In the woods…the light of being

I caught it the way you do when you reach out to catch the string of a balloon before it escapes your grasp and you give yourself a high five for still being quick enough to catch it.  I caught that corner of my mind that gets clouded with words, ideas and emotions, the corner that you sometimes need to retreat to when life gets topsy turvy…and it all happened in the woods at The MacDowell Colony on Sunday.

For those of you unfamiliar with The MacDowell Colony, it is the oldest artists' colony in the United States. Founded in 1907 by Edward MacDowell, a composer and Marian MacDowell, a pianist, both artists wanted a peaceful place to create and to be able to share their special retreat with fellow artists. Their search started in 1896 with the purchase of a farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Fast forward 118 years and their mission, to provide a place for artists to work peacefully and harmoniously amongst their thriving. Over 6000 artists have walked through and around the pines, flora and fauna on this 45 acre property where artist studios sit quietly in the landscape.

Their are only 32 studios and as you might imagine, this is a prized and highly sought after experience with an application process that rivals admission to Harvard. (So, I have been told). I believe it..who wouldn't want to experience the greatest depth of their creativity at The MacDowell Colony, when notable artists such as Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder, Milton Avery, Alice Walker and Alice Sebold and many more have done the same.

I have to be honest, I had not heard of The MacDowell Colony before life at Tahilla Farm. When I stacked up the pros and cons for purchasing a farmhouse at the end of a country road in a town I had never heard of before…in the woods..well, let's just say, the story behind The MacDowell Colony helped to tip the balance. A country the woods, down the hill and up the hill and around the corner from the oldest artist colony in America? Let's just say it was a moment of clarity.

Back to Sunday...when I attended Medal Day, the one and only day when the colony is open to the public. It is also the day when The MacDowell Colony recognises an individual artist who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field with the Edward MacDowell Medal. Last year it was the composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, this year it was Betye Saar, a visual artist, and true hunter and gatherer, one who creates beautiful collages and assemblages of  collected objects often found at flea markets. When Betye mentioned in her acceptance speech that she has lived through 89 revolutions of the sun I smiled…and when she said "I feel this medal says for me, 'You go, girl'"…I joined everyone else in the standing ovation of this remarkable woman. I get the impression their is no stopping Betye…at any age.

about the unknown
has no boundaries,
symbols, images, places and cultures merge.
time slips away.
The stars, the cards, the mystic vigil
may hold the answers.
By shifting the point of view
an inner spirit is released.
Free to Create

Betye Saar

After the ceremony, the crowd of over 1000 dispersed from the under a white tent for a picnic lunch on the beautiful grounds of the property. After lunch, a three hour allotted time period was allowed to walk into the woods to discover and meet the current artists in their studios.

And this is where I caught 
the light of being...
in the woods of The MacDowell Colony
where life happens in..

 a studio

on a bicycle

and a simple porch.

The porch is where artists are able 
to take their passion to the next level.

If the ideas are slow to flow…
they can sit and think about it

                                                         and consider their next project

In the woods one can find solitude

with a mountain

 The MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire 
is where artists are given the space

to contemplate and create

where white pines stand tall

and a library window awaits

It was here, standing on this porch where I caught
my proverbial string..when that corner of my mind cleared 
and I realised I was back in control again.

It was all so simple..
Edward and Marian MacDowell 
experienced it all those years ago…
in the light and shadow of the woods,
in the sway of a rocking chair on a porch...
you can find the light of your own being.
You just have to be open to it.

Thank you for letting me share this occasion with you. 
I chose black and white, in an attempt 
to let light and shadow speak for itself.
I hope it worked.

To learn more about The MacDowell Colony
…click on the links below

Michele Mattei, Betye Saar, 2012;
Image © Michele Mattei


  1. Nice. Medal day is always a great time to connect with the Macdowell Colony and realize that in the middle of town there is this very important place that spurs inspiration and creativity.

    1. Could not agree more's a pretty special place.

  2. Growing up in Massachusetts, just south of New Hampshire, I've been in awe of The MacDowell Colony since my teen years. Thank you for this visit and sharing you reaction and experiences there. Maybe because of my teen awe, learning about the then new Hermitage Artist Retreat was a factor in my decision about where to buy for my retirement. It, with its community involvement aspect, eased my transition from Paris 16th to coastal Florida.

    1. A well planned move Joan…what a contrast! Lovely to think you considered an Artist Retreat as well. :)

    2. Lovely black and white pictures, artist's retreat, how privileged could one be?!?!? I wonder if your mom has been there...I can easily picture Tahilla Farm in New Hampshire...I had a magazine friend who had a second home there (she lives in Boston) and she took me there through the countryside to several homes on a scouting mission. Beautiful landscapes...!

  3. Lovely post. Lovely photos. Sometimes our creativity is most inspired when we are still…and listen…and see. The MacDowell Colony appears to do just that.

  4. You are maybe moving to your time to be an artist.

  5. What a wonderful p lace. I would love to spend a few days in such a space. Just free to think and create; away from the distraction of the world. This was a beautiful post Jeanne, very typical of you :)

  6. Solitude, a friend of creativity, which you found in the colony, stirs inspiration, ideas.
    I started to appreciate black and white photos too. I just attended this afternoon a nature photography exhibit in Napa Valley Museum and 99 % of the exhibit is in black and white.It expresses a different beauty.
    I remember you wrote about the colony before and I was impressed then and certainly more impressed now with your photos and narrative..
    Thank you Jeanne.

  7. WOW................I cannot get over how lucky you are.............daily!
    Beautiful........I have a feeling if they get an overflow you will open up a room or two?!!!


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