This eight-acre Carneros property flourishes with a unique energy that mirrors John and Dona Bonick’s creative nature. John says, “There’s definitely a vibe out here.” It could resonate from the Patwin Indian tribe that inhabited the place where their house now sits. It has some history, that’s for sure. John’s art studio, built in the 1800s, was reportedly the original homestead for the Carneros family.
When John and Dona bought this plot of land, it was run down and overgrown. They tackled it in stages, choosing a project every year and eventually turning it into a sweet country retreat. A lap pool buoys next to a white country house, resplendent with a red front door, a porch to relax on and a huge fig tree. Barren land was turned into a garden oasis, including a tunnel of roses and a forest of massive bamboo. The landscape was featured in Garden Design magazine. In addition to John’s studio, Dona has a fine arts studio, and next year their pinot noir grapes will be harvested for a wine they just launched, appropriately named Art House.
When I asked Dona where she’s originally from, the word “Chicago” rolls out of her mouth with an accent. “I’m from the South side, and John comes from the suburbs.” John went to Catholic school from kindergarten to University at Notre Dame, and then he met a nice Jewish girl, Dona. John was just twelve years old when he decided he wanted to be a painter, inspired by his creative brother who turned him onto art and Jazz music. At Notre Dame, John originally majored in Art but later changed to English Literature.
“I don’t think I was mature enough to delve into art, but in my thirties I knew I was ready,” John says. “When I went back to art, I tried not to learn too much technique. It was important for the style and inspiration to be my own.”
Inspiration for John’s art comes from a continuum of energy found all around us: in branches, veins, fiber optics, or anything that connects energy from one system to another. John refers to these patterns in his paintings as “threads, channels of color and energy. None of my paintings end, they are a cross section, a slice of time.”
If you want to check out John’s work you can find his art displayed at the Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco.
Like John, Dona did not get into art until she was older. “I always knew I wanted to do something art-related, but I didn’t start photographing professionally until I was 35. Before that, I was a science major.” Her photography mentor was Ron Zak, a longtime teacher at Napa College. Zach taught her to “be fearless, and engage” — advice she put to the test when she did street photography in Vietnam, and again when she was hired to photograph Francis Ford Coppola, her first publicity shoot. Adding to the pressure was the fact that Annie Leibovitz had just photographed Coppola the week before. These were the days of analog photography, and the worst thing that could happen did happen — the lab damaged the negatives! But one frame managed to survive, and that was the photo Time magazine used.
Since then, in her twenty-five year photography career, Dona has photographed numerous celebrities including Michal Douglas, Audrey Hepburn and Robert Redford.
Dona’s photographs, as well as John’s paintings, are on permanent display at the Napa Di Rosa Museum.
Art runs in the family. John and Dona have two sons, and she says, “We always exposed them to art. I would pack them up with a box of crayons and they would sit outside the darkroom.” Not a big surprise then that the boys grew up to be artists themselves — one is a musician and the other is a fine artist. Sometime in early 2016, Mondavi Winery will be hosting a four-person Bonick family art show.
The Bonicks felt a spark of magic when they found this Carneros house and land. Rich in culture, wine and art, these artists built a place their family can truly call “home”. NVL