Artists' Colonies

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ARTISTS' COLONIES are collective, nonprofit organizations that serve as creative retreats for visual and performing artists, musicians, composers, and writers. Often situated in rural areas, these colonies offer a respite from city life, a quiet place to work, and a sense of creative community, along with workshops and studio time. Museums, colleges, artists, teachers, government programs, and wealthy patrons—together or individually—provide accommodations, services, and financial resources. Artists may apply for residency, but often the most prestigious and least publicized colonies are by invitation only. Colonies generally house resident artists for several weeks to many months at a time in facilities ranging from college dormitories and rustic outdoor accommodations to the private homes of wealthy patrons.

The first American artists' colony emerged in 1877, when William Morris Hunt, Barbizon painter and colleague of Jean-François Millet, established a pleinair (outdoor) painting school in Magnolia, Massachusetts. The 1880s and 1890s represented the peak of rural colony activity in Europe, and many American artists returned to the United States to create their own communities stateside. Early American art colonies imitated the French tradition of drawing artists from urban art centers into the country side to experiment with light and movement in outdoor painting. William Merritt Chase's art school in Long Island, New York (founded 1891) and Charles Hawthorne's Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts (founded 1896) both emulated the pleinair and Impressionist orientation of French art colonies.

Other American art colonies, however, drew their inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement and the social reform movements of the turn of the century, perceiving artists' communities to be utopian sites for alternative cultural lifestyles, the practice of social equity, and unfettered creativity. These included the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire (founded 1907); Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York (founded 1900); The Art Students' League Summer School in Woodstock, New York (founded 1906), where Robert Henri and George Bellows of the Ashcan School taught; Carmel, California, home to writers' colony founders George Sterling and Mary Austin (founded 1905); and the Mabel Dodge Luhan house in Taos, New Mexico (founded 1918), a retreat for American cultural icons such as Georgia O'Keeffe, D. H. Lawrence, and Dennis Hopper. Woodstock and Taos remained centers for countercultural art scenes throughout the 1960s and 1970s, while both the MacDowell and Yaddo colonies continue to host up to one hundred artists each year.


Alliance of Artists' Communities. Artists Communities: A Directory of Residencies in the United States That Offer Time and Space for Creativity. New York: Allworth Press, 2000. Up-to-date, illustrated reference source on current American art colonies.

Bowler, Gail Hellund. Artists and Writers Colonies: Retreats, Residencies, and Respites for the Creative Mind. Hillsboro, Oregon: Blue Heron Publishing, Inc., 1995.

Jacobs, Michael. The Good and Simple Life: Artist Colonies in Europe and America. Oxford: Paidon, 1985. Classic text.

Rudnick, Lois Palken. Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.