From the beginning, the cardinal rule at The MacDowell Colony forbid any Colonist from visiting another without an invitation. Lunch is delivered in picnic baskets to each studio door to ensure a day without interruptions. Other MacDowell traditions include signing the “tombstone” in one's studio at the conclusion of a residency, and the ritual game of cowboy pool enjoyed in Colony Hall, played on Edward MacDowell's antique pool table.
In a tradition dating back to the Colony's beginnings, artists sign and date a wooden board in their studio at the end of each residency. Every studio has a collection of these boards, referred to as “tombstones” for their shape―and for the fact that they function as “intimations of mortality.” The long lists of names inspire some and intimidate others, but each artist eventually adds his or her own name and becomes part of MacDowell Colony history.
Tombstones from Alexander Studio, 1954–1958; and Veltin Studio, 1936–1952. Courtesy of The MacDowell Colony. Digital ID# mc0089.
After breakfast, Colony Fellows retreat to their studios for a full day of work. When lunch is delivered, some greet its arrival in person. For those who are absorbed in their work, a picnic basket is left silently on their doorstep. The baskets are custom-made for The MacDowell Colony by the Peterboro Basket Company, which has been making baskets since 1854. Today, they are hand decorated by Colony Fellows. Artist Julia Jacquette (b. 1964) painted this basket in 1998.
MacDowell Colony Picnic Basket, 1998. Julia Jacquette. Courtesy of The MacDowell Colony (91). Digital ID# mc0091.
The picnic basket tradition at The MacDowell Colony dates back to when Marian MacDowell brought lunch to her husband in his log cabin studio to prevent the mid-day meal from disrupting his work. In the early years, Marian delivered lunch to the colonists herself, traveling the Colony's dirt roads in her horse-drawn cart. Poet and Colony Fellow Margaret Widdemer took this photo, probably in 1919.
Marian MacDowell delivering lunch baskets, ca. 1919. Margaret Widdemer. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (11). Digital ID# ppmsca-13428.