Experience di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa

Equestrian travel writer Nancy D. Brown rides her horse through the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa, California. She is in front of Mark di Suvero's sculpture entitled "For Veronica" di Rosa.

Transformative experiences with contemporary art, that’s what is promised on your next trip to Napa. But what does that mean exactly? I had a chance to experience di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa and, indeed, the experience was transformative for me. But art is like that. It’s meant to spark curiosity, creativity, pleasure and wonder, among other feelings.

I recently had a chance to experience di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art from the back of a horse. You read that right. I joined a group for a trail ride in wine country at di Rosa preserve. This unique setting in Napa, California will appeal to the art lover, nature lover or horse lover. Not a horse lover? You don’t have to experience di Rosa Center on horseback.

Stone building with turret served as artist Rene di Rosa's former house, now home to di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art.
The di Rosa former residence sits on 217 acres next to a lake in Napa, California. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Art gallery Napa Valley

Over 1,600 works of art are housed in this modern art gallery in Napa Valley. Founder Rene di Rosa initially bought the 450 acre farm back in  the 1960’s for a vineyard, before the Carneros district became a world-class wine-growing region. Profits from selling the vineyard allowed him to focus on his art park.

I remember driving by the di Rosa preserve in the 1980’s and seeing Veronica di Rosa’s sheep sculptures. The sheep, a nod to the land’s agricultural use, are no longer, and both Rene and Veronica have passed, but their vision for a contemporary art center in Napa lives on in the 217 acre property.

Color kites made of sailcloth hang in suspended animation between eucalyptus trees at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Arts in Napa.
Artist Lorna Stevens’ “Suspended Animation” hangs between trees at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

di Rosa art preserve welcomes artists and art lovers

Both Rene and Veronica di Rosa were very welcoming to me when I first moved to downtown Napa. I met Veronica when I was on the board for Auction Napa Valley back in the early 1990’s. She created several of the promotional watercolor prints for the Napa Valley Wine Auction before her untimely death in 1991. I’m happy to say that I have one of her signed, limited edition works of art hanging in my house.

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Rene di Rosa was a strong supporter of Northern California artists and firmly believed that art should be something you experience and feel. “I never did like all those stuffy galleries,” said Rene di Rosa.

One of many colorful court yard sculptures at the Napa art gallery. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Contemporary art in the vineyards

This wasn’t my first time encountering large scale art sculptures in wine country. I discovered Sonoma wine blends with art at Donum Estate while horseback riding with Sonoma Valley Trail Rides. One of the wranglers is also an artist and was able to give me a better understanding of the artists and their work displayed in the vineyards.

I had the good fortune to ride with equestrian and California artist Isabelle Truchon. Our conversation turned to France and my desire to see the horses of Camargue. In my youth I received a beautiful book with the horses of Camargue on the cover. These magnificent wild horses splashing in the surf made a lasting impression on me.

It turns out that Isabelle and I are kindred spirits; she traveled to Camargue and is currently working on a horse series of large paintings from her trip to France.  My day at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa was both transformative and memorable. Rene would be pleased to see the connection and continued appreciation for art in nature.

Viola Frey was born in Lodi and died in Oakland, California. Her work is on display at the center. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Need to know:

The center is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Currently general admission is $18 for adults.

Exhibitions change throughout the year. On my visit former Lodi, California resident Viola Frey’s artwork took center stage.

Looking for a hotel in downtown Napa? Read my review of River Terrace Inn or Napa River Inn.


Ceramic plate of horse and men on display at di Rosa art gallery in Napa, California.
Known for her larger than life ceramic sculptures, artist Viola Frey created this ceramic horse plate. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip:

Horseback rides are offered through Sonoma Valley Trail Rides in the hills of di Rosa campus Thursday through Sunday. When you visit di Rosa, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the deck looking out to the lake, or walk to the picnic tables in the Sculpture Garden. For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown and di Rosa on Instagram.

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If You Go:

di Rosa Center Contemporary Art (707) 226-5991

5200 Sonoma Highway

Napa, California 94559

di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art review and photography by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. Note: thank you to di Rosa for your hospitality. All views above are, as always, my own.

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