A Century of Creativity - The MacDowell Colony 1907–2007
Sections:  Exhibition Highlights | History | Early Years | Mid-20th Century | Contemporary, 1980s to the Present

Today The MacDowell Colony serves creative artists from a wide variety of disciplines. They include architects and composers; filmmakers and interdisciplinary artists; librettists and playwrights; visual artists working in sculpture, digital imagery, mixed media, painting, photography, and printmaking; and writers of fiction and nonfiction, as well as poets and translators.

“Home Depot Sunset”

Marion Belanger held a MacDowell Colony residency in 2001.  Her landscape photographic images explore environments in transition and question the meaning of wildness in a culture that often attempts to tame it in the name of progress. In 2004, Belanger was artist-in-residence in Everglades National Park, Florida, the inspiration for her Everglades series and its “Home Depot Sunset,” which depicts the shifting boundaries between man and nature.

Home Depot Sunset,” 2004 from the Everglades series.  Marion Belanger. Photographic print, color. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (76). Digital ID# ppmsca-13452. Courtesy of Marion Belanger.

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Three Heavens and Hells

Performance artist Meredith Monk, a six-time MacDowell Colony Fellow, rarely creates musical scores for her compositions. Three Heavens and Hells is a notable exception. “It's always challenging to find a graphic representation of what I do musically,” Monk admitted. “The problem is that in my music there's so much going on that's not on the page.  You've got to get it into your bones, into your body.”  Her work is responsible in part for the recognition by the Colony of a new discipline, interdisciplinary artist, in 1989.

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  • Meredith Monk at The MacDowell Colony. Joanna Eldredge Morrissey. Copyprint. Digital ID# mc0094 (94). Courtesy of The MacDowell Colony.

  • Three Heavens and Hells Meredith Monk. Autograph score. Music Division, Library of Congress (95). Digital ID# mc0095. “Three Heavens and Hells” music composed by Meredith monk, words by Tennessee Reed, score hand written by Meredith monk © 1992.

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Shared Humanity

New York artist/activist Tomie Arai (b. 1949) often explores issues of identity, community, and acculturation in her work. Of Japanese heritage, Arai has created artworks related not only to her own personal history, but also diverse immigrant histories of Americans from other places including Africa and China. While celebrating the unique richness of personal, family, and community narratives, Arai's work also reveals our shared humanity. She was at the MacDowell Colony in 1994.

Laundryman's Daughter, 1988. Tomie Arai. Color silkscreen. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (69). Digital ID# ppmsca-13446. Courtesy of Tomie Arai.

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Depicting Thought

Natural subjects are a recurring concern in the work of painter, printmaker, and collagist Cynthia Back (b. 1956). A resident of The MacDowell Colony in the fall of 1994, the artist recalls: "Being in the wooded environs of MacDowell started me once again working from observation of nature, something I had earlier done and now continue to strive towards." This work, a response to the events of September 11, 2001, represents a departure from much of Back's work. Monitor-shaped forms proliferate in an organic, blue space, alluding to both the tangible world and an inner mind-scape.

It Was Reported Over and Over, from the Manhattan Graphics Center memorial portfolio September 11, 2002. Cynthia Back. Etching. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (68). Digital ID# ppmsca-01751. Courtesy of Cynthia Back.

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Peace Circle

On September 11, 2001, news of the terrorist attacks was delivered to Colony Fellows in their studios one by one. In a collective expression of mourning, fellows and staff members gathered to form a peace circle, a tradition in many cultures that symbolizes connection, hope, and renewal. The circle was marked with stones and the surrounding field was later planted with saplings. It has become a memorial and a place of meditation.

MacDowell Colony Fellows and staff form a peace circle on September 11, 2001. Brendan Tapley. Copyprint.  Courtesy of The MacDowell Colony (83). Digital ID# mc0083. Courtesy of the MacDowell Colony.

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Portraits in the Time of AIDS

Rosalind Solomon’s (b. 1930) photograph of a young man at an AIDS march in Washington, D.C., has become an iconic symbol of the late twentieth century. It forms part of her series “Portraits in the Time of AIDS,” and was selected by Solomon for her thirty year retrospective titled Chapalingas, exhibited at Die Photographische Sammlung in Cologne, Germany, in 2003. Solomon worked on the exhibit at The MacDowell Colony in 2002

Silence Equals Death,” 1987, from her Portraits in the Time of AIDS. Rosalind Solomon. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (74). Digital ID# ppmsca-13450. © 1987 Rosalind Solomon. All rights reserved.

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Prize Winners

It is not unusual to pick up a best selling book and find an acknowledgement to The MacDowell Colony inside its covers. Recent fiction created in part at the Colony includes Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000), a Pulitzer Prize winner; Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (2001), winner of the National Book Award; and Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (2002), winner of the American Booksellers Association's Book of the Year Award.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  Michael Chabon. New York: Random House, 2000. General Collections, Library of Congress (90). Digital ID# mc0090.

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Fragile Beauty

Environmental artist Sandy Gellis (b. 1940) works in multiple media including installation, site-specific sculpture, and printmaking. This is part of a larger, long-term series, documenting birds from around the world.  In Great Blue Heron, a specific bird and habitat are represented by a single feather; its soft, shadowy form underscoring nature's delicate balance. Gellis considers her time at The MacDowell Colony in 1979 a pivotal experience, remarking: "I found quiet, concentration, focus, a connection to the environment to become part of my art, and people who shared those needs."

Great Blue Heron, from The Bird Project : Plain Series, 1996.  Sandy Gellis. Etching (diptych).  Printed by and in collaboration with Julia D’Amario.  Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (78). Digital ID# ppmsca-13453. Courtesy of Sandy Gellis.

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Impossible Vacation

Spalding Gray (1941–2004) worked on his semi-autobiographical novel Impossible Vacation during a MacDowell Colony residency in 1988. Completion of the book was plagued by interruptions, giving Gray material for his 1990 Monster in a Box, described as a “monologue about a man who can't write a book about a man who can't take a vacation.” It was vintage Spalding Gray, prompting one critic to observe “only in Monster in a Box could one hope to find links between the MacDowell Colony and Psycho.”

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  • Spalding Gray at The MacDowell Colony, 1988.  Linda Smogor. Copyprint. Courtesy of The MacDowell Colony (84). Digital ID# mc0084. Courtesy of The MacDowell Colony.

  • Impossible Vacation.  Spalding Gray. New York: Knopf, 1992. First edition. General Collections, Library of Congress (85). Digital ID# mc0085.

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One Way

Photorealist artist Robert Cottingham (b. 1935) carries forward the legacy of earlier realists including Edward Hopper. His work can also be compared to such contemporaries as Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana, who were also interested in incorporating text and signage into their work. In this image, the artist presents a selective, sidelong look at a city street scene. Rather than framing an entire building, he draws attention to traffic lights, commercial signs, and the geometric patterning of poles, awnings, and decorative girders. Cottingham attended The MacDowell Colony in 1993–1994.

One Way, 1984.  Robert Cottingham. Color lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division (64). Digital ID# ppmsca-13444. Courtesy of Robert Cottingham.

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Sections:  Exhibition Highlights | History | Early Years | Mid-20th Century | Contemporary, 1980s to the Present