‘I don’t have a passion for sculpture,” says Judy Voigt. “I have a passion for community building, and sculpture is that avenue.”
Yet, as the matriarch of the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation speaks about the dozens of large-scale outdoor art works she and the foundation have installed and the sense of beauty she finds in each piece, it’s clear that sculpture is far more than simply a means of approach for Judy Voigt.
This weekend, the Voigt Family celebrates 10 years of public art with “Geometric Reflections,” an outdoor exhibition featuring the works of 10 prominent sculptors on display at Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa. The exhibit opens with reception on Sunday, June 19, and will be up through April 2017.
Voigt started the foundation with her husband, Al, in 2005, inspired both by his longtime interest in collecting abstract sculpture and a commitment to community service. “We focused tightly on outdoor sculpture, feeling that it was a niche that was not filled,” she says, “and feeling that it had the largest impact on people who may not otherwise go to art.”
The foundation’s idea was to bring the gallery experience outside and allow for up-close interactions with the pieces that could inspire an appreciation for sculpture within the community and make Sonoma County a destination for art lovers.
“If you just say, ‘I want to do good works,’ you gather a little bit of money here and there,” Voigt says. “But if you focus your vision and mission, you can do a lot with a little.”
In 2006, the foundation worked with the city of Healdsburg to place sculptures and benches along the Foss Creek Pathway, which runs through the town, for an indefinite period. This year, the city presented the foundation with a proclamation honoring the decade-long collaboration.
The foundation has also partnered with and placed sculptures prominently throughout the towns of Cloverdale, Geyserville, Santa Rosa and Petaluma, providing free and accessible art for all.
In addition to working with city governments to install art, the foundation works with the artists themselves, helping them realize their vision on a massive scale. Built by Al Voigt several years ago on the family’s Geyserville ranch property, where he and Judy Voigt settled in 1971, is an enormous state-of-the-art metal sculpture workshop simply known as “the Barn.” There, the foundation welcomes sculptors like David Best, Max Heiges and longtime Voigt collaborator Doug Unkrey to work on their pieces through an artist-in-residence-style program.
In 2011, Al died of cancer, but his legacy lives on through son Che and daughter-in-law, Cairenn, who are championing local art in the same fashion.
“By putting art outdoors,” says Che, it gives people easy access to it “and inspires them. With Foss Creek [Pathway], we’ve had many people tell us that they’ve changed the way they go to work, so that they can walk through the sculptures or use the bike path. And that feels really good.”
“For kids, too, when you go in a museum it’s all about ‘Don’t touch,'” says Voigt. “Here, they can touch it, walk around it and play with it.”
In addition to the benefits of art in public places for local community, the foundation is also aware that art helps make Sonoma County a destination for visitors, and points to locations like Paradise Ridge, with its grove of sculptures.
“I like the idea that large outdoor sculpture and wineries work well together,” says Che. He points to the example of Wilson Winery in Healdsburg, which purchased a large piece from sculptor and designer Bryan Tedrick, Coyote, that stands 26 feet tall and was originally displayed at Burning Man in 2013. “It’s an interesting piece, and it went right on a major thoroughfare,” says Che. “It’s fantastic to see that.”
The foundation’s work has inspired other groups, like the 101 Sculpture Trail in Geyserville and Cloverdale, to install sculptures as well. “It’s not a competitive thing, it makes us extra happy,” Che says. “Not only do we get to install sculpture throughout Sonoma County, apparently we have helped inspire other people to do something similar, and there could be no better return for our work than having someone say, ‘I like what you’re doing so much that I want to bring that to my town in a direct way.'”