Aspen Ideas Fest: Lynda Resnick, the Haas Brothers and a community’s rebirth through art

A pair of irreverent twin brother artists, a community of artisans in a forgotten corner of inland California and the entrepreneur Lynda Resnick have formed an unlikely alliance that’s creating art, community and economic opportunity.
Simon and Nikolai Haas — best known for the furry, funny sculptural furniture works — took the stage at Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday with Resnick and bead-workers Ana Patrisia Lomeli and Dulce Sanchez to talk about the ongoing project.
Lomeli and Sanchez are on the team of 21 “Haas Sisters” who do intricate beadwork for Haas Brothers sculptures. Resnick brought the two together.
Over the past decade, Lynda Resnick and her husband, Stewart, have invested millions of dollars in the community of Lost Hills, near the Central Valley almond groves of their Wonderful Company. Half of the households in Lost Hills include an employee of the company, which makes Fiji Water, POM pomegranate drinks and Wonderful almonds. The Resnicks have built sidewalks, parks, affordable housing, two recreation centers and a college prep academy there. But art hadn’t found a place in their Lost Hills initiatives until Resnick met the Haases through an art dealer.
“Of course, I met them in Aspen,” Resnick, an Aspen Institute trustee, recalled. “Where do you meet anybody?”
The Resnicks commissioned the Haas Brothers — who in recent years have been in residence at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village and exhibited at Boesky West in Aspen — to make a set of benches for their home, in the signature furry and footed Haas style. The meeting led to much more than stylish furnishings.
Resnick had been trying since around 2010 to bring art into the Lost Hills community as an economic driver. So when Simon Haas explained an intricate new approach to beadwork he’d been developing, the idea for what would become the Haas Sisters clicked.
“I had been working on a system for beadwork that’s based in logic and requires a lot of time — it’s not something most bead artists can do,” Simon Haas explained. “I was talking to Lynda about how I was having such a hard time executing it, and that’s when the spark happened. .. I couldn’t imagine that it would be so amazing.”
Resnick told him about Lost Hills and her belief that the talented women of the area might be able to help. The project, she imagined, might be an economic boon to Lost Hills, bringing unemployed women into the workforce and building community.
The project, as outlined by Haas Sisters team members, has given them economic security with good-paying jobs as artisans, flexibility to bead at home or school and be with children and family, while it has brought together the women of Lost Hills with a common purpose and source of immense pride.
Before the Resnicks started investing in its rebirth, Lomeli recalled, Lost Hills didn’t have basic resources such as streets and schools.
“Our community was lacking so many things,” she said. “We were pretty much forgotten out there. Nobody cared. And we were lonely.”
Added Sanchez: “Many of us view Lynda as our angel, because she came into this forgotten town and built something that was beautiful.”
The Haas Sisters sculptures start as abstract drawings on paper, by the Haases. Simon then writes code for the Sisters to follow to weave together beads into three-dimensional forms. For the Haas Sisters, the painstaking process starts with that code and, as Lomeli put it, “millions and millions of beads in a jar.” The works — like plant sculptures that the Haases brought on stage at the Ideas panel – require hundreds of hours of beadwork before the Haases assemble the pieces.
“There is no way that this could happen with one person,” Simon said.
The artworks are playful and decorative. But they represent something more to the Haas Sisters who have become expert artisans to make them.
“It has all been my effort for my children, for my family, for my community and for all those people who never would think I would be able to do this,” said Lomeli. “It’s hard work I put into it, lots of heart, made with so much love and dedication. It’s so much more than an art piece.”
Following the series of blue-chip sculptures by the Haas Brothers and Haas Sisters (the palm tree sold for $100,000) the team is now working on rolling out a line of smaller and more affordable pieces called “Micro Freaks.” On display at Ideas Fest, they’re small creatures in the distinctive beaded style and will soon be available online.
Resnick said she hopes that the rebirth of Lost Hills is her legacy, beyond her business and marketing successes with the Wonderful Company. She believes that the Haas Sisters could be the beginning of an art colony in Lost Hills.
“I need more artists that need artisans, I need a knitting company,” Resnick said in an interview after the panel. “It doesn’t have to be this advanced kind of labor, but this is the most hard-working, industrious community. They’re not jaded. They’re open. I think when word about this gets around, other artists or companies that need sensitive handwork will come to us.”
For their part, the Haas Brothers — who have also been teaming with a community of bead-workers in South Africa for seven years — intend to stick around Lost Hills.
“You can’t go into a community, create this amazing thing and then say, ‘See ya!’” Nikolai Haas said. “It doesn’t work like that.”