While a college student in New York City in 1963, Warren Frankel worked in the Post Office to try to earn enough money to buy a Volkswagen. But when a friend suggested, “Let’s go to Europe,” Frankel traded the VW idea for the trip.
His visit to the 80-acre Frogner Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway, sparked a lifelong love of sculpture. There, more than 200 bronze and granite sculptures on the “circle of life” theme by Gustav Vigeland left an indelible impression on him.
Forty years later, three elements merged to enable Frankel, now a Templeton physician and international medical missionary, to actualize his vision of creating a sculpture garden for the public to enjoy.
He and his wife Kathy’s 160-acre vineyard was producing excellent quality grapes; their son Paul was majoring in viticulture at Cal Poly; and Frankel happened to meet a world renowned bronze line sculptor and architectural engineer, John Jagger, who lived on top of a hill in Atascadero. The idea of their own winery and sculpture garden, Sculpterra, was born.
Frankel built a first-class Tuscan-style tasting room in 2007 after commissioning Jagger full-time in 2006 for three years to create the sculptures for the garden.
Frankel knew from studying history that a family or patron of sorts was needed to give the artist the freedom and material to produce great works. Jagger chose his own subjects for the project, using mostly his melted bronze wire technique along with several very large carved granite pieces.
Well-known architectural metal worker Bob Bentley was an integral part of the entire project, creating the molds for the concrete “surrounds” of the building, designing and fabricating the elaborate ironwork gates (a six-month project), railings, window trim, beams and chandeliers for the winery as well as specialty frameworks for the sculptures. Bentley continues the “work in progress” as full-time resident ironworker, currently planning three tasting room entry canopies covered with intricate metalwork vines.
Frankel directed placement of the sculptures after custom pedestals were designed for each one. In order to protect them from earthquake damage, large pipes go from the ground through the pedestal and into the sculpture.
Once the very large and magnificent pieces were in place, landscaper Les Toma created curving pathways throughout the one-acre sculpture garden that enable the visitor to view them from all sides.
“The landscape was kept simple, classic and sculpted to accentuate the artwork,” Toma said.
Tightly trimmed boxwoods line the walkways, masses of yellow wave flax and grasslike red prairie fire carex mirror the sheen of the bronze sculptures and Old World patina of Bentley’s exquisite metalwork. Blue sedge carex borders the Mermaid pond while gray foliage of artemisia and lavender mimic the gray of the seven-ton granite sculpture of a puma.
Toma extended the pathways into individual table and chair seating areas throughout the lawn, allowing visitors to spend time contemplating Jagger’s creations while enjoying their own picnic lunch or a glass of wine.
Toma’s design earned a commendation last year from the Landscape Design Council of California Garden Clubs for the manner in which the understated landscape blends so harmoniously with the sculptures that they become one statement rather than two. By careful placement, color and texture of the plantings, the viewer’s eye is directed up to the dynamic forms reaching for the sky.
The combination of Frankel’s vision and resources and the exceptional talents of Jagger, Bentley and Toma has resulted in a beautiful, one-of-a-kind Central Coast destination.
“This really is a family-owned and operated business, where guests can come and drink an exceptional glass of wine and enjoy world-class art in a serene rural setting,” Frankel said.
Connie Pillsbury is a freelance writer who lives in Atascadero.