Posted by parhad on July 20, 2001 at 13:21:59:
My work was introduced to Robert Mondavi some time back through Narsai. Mondavi is a big man out here...hob nobs with all the stars, has a joint venture with
the Rothschilds etc. At an annual wine auction here they raise five to seven million in one weekend for Charitable causes in the Napa Valley. The guy is 94 by now.
Gets up at six each morning and swims laps in his indoor pool, goes to work as if he has to, and he does. Mondavi Vineyards made the Napa Valley and the whole
wine thing what it is today. Though it trades on the stock exchange it's still a family held business...his sons run the place, under him of course.
I saw him at his office the first time. His personal secretary served us coffe while we chatted about art. Told me he had never before responded to someones work
as he had to mine. I about fell off my chair...figured the guy CAN'T feel he needs to flatter me...what gives. he even called on his secretary to confirm the comment.
I brought an armature and clay, setting up a tarp under me in his office where I worked for several days while he conducted business. he's a real old timer, everything
on trust, your word and a handhshake. A very gallant man too, very respectful and tender with his second wife, a Swiss woman named Margaret. He was turning 90
the year he commissioned me. After making the smaller sketch in his office he came to my studio for several sittings.
Now my "studio" is a tractor barn some sixty years old. It looks like it could use a decent coat of dynamite. I had to rip off parts of the ceiling and walls to let some
sunshine in...everything else came in too...skunks, deer, piles of old grape leaves and other debris blown in by the wind whistling over the sixty acres of grapes and
oak trees that surround us. Families of bats lived in the ceiling and birds built their nests above my work tables.
Mondavi and his wife came here, usually after lunch. he would take his place on the chair I placed for him and I would work next to him on the life-size bust.
Margaret always took an intense interest in the work. She had been an art instructor I think...possibly a painter herself, in any case "ART" was very much on
everyone's mind as there were any number of zillionaires living in the hills around the place...people with million dollar cabins and weekend retreats.
Once in his office, the second day I'd started on his sketch, she came by and commented on how fast I'd gotton along. She asked me if I were having trouble with
his "mouth' in particular. said it had always been hard for her. Only she pronounced it as "zee mouse". At first I didn't know what she was referring to...she just said
over and over..."yes yes...eet eez zee mouse, zee mouse." I got it finally and assured her that his mouth wouldn't be any particular problem. I think it was bad
judgement on my part to say it so casually. But when I work especially, it's impossible to bullshit anywhere...it shows in the work.
After five sittings at my studio they appeared one day with his nephew whose father, Peter Mondavi owns the other huge winery here. many years ago there had
been a fight between the two brother with mama Mondavi backing Peter, who then bought out his brother. Robert went on to found his own label and that was the
the beginning of this industry for real. Well the brothers hadn't spoken for years and apparently the feud lingers on because the nepew now worked for Robert
Mondavi's first wife was an alcoholic. He himself never overdoes a thing. Surrounded by the best foods and liquors, he is trim, athletic, alert and never ever high or
drunk. His second wife is a little less so. On this day they'd obviously been drinking lunch for Margaret and the nephew were four sheets to the wind. Mondavi was
his usual gracious self...he always made my studio seem as if it didn't have to hide its head. A real Old World gentleman.
Some time into the work, Margaret came to stand behind my shoulder. I was used to this, didn't bother me. this day however she began with "zee mouse"
again...said she didn't know but somehow it needed a little "zomezing heer and zomezing zair".
Mondavi kept his composure, sitting bolt upright, eyes ahead, but I could tell he was a triffle bothered.
More in jest than anything else, I asked Margaret if she would like to try for herself. I was joking of course. It was a nice way of saying, "go lean against that tree
over there and let me work". Instead she practically flew over my shoulder and began to re-sculpt "zee mouse". I stepped away and stared in wonder. Mondavi
looked over at me and I'll never forget the look. It wasn't a pleading for understanding look. he kept her dignity for her, even though she couldn't do it herself. he just
let me see how dear she was to him,leaving it for me to decide how to respond. I knew he would have forgiven me if I'd yelled at her...but he would have been hurt.
I waited, watching her mess the lips up, twist the clay this way and that...making apes lips, then no lips, then three lips...obviously she had been dying to "sculpt" and
probably figured her husband had "bought" the rights to this piece anyway...so what the hell.
When she finally stopped to contemplate the mess she'd made...she said, "eet eez not right". Then, in an inspired moment, she picked up some clay and went over to
this stately and regal 89 year old man, and pressed the clay against "heez mouse"...saying she would just get the impression right from him. I wished I was anywhere
else but there. He sat there, love just streaming from his eyes as his head was pushed back under the drunken pressure of her hand forcing clay into his mouth.
Something must have told her she'd gone too far, for she suddenly stopped and turned to look at me. "Is that they way you want it", I asked? She made for the limo
followed by the nephew. I said nothing. Mondavi wiped his mouth. We continued to work. I repaired the damamge she'd done but knew I couldn't see either of
That was the last sitting. I never called to schedule another one. I lost all interest in the piece...finished it using photographs but my heart wasn't in it. I had it cast in
bronze and delivered it to his office. he happened to be there with some friends and I had the unpleasant task of unveiling it for them in his office.
I'll never know if he was just being nice...wanted to forget the whole thing or what. he said it was beautiful, was very pleased etc. The friends were very
complimentary but what else could they be. I know I never wanted to see the piece again, though I made a second copy for Narsai.