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Harley and one of his St. Louis series of paintings
Self-styled monarch Harley selected the works of Bay Area artists for "New Ceramic Horizons" at Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa
Harley and Terra Candella stamp Harley checked out one of a series of brilliantly collaged stamps he created for Tristan, the post office in Terra Candella, his tiny homegrown nation.

Photos by
Wardell Photography

Forestville artist puts a stamp on his own world
He creates nation, post office, Santa Rosa show

© San Francisco Chronicle
Friday May 17, 2002

By Karen Pierce Gonzalez
Special to the Chronicle

International multimedia artist Harley – who uses only his first name – has founded his own country. He’s named himself monarch of Terra Candella (Land of Light), nestled safely in the redwood groves of Forestville, and has even created a series of brilliantly collaged stamps for Tristan, the country’s post office, which sits atop an antique oak desk in his living room.

From there, Harley corresponds with others about the upcoming Paradise Wood Sculpturegrove exhibition, which he’s curator of. It runs through January at Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa.

“New Ceramic Creations” an exploration of contemporary works of clay, brings together the work of 10 Bay Area artists, including Sonoma County’s Clara Lanyi, Inya Laskowski, Christian Vincent and Penny Michel, whose monumental biomorphic (animal/human) figures represent a distinct approach to the figural tradition.

Other artists include John Toki, Hedi-Katharina Ernst, Dharma Strasser, Re-Cheng Tsang and Sarah Kotzamani, whose pieces reflect a “beauty in the Greek sense,” said Harley.

Being a curator is “a form of teaching” said Harley, who selected the outdoor works – some of which are suspended from trees – to reflect his belief that art can be seen from many angles.

Overall, the show is a mix of eastern and western aesthetics, said Harley, 61, an Indiana native who has been producing art for decades.

“As a child, I was mesmerized by the process of making art,” noted Harley, who legally dropped his last name, Francis, while in his 30s. “Our name is one of the few things we own,” he said of his efforts to achieve individuality “in a world that pays lip service” to the idea.

Having one’s own country will do that too.

The desire for a country followed Harley’s ability to merge his boyhood passion for stamps with his drive to make art. He established Tristan post office in 1975. It was based upon the local post system that operated in the 19th century in areas of the country that government post did not serve. Government mail would be delivered to local posts that served their local communities.

His first stamp was issued for Valentine’s Day 1975. That year, he had his first one-man show in New York, and for the occasion, released the stamp through the United Nations Post Office.

In 1979, he founded Terra Candella and about a decade ago, joined the International Council of Independent States, a nonpolitical organization of about 12 countries who have established their own postal systems. Some of them were founded by artists and others by people with philatelic interests.

“We have had applications from separatist groups, like the people of Nagaland who are rebelling against,” said Harley. “They think an affiliation with the council will lend legitimacy to their claims of independence.”

A graduate of fine arts from both Indiana University and Oberlin College on Ohio, he has paintings, ceramics and collages in public and private collections across the country, including the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

For Paradise Ridge Winery co-owner Dr. Walter Byck, Harley’s efforts combined with his experience as an artist will help put Sonoma County on the cultural map.

“Not only is Harley’s own work very well-conceived, he himself is very knowledgable and motivated. I know from other shows he has curated that he can put together a sophisticated, thoughtful show that has continuity and balance,” said Byck, a retired Sonoma County medical doctor.

Byck and his wife Marijke Byck-Hoenselaars, have been hosting art exhibits on the winery’s oak tree-studded grounds since 1996 in the hopes of creating a sculpture grove much like the ones they have visited in Europe.

“It’s amazing that this small section of the world has such a considerable number of qualified artists working on such large scales,” noted Byck, who is pleased with the 50 pieces of art that will be installed over the winery’s four-acre exhibit grove.

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