly captured in the HBO series Mad Men, has cheapened sex, twisted our notion of beauty out of all proportion, and made monitoring our frailties, instead of our strengths, a national pastime.

And yet, call me foolish, I am nevertheless fascinated by the potential of vernacular design ~ the ubiquitous signs, billboards, TV and web adverts that compose mass culture. For a start, the tools at the fingertips of both the artist and the adman are virtually the same. An ad is a Rorschach mix of words and pictures which needs to convey a message in an exceptionally condensed period of time, usually seconds, less if the image is a still one. How to do that and manage to instill a message that lingers is daunting. But the creative possibilities are endless. Or should be.

Think how much more enjoyable it would be to move through our days if only a little more talent and pride was focused on delivering messages that appealed to our critical sensibilities, instead of insulting them. Why is it then, that advertisers almost always pander to what they construe are our base instincts? The English critic Philip Toynbee called it the result of “an impoverished ability to communicate.” It’s not an impoverishment relegated to the advertising industry alone. But in their role as a major contributing factor to the crass stupidity everywhere that is demoralizing us as a culture, it’s a medium which provides a perfect Petri dish for study.

When I asked ten people why they thought the advertising industry was so insidiously bad, seven of them said it was the nature of the beast to appeal to the “lowest common dominator.” I’ve used that excuse myself in the past, but while it may make us feel superior (surely they didn’t intend that annoying Aflac duck to appeal to moi) it really isn’t a helpful answer. There is nothing wrong with finding common denominators in our culture ~ correct me if I’m wrong ~ but isn’t that the basis of democracy? It’s the fact they always seem to stoop to the “lowest” level to find them that’s worth challenging.

Unlike a painting in a museum, where you can linger over brushstrokes, or the two hours you spend getting to know the characters in a movie, the ‘art’ in an advert doesn’t have time or much space to tell a complete story, it has to imply one. Because of this, whether or not we are aware of it, we are all masters of a curious form of sub-text. When an ad nails sub-text, whether it does so through humorous or dramatic means, we take notice.

Famous case in point: with its “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagens in the 60’s, the ad agency hired by VW was faced with finding a way to sell an odd, ugly looking car, made in a former Nazi plant, that was half the size ~ with none of the bells and whistles ~ of any automobile then on American roads. The agency, Doyle, Dane & Bernbach, choose to define their product in a stark but humorous, refreshingly honest fashion. The sub-text of “Think Small” was “utility,” and the public not only got and liked the message, it bought the car by the millions. In one great design stroke a single ad campaign arguably changed automotive history.

Volkswagen took a risk because they had to. But more to the point, they delivered what the ad implied. If we rarely see this combination of creativity and truth in advertising in the products being sold, we ~ the common dominators ~ have only ourselves to blame. We vote with our wallets.

 

Starting In the 1980’s, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Paul Newman’s Own and Kenneth Cole devoted untold advertising dollars to promote social and environmental change. That they were able to do this while simultaneously increasing their bottom line was accepted (and respected) by their public as sustainable business models. That those companies were willing to make the connection between product and producer only worked in the long run because the products themselves were good, so even after being seduced by the come-on, we continued to buy them. Of course we don't have to limit ourselves to only buying products from companies that care about the long term well-being of their constituencies. I don't really know the deeper social agenda of Steve Jobs or Mac; from the beginning they have mounted ad campaigns which have accurately, cleverly, and often powerfully positioned products which deliver what they promise, thus ensuring a growing family of users over time.

I’m aware, of course, that many bad companies have great design. Nike comes to mind and you can think of dozens more. Differentiating the line between eye candy and visual porn, while rejecting useless corporate sites, marketing drivel and meaningless design is ultimately up to us, the consumer. Get rid of the product and you get rid of the need to sell it.

One of my favorite adman savants of all time was a curious fellow by the name of Tibor Kalman. Irreverent and often profane, Tibor eschewed a career in PR which might have afforded him “a good opportunity, a nice career, a chance to make a killing,” for one that “affects people’s lives and affects people’s brains.” Diagnosed with cancer in the 90’s, his response was to move to Italy to work with Oliviero Toscani on a series of controversial print advertisements for the huge clothing company Benetton. Together, with Benetton’s money, they went on to create the groundbreaking design magazine “Colors,” which many feel set the bar for cutting edge design with a pertinent social message.

Both Kalman and Toscani believed advertising had a creative responsibility, but they clearly understood the difference between their medium and fine art: they didn’t espouse an elitist approach. Both sought to rethink the relationship between the commercial and civic realms, both grappled with how best to serve the demands of business while raising the bar on artistic expression. For Tibor it was about “the struggle between individuals with jagged passion in their work and today’s faceless corporate committees, which claim to understand the needs of the mass audience, and are removing the idiosyncrasies, polishing the jags, creating a thought-free, passion-free, cultural mush that will not be hated nor loved by anyone.”

Toscani believed his responsibility as a designer extended beyond any one product to the nature of a medium itself, which he felt spoke a universal language. “The globalism of sales is not a bad thing to be avoided. It’s a blessing. Proclaiming that McDonalds is bad and should be banned is like saying you’re against photography because you’ve seen an ugly picture somewhere. You know what you should do? Take a better picture. THAT is revolution ~ not screaming in the streets.”

With the growing increase of ads on the internet ~ where it seems we will be spending the twilight of our civilization ~ it behooves us to take another look at why, with what IB Singer called “souls starving for oxygen,” we aren’t angrier and more vocal at companies trading in the public forum, companies we never invited into our lives in the first place, who clutter the visual landscape, insulting our intelligence while boring the hell out us. Talk about adding insult to injury.

We have, after all, the ultimate power in this design game that wallpapers our lives. All it will take is a little chutzpa. The first step is to throw down the gauntlet and say: We’ll only consider your product if you stop talking down to us. Amuse us, educate us, empower us, or get the hell out of our lives. For those companies with good products to sell, this should not be a stretch. And who knows, it may well be a start back toward influencing what is produced in the first place. Wouldn’t it be something if the proliferation of crap in the world slowed, simply because, before being manufactured, somebody at the top was forced to frame the question: “How are we going to sell this? The public’s not stupid, you know.”

Links: Annie Leonard is the bomb. The Story of Bottled Water is not simply a pithy expose on how we have come to be a nation that buys a commodity that should be free, it’s a neat way to understand how messages are disseminated in our culture. Show this one to your kids. The Story of Stuff The Story of Stuff Project

Check out Tibor Kalman's Perverse Optimist next time you are in the bookstore. It’s worth owning if only to read the “F____Committees. I Believe in Lunatics essay. Perverse Optimist: Tibor Kalman Princeton Architectural Press

Kenneth Cole's Spring 2010 collection on You Tube is interesting.

Local Talent with a Long Reach:

Tod Brilliant is a wonderful PR guy with more than a little Tibor in him, who lives right here in Healdsburg. In addition to his own design work, two years ago he created a national design collaborative. Check them both out. http://www.todbrilliant.com http://www.creativejobagency.com

 

Chris Blum is a local legend who has designed the logos and packaging campaigns of many products you may use daily like Thanksgiving Coffee and Rosie Free Range Chicken. One of his best designs (in our humble opinion) is the one he did for Barndiva Tractor Bar. Thanks Chris!

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