MacDowell Colony

The MacDowell Colony is an artists' colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, United States, founded in 1907 by composer Edward MacDowell and his wife, pianist and philanthropist Marian MacDowell. After he died in 1908, Marian forged ahead, establishing the Colony through a nonprofit association in honor of her husband, raising funds to transform her farm into a quiet retreat for creative artists to work. She led the colony for almost 25 years.

MacDowell Colony
Colony Hall and Sigma Alpha Iota Cottage
Location100 High Street, Peterborough, New Hampshire
NRHP reference #66000026
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHLDDecember 29, 1962[2]

The mission of The MacDowell Colony is "to nurture the arts by offering creative individuals of the highest talent an inspiring environment in which they can produce enduring works of the imagination".[3]

Over the years, an estimated 8,300 artists have been supported in residence with nearly 15,000 Fellowships, including the winners of at least 86 Pulitzer Prizes, 31 National Book Awards, 30 Tony Awards, 32 MacArthur Fellowships, 15 Grammys, 8 Oscars, 828 Guggenheim Fellowships, and 107 Rome Prizes.[4] The colony has accepted visual and interdisciplinary artists, architects, filmmakers, composers, playwrights, poets, and writers, both well-known and unknown.[5]


In 1896, pianist Marian MacDowell bought Hillcrest Farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire, as a summer residence for herself and her husband, composer Edward MacDowell. She had always been careful to give him a quiet room for his work. They found that the New Hampshire landscape enhanced his work of composing music.[6]

The couple formulated a plan to provide an interdisciplinary experience in a nurturing landscape, by creating an institutionalized residential art colony in the area. In 1904, Edward MacDowell began to show signs of an illness that ended his composing and teaching career. He died in 1908.[7]

In 1907, Marian MacDowell deeded their farm to the Edward MacDowell Association and founded the MacDowell Colony. The first guests arrived that year: sisters Helen Farnsworth Mears, a sculptor, and Mary Mears, a writer. Mears wrote about the colony for The Craftsman in July 1909.[8] MacDowell began by inviting applicants personally, but by the 1920s had consigned the admission process to a committee.

Marian and friends raised funds among a wide variety of people for the colony, which was supported by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, financier J. P. Morgan, other prominent people, as well as many others across the country. MacDowell said the most consistent support came from women's clubs and professional music sororities (see, for example, the MacDowell Club of New York). At the age of 50, MacDowell began lecturing to women's groups to raise funds, resumed her performing career, and became a noted interpreter of her husband's work.[9]

By 1918, 31 of Isabelle Sprague Smith's students funded the creation of the Isabelle D. Sprague Smith studio.[10] Through the years more separate studios were built. The program continues in 32 studios scattered over 450 acres (1.8 km2) of land.[11]

Medal Day

Every year, the colony presents the Edward MacDowell Medal to an artist who has made a significant cultural contribution. Residency at the colony is not a requirement. In 2019, the 60th Medal will be awarded to a visual artist. Medal Day is one of the rare occasions when the colony is open to the public. The ceremony includes a keynote speech, after which the artists open their studios to visitors.[12]

Property-tax exemption dispute

The colony, a non-profit organization, enjoys the status of a charity, entitling it to exemption from local property taxes, among other things. However, in 2005, the town of Peterborough's selectmen (local-government executives) decided to challenge MacDowell's charitable status and billed the colony for a "payment in lieu of taxes". A lawyer for the town argued that "the colony certainly benefits its artists-in-residence, but that doesn't strike us as being the general public."[13]

The colony's board of directors paid the bill, then successfully challenged the charge.[14] A 2007 Superior Court opinion found that the MacDowell Colony, by promoting the arts, was a charitable institution, a ruling that was upheld by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in a subsequent appeal.[15]:p13 The appeal court found that "Contrary to the Town's assertions, MacDowell's articles of incorporation oblige it to use its property for its stated charitable purpose."[15]:p11


In 1962, the colony was designated a National Historic Landmark.[2][16][17]

In 1997, the colony was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[18]

Notable works

See also


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. "MacDowell Colony". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
  3. MacDowell Colony: About the colony
  4. MacDowell Colony FAQ
  5. Silverman, Art (March 6, 2007). "Artists Retreat into Solitude at MacDowell Colony". All Things Considered.
  7. "Library Of Congress". Library Of Congress.
  9. Parker, Gail Underwood (2009). More than Petticoats: Remarkable New Hampshire Women. Morris Book Publishing.
  10. "Studios". The Musical Monitor. Mrs. David Allen Campbell, Publisher. 1918. p. 357.
  11. MacDowell Colony: Explore our studios
  12. "Medal Day". The MacDowell Colony. Archived from the original on 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  13. Winkleman, E. (November 1, 2005). "Local Government: McDowell Not Advancing Spiritual or Intellectual Well-Being of General Public".
  14. Brooks, Anthony (Author) & Inskeep, Steve (Host) (October 13, 2005). "Town Demands Taxes from Long-Exempt Artists' Colony". All Things Considered. NPR.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. "Town of Peterborough v. The MacDowell Colony, Inc" (PDF). The Supreme Court of New Hampshire. 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  16. Bradford, S. Sydney & Rettig, Polly M. (January 6, 1976). National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: MacDowell Colony. National Park Service.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  17. Bradford, S. Sydney & Rettig, Polly (January 6, 1976). "Accompanying 5 photos, from 1907 and 1975". National Register of Historical Places Inventory-Nomination: MacDowell Colony. National Park Service.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  18. National Medal of Arts (1997). "Lifetime Honors". Archived from the original on 2013-08-26.
  21. Carolyn Kellog (December 7, 2010), Michael Chabon named chairman of MacDowell Colony board, Los Angeles Times.

Further reading

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