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Honoring Margrit Mondavi, with art, of course

UC Davis this week dedicated the Margrit Mondavi Art Garden, a sculpture garden meant to inspire people to consider life’s beauty, just as Mondavi herself has inspired the arts in so many ways at this university.

“She’s all about art, and we are here to provide that, with this tribute to her,” Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said at a ceremony held Monday (Nov. 9) in the auditorium of the Welcome Center, across the street from the new garden.

​Mondavi, one of the university’s most generous benefactors, turned 90 last summer, and Katehi announced at a birthday party for Mondavi that the university would build the art garden to honor her, and fill it with donated sculptures. There is room for as many as a dozen or so.

“This is such a happy occasion,” Katehi said in her remarks for the ceremony, “because we have the opportunity to offer our sincerest gratitude to someone who has been such an ambassador for UC Davis.”

Indeed, Mondavi kept it up in her remarks: “I say, Hooray!” for everyone who graduated from UC Davis, everyone who teaches here, everyone who works here. “It’s a great school.”

She sponsors the Margrit Mondavi Fellows program, which provides funding to students in the arts and humanities, and she and her late husband, Robert, are the namesakes of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, and the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

Subsequently, after her husband’s death, she contributed to the university’s new art museum, along the way inspiring her friends Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti to contribute as well — to what will be the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, now under construction at the campus’s south entry.

Campus Art in Public Places

The museum and the Margrit Mondavi Art Garden are adjacent to each other, and both are showcases for the university’s Fine Arts Collection.

“Margrit was instrumental in making the Manetti Shrem Museum a reality, and now this garden will serve as an extension of this magnificent new structure and reinforce the importance of art at our university,” Katehi said.

Rachel Teagle, museum director, said the university is adding to the public art side of the Fine Arts Collection for the first time in more than a decade. “We are celebrating the renewal of our Campus Art in Public Places Program,” Teagle said.

She thanked the donors of four artworks that are the first additions to the program since 1997. One of those works is Fletcher Benton’s Alphabet D, installed Oct. 6 in the median of Old Davis Road. The other three are for the Margrit Mondavi Art Garden (see box).

An artist and her garden

Teagle showed images of some of Mondavi's watercolors of flowers, saying the paintings look effortless. But, “any of you who have attempted watercolor know that, in fact, this seeming effortlessness is only possible with great technical skill, careful consideration and a patience that enables you to start over when a drip has gone awry,” Teagle said.

She likened Mondavi’s leadership to her artistry: “Margrit Mondavi's watercolors define a process of softly shaping the forces that be, patiently harnessing them in service of visionary results and always finding beauty in the outcome.”

Teagle said Chancellor Katehi called for a garden design that reflected Mondavi’s enthusiasms:

  • It should be, first and foremost, a garden. Mondavi’s work demonstrates her love of gardening, she grew the flowers that she painted and she arranged them just so, Teagle said. She announced that the Margrit Mondavi Art Garden will be the home of the fragrant “Margrit Mondavi” rose cultivar.
  • The floral plantings will embrace the garden’s sculptures, so that together the union of art and garden will create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

‘Experience the power of art’

Chancellor Katehi said the Margrit Mondavi Art Garden, which uniquely symbolizes what its namesake has meant to UC Davis, holds the potential itself to change lives.

“Consider that each year, thousands of potential students leave the Welcome Center across the street to tour our campus,” Katehi said. “They will see this garden, walk through it and experience the power of art.

“How many current students, staff and faculty will visit this garden and be inspired by its beauty and by the art that will live here?

“I am confident that over the years and decades to come, the Margrit Mondavi Art Garden will inspire countless Aggies. It will broaden our vision and expand our horizons.”

Teagle recalled the story of how Mondavi years ago wished UC Davis had a prettier face than a water tower to show to the world as it passed by on Interstate 80. Well, of course, the Mondavi Center and the Robert Mondavi Institute and the art garden have changed all that, and soon the museum will contribute to that new look.

And listen to what Mondavi has to say now about the water tower: "We've got to write it on that water tower, what great things UC Davis has accomplished."

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Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, dljones@ucdavis.edu