Artful Discoveries

The National Trust's Historic Artists' Homes and Studios Program

What do Frederic Church's Olana, Elisabet Ney's Formosa, Daniel Chester French's Chesterwood, and Russel Wright's Manitoga have in common?  They are all part of a National Trust for Historic Preservation program called Historic Artists' Homes and Studios (or HAHS) comprising 30 sites across the country that are open on a regular basis, where American painters, sculptors, and craftspeople lived and worked for most of their artistic careers.  The program is supported, in part, by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art and administered by Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site in Stockbridge, Mass.

The program serves not only the staff of HAHS sites, but also the hundreds of thousands of visitors who are interested in experiencing places where artists made their paintings, sculptures, photographs and decorative objects.

On a recent visit to the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, for example, I explored the space where Jackson Pollock splashed paint on his canvases. I walked (with protective booties on my shoes) around the room, imagining the artist in action.  I also had a better understanding of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe when I joined a tour of her home and studio in Abiquiu, N.M., and was able to see out her bedroom window the black, winding road that inspired several abstract paintings.

HAHS helps American art-related historic sites preserve and interpret their collections and buildings.  The program grew out of a plan formulated in the early 1990s to reach out to provide historic sites with information on preservation and collaborative opportunities.  HAHS was designed as a fee-based membership program by invitation from a National Advisory Committee that encourages: peer collaboration and professional development; increased visibility through cross-promotional marketing and publicity; and access to professional information, technical workshops and peer dialogue. 

To be eligible, a site must be: listed on, or determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places; recognized by a local or state government as being historically or architecturally significant; owned by a non-profit organization or federal/state/local government agency; employ at least one full-time professional staff member; maintain appropriate standards of quality for the visitor experience; open to the public on a sufficiently regular basis; maintain, conserve and administer the historic place to protect and preserve the historical integrity of features, materials, appearance, workmanship, and environment in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, as currently in effect; and maintain appropriate standards for conservation of its museum collection.  The member also agrees that it will continue to maintain, preserve and administer the historic place to protect and conserve the related collections in its ownership, possession or control in an appropriate manner as well as demonstrate a commitment to education and interpretations, and interpret the historic place to a broad and diverse audience, so as to accurately and honestly interpret the history of the site in the context of larger themes of American history and culture.

HAHS sites by region include:

NORTHEAST REGION

'101 Spring Street,' New York, N.Y.; Alice Austen House Museum, Staten Island, N.Y.; Bush-Holley Historic Site, Cos Cob, Conn.; Cedar Grove, The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, N.Y.; Demuth Museum, Lancaster, Pa.; Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site, Stockbridge, Mass.; Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Conn.; Fonthill Museum, Doylestown, Pa.; Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio, Lenox, Mass.; Manitoga/The Russel Wright Design Center, Garrison, N.Y., N.C. Wyeth House and Studio, Chadds Ford, Pa.; Olana State Historic State, Hudson, N.Y.; Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, N.Y.; Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, N.H.; Weir Farm National Historic Site, Wilton, Conn.; and The Wharton Esherick Studio, Valley Forge, Pa.

SOUTHERN REGION

Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, Winter Park, Fla.; Edward V. Valentine Sculpture Studio, Richmond, VA.; Gari Melchers Home and Studio, Fredericksburg, Va., and the Melrose Plantation Historic Home, Natchitoches, La.

MIDWEST REGION

Grant Wood Studio, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Roger Brown Study Collection, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.; and the T.C. Steele State Historic Site, Nashville, IN.

SOUTHWEST REGION

E.I. Couse Historic House and Studio, Taos, N.M.; Elisabet Ney Museum, Austin, Texas; and the Georgia O'Keeffe House and Studio, Abiquiu, N.M.

MOUNTAINS-PLAINS REGION

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Arts, Denver, Colo.; and the C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Mont.

WESTERN REGION

Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House, Ukiah, Calif.; Sam Maloof Historic Residence and Woodworking Studio, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

In the November/December 2011 issue of Preservation magazine, the American painter Jamie Wyeth stated that "seeing an artist's studio yourself makes it all more tactile and opens a door to their life and work.  The physicality of the place will affect you.  It certainly does me." The Wyeth family donated illustrator N.C. Wyeth's studio in Chadds Ford, Pa., to the Brandywine River Museum. The studio is now part of the HAHS collection.

Take Wyeth's advice. The next time you are traveling find the door to one of the HAHS sites and discover something about the creative process as you step into their special world.  Don't forget to look outside.  Where they lived and worked, alone or with others, is an integral part of the creative experience.

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.

Subscribe to the Today's News RSS feed

Comments