On firing day, Alan would load the kiln with tray after tray of items and then fire them for one continuous twenty-four-hour binge day and night, with plenty of alcohol-fueled partying going on while the temperature mounted to over 2,000°F. Maggie and I would go to bed at our normal hour, so I have little idea, really, of what went on during the nocturnal marathons. We did see that when everyone had recovered the following day, and after the kiln had been slowly cooled, it was taken apart and the core unloaded with lovely practical and ornamental pieces. We use the plates still.
Alan then started putting his talents to sculpture. The first piece I remember seeing was a two-dimensional figure I named New York Man: rectilinear, it stood 4 or 5 feet high and looked like a banker with a briefcase, running—as everyone in New York City seems to be doing constantly. He’s now guarding the Golden Gate Bridge over Redwood Creek. Alan then moved on to using materials from the ranch—the rocks, some huge, and the clays—molding these things God had provided into sculptures with the common theme of a clay nail piercing through a rock and emerging out the other side. They are wonderful, and we have several at the ranch that have stood the test of time, as well as a large piece in Paul’s garden in England.
Because I thought that Alan was showing such great talent and energy, I encouraged him to use bronze; I would support the additional cost. He did, and from then on, his pieces became really professional—so much so that he was able to make a significant contribution to his income, as art lovers began to seek out the “Nail Man” at Peter Michael Winery and commission his work.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, I was sponsoring an annual competition for aspiring young sculptors, who submitted their ideas to win a scholarship year in California. The winners worked under the supervision of Alan, who by then was accomplished, well liked, and a good (although not certified) teacher. One of these fortunate young people proposed to sculpt spheres from rocks on the ranch. During his year, he had good success with half a dozen or so—each over 3 feet in diameter—which now sit beside the creek in our own little version of Jurassic Park. We expect someday one will hatch into a baby Brachiosaurus . . . we don’t know precisely when, but we still check them every day on our walk.
The most successful young English sculptor in this program was John Tinney, who had a fetish for concrete and was very productive during his year. Pieces of JT concrete in various forms are scattered over the grounds. There is a stack of concrete wine cases in the winery garden that look very good indeed; and there is a massive piece at the Yellow Jacket Creek Bridge, in which it looks rather as if Caesar might be entombed. When John returned to the UK, he was recruited by Sir Anthony Caro, a famous English sculptor, to work with him. I believe he has had a good career in sculpture since—no easy thing to achieve.
There are about sixty pieces of sculpture scattered around the garden and grounds of the Peter Michael Winery. I love them all and feel grateful for the time, talent, and imagination of those who made them and helped make us what we are. Visitors have the freedom to consider how they like them, too. I’m not at all creative in the pure artistic sense, but feel that to have helped a few young artists get a leg up in a hard world is a tick in a box somewhere.