Open Studio

A peek inside California's Montalvo Arts Center ― the ultimate Western art colony

A writer's cottage

A writer's cottage by Hodgetts + Fung Design Associates plays with color and form.

Brown Cannon III

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The painter from Bombay is sitting opposite the artist from Amsterdam, who in turn sits next to the fllmmaker from Rome. Conversation at the 20-person dinner has danced from art to politics and now ― perhaps because the grilled chicken with chutney has arrived ― to food.

Painter Gulammohammed Sheikh, who has just flown in from Baroda, India, praises the cuisine of Kashmir. "Heavenly," he says. "The best food in the world." Gordon Knox is discussing Fernet Branca, the Italian aperitif that, he says, Hemingway despised. From across the room, Knox's bulky but sweet setter-boxer mix, Puglia, looks on ― though whether or not Puglia likes Fernet Branca, it's hard to say.

Then chef Romana Ciubini brings out dessert: plates of panna cotta, shimmering, snow-white. "This was challenging for Romana," Knox explains. "To make it as she does in Umbria, she had to flnd fish-based gelatin ― not beef-based. But she did. Taste it." We taste. The panna cotta is perfect; it merits applause. This is a great dinner party.

Assembling flrst-rate dinner parties is not generally considered an artistic achievement. But that's one of the things Gordon Knox, the artist residency director, and the others behind Montalvo Arts Center are trying to do. Now, after the completion of a multimillion-dollar expansion, they've established a one-of-a-kind artistic haven ― the ultimate Western art colony ― in Northern California's Santa Cruz Mountains.

They're inviting some of the most promising visual artists, composers, and writers in the world to spend time here, drawing inspiration from the surroundings and each other. (You, too, can visit the grounds when Montalvo welcomes the public to its new art facilities this month at its flrst Open Studios.) If the convergence of so many creative minds in a beautiful place leads to flrst-rate dinner conversation, that's good. If it leads to world-changing art, even better.


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