Coyote Howling (or Whatever Coyotes do!)



Video by Sara Grew, taken at Djerassi, up in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. It’s a very short video. Be sure to put your sound on.

The drawing here (a one line drawing) is actually of a grey fox. Why is it accompanying a video of a coyote? Because I thought the fox was a coyote, until a wise guy pointed out that grey foxes have fluffy tails and look nothing like coyotes. Pfft! Who knew?!

Art///Sky Sculpture Hike 2013

"Root to Crown" by Alissa Neglia, 2006
This sculpture makes me think of Alice in Wonderland: “Root to Crown” by Alissa Neglia, 2006 (upholstered redwood stump).

Build a sculpture and you expect it to last. Not so at Djerassi where native redwoods, ancient oaks and wide open spaces are all incorporated into the art. Placement is a key feature of each installation. Most of the sculptures here are created from materials foraged from the forest floor. Mediums like fallen redwood logs, madrone branches and oak limbs eventually make their way into many Djerassi sculptures. Once installed the pieces are, for the most part, left to weather the elements. Wind, rain, sun and forest creatures all take their toll on the art. Change is but another factor that lends interest to the works. Many of these sculptures will eventually decompose and disintegrate into the land. This is nature coming full circle, reminding us of the impermanence of being.

Various artists, “2013 ART///SKY Sculpture Tours”, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Woodside (San Francisco/Bay Area), through November 10, 2013.

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During this weekend’s hike at Djerassi, my group and I focused on twenty-two of the thirty-one sculptures on the 2013 Art///Sky hike. The first stop on our tour was Cynthia Harper’s wooden sculpture, “Nest,” created in 1997. This piece is constructed of madrone and redwood twigs and branches. They are doweled together to form a nest on the forest floor. Nest was knee high at its creation in 1997. Today it is less than five inches high.  In 2009 it looked like this:

Nest (photo credit: Anthony Lindsey, 2009)

Today it looks pretty much the same except that it is a little more disheveled.

Next stop on our tour was just a few yards away from “Nest.” “Menagerie” by Jen Blazina is situated on the banks and in the bed of Harrington Creek. Some of these fairy tale like pieces have already been washed downstream towards the ocean. Who knows how many will remain after the upcoming season’s rains. This is in keeping with the artist’s intention — that the pieces become part of a diaspora of art.

2 -Menagerie, 2011 by Jen Blazina
Menagerie (medium: cast, hydrocal)

Yusuke Toda’s, “Contemplator” was the third work of art on the tour. This piece was carved by hand from a 10-foot redwood log that was found on the property. It is situated in a deeper section of the creek than “Menagerie” is. Its rate of decay is also specific to its location. Nearly ten years after its creation and installation in the creek bed, “Contemplator” has not changed much. Here it is in its current state:

3 Yusuke Toda, Contemplator

To keep this article relatively short I’ve only presented three of the many sculptures seen on this tour. If you wish to see more photographs of some other Djerassi’s sculptures, please see my recent art review, “Decay and Disintegration” at Droste Effect Magazine.

Transitory, Contemporary, Interactive Art

Photo credit: Laura Amador, May 2013

While working on her paintings in the old Djerassi barn a month ago, artist Nicole Buffett created these colored balls and placed them in shafts of dappled sunlight on the floor. The spheres are made of packed earth, grass, gravel and pigment and are meant to “embody the serenity and power” that Buffet  felt while working in the barn. She calls this piece, The Guardians, meant as it was, to guard her paintings as they sat outside overnight.


Artist: Nicole Buffett (Bay Area artist)
Title: The Guardians (created May 2013)
Location: Inside the Old Barn (at Djerassi/SMIP Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains)
Description: This piece reveals how quickly light moves. It becomes a meditative practice as one tries to follow the light beams, constantly moving the spheres to keep up with the squares of light.
This is a temporary piece. The spheres are fragile and may leave pigment on fingers when it’s wet out. Visitors may pick them up and gently move them into shafts of light, or place them back into the urn at the far end of the room.


Should you happen to visit the old barn during the long summer months, you will be treated to a visual delight of busy sunbeams dancing across the floor and along the walls. With the installation of  The Guardian, you can have the additional experience of watching the sunlight move across the floor, heightening the colors of the individual balls.

If you stop by on a foggy day – as a group of visitors did recently – your experience will be different, less heightened: The colors of the spheres are totally dependent on the natural lighting derived from the sun. That is the nature of the piece. It is transitory and is defined by an uncontrolled light source that helps to determine how the viewer experiences the work. This installation, like the rest of Djerassi’s outdoor art, will eventually disintegrate. Catch it if you can.

I’ve written about Djerassi and its transitory art collection in previous articles. Here is one of those posts. The springtime photographs of the sun drenched landscape (plus one taken from inside the old barn), should give you an idea of the feel and intensity of the Bay Area sunlight. There is no need for artificial lighting in the barn, at least not during the day.

After the Celestial Axe

After the Celestial Axe - detail
photo credit:

Photographs and a short video of After the Celestial Axe (see my April 2013 article, “New Sculpture at Djerassi“), are now available at the artist’s site, My own personal encounter with the sculpture won’t be until the end of summer, when I lead an outdoor art hike at Djerassi.

After the Celestial Axe is beautiful and changes constantly, as is to be expected of mirrors placed outdoors. They capture the changing landscape, from moving clouds and shaking tree limbs to light and dark. The nature lover in me is concerned about the potential hazard to wildlife, particularly birds. You can hear them chirping in the video. I cannot imagine what the blinding light does to them when the sun hits the piece. (There are 27 parts to this sculpture!) And how do the other animals fare with this glare? There are deer and bobcat, for example, in this area. What is the effect on them?

New Sculpture at Djerassi: “After the Celestial Axe”

After the Celestial Axe - detail
detail (credit: the artist, Drue K., April 2013)
Fall of the Celestial Axe

Where: Woodside, CA (in the Santa Cruz Mountains, “near” the towns of Sky Londa and La Honda)

Note: Djerassi is also known as Djerassi SMIP Ranch.

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Updated: 5/4/13 — Above is a part of the sculpture, “After the Celestial Axe”. This is my favorite section. It looks like a woman and man in embrace and possibly a child, a baby, is in her arms. I see what I see and this may not be what anyone else sees and may not be what the artist herself sees. I will post more photos of this piece later this month.

As of April 2013, there is a new sculpture at Djerassi. It is by artist, Drue Kataoka whose inspiration for the piece is the fallen oak tree pictured below. The artist has incorporated the sculpture into the tree and the tree into the sculpture. She calls this work “After the Celestial Axe,” and describes it as follows:

“A giant axe fell from the skies, leaving a sparkling residue of starry formations.  Twenty-seven surfaces of frothy mirror fragments, shaped & arranged with a high degree of optical awareness, create dynamic intersections of multiple refraction planes.  From afar, these reflective arrangements sparkle in the sun; but when examined more closely, they break, distort & expand the boundary between viewer & artwork, allowing both viewer & environment to infiltrate the world of the artwork.”
Fallen Heritage Oak, picnic grounds at Djerassi (credit: Djerassi)
Fallen Heritage Oak, picnic grounds at Djerassi (credit: Djerassi)
When I was last at Djerassi about two weeks ago, pieces of the sculpture lay on the floor near the artists’ residences, far away from the tree. There Drue fused shards of mirrored glass onto the many surfaces of wood. A work in progress, the artist would later assemble the mirrored wood by the tree. Would she lay them on the ground? Would she assemble some on the tree itself? In what order would they be juxtaposed, one to the other? These questions have now been answered. The sculpture is complete. In the next month or so I will visit and take pictures. Look for them in a follow-up post.
About the Artist, Courtesy of Djerassi
Drue Kataoka is a Palo Alto based artist and Stanford Alumni who now has commissions all over the world, even in outer space! She participated in the Zero Gravity Art Exhibit at the International Space Station. The piece, “After the Celestial Axe,” was made by cutting slices of the tree with a chainsaw, sanding it down, sealing the wood, and adhering patterns of broken mirror to the surface.
Some interesting conversations about the tree are on Djerassi’s Facebook page at
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ACTIVITIES: Guided hikes and outdoor art tours; one month artist residencies
REGION: In the Santa Cruz Mountains
HOURS: Open to the public on a limited basis from April through November; annual open house in July
COST: Free and paid hikes
LOCATION/VENUE: Djerassi Resident Artists Program, 2650 Bear Gulch Rd  Woodside, CA 94062
Phone: (650) 747-1250

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