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A New Arena

Art, sculpture, and artisan sensibility take center stage at Michael Polenske’s rebranded galleries.

Cedric Glasier

Always one to enter new arenas himself, entrepreneur-curator Michael Polenske is elevating his galleries with a daring spirit, under the aegis of Aerena Galleries and Gardens.

Polenske says his inspiration comes from a 1910 Theodore Roosevelt speech that states, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … ”

Building on the success of his trailblazing Ma(i)sonry gallery/tasting room in Yountville— as well as his Healdsburg gallery and I. Wolk gallery in St. Helena—Polenske is now honing his vision. Each of the Aerena spaces will add carefully selected artisanal goods to the existing lively mix of painting, sculpture, furniture, antiques, art books, and objets de vertu.

The rechristened gallery at Ma(i)sonry will continue to offer deluxe wine tasting at the historic 1904 stone building and garden, with vintages from 24 wineries, including Pahlmeyer, Fisher, and Skipstone.

In addition to the three gallery locations, Aerena curates the sculpture gardens at spectacular properties including Rutherford’s Auberge du Soleil, Solage in Calistoga, MacArthur Place just off the Sonoma square, and Napa’s Blackbird Vineyards.

Mik Hollis, who manages the Healdsburg gallery, explains the approach: “We think about our venues as a space to honor our artisans, who ‘strive valiantly.’ And as Theodore Roosevelt reminds us, ‘It is not the critic who counts.’ ”

The focus is on culling a great mix of artisans, he says. “We have longtime favorite Kate Salenfriend, who makes these gorgeous gold and silver gilded paintings of vineyard scenes. And then we have newcomer Chase Langford, who has always worked with old maps,” Hollis says. “Both are totally different, and each speaks to his or her own audience.”

As for the unusual spelling of the name of the rebranded business, Hollis is philosophical.

“We do everything with an eye towards the aesthetic. We borrowed a bit from history to create an updated version of the word for our name,” he says. “It makes you stop and ponder, and it signals the valiant vision we want to share with the world.”

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