Monday, April 23, 2012

Artist I Love: Ira Yeager

Calistoga Follies
With an artist’s romantic eye for the eccentric, Northern California painter Ira Yeager gathers exuberant collections of furniture, antiques, curiosities, and rare objects in his Calistoga studio, country pavilion and barn. Both inspiration and décor, his collections set the scene of his privateNapa Valley world.

Come with me for a private visit to this prolific painter—and be inspired. 

Ira Yeager, dressed for a dinner party at Clarke and Elizabeth Swanson’s house in the Napa Valley, wears a custom-crafted shirt he acquired at the Town School Clothes Closet, his favorite San Francisco thrift haunt for his wardrobe. 

In the wild green hills north of Calistoga, artist Ira Yeager has built a pleasure pavilion for art, music, lavish feasts, and summer frolic. Nearby are his redwood studio and his soaring red barn—and all three are backgrounds for the artist’s gregarious (and prolific) life. 

The Gustavian folly is a venue for an eighteenth-century Swedish cabinet, antique Italian and French chairs, and a Venetian glass vase. The plywood floor was ‘marbleized’ with marine paint and stencils. 

Step into Yeager’s dreamy Gustavian-style country house and it’s like tripping into the 18th-century.

Yeager greets guests wearing a handsome nipped-waist cutaway crimson jacket made in 1776 for a French nobleman. He reposes on a languorous down-filled Provencal chaise longue, dines on elegant French porcelain plates, and displays his French silver teapot on a superb French marquetry desk.

Yeager happily admits that he is obsessed with 18th-century France. So much so that he paints lively gala scenes and portraits inspired by that fabled French century, and he surrounds himself with 18th-century French antique cabinets and gueridons, portraits, and objets (shipped from France by his dear friend, antiques dealer Lillian Williams). 

Arched windows in the pavilion overlook vineyards. The grapes, intensely flavored from the volcanic soil and sunny terroir, are in demand among local winemakers. Yeager’s motto for his French chaise longue and painted table: ‘nothing newer than 1812’. 

After leaving his San Francisco studio to live and paint in the Wine Country twenty years ago, Yeager came upon a neglected walnut orchard in a remote valley north of Calistoga. He decided to build a Swedish cottage in the Gustavian style.

To realize Yeager’s dream, his friend, Calistoga contractor Richard Horwath, limned a charming board-and-batten structure with a soaring ceiling and stripped pine support columns

The pale gray Gustavian folly surrounded by five acres of flourishing walnut trees encrusted with pale green lichen makes a dramatic bucolic scene, with deer nibbling tender grass shoots and doves nesting among the gnarled oaks.

Yeager’s art today is passionately engaging, but it’s clear that the true métier of this painter is recreating the past. 

He loves antiques, especially French pieces with interesting provenance. 

Yeager has been making his mark on the San Francisco art scene since the fifties. He grew up in Bellingham, Washington, and studied art first at CCA and later at the San Francisco Art Institute with teachers such as Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, and Elmer Bischoff. In the sixties and seventies, Yeager studied and painted in Italy, Paris, and Morocco and he lived for a decade on the island of Corfu, off the coast of Greece.

Zinnias from his garden sizzle in an antique Chinese urn on the deck of the pavilion. 

The neoclassical Gustavian style, which flowered in Stockholm in the late 18th-century, was directly inspired by the 18th-century architecture and decor fashionable in France at the time of Louis XVI, a hero of Yeager’s. The French-inspired Gustav III is one of Yeager soul mates.
“I admire and appreciate everything French and 18th-century Swedish,” said Yeager, who studied painting in Paris while in his twenties. “The eighteenth-century was a golden era--the blossoming of design, courtly life, fashion, art, music and culture. I’m curious about what it all means. I paint characters of that period and collect the antiques so that I can understand that century, and come face-to-face with the philosophy and daily life.”
The present is picture-perfect. But for Ira Yeager there is always his brush with the golden and glorious 18th-century. 

The redwood studio has all-day sun. Just as well. Yeager is an all-day painter. 

In his paint-scented studio Ira Yeager stacks recent oil paintings, juxtaposed with delicate antique French and German porcelains. Dust is his mood-altering friend. 

Every day, Napa Valley artist Ira Yeager wakes with the sparrows and works until dusk in his paint-spattered studio.

As sunlight flickers through tall windows, he paints alluring Indians, elegant costumed 18th-century French princes, California landscapes, and Swedish countesses at costumed balls.

“History for me stopped in 1812, and I’m besotted with eighteenth-century Europe and long-ago California,” said Yeager. 

An Italian gilded niche with saint. 

In the studio, new painting completes, amid a certain orderly chaos. 

From the rustic Calistoga headquarters, Yeager’s studio manager, Brian Fuller, ships canvases to avid collectors and galleries in Aspen, Carmel Valley, Santa Fe, Houston, New York, Beverly Hills, London and Mumbai. Yeager’s works have been exhibited around the country, and he always seems to have an exhibit at any moment in a California gallery.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a long career,” said Yeager, taking a break to pick ripe heirloom tomatoes in his garden. “I studied in the early sixties and I’ve been painting ever since. When people ask me if I’m still painting, I respond, “What else is better to do?” I research and work on my art every day.”

Yeager recently released, with Berkeley publisher Peter Koch, ‘Paul Bowles 2137 Tanger Socco’, a lavish shocking pink boxed compilation of Yeager’s letters to writer Paul Bowles over four decades. It’s illustrated with original portraits, in a limited edition of twenty-five.

“I met Paul Bowles in the late sixties in Tangier,” said Yeager. “He was so encouraging for my work. And we always kept in touch.” 

“I first discovered St. Helena and Calistoga around 1975, long before they were chic,” said Yeager. “There were a handful of fine wineries, some great friends, but no social life or restaurants. It was pure discovery. Until the 1830s, the Wappo Indians used to hunt and live in the region where I now live. I often find their obsidian arrowheads.”

“The Napa Valley is a wonderful place for an artist,” said Ira. “It’s relaxed and incredibly beautiful through the seasons. I can disappear for days and throw myself into my paintings, or I can head down Highway 29 to the French Laundry or the Swanson Winery salon, and be very social. I might drive over to the St Helena Olive Oil Company to buy the best olive oil in the world. I invite my best friends to a special dinner at The Napa Valley Reserve, ultra-private and elegant. There at the Reserve, everything is possible in the best of all possible worlds, as Voltaire said.”
He’s twenty minutes from the town of Calistoga, but it feels distant. Mountain lions stalk across his meadows, and deer tiptoe through the walnut orchard.

Yeager’s redwood board-and-batten studio, built like all of his follies by Calistoga contractor Richard Horwath, reaches high into the surrounding ancient oaks. Topped with a jaunty cupola, it lights up like a magic lantern on a summer afternoon. 

Yeager’s dramatic red barn is used as a painting studio, for impromptu entertaining, and to display his artfully arranged collections, some precious, some eccentric. Contractor: Richard Horwath.

An architectural fragment plays stage for vintage albums and a Chinese birdcage. 

Half a mile away, surrounded by manzanitas, stands the red barn, built from a Swedish-style barn kit and shipped west from Alabama.

“I dream up houses and iconic farm buildings and Richard turns them into sun-filled pavilions and studios,” says Yeager. “I see an image of a folly or a pavilion in a design book, and want it build it, decorate it with my antiques, have parties.” 

Abstract paintings, intentionally paint-laden, create a colorful contrast with a farm table gathering of forty years of curiosities.  

A painting by Yeager hovers above a marble-topped French table topped with crystal. 

On weekends, friends from San Francisco and the Napa Valley arrive bearing bottles of wine from their estates, as well as artisan cheeses and baguettes, and gossip from the city.

Equally unstoppable, when Yeager steps out of his studio, he’s sleuthing through Petaluma antiques galleries for gilded French antique chairs and rattling around San Francisco flea markets in search of Meissen porcelains. 

He recently found a set of twelve delicately carved ballroom chairs from Antique & Art Exchange in San Francisco that now adorn his pale grey pavilion. New finds cluttering an old farm table include delicate Venetian wine glasses, an eighteenth-century French nobleman’s crimson silk jacket with the original carved mother-of-pearl buttons, a cache of French cut crystal carafes from a Bordeaux chateau. 

The peripatetic Yeager has painted in Morocco, Corfu, the South of France and Paris.

“I’ve been happy in studios around the world, but I’m happiest in Calistoga,” he said. “In California, I can invent, dream, create, and live a wonderful life.”


All photography by Adrian Gregorutti, Napa Valley, California. Presented here with express permission of the photographer.

Adrian Gregorutti with both a European and South American background brings his great talent and diverse sensibilities to his work photographing wineries, architecture, interiors, historical buildings, people and art. He lives in Rutherford, in the heart of California’s Wine Country.

To contact Ira Yeager:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Finesse, Grace, Elegance, Joy, Beauty: Bravo to the San Francisco Ballet!

Tutu much! This has been the most thrilling season, the best. The beauty of ‘Onegin’ left me breathless. The exquisite dancing of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was simply thrilling. The current classic Balanchine program with the exquisite ‘Scottish Symphony’ masterwork is divine.

Please, pirouette on over. There are two programs remaining for the 2012 season. I suggest that you grab some tickets and a friend, and dash over to the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.

Prepare to be thrilled and uplifted by dancers like Maria Kochetkova, Joan Boada, Frances Chung, Sarah van Patten, Vitor Luiz, Pascal Molat, Dores Andre, Vanessa Zahorian, Gennadi Nedvigin, and the ethereal and emotive Yuan Yuan Tan. 

Pirouette to the phone! The season ends May 6. 

The San Francisco Ballet is the oldest professional ballet company in the country, founded in 1933. Dancers from Cuba, Brazil, Spain, Canada, Italy, Estonia, Thailand, France, China, and across the US give this company character and depth. This winter season has been a highlight—with an international company of inspired, superbly talented, expressive, engaging, and brilliantly trained dancers. 

Program 7 opened on Thursday, April 12 with three works by master choreographer George Balanchine. This program opens with Divertimento No. 15, set to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The revival of Scottish Symphony marks the first time this ballet has been performed by the Company in more than 4o years. Set to Felix Mendelssohn’s score. The program concludes with Balanchine’s neoclassical masterpiece The Four Temperaments, set to music by Paul Hindemith. 

Program 8 opens Friday, April 27 with a newly designed production of Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov’s staging of Don Quixote.

The three-act story ballet, set to a vivid score by Léon Minkus, will feature all-new scenic and costume design by Tony-award winner Martin Pakledinaz. Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ book from 1605. 

One great highlight of SF Ballet’s 2012 repertory season was the SF Ballet premiere of John Cranko’s 'Onegin'. It was expressive and elegant, beautifully performed. At the grande finale, the rapturous audience left up, applauding, cheering, whistling (yes) and this applause seemed to continue for hours. So happy. 

This season also saw the return of SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet. 

San Francisco Ballet
I’ve been fortunate to attend the San Francisco Ballet performances for many years. The artists are all world-class, and the caliber of the choreography, as well as the refinement and elegance of the dancers, makes each evening one of delight and astonishment.

As America’s oldest professional ballet company and one of the three largest ballet companies in the United States, San Francisco Ballet has enjoyed a rich tradition of artistic “firsts” since its founding in 1933.

This current season has been one of standing ovations. I’ll be seeing the last performances of this season—and then will look forward to the next season opening in January 2013. I can’t wait.

Here’s the great news for my readers spread out across the globe. The San Francisco Ballet will be performing in Europe

Hamburg Tour

June 22, 26, 27 and July 1, 2012

San Francisco Ballet will guest at Hamburg Ballet on June 26 and 27, performing a mixed-bill program that includes Tomasson’s 7 for Eight, Possokhov’s RAkU, a pas de deux from Continuum, and Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour. In addition, for one performance-only on June 22, four SF Ballet principal dancers will star in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid, performed by Hamburg Ballet. In addition, a select number of dancers will also perform on Hamburg Ballet’s Nijinsky Gala XXXVIII on July 1.

Moscow Tour

June 29 & 30, 2012

San Francisco Ballet will present two performances at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia on June 29 and 30 (programming to be announced). This engagement will represent SF Ballet’s first visit to Russia. 

London Tour

September 14-23, 2012

San Francisco Ballet will embark on its first engagement to London since 2004. From September 14-23, 2012, the Company will perform three mixed-repertory programs over nine performances, at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, featuring: UK premieres and works by choreographers including George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov, and SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson.
 Visit Sadler’s Wells website for tickets and information.

Washington, D.C. Tour

November 13-18, 2012

San Francisco Ballet will perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., November 13-18, 2012. The week-long engagement will feature Helgi Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet, and one mixed-repertory program. The Company’s last engagement in Washington, D.C. was part of its 75th American Anniversary Tour in 2008. 

Photography of the San Francisco Ballet artists for the 2012 repertory are presented here with express permission of the San Francisco Ballet.

For more information, visit 

For information, please call Ticket Services at 415.865.200o or visit Phone hours are Monday through Friday, 10am to 4pm (California time).

Monday, April 9, 2012

My New Favorite Book

‘French Bistro: Seasonal Recipes’ is the newest insider guide to classic Paris bistro food, and it introduces us to the thirteen best and most authentic Paris bistros.

The author is the beloved owner of one of my favorite bistros, the Bistro Paul Bert, in the 11th.

Genial author Bertrand Auboyneau details the (handsome) chefs, the seasonal menus, the highly original and sometimes eccentric wine lists, the authentic timeless décor, the vivid scene, the concept, the recipes, and…the food. Cuisine is too fancy a word for these heart-and-soul, seasonal, fresh, revelatory, inspiring, and not-too-expensive dishes. 

What is a bistro without guests? A song without words, a film without music. The guest gives the cue for the show to begin. When the client arrives, the kitchen is set in motion, picking up momentum as the dining area fills. The saddest thing that can happen to a restaurant is for it to be empty. The chef is down at heart; the owner panics; fresh produce goes bad; and the bank manager grows impatient….

With FRENCH BISTRO: Seasonal Recipes you can plan your own gastronomic Paris trip—and you’ll feel like a Paris bistro regular. Perhaps you can even ask the chefs to sign your book. Yes! 

And if you’re not heading to Paris for the moment, the book has sixty straightforward recipes including appetizers, seafood, hearty meat dishes, tarts, deserts, all classic, traditional, not fussed-over. Wafts of fabulous ingredients will fill your kitchen. Delicious, easy. You could almost cook from the pictures, which are very beautifully styled. 

“A true bistro has a natural melody playing in the background. The bistro is the setting against which minor dramas and romances are played out. The directors/owners/chefs ask only that the actors love life, laugh, tell stories, and enjoy their delicious fare. The bistro sings a serious yet light-hearted chorus.” —Francois Simon, from the Introduction to THE FRENCH BISTRO: Seasonal Recipes

The Paul Bert
In a few minutes, the bistro will open. The tables are standing at attention, and the chairs are lined up. But you’ve just missed one of the crucial moments in the life of a bistro: the arrival of the day’s produce. Not long ago, crates of fruit and vegetables and hunks of meat were being ferried into the kitchen. Now, it’s the quiet before the storm: the guests are about to arrive!

Flammarion’s FRENCH BISTRO: Seasonal Recipes is out just in time for planning your dream trip to Paris. I’m using it to plan my spring trip to Paris next month. 

Recipe from the Paul Bert, Tongue Salad with Tarragon-Scented New Potatoes    
It’s a highly detailed and very helpful look at the most authentic and atmospheric bistros, including my favorite, Le Barratin in Belleville (with a woman chef), along with the Bistro Paul-Bert and Le Villaret, and of course everything by Yves Camdeborde, including Le Comptoir and as well, L’Ami Jean.

The book has 60 recipes. As you know, I don’t cook, but I do love looking at the book’s glorious pictures of plates of white asparagus, seasonal salads, haricots verts, and lovely savory tarts (and I admire the glistening steak dishes, though I’m a vegetarian). Highly recommend. 

Thierry Laurent, the exemplary Paul Bert chef, allows the fame of the bistro to take center stage while he works in the background. His ingenuity provides the Paul Bert with its remarkable seasonal menus.
Flammarion’s FRENCH BISTRO: Seasonal Recipes, is the definitive guide to the true Parisian bistro from two of the highest authorities on the subject, a restaurant critic for Le Figaro, and a bistro owner, straight from the heart of the Parisian gastro bistro scene.

I arrive at Bistro Paul Bert and Bertrand Auboyneau, generally rather sanguine, comes to greet us when we arrive, gives me a peck on both cheeks, and finds the perfect table. Glasses of wine are quickly sent, wine lists and menus appear. It’s the start of a beautiful evening. 

Thanks to the humanistic vision of Bertrand Auboyneau, the Paul Bert’s wine list is generously filled with authentic, often natural, handcrafted wines. These wines pair well with products rich in the goût de terroir— farm-made charcuterie and chunks of country bread, such as here at Le Grand Pan

François Simon, the book’s co-author, with Bertrand, first sets out the Ten Commandments for what makes a truly good bistro—starting with the seasonal menu, and the authentic funky décor (nothing modern or hard-edge or over-styled or over-lit).

The book takes readers through a tour of the most archetypal bistros spread throughout the capital.

The authors propose that the owner is the key to everything. He and the chef and the wine list and the bar are the solid foundation of a bistro. 

The Gorgeon
It really is a small world. Christophe Acker, the owner of this bistro in Boulogne- Billancourt, just west of Paris, used to work at the Paul Bert. So you’ll find the same jovial reception and down-to-earth cooking: egg with mayonnaise, hanger steak, blood sausage and apple, an enormous entrecôte served with homemade French fries. The easy-to-drink wines are there, too—in short, you’ll find everything that comprises the perfect bistro.
The chef is expert at creating a menu with the vegetables and fresh fish and beautiful meats he finds at the markets. You won’t see tomatoes here in winter—but you will find fantastic mushrooms and game and beautiful potatoes.

In spring there are exquisite wild asparagus and white asparagus and the first little strawberries, and lovely lettuces, tender greens. Oh… 

The inspiration of a bistro menu responds to the whims of nature. Morel mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, a crisp head of lettuce, fine olive oil… and a new dish is born.

The great feature for me at these bistros is that chefs create flexible and wonderfully inventive menus, so that you could make a wonderful dinner from a beautiful plate of white asparagus with vinaigrette followed by perhaps an elegant plain omelet with a green salad. Or a glorious, glistening sole Meuniere, super-classic (I've enjoyed it, in season, at Paul Bert), or Monkfish with Green Asparagus (I've had it at Le Barratin). Divine. Or you could do a tribute to seafood, with oysters from Brittany and fresh prawns or a fritto misto of fresh sardines or little crayfish.

Then there’s the cheese tray. It will be perfect (ripe, fresh cheeses, usually from a farm) and you’ll ask the waiter for a suggestion of a wine to accompany. 

L’Écailler du Bistrot
A few years after opening the Paul Bert, Bertrand Auboyneau and Gwenaëlle Cadoret decided to open another bistro, one specializing in seafood. They maintained the same décor and introduced a nautical theme, elegantly combining vintage Breton bric-a-brac, ceramics, and woodwork with marine paraphernalia. Each bistro has a distinct feel and ambience; its own manifesto: sedate and refined at L’Écailler du Bistrot, exuberant and lively at the Paul Bert.

Then there’s the essential chalkboard with its selection of the most characteristic bistro recipes. Smart diners order only from the chalkboard as these are the daily specials, and everything is ultra-fresh and superbly prepared (simple, with great respect for the ingredients). 

Recipe from the Paul Bert, Roasted Suckling Pig with Dried Apricots and Touquet New Potatoes.
Wine holds everything together. Ask the waiter or the owner for suggestions—you can’t go wrong. Be adventurous. Order something you’ve never heard of. Since most bistros buy directly from very small and quirky and insider producers, you’ll enjoy a wine/ wines by the glass that are perfect for the season and that taste of a specific terroir. Chat with the waiter about it. Make a discovery. 

Walk into L’Abordage near the Saint-Lazare train station, and you’re certain to say, “Now this is what I call a real bistro.” The decor, the style, the entrecôtes, and the traditional andouillette all speak of an authentic, traditional establishment. The owner, too, is true to type, and Bernard Fontenille knows what it takes to keep his guests happy.
In the book, the authors insist that friendly and chatty waiters are important (you can chat in French or English, they’re busy but they’ll stop and help you choose).

The ambiance will be bustly and everyone is in it together. That's what it is all about—leaping boldly into the scene, enjoying it fully. Perhaps chatting to the people at the next table, checking our their plates. Getting a little loud (in a good way) is fun. And laughing, smiling, sipping, eating, grabbing some more bread, chatting (putting away the dreaded iPhone images) and wining and dining on into the night, becoming best friends with the owner's dog, and loving it so much that you return the next day.

You are the creator of your experience here...just as much as the waiter or the chef is. 

Recipe from the Paul Bert, Sarawak Pepper Tuna, Mi-Cuit    
This is such a generous, jolly, and informed book. In the Appendix are lists of the classic Paris bistros, plus a list of the Paul Bert’s suppliers (in case you want to open your own Paris bistro). There’s even a list of places where you can find elements of Paris bistro décor. 

The Quedubon
This bistro near the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris holds all the playing cards. Gilles Bénard is an experienced bistro owner, having created the Ramulaud and then Les Zingots on rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. In the kitchen, his son Léo is always at work. Léo trained with Raquel at the Baratin and produces food of deceptively brilliant simplicity, like cod tart, pork chops with homemade mashed potatoes, and Basque terrines and charcuteries—all accompanied by his father’s outstanding wine selection.
You can start planning your next culinary vacation to Paris with FRENCH BISTRO: Seasonal Recipes at your side. 

Before setting out on your next Paris jaunt, you could select your favorite bistro, and even choose the table where you’d like to sit. You might even check out the chalkboard menu…though we can’t promise that the dishes you love will be on the menu when you arrive.

Have a great adventure—and be sure to send me details. I’d love to hear all about it. 

Anchovy Fillets with Marinated Red Bell Peppers 
Photography by Christian Sarramon, who also photographed the images for ‘Paris Patisseries’ (also published by Paris-based Flammarion), which I featured last year. Find it in THE STYLE SALONISTE archive (look for SEARCH) on the right-side column). All photography used with permission of the publisher, Flammarion.