A Century of Creativity - The MacDowell Colony 1907-2007

Alone Together

While a MacDowell Colony residency guarantees artists a quiet place to work undisturbed, it also brings together creative workers who might otherwise never meet.  At any given moment, there is a unique, if fleeting, creative community assembled there.  Relationships formed at MacDowell have resulted in artistic collaborations and deep, lifelong friendships.

MacDowell Colony Fellows, August 1954

Back row, left to right: Sol Stein, James Baldwin, writers; Irving Fine, composer; Gregorio Prestopino, Sally Michel, painters; Kent Kennan, Otto Luening, Paul Pisk, Louise Talma, Leland Procter, Felix Labunski, Vladimir Ussachevsky, composers.

First row, left to right: Gordon Binkerd, composer; Virginia Sorensen, writer; Ernst Toch, Esther Williamson Ballou, composers; Peter Viereck, poet; Milton Avery, Paul Burlin, painters; Pauli Murray, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, writers; Elizabeth Dauber, painter; Nikolai Lopatnikoff, composer; Sara Henderson Hay, poet; Gordon Reevey, writer; Lester Trimble, composer.

Bernice Perry. MacDowell Colony Fellows, 1954. Gelatin silver print.  Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (51). Digital ID # ppmsca-13440. Courtesy of the MacDowell Colony.

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Kay Boyle

Kay Boyle (1902–1992) met James Baldwin at The MacDowell Colony in 1960.  Baldwin, a city dweller, did not like the woods after dark, so Boyle walked him back to his studio each evening after dinner.  One night she confessed that she, too, was afraid of the dark.  They laughed about their dilemma and waited for dawn, talking the night away.  Committed social activists, Boyle and Baldwin became close friends.

Kay Boyle reads on her porch at The MacDowell Colony, ca. 1960. Gelatin silver print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. (58). Digital ID #mc0058. © Clemens Kalischer.

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Giovanni's Room

In the summer of 1954, James Baldwin (1924–1987) was at The MacDowell Colony with his long-time friend, writer and editor Sol Stein. Stein convinced Baldwin to publish Notes of a Native Son, which Baldwin was working on that summer. He was also writing a novel, Giovanni's Room, the story of a young man coming to terms with his sexual identity. Critics praised Baldwin for treating the provocative subject with "unusual candor and yet with such dignity and intensity."

Giovanni's Room. James Baldwin. MacDowell Colony Collection, New York: Dial Press, 1956. First edition. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (92).

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"For James Baldwin"

Kay Boyle never forgot James Baldwin at The MacDowell Colony, “dancing about in the snow in his fox-fur hat, laughing, and singing.” Her poem “For James Baldwin” is a personal portrait of their friendship, and recalls “blizzards in New Hampshire, when you wore a foxskin cap, its tail red as autumn on your shoulder.”

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A Modernist Sensibility

Painter/printmaker Milton Avery (1885–1965) came to the MacDowell Colony in 1953–1954 and again in 1956. He made this charming image of a dancer when the Abstract Expressionist movement was in full swing. Though he flirts with abstraction in the simplified forms and broad linear composition of this work, Avery retained the recognizable figure. First carved into a wood block before being inked and printed on paper, the image has a dimensional, sculptural quality. The artist further emphasizes the physicality of the wood with his own incised lines, echoing the grain pattern.

Dancer. Milton Avery 1954. Woodcut. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (42). Digital ID # ppmsca-13436. 2007 Milton Avery Trust/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein was already famous when he first came to work at The MacDowell Colony in 1962. He returned in 1970 and 1972. “All of those times I was writing works which had, at least in intent, a vastness, which were dealing with subjects of astronomical if not mystical and astrological dimension,” Bernstein reminisced in 1987. “This vastness is inherent somehow in this place.”

Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) was already famous when he first stayed at The MacDowell Colony in 1962. He returned in 1970 and 1972. “All of those times I was writing works which had, at least in intent, a vastness, which were dealing with subjects of astronomical if not mystical and astrological dimension,” Bernstein reminisced in 1987. “This vastness is inherent somehow in this place.”

Bernice Perry. Leonard Bernstein at The MacDowell Colony, 1962. Gelatin silver print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (60). Digital ID # ppmsca-13442.

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"Gospel" from Bernstein's Mass

Subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers,” Leonard Bernstein' s Mass is a huge work that confounded critics with its conflicting styles. The “Gospel: God Said,” shown here in manuscript, is clearly Broadway inspired, while other selections draw on the blues and rock and roll. Bernstein described the work as a “reaffirmation of faith.” Although some critics considered the work too eclectic, Mass continues to receive attention as a religious work of unquestionable power.

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  • “Gospel” from Bernstein's Mass, 1971. Autograph score. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. By permission of The Leonard Berstein Office, Inc.(61). Digital ID #mc0062p1. By permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

  • “Gospel” from Bernstein's Mass, 1971. Autograph score. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. By permission of The Leonard Berstein Office, Inc. (61). Digital ID #mc0061p2. By permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

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Notes on Bernstein's Mass

Leonard Bernstein composed his Mass for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D. C., on September 8, 1971. His notes, made on index cards at The MacDowell Colony in December of 1970, show the piece taking shape. It is modeled on the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass, but its theme of doubt and reconciliation and its clear anti-war message made Mass a controversial work in the era of Vietnam and the Washington of President Richard Nixon.

Notes on Bernstein's Mass. Notes on Mass, made at The MacDowell Colony, 1970. Index cards. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. By permission of Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company, LLC (62) Digital ID #mc0062. By permission of Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company, LLC.

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Aaron Copland

Leonard Bernstein was already famous when he first came to work at The MacDowell Colony in 1962. He returned in 1970 and 1972. "All of those times I was writing works which had, at least in intent, a vastness, which were dealing with subjects of astronomical if not mystical and astrological dimension," Bernstein reminisced in 1987. "This vastness is inherent somehow in this place."

Billy the Kid

Aaron Copland (1900—1990) was working on Billy the Kid at The MacDowell Colony in September of 1938, when the Great Hurricane of 1938 swept through New England. He recalled that the Colony's grounds looked like a "desolate war-torn swamp" in the storm's aftermath. It took two men with axes more than two hours to cut through the downed trees and rescue his manuscript from the Chapman Studio. The ballet was scheduled to premiere on October 6, 1938—Copland moved to a new studio and kept on working.

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  • Billy the Kid. Autograph full score, 1938. Music Division, Library of Congress. © 1978 The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., sole licensee (33).

  • Billy the Kid. Colophon, 1938. Music Division, Library of Congress © 1978 The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., Boosey & Hawkes, Inc. (34) Digital ID #mc0034.

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The Cast of Billy the Kid

Aaron Copland was sympathetic with the efforts of dance impresario Lincoln Kirstein to break away from ballet's long-standing Russian traditions and create a truly American classic ballet. In 1938, he agreed to write the music for a new ballet based on an American theme—the true story of William Bonney, the notorious cowboy known as Billy the Kid. It was Copland's most successful work to date, prompting his mother finally to admit that the money spent on his piano lessons had not gone to waste.

The Cast of Billy the Kid. Photograph. featuring Erick Hawkins, Eugene Loring, and Lew Christensen, center, 1938. George Platt Lynes. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. © Estate of George Platt Lynes. (87)

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Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland's MacDowell Colony residency in 1925 brought him into contact with artists working in different disciplines for the first time, an experience he credited with changing the way he thought about art in America.  Years later, Copland publicly acknowledged the Colony's influence on his work: “If my music has been connected in people's minds with America, if people find some reflection of the American spirit in my music, then certainly the Colony must have some of the credit.”

Aaron Copland, ca. 1961. Photographic print. Margery Smith. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (86). Courtesy of the MacDowell Colony.

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Dubose and Dorothy Heyward

Playwright Dorothy Kuhns met poet DuBose Heyward at The MacDowell Colony in 1922, and they married the following year.  When the Heywards returned to the Colony in 1924, DuBose was working on his novel Porgy.  It was Dorothy who convinced DuBose it would work as a play, and the two collaborated on dramatizing the story, which became the basis for George Gershwin's legendary opera Porgy and Bess.

Porgy, a Play

In 1924, DuBose Heyward read from his novel-in-progress at The MacDowell Colony. His fellow colonists pronounced it "atrocious," and suggested he return to writing poetry.  The novel was called Porgy, and Heyward finished it despite their criticism.  Dorothy Heyward saw dramatic possibilities in the story and convinced DuBose it would work as a play.  This is the original copyright deposit for the play Porgy, still in its brown paper cover. The 1927 Theater Guild production ran for 367 performances.

Porgy, a Play. Original typescript, copyright deposit, August 2, 1926. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Courtesy DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund (35) Digital ID #mc0035.

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"Respite: to the MacDowell Colony"

Dorothy (1890–1961) and DuBose (1885–1940) Heyward met at The MacDowell Colony in 1922 and married soon after. Marian MacDowell was godmother to their daughter Jenifer. The Heywards returned often to the Colony and were planning to work there in 1940, but DuBose died suddenly that June after a massive heart attack. He was first and foremost a poet. This poem, "Respite: to the MacDowell Colony," is believed to be by DuBose Heyward. It was found among the Heywards’ many letters to Marian MacDowell.

“Respite: to the MacDowell Colony”. Typescript poem, [n.d.]. Edward and Marian MacDowell Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. Courtesy of DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund (37). Digital ID #mc0037.

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Porgy and Bess

George Gershwin read DuBose Heyward’s novel Porgy in 1926, and immediately wrote to him about collaborating on a musical version. The result became an American classic, Porgy and Bess. Shown here is a photo from the original 1935 production, directed by Rouben Mamoulian. DuBose Heyward’s lyrics for Porgy and Bess, that include both "Summertime" and "My Man’s Gone Now," have been called "the best lyrics in the musical theater" by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Digital ID # mc0088

Porgy and Bess. Production shot from Porgy and Bess, 1935. Copyprint. Rouben Mamoulian Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Bequest of Azadia Mamoulian (88). Digital ID #mc0088.

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Our Town

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer-prize winning play Our Town is inextricably linked to Peterborough, New Hampshire, which was a model for the play's fictional town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. One of the most performed plays of the twentieth century, Our Town was made into a movie in 1940, and in 2006, an operatic Our Town premiered with a libretto by J. D. McClatchy and music by Ned Rorem.

Peterborough, New Hampshire

Peterborough, New Hampshire was a small mill town with a population of around 2,500 when the MacDowells discovered it in the 1890s. The abandoned farm that they purchased there in 1896 would become The MacDowell Colony, and is located beyond the eastern edge of this bird's-eye-view map. Rising in the background is Mount Monadnock. Known as "the mountain that stands alone," Mount Monadnock is a distinctive landmark in southwestern New Hampshire.

Peterborough, New Hampshire, 1886. L. R. Burleigh. Troy, New York: L.R. Burleigh, 1886. Map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (30). Digital ID # pm004900.

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Thornton Wilder and Marian MacDowell

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer-prize winning play Our Town was one of the most performed plays of the twentieth century. Set in the fictional town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, Our Town was inspired in part by Peterborough, New Hampshire—home of The MacDowell Colony. Wilder worked nine seasons at the Colony, including a residency in 1937, while he was writing Our Town. Although he avoided identifying Grover's Corners with any real place, its similarity to Peterborough is unmistakable.

Thornton Wilder and Marian MacDowell. Bernice Perry. Thornton Wilder and Marian MacDowell, 1952. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division. (13) Digital ID #mc0013. Courtesy of The MacDowell Colony.

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Our Town

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer-prize winning play Our Town was one of the most performed plays of the twentieth century. Set in the fictional town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, Our Town was inspired in part by Peterborough, New Hampshire—home of The MacDowell Colony. Wilder worked nine seasons at the Colony, including a residency in 1937, while he was writing Our Town. Although he avoided identifying Grover's Corners with any real place, its similarity to Peterborough is unmistakable.

Our Town, a Play in Three Acts. Thornton Wilder. New York: Coward McCann, Inc., 1938. First edition. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (31) Digital ID # mc0031. By permission of Tappan Wilder. All rights reserved.

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Our Town, the Opera

Many composers wanted to turn Our Town into an opera, but Thornton Wilder refused them all—including Aaron Copland, who wrote the film score for the 1940 movie version. In 2001, Wilder's nephew and literary executor, Tappan Wilder, granted permission for the first operatic rendition of Our Town. Premiered in 2006 by the Indiana University Opera Theater, Our Town, the opera, features a libretto by J. D. McClatchy and a score by Ned Rorem—both MacDowell Colony Fellows.

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  • Our Town. Autograph short score, 2004. Ned Rorem. Ned Rorem Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. © Copyright Boosey & Hawkes, Inc. (79). Digital ID #mc0079.

  • Final dress rehearsal for the world premiere of Our Town. Ric Cradick. by the Indiana University Opera Theater, February 24, 2006. Photograph. Ned Rorem Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID #mc0082 (82). Courtesy of Indiana University Opera Theater.

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