The captivating grounds of Casa del Herrero in Montecito were recently opened to the public for Just Plein Air, one of the two big annual fundraisers held annually at the legendary location.
“We only do a few events each year at the Casa because we’re in a residential community, so we try to make the very most out of them and this is the fourth art event that we’ve had,” said Casa del Herrero Executive Director Molly Barker, who has worked with the organization since 2006.
Artworks capturing specific areas of Casa del Herrero were presented by 14 artists in the forms of oil, watercolor and pastel for bid around the gardens, surrounded by orchards and wooded areas and designed by landscape architects Ralph Stevens, Lockwood de Forest and Francis Underhill.
“We are so pleased to be able to welcome the community to this inspiring event,” Barker said. “We are very fortunate to have so many talented artists showing their work, which truly does document the rich architectural and natural history of Casa del Herrero and other significant locations throughout the area.”
A limited group of 150 guests enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon while sipping on libations and enjoying hors d’oeuvres while serenaded by the flamenco guitar sounds of Chris Fossek — whose mother, Priscilla, was one of the participating artists featured at the event.
The classic George Washington Smith estate was built in 1925 for George and Carrie Steedman on 11 acres and features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, lush and gorgeous gardens and a collection of 13th- through 19th-century Spanish furniture. Guests were led by docents throughout the grounds and home during the event to peruse this one-of-a-kind experience, and were also able to direct questions to the artists about their works and the sites chosen to capture in art.
The Steedmans moved into the house on the day of Santa Barbara’s 1925 earthquake, when much of State Street and the business district were destroyed.
George Steedman graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in engineering and was president of Curtis & Co. in 1915, when the company was awarded an ammunition contract from the British government, and Steedman designed a plant that was able to double production.
In 2009, the property was designated a National Historic Landmark — the most prestigious historical designation in the United States — and the estate is one of the best preserved and historically significant examples of 1920s Montecito estates.
The Plein Air artist’s work helps provide an expression of this important moment in time.
“Kind of the theme of the event, the background of it, is that we consider artists preservationists just like we’re preservationists," Barker said. "They capture places in time and preserve it in that way. And our job is to keep this place as close to its original beauty as possible."
Casa del Herrero, House of the Blacksmith, is a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve the house, grounds and collection of antiques, books, drawings horticultural records for public viewing with advance reservations and during select events.
Barker shared with Noozhawk the impact of the ongoing preservationist efforts and costs to maintain the property.
“I think everyone can relate to how much a house costs, period. But then to have an old house is another thing," she said. "We have a 90-year-old house. It’s actually built out of antiques — a lot of the shutters, the tiles and so forth you see are all antiques.
“For simply operating costs, we are at about $600,000 a year, but that is truly not enough because unfortunately with a house this old there’s deferred maintenance. It kind of happens to us all, we kind of tend to put this off. Well, we can’t afford to put anything off.”
Support for Casa del Herrero provides critical funding to maintain, preserve and restore the property and grounds. Membership levels begin at $50 for an individual with two guest passes, including a Patron level at $500 and up to the Director’s Circle of the Casa Society for contributions between $2,500 to $5,000 with benefits such as access to one private daytime or evening loggia for 12 guests.
“It’s always important for us to increase our presence in the community to increase our membership levels, to make friends who are willing to give us extra support,” Barker said.
Artists for the 2014 event included Meredith Brooks Abbott, Whitney Brooks Abbott, Chris Chapman, Nancy Davidson, James Dow, Priscilla Fossek, Rick Garcia, Wyllis Heaton, Ray Hunter, John Iwerks, Ann Sanders, Richard Schloss, Frank Serrano and Ralph Waterhouse.
“It is such an honor to show my pieces at this extraordinary event, at this extraordinary venue,” Garcia said. “I truly believe that our paintings in some way help to preserve these places for future generations and document how they change — even in the smallest detail — over time.”