One of the most creative and buzz-worthy events of the Bay Area summer “high season” is the biennial fete hosted by art collectors and philanthropists Norah and Norman Stone.
The party takes place at Stonescape, their country estate and retreat at the far northern end of the Napa Valley, near the Calistoga hot springs resort founded in the 1860s.
Every few years, the Stones curate a new show from their internationally acclaimed collection of modern and contemporary works and exhibit it in a unique gallery—an “art cave” excavated into the hillside of their Calistoga estate.
THE STONESCAPE COUNTRY ESTATE
Adventurous in their taste in all things, the Stones have created an idyllic life for themselves. Connoisseurs of art, fashion, food, wine, and travel, they are always open to expanding their horizons.
With a Beaux Arts-style 1927 home in San Francisco, and a retreat in Lanai, Hawaii, the couple purchased an 1887 white farmhouse in the Napa Valley wine country as their weekend retreat, and named the 17-acre property “Stonescape.”
STONESCAPE FIFTH BIENNIAL
The fifth biennial exhibition and party drew more than 225 guests who came to enjoy the remarkable “Convergence” exhibition, meander through the spectacular grounds, swim in a pool that itself is a major work of art, and gather in the vineyard of the property to break bread and share lively conversation.
The experience was dazzling and so was the crowd itself. The Stones gather an unusually diverse group of friends and colleagues, artists and tradespeople, Napa locals, San Francisco politicos, and other movers and shakers from around the world.
THE ONE-OF-A-KIND ART CAVE
While their friends in the California wine country dreamed of building wine caves, the Stones opted instead for an art cave built into a hill. The Stones excavated the cave on the property to house pieces too large or difficult to install in either their Stonescape residence or their San Francisco home.
The works in the cave’s current show, “Convergence,” curated by art adviser Suzanne Modica,explore how contemporary artists respond to a world obsessed with “spectacle, the cult of celebrity, and the pervasiveness of social media.” Several of the artists featured in the show were in attendance.
A MUTUAL PASSION FOR ART
Norman, a Chicago native, earned a BA in economics from Stanford University. After a stint in the corporate world, he earned a doctorate from the Wright Institute in Berkeley and practiced as a psychotherapist in Hunters Point, a low-income neighborhood in San Francisco.
Canadian-born Norah, on the other hand, chose the opposite trajectory, first working as a registered nurse in psychiatric and surgical units, and later earning a law degree, in order to practice as a corporate attorney.
Each also studied art, and it’s this shared passion that takes them around the world learning and searching for their next work of art. Today, the couple serve on many art boards: Both are trustees of SFMOMA, and are members of the New York Whitney Museum National Committee and the Tate International Council in London.
ART & FASHION LOVERS
Another mutual interest is they both love to dress up—for themselves. The Stones are well known for their individualistic and amusing fashion sense (she was honored by San Francisco Magazine in 2007 as one of the city’s best-dressed). They are collectors of whimsical and colorful outfits by high-end designers that would certainly be wonderful additions to a museum fashion collection.
BUILDING THE COLLECTION
The Stones have been frequently profiled in art magazines and are listed among ARTnews magazine’s Top 200 Collectors. They are admired for their thoughtful and socially, politically, and culturally challenging acquisitions.
The couple are generous in giving credit to those who helped start them on their art-collecting path. They thank the late John Caldwell, former SFMOMA curator of painting and sculpture, for introducing them to New York-based art consultant Thea Westreich Wagner.
A MIX OF CONTEMPORARY AND MODERN
The Stones’ collection of over 1,000 pieces of art and major outdoor installations reflect their interests in conceptualism, current cultural issues, and various forms of expression including sculpture, painting, media, and photography.
“Our aim has always been to collect museum-quality works,” Norman has said, and to make a “cohesive collection” that the Stones aim to someday donate to art institutions.
COCKTAIL HOUR BY ARTIST JAMES TURRELL’S “SKYSPACE”
After viewing the latest exhibition, guests headed to nibbles and “Turrell” Tequila cocktails, named in honor of the artist James Turrell, whose on-site installation Stone Sky, 2005, includes an infinity pool, pavilion, and “Skyspaces.”
DINNER IS SERVED AT GOURMET FOOD TRUCKS
Always delighting guests with the unexpected, the Stones this year brought in some of the Bay Area’s iconic gourmet food trucks to cater. Guests lined up for choices including Italian, Mexican, and American comfort food, served with Azalea Springs wine. Of course, many of us returned enough times to sample everything!
DINING AL FRESCO UNDER THE STARS
Dinner was served on the lawn, at one long table of salvaged wood designed by master woodworker, craftsman, arborist, and artist Evan Shively of Arborica, set up next to Turrell’s Skyscape and the sunflower field.
AFTER-DINNER SWIM AT JAMES TURRELL’S SKYSPACE
A highlight of the Stones’ summer parties is enjoying the swimming pool and pavilion. When Norman went to turn off the lights after midnight, he discovered a few guests still soaking in the infinity pool under the starlit skies. This was a party no one wanted to leave!
Not people to sit around, the Stones lost no time, soon flying off to Ashland, Oregon for their annual Camp Norah trek to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for several days of plays, food, and fun with friends.
Drew Altizer and Jeanne Lawrence.
*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.