Cross-Atlantic exchange: exploring American artist's studio museums

Giles Waterfield, Senior Research Fellow at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village, shares details of future collaborative plans with the Historic Artists' Homes & Studios in America

In April I had the privilege of attending the triennial meeting of the Historic Artists' Homes & Studios (HAHS). This body, which covers the entirety of the United States, is a programme of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is 'dedicated to helping a national consortium of art-related, affiliated Historic Sites preserve, document, and interpret their buildings and collections'. Its members (around 35) are required to pay an annual fee and applications for membership are approved by the organisation.

The three-day event was based at Kykuit, the Pocantico Center for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. This astonishing property, formerly the home of the Rockefeller family, stands above the Hudson River and contains the family rooms and a remarkable art collection with a notable garden filled with sculpture.

The participants outside Kykuit, the Pocantico Center for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Sharing projects and visiting studio museums

This occasion was meticulously organised by Donna Hassler, Executive Director, Chesterwood and Administrator of the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; her colleague Lisa Reynolds; and Karen Zukowski, independent art historian and a member of the HAHS Advisory Committee. The session included discussions about the future of the organisation and its possible expansion, ably facilitated by Rena Zurofsky. I introduced the work of our growing European network, notably the website. We also visited a range of properties associated with artists.

We started the session with a visit to 101 Spring Street in Manhattan,the recently-restored residence and studio of Donald Judd, which is the only remaining intact and single-use cast iron building in SoHo.

Very much in contrast was the Alice Austen House on Staten Island. Austen, a highly prolific amateur photographer, lived in this house on the waterfront for some eighty years and has left a huge collection of her own photographs.

On the second day, we visited Manitoga, the home of the famous designer Russel Wright, a building that is shaped within the landscape of rock, forest and water.

Later visits included the Thomas Cole House and Studio, which has recently been extended and restored, and Olana, the grand property of Frederick Church.

I was fortunate enough to visit Philip Johnson's Glass House where we appreciated the carefully articulated sequence of buildings in what was still a wintry landscape.

Very different in character, Weir Farm is the house of two sets of artists' families in a sylvan setting.

Comparing European and American studio museums

It was fascinating to compare these houses with their European equivalents. American houses are extremely varied in character and, as a generalisation, I would say that they tend to be in urban, rural or semi-rural settings (with such exceptions as the Renee and Chaim Foundation in New York). In many cases, they are on a more modest scale than such grand buildings as Leighton House in London or the Villa Stuck in Munich.

They do resemble their European equivalents in being in many cases being run by modest-sized foundations, although the National Trust for Historic Preservation owns Chesterwood, the summer home and studio of the sculptor Daniel Chester French in Massachusetts.

It was a great pleasure to spend time with the enthusiastic, committed and lively directors and curators present at this event. I hope very much that it will be possible to establish a long-term friendly collaboration between these houses and their equivalents in Europe. Once someone is hooked on visiting artists' houses, the enthusiasm does not fade.

About the author...

Giles Waterfield is Senior Research Fellow for the Artist's Studio Museum Network at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village. He has written and published widely.

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