MacDowell Artist Colony

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1907

Tucked into the woods surrounding the quiet town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, there is a powerhouse of explosive creativity. The MacDowell Colony was founded in 1907 by the composer Edward MacDowell and his wife Marian to foster “enduring works of the imagination.” It attracts and supports 250 promising American artists every year, both the famous and the unknown, in fields from architecture to theater to music composition. A MacDowell residency, which may last from two weeks to two months, allows the artist to focus on a project without distraction, while drawing inspiration from the beautiful New England environs.

Edward MacDowell, an inaugural member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, realized toward the end of his life that the tranquility of his New Hampshire summer home had enabled him to compose many of his best pieces. As he was dying, Marian hoped to extend his legacy by offering the same opportunity to other artists. With the support of Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, Grover Cleveland, and others, she converted the property into a retreat, with (ultimately) 32 individual studios scattered through the 450-acre forest, and a common dining area and library. Among the signature features of the colony are the lunches delivered silently to artists’ doorsteps in picnic baskets every day, and the tablets inside the studios inscribed by everyone who has worked there before. The Colony was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

In the century since its founding, MacDowell Colony has not only supported more than 6,000 artists, but inspired similar colonies across the nation and the world. Dozens of the works created at MacDowell have gone on to win a Pulitzer Prize or similar award, including Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (which was modeled on nearby Peterborough, setting “the village against the largest dimensions of time and space,” Wilder wrote, in an attempt “to find a value above all price for the smallest events of our daily life”).