ARTICLE

Renaissance-Redux

By Katherine Stewart, photographs by Andrew Macpherson, produced by Maria Smith, styled by Julia Cohen and Jennifer Cohen, hair by Campbell McAuley, makeup by Kara Yoshimoto Bua/Starworks for CHANEL

Santa Barbara Magazine - November 2014

by Katherine Stewart, Santa Barbara Magazine, November 2014

Noelle Wolf believes in the power of art to educate. “We get to see our own lives when we look at all the artwork we’ve collected,” she says, referring to the significant pieces she and her husband of eight years, Dick Wolf, have amassed during their travels. “The experience of purchasing art is like getting an education in history. You learn about what it all means.”

That approach has informed her involvement in Santa Barbara’s much-anticipated new children’s museum, which broke ground in October. A playground of interactive experiences,MOXI: The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, is poised to nurture the next generation of thinkers and problem solvers in Santa Barbara and beyond. The ceremony had special meaning for benefactors Dick (a writer and TV producer of the successful Law & Order series and spinoffs Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent as well as Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and many other shows to his credit) and Noelle—an engaging and off-the-cuff philanthropist, child advocate, and mother of two. Together, the couple shares an enduring commitment to children’s education.

An appreciation of fine art, however, was among the shared characteristics that first drew Dick and Noelle together. She had worked as a photo agent in New York City and Los Angeles, representing Robert Graham, Bert Stern, and Harry Benson. “This was in the mid-1990s, at the height of photography before digital,” she says. “It was a wonderful time to be in the business.” Meanwhile, Dick combined a fascination with the Renaissance with a love of design and a keen interest in the history of books.

The Wolfs’ passion for collecting is beautifully realized at their home, the former centerpiece of the Edgewylde estate. Built in the 1920s by Carleton Winslow Sr., the residence now combines a feeling of domestic calm with a museum-quality assemblage of works that spans continents and centuries. Noelle’s sensibility is on full display on the walls of the informal family den. A striking portrait of Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe gazes at visitors with cool equanimity. A photo by Peter Beard strikes a wild note alongside witty images by Alfred Eisenstaedt and Irving Penn. The dynamic collage veers from the celebrated (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville by Robert Doisneau) to the quirky (Pavlov and His Dog, photographer unknown). “Dick and I both have a passion for photography and began collecting together,” Noelle remarks.

The Wolfs’ ardor for the Renaissance is on full display in the living room, which features artwork and sculpture in an approachable way. Terra-cotta roundels by 15th-century Florentine sculptor Andrea della Robbia adorn the walls along with other intriguing works, including two panels by the celebrated artist, architect, and art historian Giorgio Vasari. “The warmth of the living room was created by soft gold and red details of handstitched embroidery, the painted frescoes on the walls and ceiling details,” says Odile de Schiétère-Longchampt, the Wolf’s longtime interior designer. “All furnishings have a particular story to tell from various talented craftsman from early French and Italian Renaissance.”

The Wolfs’ vast inventory extends from the visual arts to the printed word. Perhaps the most remarkable room in the house is the library, where floor-to-ceiling custom shelving is lined with first editions meticulously preserved in leather-bound cases. Some of the titles read like the highlights of a Great Books curriculum: Milton’s Paradise Lost, poems of William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the collected works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Johnson, and Charles Dickens. Other shelves are devoted to hard-boiled detective novels by writers such as Ellery Queen and Dashiell Hammett and a section by the window features first editions of children’s classics: Eloise, One Morning in Maine. Another contains all of Dick’s own TV scripts bound in leather.

“Picking up those first editions is a step into the past,” Noelle says. “You can imagine how special and exciting it must have been for the person who bought the book when it first came out. These days, we have so many other avenues of entertainment, so it’s a unique pleasure to put oneself back in that mindset.” The library also showcases striking works of design such as a pair of Italian lighting fixtures in the shape of human arms that boldly extend from either side of the fireplace. “Dick’s favorite city in the world is Florence,” Noelle says. “As we were traveling, say, through Italy and France, we started buying furniture and art, and it snowballed and became our hobby.”

Noelle’s concern for children informs many of her philanthropic involvements. She serves on the boards of The Alliance for Children’s Rights, which protects the rights of impoverished minors, and the Joyful Heart Foundation (founded by Mariska Hargitay), which seeks to end domestic violence and abuse. Noelle is a trustee of the La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, which she attended as a teenager. She is also active in the Maine community where she and her family go to unplug during the summers. She serves on the board of the Mount Desert Island Hospital, and last year, she cochaired the Friends of Acadia benefit, raising more than $1 million for conservation, restoration, and education projects in Acadia National Park.

When Noelle first learned about MOXI—an effort led by Jill Levinson, a native Santa Barbaran and mother of three—it instantly felt like a great fit. Jill and her committed and talented team, including campaign cochairs Nancy Sheldon and Alixe Mattingly, have been able to muster a broad and necessary coalition of support, securing donated property and permits from the city, finding allies in the offices of the mayor and city council, and winning the backing of Santa Barbara Unified School District superintendent David Cash, who enthuses, “This is what a classroom should be.” As with so many epic adventures, it all started at the sandbox. “Jill came up to me and said, ‘Would this be something that interests you?’” Noelle recounts. “Any train Jill is on, I’m on it,” she says affirmatively.

The Wolfs’ estate has been a gathering spot for some of MOXI’s strategy powwows. Donors and board members gather in the living room of the newly built “guest house”—a multiroom complex that also serves as office space. A 16th-century copy of Caravaggio’s St. John, made for the Knights of Malta, complements a 16th-century Flemish tapestry. Over the fireplace hangs a nine-shot collage of a G-string-clad Pamela Anderson; snapped by Sante D’Orazio, the black-and-white images convey an elegant, edgy sensuality. Sitting on Dick’s desk is a Royal Seal of Monaco—an honor bestowed upon him for his service as the honorary consul to Monaco in Los Angeles. Dick is deeply involved in the Monte Carlo Television Festival, which he and his wife attend every year. In October, they cochaired the annual Princess Grace Foundation Dinner, awarding grants of nearly $1 million to some of the world’s most talented young performing artists.

With such a broad range of far-flung interests, the Wolfs are pleased to have found a vital project in Santa Barbara that reflects one of their core values: inspiring the next generation of thinkers and innovators. “We have a lot of global interests,” Noelle acknowledges, “but you really do have an impact when you do something in your own backyard.”

The Book
The Good News Club, by Katherine Stewart

The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children

About the Author
author Katherine Stewart Katherine Stewart has written for The New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Guardian. She lives in New York City. Contact her. More →

 


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