The Story of Mildred and Sophie Radanovich
written January 15, 2000
For me, the connection began in 1978 with the Radanovich Sisters, when I was a struggling artist in Ferndale. I had heard of them as early as 1976, in the early days of the Ferndale Artistic Renaissance. A huge building needing repair – a series of tenants – a beautiful storefront but no one seemed eager to create something of respect and stature in this place. I had shifted from pottery to painting, and had put up several shows at the nearby Candy Stick Gallery across the street. Soon, I heard the old building at 344 Main was empty again, and called Mildred to ask about its availability. She kindly said she was sorry but Napa Auto Parts was to open there – and the renter was willing to pay $500/month (a princely sum for Ferndale). I offered her $200 and said I thought it would make a dandy art gallery. She said she’d talk it over with “sis” and would get back to me. Soon she called back, and said she would accept my offer. And so began our journey. The Eifert Gallery opened a few months later – after I had rescued the stolen bathroom fixtures, sanded food and paint off the floors and hung paint-can lights on the ceiling. The ceiling mural came together several years later, when Mildred also financed (at a loss) the rebuild of the mezzanine. Thinking of this now, imagining her accepting an offer for less than 50% of another offer, after a series of bad tenants. Imagine spending thousands of dollars on a building you’re only getting $200 a month for! How many landlords would do that today?
There was more than a business connection here. I always considered Sophie and Mildred family! When personal problems occurred myself, they helped me. When Mildred moved to San Clemente, I added my thoughts, and provided a bookkeeper to straighten out Mildred’s crazy mized-up checking account. Somewhere along in there, Mildred took me, Sophie and their neighbors to Hawaii for a week of the most wacky adventures one can imagine, including all of us standing on the tarmac in Kona singing and chanting our “flight-song” before parting company the last time. My favorite and enduring image of them was at the King Harbor Marina, where I was repairing my old 40’ sailboat in the early 1980’s. I was up the mast and saw the little white Ford coming along, horn honking and arms out the windows waving frantically. What a pair! We had a pleasant afternoon in the open cockpit, sun bonnets on and wine in abundance.
I greatly appreciate the importance of Sophie and Mildred’s contribution to my life, and how these two touched many others in ways that will never be known. It is important also to realize now their quiet financial help in the Ferndale building aided many more people than they ever knew. By keeping the Ferndale gallery’s rent at a low level, they essentially were subsidizing more than they realized. With less overhead, the gallery artists could sell their work at a lower price – therefore helping sales and making all of us feel we really were artists. Better gallery staff could be hired, and free gallery concerts and shows were enjoyed by thousands where most galleries couldn’t afford to do these events.
On a personal level, with less overhead I was allowed to experiment with my work, developing a style now been seen by millions in National and State Parks across the country. (I learned these skills by being able to donate my time to the local parks before I started being paid.) Russ Park, the 110-acre forest park in Ferndale now has four miles of high quality trails and professional interpretation installed because I had the free time to give my skills and labor to this 10-year project.
Dozens of artists got their start here as well, because the gallery could afford to give them a chance to exhibit, hone their skills and keep their prices low. And while Mildred always stated it was “her” building and not really Sophie’s, we all realized it was “our” building, with a plural “our” meaning, Sophie’s as well.The good that came from the Radanovich Sisters will not end soon. The next time you are in Yosemite – or Joshua Tree National Park, or countless other public places around the country, and see the murals, books, trail guides, nature brochures and other interpretive products I have produced, know that without the philanthropic help Mildred and Sophie freely gave this wouldn’t exist. I know many other artists would add their assertions to this statement as well.
In the mid-1980’s, when the Ferndale artist’s community more or less dissolved when buildings changed hands, rents went up. I felt I had witnessed something akin to the Haight-Asbury or Greenwich Village events, that are necessarily temporary, yet life-changing for many. The Radanovich Sisters, Sophie and Mildred, quietly helped create just such an event, and I will always warmly remember them for what they did.
|Mildred’s Plaque on the building today. Click to enlarge it.|
|The building at 344 Main Street in Ferndale, CA as I first saw it in 1972. Mildred bought it for $8000 cash. Before the Eifert Gallery, it had been a mortuary, a roller rink, wood stove repair shop, candy factory and Assembly of God Church .|
|The Eifert Gallery during the hay-day of Ferndale’s art revival.To see more, see the Eifert Gallery page.|