Sunnylands Spotlight: Birds of Welcome

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Rancho Mirage

Greeting guests as they come up the winding driveway from Frank Sinatra Drive is Birds of Welcome, a modern sculpture that represents not only art and nature, but the Annenbergs’ famous hospitality. The sculpture features seven sleek, cast bronze and aluminum birds with feathers lifted delicately into the air, framed by the “hide and reveal” landscape of the estate.

Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s love of art was complemented by their love of nature, both of which are reflected in the art and decor at Sunnylands. Birds of Welcome is just one example of nature as a theme in their extensive art collection. Many of the art works the Annenbergs brought to Sunnylands, such as van Gogh’s White Roses and Olive Trees, and a pair of Ch’ing Dynasty cloisonné cranes flanking the fireplace, depict nature in various forms.

In some cases, the couple brought nature into their home more literally: Walter had a bird feeder fitted with a microphone that sent sound into his dressing room, so he could listen to the birds as he got ready for the day. Walter called the feeder, a gift from a niece, his “Feathered Hilton.”

The Annenbergs collected art based on personal taste. While they often collected original works of art from master painters and sculptors, such as van Gogh and Rodin, if they saw a piece they enjoyed, but couldn’t acquire, the Annenbergs often connected directly with artists to commission a similar work for their collection. Birds of Welcome, several of the pieces in the Steuben crystal collection, and the Mexican Column, which stands outside the front doors of Sunnylands, are reproductions commissioned from the original artists.

The Annenbergs saw the original Birds of Welcome at the Gander Airport in Newfoundland, Canada. That piece, Welcoming Birds, was created by Art Price of Ottawa. Leonore and Walter were so taken with the sculpture they commissioned Price to recreate it for Sunnylands.

Birds of Welcome was installed at Sunnylands in 1971. After years in the desert sun, it was restored to its original patina in 2011.

Today, Birds of Welcome continues to greet guests on the drive up to the historic house, carrying on the Annenberg legacy of gracious hospitality.