Light, Clay, and Copper: Mid-Century Arts and Crafts in Sonoma County

August 20, 2021 - Ongoing

The photographs of Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel, the pottery of Marguerite Wildenhain, and the metalwork of Harry Dixon make up three important collections under the Museum's care. Each was a master of their artform and all were contemporaries that shared ideals and influences. Light, Clay, and Copper explores the connections and shared experiences of these four remarkable artists.

The Great Depression, World War II, and fear of Communism–the sweeping forces of the mid-twentieth century–changed the world and re-shaped regional cultures in surprising ways. For Sonoma County, world events encouraged the formation of a small but remarkable community of artists and crafts people that included Hansel Mieth, Otto Hagel, Marguerite Wildenhain, and Harry Dixon.

Because of impending war and Nazi aggression, hundreds of European artists made their way to the United States, including Marguerite Wildenhain, a potter trained in Germany. These artists gravitated to places of artistic learning such as Pond Farm, a teaching artists colony near Guerneville. Nearly all of the original artist-teachers at Pond Farm were displaced by the rise of Nazism in Europe. Photographers Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel arrived in Sonoma County in 1941 following years of chronicling the Great Depression and organized labor in the U.S. After living in New York, freelancing, and working for LIFE Magazine, Sonoma County offered a new life for the couple. They became friends of Marguerite Wildenhain and frequent visitors to Pond Farm. Harry Dixon, a renowned metal worker from San Francisco, briefly joined the Pond Farm faculty in the 1950s and took up residence in Santa Rosa during a time when artists were facing scrutiny over their political views.

Historically, Sonoma County has served as a refuge for the artist, visionary, or utopian dreamer. The turmoil of the mid twentieth century encouraged that trend and the legacy of these talented artists connects Sonoma County to some of the great artistic movements and historic developments of that era.

This exhibition was generously supported by Ann Sebastian, Ron Casentini, and Community Foundation Sonoma County

Pictured (left to right): Harry Dixon working on sundial, Otto Hagel, 1960; Silver Bowl and Creamer, Harry Dixon; Mother and Child, Marguerite Wildenhain, c. 1970; Young Girl, Central Valley, Hansel Mieth, 1936


Virtual Experience

Explore the exhibition through 360° imaging! 

This virtual experience is generously provided by Steve Vargas, VARGAS XR "Mind Over Matter."

Museum of Sonoma County
475 Seventh Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 579-1500

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The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.