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Perhaps it's fitting that the barn near Guerneville where Marguerite Wildenhain established herself as a world-class ceramicist and teacher is still the subject of so much creative tension.

Repair the structure. Let it rot. Both have been advocated in the decades since Wildenhain's death in 1985 by those who say they have the artist's best interests at heart.

Now that preservationists appear to have won the argument, all sides express hope that the outcome will properly honor a woman who brought Bauhaus to West Sonoma County and set a new standard for American-made pottery.

"I pray that whatever ultimately takes place up there would be something Marguerite would be pleased with," said Wayne Reynolds, who as a young college student was one of scores of pupils from around the world who came to study under Wildenhain. Reynolds, now 74, owns Eagle Pottery east of Santa Rosa.

Nearly 30 years after Wildenhain's death, a coalition concerned with her legacy has launched an ambitious plan to rehabilitate and preserve the iconic barn that was home to Pond Farm summer workshops, as well as the artist's modest home a short distance away. The site, which is owned by the state of California, is in Austin Creek State Recreation Area, above Armstrong Redwoods State Park.

The redwood barn's exterior is peeling, its windows are fogged and the foundation is rotting away. But inside, the kick wheels used by "Pond Farmers" still turn, and Wildenhain's original kiln appears ready to fire. There are even a few bags of glaze occupying a dusty corner.

"We've kept it in a state of arrested decay," said Laura Parent, a state parks maintenance worker.

The property's forgotten nature belies the days when eager art students made pilgrimages to Pond Farm in the summertime to learn from the master. Some students couldn't take the daily six-hour sessions at the kick wheels and quit. But what Reynolds learned from Wildenhain changed the course of his life.

"I never would have had the life I had without Marguerite and Pond Farm," he said.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, state parks and the nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, which operates Austin Creek, are hoping to honor that legacy with the rehabilitation effort. The group has secured $443,245 in Proposition 84 funds to stabilize and weatherproof Wildenhain's house and barn.

It would cost $2.5 million to fully rehabilitate the site, according to a 2013 National Trust study.

"The public deserves to know about the significance of this cultural resource," said Michele Luna, executive director of the Stewards' organization.

Breck Parkman, a senior state parks archaeologist, said California preservationists have not always given influential women their proper due.

He said Pond Farm "is a place where we can interpret an amazingly talented and influential woman whose story has little to do with amassed riches and constructed monuments, but rather with a lifetime dedication to excellence in her craft, a devotion to the education and success of her students, and, ultimately, to the survival of the human will."

San Francisco couple Gordon and Jane Herr founded Pond Farm Workshops during World War II after they purchased the Walker Ranch in what is now Austin Creek. One of the first European artists the couple invited to the workshops was Wildenhain, an early Bauhaus graduate who fled Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany and Holland to start a new life in Sonoma County.

The artist colony was short-lived, but Wildenhain stayed on, teaching at the nationally renowned summer school at Pond Farm for three decades. She was 88 when she died.

Reynolds said Wildenhain invited him to Pond Farm for an interview after he wrote a letter to her expressing an interest in the program. He said he brought along his mother, who interjected to help her son after he stumbled under Wildenhain's withering questions.

The pair later grew so close that Wildenhain served as matron of honor at Reynolds' marriage ceremony, held at the property. His wife, Caryn Fried, also is an artist.

There's no consensus yet on what Pond Farm could be one day, whether it will return to a functioning workshop, be used for seminars or retreats, or simply be a small museum of Wildenhain's life and works.

Wildenhain reportedly advocated for the barn and home to fall down of their own accord after her death. She felt a lingering rage toward state parks officials, who in the 1960s turned down her offer of her own art collection, which included her own work, as well as that of her mentor, sculptor Gerhard Marcks, and drawings by Pablo Picasso.

Many former Pond Farmers who attended a June 20 meeting in Guerneville to discuss the coalition's plans for the site expressed concerns that the preservation work at the very least not detract from Wildenhain's passion for simplicity and solitude.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.