Barbara’s Biography

All three Volumes of Barbara’s biography are now available.

Included under one cover (318 p.) are over 150 color reproductions of major artworks, dozens of ‘fire-side’ chats, and a lengthy annotated timeline of her life.

Read online, download pdf to your computer, share with friends – all for FREE!

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Barbara Sparhawk: Expressionist Artist & Writer



With Silver Bells & Cockleshells

I’m accidentally on purpose in just the right place. Everything grows here.

In the garden all morning, I admit to realizing that I made this and it’s good!

Especially now that so much is taking shape and filling in blank places. There are new things popping up that haven’t seen the light of day in ages, ancient transplants, accidental seeded soil. A small-headed but tall daisy suddenly made itself known out of weedy looking foliage (which I have learned to leave be and observe because some surprise is always in it). The center of the bud was very dark, almost black, wispy little pointed projectiles out of it. It’s starting to bloom now, one main flower and several new buds, and it is deep purple with lighter near fuscia dots on the inside, I still don’t know what the petals will turn to but WOW.

Birth of the Garden

Oil on Canvas

The gardens, the old cabin of the Jardine Ranch was a miracle to live in. Probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. The bed was set into a bay window, quite high up, Cecil Bruner pink roses lapping and climbing the cabin redwood, a pond only a dozen feet away with waving grasses and yellow iris and cattails, a river behind me, Pfeiffer Beach five minutes down the road. They had exquisite, roughhewn but spectacular landscaping. My God the color and variety! An orchard with pears and plums and cherries, and all of at the road bordered by the huge famous black green cypress trees. The horses, cats, dogs, pig named Wilbur. I miss so much of it. But the intrusion, the sense of excluding was pervasive. I thought of all that this morning, not a new thought, that I have more privacy here than anywhere in California so far. And I can do whatever I choose to the landscape, not so with the rock and roll legend [Al Jardine of the ‘Beach Boys’] and his family. I’m beginning to see as well that this is probably a very special climate and land for the kind of garden I want. Farther east to the mountains it is dry and hot. You struggle with gardens and the flowering varieties are limited. I love thinking of your video in that field of yellow flowers, way to go!

I’m accidentally on purpose in just the right place. Everything grows here. Wet enough from ocean fogs, the air heated by the big open meadow just beyond my garden and moisture in the air from the Carmel River at that border. Carmel-by-the-sea has exquisite, old established gardens. We’ve the same climate as the Riviera, as South Africa’s coast. Plants grow here that do not in other parts of America. I’d still like a house on the coast and maybe someday will again.

Carmel is a crappy snooty place to live in, but finds can be had. It’s dreadful that some of the most beautiful places are populated with idiots.


The Jardine Ranch (III)

I DO indeed appreciate magnificent surroundings.  Although I wonder if I don’t just light up at anything shiny, and it all looks shiny to me. 

Al said once, following some lengthy poetic exuberance on my part over a glade or glen or blossom: “I suppose it’s a total waste to rent the place to anyone but someone like you.”

I think he liked hearing it, and felt, himself, the same way about Big Sur, and (how stunning!) not everyone did.


Wilbur was such a hoot. To me he was always cuddlesome. Well, almost. Pigs have a particular, er, way, about them. They’re actually insane. Although I say that with great affection. He tried to kill me more than once when, following joyful pasture picnics the very day before, he couldn’t remember who I was coming into his stall with breakfast, and was sure I was interloping enemy writ large. One is always smart to approach a piggy with food. It distracts. And of course they’re all nearly blind. Don’t ever get knocked over by a pig, they’ll stomp you to death given the chance.

All that aside, I saw Wilbur as an incredibly smart pig with a delightful sense of humor. He liked a good time. He would always do some surprising move, you can’t predict much about a pig, turn on a dime. And he was incredibly stubborn. If you said Go Left, just because you said it he’d either Go Right, or try to run you down out of spite. Pigs are fast but don’t leap well, there is that.

One day Wilbur just vanished. Gone. Spottings on Highway One near Fernwood. Was that Wilbur heading over the bridge to Clear Ridge? Wilbur was in my backyard an hour ago, I’m sure it was him. ETC ETC ETC. Well the bingo call was from a friend high up, two miles! up the next road, nobody knows how he got in the front gate unless he waited for a car to pass and open the security lock, and two miles up is Wilbur and it’s getting dark. The idiot Mrs Jardine actually instructed me, the swineherd, to walk up there (Wilbur newly spotted at three miles up and counting) and guide the impossible pig back home, with, errr, use a stick. He’ll walk in front of you. Really, he will.

Now it’s dark of night, except there’s a full moon. And the impossible sons are recruited to drive their pick-up truck and rescue Wilbur. Well it’s an even longer story, but they did, all of us did, pig in a blanket (too hysterical and also scary) screaming and hooting and attacking finally into the back of the truck and home. Getting him into the barn and paddock again was real tricky. Wilbur wasn’t talking to anybody politely for a good two weeks after that and refused to remember that I loved him so, once.

The best part of the whole story is that in the aftermath I am entirely convinced that Wilbur went up to the top of that mountain in order to see the full moon on Pfeiffer Beach below. It was a night brilliantly clear, filled with stars, a stunning night. Pigs are really poets at heart, with extraordinary sensitivities, wrapped in exteriors that border on the offensive. Too odd. What a planet.


Jesus it was a perilous emotional delicacy that place. But honestly, I got so much out of being there. Apparently my 1-1/2 years was a local record. I absolutely loved the cabin, I had the gallery going within a year, 2010, I was in about the best place on the planet, in a garden paradise five minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches in existence, and taking care of four fantastic horses and cats and dogs, Dusty the parrot, and a pig named Wilbur, something I’d never done in my life. So I figured early on I’d make it work and get what I wanted for me out of it, and I did. 

One of the things that really made my heart sing was the complexity of managing all the land, 80 acres, and thinking about what was there and how to make it better and make sure nothing got neglected.  It was far and away not what I was there for paying a premium rent knocked down a bit to feed the horses and Wilbur, and when they were touring, the house animals.

Everything was actually under control only I hadn’t noticed.  There were tree surgeons who cut worrisome limbs, roofers being lined up, builders arranged for this and that, gardeners who were beyond superb, ferriers and vets and groomers, and eventually I got to see them all in play there.

But initially I sort of had a joy at feeling I was the glue that held an otherwise negligent rock and roll family together.  Imagine how my arrogance irked!  They’d been living fine without me before that, and none of them shared my perpetual sense of emergency.  Mostly because I didn’t know beans about any of it and had so much to learn about what does take care of itself without meddling and that everything had been pretty much planned for. I’m not a scold type and am generally so happy that we managed to get along mostly.

In my own defense, it was an easy mistake on my part.  The twin sons had gone off to Monterey to go to college before I got there, and I wasn’t there but a week before Al and Mary Ann headed out on tour for a month leaving me with phone numbers and lists of instructions.  Boy I was in high adrenalin for sure the whole time. 

Big Sur can be overwhelming enough just for its exquisite self, and that alone near blinded me. All the additional business of where I was and for whom, well I don’t know how I wasn’t prostrate in the high grass panting and delirious.  Come to think of it, some of the time I was.  It’s an unbelievably stimulating environment. 

When I told them I was moving on it was met with absolute shock. I don’t think anyone ever left them before.  By the time I’d left every family member had shouted at me at least once, Wilbur had charged me, each horse bitten me, the parrot had attacked, and the dogs snapped, the cats scratched. 

What a time I had!

The Jardine Ranch (II)

Rock and roll people are not necessarily easy to get along with (is that an understatement?) and more so the extended family. But we became friends, and talked a lot, and I like him. He’s a bright, thoughtful, articulate guy who gave up dentist school for the band. There’d be rushes of his being too important but it never lasted. He loves that ranch, the original Pfeiffer family homestead of 80 acres he was smart enough to get in the ’70’s when he was reeling it in. He’s got a converted barn for a top flight recording studio, the Red Hot Chili Peppers cut their last album there, the bizarre and famous were in and out but I’ll always love Wilbur most.


It was the original Pfeiffer cabin, all redwood, absolutely covered with pink roses in the spring, the meadow all flower, the orchard; Al bought it in the ’70s, all 80 acres right at the beach. Smart. The big house on the hill is their place.

There was a kind of living room/bedroom with the woodstove. The big bed was set up inside a bay window, facing the front, about thirty feet or less from the pond. The river was behind the cabin.

There was a huge kitchen with massive glass windows on all sides, I loved it so. And a wonderfully big studio. Outside next to the cabin a few feet was a little sauna house. The sauna never worked but there was a great shower inside.

I miss it. Easily one of the best places I’ve ever lived in. Magical. Isn’t it pretty.


I gave Al and Mary Ann Jardine two paintings when I was there, one small oil of a dusky Pfeiffer Beach which he said had captured it exactly, and I said, Well then, here! And another for Christmas, Angels Dancing In The Treetops. I hope both have survived. They’re good paintings. I offered the Portrait of Xena to them at some point, or to Al and he wasn’t sure so I didn’t push it. He had a strong traditional sense of art but was also very fond of whimsy. Mary Ann liked primitive things with a touch of intellect.

It’s a funny thing about rock stars and celebrities, they are gifted so often and so remarkably it’s commonplace. They also have a lot of people wanting things from them. I tried to be aware of both when I lived there. There was a back and forth of distancing and close friendship, and I never knew which was the soup du jour until I was in it. Probably due to some generalized paranoia. There was rarely an equality, everyone outside the family was servant level unless they were also extremely wealthy or a celebrity. That was incredibly annoying. Though Al did think of me as a professional in my work and loved my writing, which I’d read chapters of to him and Mary Ann that first summer. We liked each other mostly. Although he could be very generous, Al never liked to pay for anything unless backed into a corner, not easy, because there was this sense of what all was due them.


I always pictured myself ultimately with a lot of land and several buildings where friends could drop in and out, houses that needed work, gardens to build, inventing stuff, and horses and cows and goats and lots of cats and dogs, and I kind of despair of it for my own, though I was amazed that, holding that fantasy, I found it in Big Sur which had about all that and more. But it wasn’t mine. And taking care of someone else’s animals the decisions for whom are out of your hands, can be painful. They were a sometimes neglectful bunch, and everything had consequences. 

The pond that beautiful pond, for instance, had a huge lot of trout, and some catfish I think. Well big fish anyway. And frogs, which the herons adored. You’d hear these powerful throaty bull frogs, sometimes two, barking at the moon, oh heavenly! but only for a night or two then silence. Then in a bit a new one, then silence. I guess they migrated from the river and thought, wow, look at that pond! Lily pads and reeds and shade and sun and fishies, that’s for me! And I admit to being grateful for the draw because I swooned at the sight of king herons taking off and landing within twenty feet of me, or perched high, stark white and sharp edged against the green black cypress trees.

Turns out ponds are high maintenance at best and moderate maintenance at least, and can become the kind of thing that just paralyzes the soul and in and of itself is the culmination of every mental disorder personified.  Such was the pond to Al, who is a perfectionist of the first order.

Although all the water in the world was available through good wells, Al’s panic (one of a handful) was using it. It couldn’t have been easier to fill the pond, a slim hydrant, pipes and controls at its edge.

Like the bull frogs my first connect was oh my God! A pond! What a pond! I can’t believe I finally live next to a pond! (one of my long-time fantasies) and I went on about my business, sure that ponds knew how to take care of themselves or some other human there did.

Well one day in my first couple of days I actually notice the thing called water level and it’s dangerously low.  That is, the big fish are all trying to crowd in what’s left of the deep end and some of them are belly up in the shallows panting! I’m still basically from Brooklyn and never rescued anything more than an overturned goldfish bowl in my life but I figure something has to be done and have not a clue.

So I call Al, which he really hated for anything. I’d gone wading in and picking up the flopping fish in a bucket filled with water and they’re coming back to life but I don’t know what to do! Then Al meets me at the pond and he paces the pond and is looking and shaking his head and doesn’t want to do anything. Well, it’ll be okay, and he leaves, to think about music.

Then Mary Ann storms down the hill and turns on the water and shows me how then storms back home with hell about to be paid. You just never knew when you were about to introduce yourself into some raw ancient horrendous thing that upset the balance of nature like that.

The thing was, the PROBLEM was that the pond really needs cleaning out every five years or so and it was way overdue, which on another happier day weeks later, Al enlightened me about. 

You catch all the fish, maybe there’s a neighbor who takes them in their pond. Then you take out all the plants, like Mary Ann’s gorgeous reeds and eight foot high yellow iris, and water lilies, and drain the pond. Then you pull out the lining and call the guy with the back hoe and scoop out and cart away stinky black sludge in trucks which in the process covers everything for twenty feet around it including the banks filled with indescribably beautiful flowers, and start from scratch.  So it’s no small job and a costly messy deal.  That was the other part, the consumption of time and money, employees to deal with, huge uproar in the home’s heart, I mean yes, I could feel sympathy about that, but there it was.

So I think every now and then if the stupid pond just dried up, according to his thoughts on the subject, he’d get at stage two accidentally and it would force him to further action. But, if every time he just filled the mess again he’d be reminded how far he was from the solution.  I think he’d done this twice in thirty years, maybe once, and it made him very unhappy. And it made him very unhappy that interloping me had gone and poked him with it.

So I had to take it upon myself and when they were away, if it hadn’t rained hard, I’d turn on the hydrant and fill the damn thing so the fish could breathe. It was never easy.  It was about a six hour run to get the level back up.  You could hear it in progress. If they arrived home I’d have to sneak to the shutoff hoping not to get caught at saving the fish. And more than once I forgot about it and it got WAY high before I shut it down and just prayed they’d go on tour and nobody would notice.

Part 2 of 3 to be posted consecutively.

The Jardine Ranch (I)     

‘Al’ is Al Jardine, the shorter blond of The Beach Boys who looks a bit like Richard Widmark. I lived on their family ranch on Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, took care of their animals including Wilbur the pig, the horses, cats, dogs, parrots; was the family chef, too.


My getting to Big Sur is a lesson in making dreams come true. When I was 14, new in California on a drive with my mother and brother up to SF from south, Rancho Santa Fe, we stopped and I stood on a cliff there somewhere drinking it in, stunned, and never forgot it. I left the coast at 17. I came back at 51. I ended up in my car with my animals in Big Sur forests for 2 years, lost in every way.

Meanwhile looking for any job, going to construction sites and asking for house painting work. Got hired, a good one on a house in Carmel, three weeks and good pay. A carpenter fell in love with me and took me to see Pfeiffer Beach for the first time to show me the purple sand.

I’m going to live here some day, I said,

Impossible. Nothing for rent, only for millionaires.

YES, I will.


 Ten years went by, and during that time, Holman Ranch, Yosemite, Grass Valley, Pebble Beach, Cachagua, constantly  asking everyone about Big Sur, visiting, walking, smelling the place, getting the IMPOSSIBLE response. Very unhappy at Carmel Valley ‘Lower Circle’ down by the river. If I’d known that’s what it was called I wouldn’t have moved in. But I had my first gardening experience there and last suburbia, and kept asking about Big Sur. 

I was at a vineyard Christmas in Carmel Valley talking to a woman. She lived in Big Sur. She said she knew a place maybe coming up but couldn’t say who it belonged to because they were famous. I can do famous, I said, I almost am myself. And I knew it was the Jardines, everybody knew where they lived. She said call her in a week. She never returned my calls. I looked constantly on Craig’s list. 

I was producing a radio show making $650 a week. Big Sur rentals started at $2500. I emailed a realtor. I wrote, I’ve seen your ads for six months now and these beautiful places stay empty. If anyone needs a responsible, fully employed tenant let me know. I can manage $1500 He wrote back, sorry, never less than $2000. Sigh.

Then the next day, he wrote again, There is a place, a small cabin on Pfeiffer Beach, $1850. I talked to Al, he’s expecting your call.

I nearly passed out. I looked up Jardine on the internet, there are photos on a website because of the recording studio, called Red Barn. I decided I couldn’t miss the opportunity no how even if it was a high-priced shed, and called. He was annoyed and coolish and I ignored it and we made an appointment for early Sunday afternoon next. I went bearing gifts, brought a copy of The Gandy Dancer and a bouquet of purple Iris for Al and colorful Ranunculus for Mary Ann and drove there trembling, so excited, willing to take on anything, sure it wouldn’t work. But the sun was shining, it was December and 80 degrees.

Al was on the roof of one of the little buildings when I got there, and met his wife Mary Ann, who shouted up, Al…get off the roof! It’s okay, come down and meet Barbara. I gave the Ranunculus to Mary Ann. Her favorite flower. I gave Al the Iris. His favorite flower. He loved the book, no slothful Sparhawk. She’d shown me the place. I looked at all the little buildings and sheds we approached and thought, well no, that’s their house, it must be the goat shack over there . . . then it WAS that cabin.

This? This is the house for rent? Yes. (Oh my God, every square inch was charm. When I got home I had no idea of what it really looked like and couldn’t remember the size or layout of anything except I was in love with it.)

Al and I got on very well. The first thing I said to him, shook his hand, I want you to know that your fabulous music has been an important part of my life since I was in my teens. Thank you for all you’ve done. We all hugged when I left.

I knew some people he knew, I sang a song about something, I talked about myself, I loved all the animals who came over, I was in some kind of cloud of transport to another life.

And every sentence I anticipated a reply of, Oh well, then you won’t do at all.

It never happened.

I said, Look, Al. I smoke. He turned away and held his head and thought a minute and turned back and said, I hate smoking. I take it you love tobacco. Yes. Okay, you can smoke inside the house. (unheard of).

And Al, I said next, it’s worth every cent but for me the rent’s too high.

And Al said, Hmm. Well, how much can you pay?

So we negotiated. It went from $1850 to $1550 and I’d do the feeding of the animals twice a day.

Then I said, That’s fantastic. Thank you!  But I need a month. The place where I am expects 30 day’s notice and they’ve been good to me.


And Mary Ann said That’s good, we’re still painting the bedroom, what color would you like?

I met the housepainters inside, they were the Dali Lama’s documentary film crew. True. Really.

I wrote a check for the first month. More unbelievable: Nah, we don’t need a deposit, forget it.

I’m not sure how I was still breathing after all that or able to drive but I did and got home and started packing and called the people where I lived and gave notice.

I’d gotten a call from Al at midnight a week later. He was nervous about smoking. Did I smoke in bed? Not since the ’60’s I said. Okay. I liked how peculiar they were.


The day of the move was enormous tribulation, sorting, endless boxes and too small moving van, Jeep falling apart, borrowing money for every part of it, and engineered during the worst first storm of the season in gale force winds, torrential rain and floods. Sycamore Canyon Road is the old, one lane, curving road to the beach, and unpaved and rutted. The Jardine Ranch is the last house before the beach. The woodstove had four inches of water in it.

Al and Mary Ann left on tour almost immediately, and there I was alone on 80 wild acres with one storm coming in after the other (and you really feel it there), with a dozen animals to care for, this completely incompetent Brooklynite on the horse/pig front. It was fantastic.

About a month went by. I’d gotten up to Whole Foods in Monterey and stocked the pantry. They drove in that night around midnight. Al called. I said everybody was fine, welcome home. He sounded exhausted. He said it was a great tour but he was knocked out. Mary Ann had a broken arm that wasn’t healing right. I asked if they had any food in the house.

Not really.

Then I said I had Chateaubriand in fried onion and Portobello mushrooms, fresh asparagus, mashed potatoes, Cheshire cheese, lemon meringue pie, ginger chocolate, a nice bottle of old Port, and after every thing he gasped and sighed, and I said give me fifteen minutes I’m bringing you dinner. I put dinner for two in a white wicker basket swaddled in red and white checked cloth and trotted it up to the Big House. After which I became their chef, they both said they never tasted anything so delish. In less than a year I quit the radio job and opened my gallery.

I happily consider myself an opportunist, or at least someone not adverse to turning down chance when it appears unexpectedly and wanting to have a life of joy. There were, as you note, a lot of maneuverings around very strong personalities required, and this breathless sense of not wanting to do wrong on my part. But there was so much for me to gain, and grow I did. Life altering, every bit of it.

And stimulating beyond belief, I never painted so much or so fast or so well in my life.

Part 1 of 3 to be posted consecutively.