“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

In 1997, British sculptor John Tinney was a recently minted master of fine arts (MFA) working a construction job and trying to figure out what to do with his life. One day, while eating lunch on a dusty job site and flipping through a national newspaper, he came upon an advertisement for an artistic scholarship funded by the Sir Peter and Lady Michael Foundation, through the Royal Society of Sculptors. He applied that day.

After a formal interview with the Royal Society, Tinney was offered a six-month residency in California. He accepted with excitement—and very little idea of what to expect when he got here. As he recalls, he got off the airplane in San Francisco to be met by “this big, bearded guy who came out of the crowd and grabbed me, put me in the car…I had no idea that I was going to that incredibly beautiful place. I mean, it was just mind-blowing for a little country boy from the UK.”

In this remote, beautiful setting, he was to see his first rattlesnake, meet some lifelong friends, and most importantly, make art. Every day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., “I was really forced to think about making art every day,” Tinney says. “Getting up in the morning and just walking over to a studio and having everything I needed was almost the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because it totally means that you’ve got no excuses—you have the time, you have the money. You’ve just got to do it, and can you do it?” He could. Partway through his residency, he was invited to stay on for another six months; over the course of a year, he created a number of works that are still part of the winery’s collection. He returned to the UK to embark on a career as a maker, drawing on the skills and inspiration he’d brought back from Knights Valley, including work assisting other sculptors, including Sir Anthony Caro, who was widely considered one of the greatest British sculptors of his generation.

John Tinney was the first artist to participate in the art-in-residence program. He created a series of predominantly concrete sculptures, featured throughout the gardens and olive groves.

“There’s not a single day that goes by where I don’t think about it,” Tinney says. “It was absolutely life changing.” In reviewing his work for this publication, he was inspired to ask the winery about returning to California to clean and repair the work…so, perhaps this not the end of the story!

The art-in-residence program had its beginning when Sir Peter hired Alan Peirson, that big, bearded guy who had met and mentored Tinney. A true Renaissance man, Peirson was an art history graduate who would spend some twenty years working on almost every aspect of the property—designing, building, reforesting the land, planting gardens, and creating the network of paths that meander through the trees and along the restored creek. And, when he had the time and inspiration, creating art. Sir Peter’s vision for stewardship of the land included not just conservation and viticulture, but additionally funding permanent outdoor sculptures that would stand the test of time. The resulting pieces dot the property, unexpected delights alternately rising from or vanishing into the natural surroundings.

Pete, as Alan calls him, always encouraged Alan to follow his inspirations wherever he found them—as seen here in one of a series of large-scale metal sculptures based on the twisted, weathered nails left after Alan and his workmen burned an old stretch of fence. Alan saw the nails as dancing figures in the flames and set out to replicate that illusion.

Spin Spin Sugar is one of Tinney’s works created for his series of rack sculptures. Alan and John procured the giant redwood beams near Fort Bragg, and the steel parts were galvanized at a factory in Oakland.

“The art-in-residence program had its beginning when Sir Peter hired Alan Peirson, that big, bearded guy who had met and mentored Tinney.”

Today, John continues to work with concrete in the UK with his company, Tinney & Co.

The rack series was an homage to American sculptor David Smith. Ladder Rack explored the concept of casting a ladder from concrete. The ladders were then elevated to appear more spiritual, presenting them as a type of altar.

This sort of fortunate happenstance is woven throughout the history of the Knights Valley art installations. In the early ’90s, Japanese sculptor Masuo Nakajima (now Masuo Ono) visited the property with a gallery owner who’d shown some of Alan’s work. This was intended as a day trip for lunch and a spa visit. Instead, Masuo became fascinated with the native basalt rocks that dot the streambed. “We walked over the bridge over here,” Alan says, “and he looked out on the creek; he pointed to a rock. And I told the guys to go pick the rock up and take it to the shop. He always carried a hammer and chisel with him, and he set up and started pounding on the rock. When the others came back, he said he needed to go down to the city to pick up a particular tool…He came back about three days later and said, ‘I really like the stone here; can I stay for a little bit?’”

That stay lasted six weeks and led to seven years of off-and-on working visits.

“One year we went up the creek and looked for rocks that were of interest to him,” Alan recalls. “He would actually tag half a dozen stones, then we’d get a crane to lift them out of the creek, and he just went to work for eight or nine months.” Many of the pieces he created were sold through San Francisco galleries, but a few remain as part of the property’s permanent collection.

Following his initial art-in-residence tenure, Masuo returned often to the estate to create more sculptures from boulders culled from throughout the property. His piece titled Knights Valley Fog, rests in the gardens near the winery.

Some of the property’s sculptures have now lasted longer than any clear memories of how they were created, although there are always stories. In one, an artist came to Knights Valley from Malta to create massive works crafted entirely with hand tools, in accordance with the artist’s vision of nature.

Every day for four months, he walked out onto the property to chisel what became a series of huge stone spheres. As Alan tells it, he barely communicated with anyone as he worked. Then, one day, the artist said, “Okay, I’m ready, let’s move them.” The workmen got a crane and transported the pieces to where they sit today. The artist then came out with a case of gold paint, painted the rocks in a thick coat of gold…and, with his work done, he was gone the next day. It’s a wonderful story, and an imposing work.

As Alan says, “Pete set the tone for everything that he wanted to have going on here. Early on, he explained to me that he could go anywhere and do anything he wanted. And he wanted to come here.”

Alan Peirson poses with one of his ceramic nail installations in 2021. He was responsible for developing the ranch for the first twenty years and launching the art-in-residence program.