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Down on the Farm

Artful Harvest makes hay for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program

View photos from this party

A cool, white mist slowly crept over the coastal mountains from the Pacific as 150 revelers gathered under the long shadows of a warm, waning autumnal sun at the third annual Artful Harvest to raise a glass (and their checkbooks) in support of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (DRAP).

Located in Woodside, this 600-acre property (dotted with ancient oaks, redwood groves, creeks, meadows and outdoor sculpture) was patched together by world-famous chemist (and playwright) Dr. Carl Djerassi for a short-horn cattle operation and a family home.

The artists residency program was founded in 1979 by Dr. Djerassi and his then-partner (and later wife), the late Diane Middlebrook (an author and scholar), following a personal family tragedy-- the suicide of his 28-year-old daughter, Pamela Djerassi Bush, who was an artist and poet.

This living memorial to the creative spirit, which since its inception has served more than 1,700 artists, bills itself as "the gift of time" and serves as laboratory, studio and inspiration for about 80 artists a year. At no charge, to boot.

The location of DRAP is called SMIP Ranch, a moniker which originally stood for the phrase, Syntex Made It Possible - a sly wink to the chemical company at which Dr. Djerassi discovered a formula which would create the world's first oral contraceptive. Later the initials were changed to the more gracious, and more appropriate, Latin phrase, Sic manebimus in pace (Thus we'll remain in peace).

Peaceful, and beautiful, it is up on this verdant hilltop Shangri-La which is home now to both the residency program and the SMIP Ranch Produce farm founded by Carl's son, Dale Djerassi (filmmaker, DRAP Trustee and a brand new SF Film Festival Board Member) and his partner, Kristi Spierling.

And it wouldn't be a "harvest" party without fabulous food and primo vino -- and thank you, vintner Paul Draper who donated his delish Ridge Zinfandel.

At the grills: Chefs Mark Sullivan and Dmitry Elperin of sister-restaurants Spruce and the Village Pub (which just received its first Michelin star).

Atop the grill? Goat from the new organic BN Ranch by Bill Niman who recently disassociated himself from the famed organic meat company he founded in the seventies.

"Goat is hot right now," explained Chef Sullivan. "It's the new red meat."

The gourmet meal also included a harvest salad, turnip soup and house-made farfalle with leeks and tomatoes. All whipped from SMIP Ranch produce.

"It's every chefs dream to be able to have a relationship with the land. We go to the farm and dig our hands in the dirt. It's a great educational tool," said Sullivan of his relationship with SMIP which started six years ago at the Village Pub. "But the challenge of organic farming is not easy -- it's real pick-and-shovel work."

Among the art-and-organic-food lovers: Sue and John Diekman; Dale's son, Alexander Djerassi; Amy Rao and Harry Plant; Peninsula Open Space Trust President Audrey Rust; Kit Tobin and Bill Wheeler; Larry Goldfarb; Johanna and Tom Baruch; Ann Hatch and Paul Discoe; Ann and Roger McNamee; Boris Dramov and Bonnie Fisher and Lava Thomas and Peter Danzig.

Set within the 12-sided, glass-walled artists barn, the afternoon also featured a silent auction of fabulous works as well as a breath-taking musical performance by sound artist Pamela Z and readings by beloved California State Poet Laureate Al Young, himself a former DRAP artist-in-residence.

"A lot of artists think in terms of 'getting'," Young remarked during dinner. "But the truth is, it's about an artist giving."

And give, Al did. From two separate readings as well as an impromptu auction of one of his books, Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry.

"After food, shelter and clothing, the next most important thing is the arts-- the product of a cultured society," said Al to the crowd. "If you look at ancient cave paintings, it becomes clear that art really does not progress. It's a reflection of the human spirit. And that spirit is divine."

After sustained applause for Young, DRAP Executive Director Dennis O'Leary enthused: "Well, that just goes to show you how valuable a Djerassi residency can be!"

"This program was founded in the memory of my sister, Pamela, whom I thinkabout pretty much all the time," said Dale Djerassi, thanking the DRAP supporters. "Our residency program allows artists the freedom of creativity and the ability to deal with these difficult kinds of situations that are part of every family's history. A great beauty can be borne out of tragedy."

Djerassi paid tribute to his father's vision in founding DRAP as well as Diane Middlebrook, for whom a memorial tribute on the ranch is being planned.

And a lively live auction, led by Dale Djerassi, helped raise a healthy $80K in the midst of a sickly economy. The enticements? Young's previously mentioned book (won by David Lustig for $1100 smackers) and a T-shirt.

A tradition at this party started by Dale, who offers the shirt off his back which is always emblazoned with a clever phrase. He found this year's $20 special in New York and was delighted that the shirt's phrase also timed perfectly with the current political season: Support Barack (Who's Sane!) Obama!!

Tara Dhillon, previous winner in past T-shirt contests led the bid but kept egging Dale to pony up and bid himself.

"I love this T-shirt!" responded Dale, who ended up keeping the shirt on his back for $800. "It will take an honored place in my T-shirt collection."

Al Young ended the night by remembering Diane Middlebrook, his dear friend and former Stanford University colleague, and Pamela Djerassi by invoking ars poetica (the art of poetry), the attempt to manifest the fleeting beauty of art, words, lyrics or lives.

"The love of poems is that they keep. The love of lives is that they don't."