'Guide to Historic Artists' Homes & Studios' gives glimpse into famous artists' spaces

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Have you ever wondered what the inside of Jackson Pollock's studio looked like? If Winslow Homer's studio had an ocean view? Where Daniel Chester French created his monumental works? Or just wanted to see Georgia O'Keeffe's studio?

You can get a glimpse of all four of those artist studios, along with another 40 — all members of the Historic Artists' Homes & Studios Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation — in the "Guide to Historic Artists' Homes & Studios," available June 2.

The guidebook, the first of its kind for the organization, was put together over the last three years by Valerie Balint, program manager of the Historic Artists' Homes & Studios Program (HAHS), which is based out of Chesterwood. The book not only serves as a guide to the program's member properties, but also celebrates its 20th anniversary.

When the program began, HAHS had a dozen member properties, Balint said, noting both Chesterwood and the Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio are members of the program's network of 44 properties. And that number, she said, is expected to continue to grow with the addition of five new sites this year.

"The book, I think, is a celebration but also a landmark moment for us, as we've grown to this place over the last 20 years, and also a celebration of the momentum that we've really gained in the last three years," Balint said. "It's an impactful moment for the program, for our parent, the National Trust; for Chesterwood, the seat of HAHS, and also for the sites."

Filled with colorful photographs of the sites, as well as artwork on site and portraits of the artists, the book is split into geographic regions, allowing the reader to see which artists' homes and studios are available to view in their area or in a place they plan to visit. Included in the book are the studios and homes of Edward Hopper, Thomas Cole, Alice Austen, N.C. Wyeth, Thomas Hart Benton, Grace Carpenter Hudson and Clementine Hunter.

"We felt really strongly that the book needed to entice you narratively, but also entice you visually because what we're talking about are places that we want you to go to. We certainly didn't anticipate the current realities of our world at this time [of COVID-19]," she said.

We recently caught up with Balint, over a Zoom video conference, to chat about the new guidebook, its format, as well as the significance and benefits of visiting these historic spaces. For more information about the HAHS program, visit

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Q Why did the organization choose to go with a guide -book rather than a coffee-table book filled with photographs of these spaces?

A We were really very dedicated to the idea that the book is really supposed to do several things. Number one, we want you to get in the car and go and that's why it's not a large coffee-table book. And, we didn't want it to be scholarly commentary, either.

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We really wanted it to be a functional book that you could take with you and put in your glove compartment or put in your backpack or put in your purse or satchel. And so in order to do that, we recognized that we had to introduce the places paramount, because certainly there are wonderful books about all of these artists. We hope that whether you're a connoisseur, or it's your first time learning about these people in these places, that there's going to be an element of discovery for you.

We wanted to be able to introduce the reader to the person, and then provide a little bit of placing, reminding people why they may have heard of this artist relative to the work. And then we really wanted to take you on both a narrative and visual journey. So that, if, by chance you can not travel — there's an irony that we could not anticipate — but if by chance, pre-COVID-19, you could not travel to California or to Salem, Ohio, that we would feel still feel like we had taken you there.

Q Why was it important to include photographs of every artist's space?

A It was really our job to evoke a little bit of the specific magic that is inherent in every individual site. And to do that, we really needed to draw from the cache of really beautiful images that the sites themselves hold. I'm so incredibly indebted to the sites who were incredibly generous with these images, as well as to a whole bunch of contemporary photographers who wanted to be part of this project.

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And it just sort of reinforces that like the artworks you see in the museums, these sites are often works of art in themselves. But they are diverse as the artworks created by those who lived there.

And, I think all the more poignant at a moment, is that we're all at home right now. And I think we're keenly aware of, more than we've ever been before, about the choices we make: about what chair we sit in, what objects we need around us to work, what views from our home inspire us to get through our work day. And every one of those choices is an aesthetic choice and a conscious choice. And in that way, we have everything in common with these artists ... Almost every artist, not all of them because some of them had separate studio spaces and other locations, but many of them worked at home. They had to carve out these work places for themselves. But, at the same time, used these homes as other vehicles of expression and I think we all do that. I think we don't know that we do that consciously, although some of us might be becoming more conscious of this right now. On every Zoom call, everybody looks at what is going on in the background.

Q What's the advantage of being in the space, as opposed to just viewing photographs of the studio of someone like Jackson Pollock?

A It's interesting that you bring this up because you've picked a person who is just mythic. In the cases of some artists, unless you do a deep dive, many of us just sort of know the surface of the artist's life. We may really, really know the artist's work. But when we talk about someone like Pollock, whose life has become a movie starring Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden [as his wife and fellow artist Lee Krasner] we all kind of feel like we know who this is, right? And he's bigger than life. The art is bigger than life. And yet, this person [Pollock] produced some of the most, sort of evolutionary aspects of his own career in what was like a converted barn/fishing shack. And the whole sense of the house and studio is very modest for this big, big persona.

We think of him so often, of having so much of the frenetic energy that we associate with the urban. Yet the fact is, he was incredibly inspired by that beautiful bucolic environment and the marshland and in the creek just beyond his doors [in East Hampton, N.Y.]. He and Lee Krasner both talked about that. And when you see that, and you are in that studio and you see all the paint, it's literally like stepping into a painting. You kind of become immersed in the process and you understand then, how complex that process was. Because you're standing in the middle of all that and just beyond those doors is this beautifully stayed bucolic environment that's not gritty, that is not urban. It was incredibly inspirational to him. ... It does change how you think about him and his life and even the sort of dramatic aspects of their life together.

It's Lee Krasner we have to thank for the legacy of that site. Given all that went on, [she] is the person who continued to live and work there and is the person who secured the legacy of Jackson Pollock through that site. We have her to thank as the preservationist. And also when you go there, you will see her too. She was very physical in her work also. You see her big arcs of color that happened on the walls because of her process. She only used that studio after he was gone, but it's a really interesting juxtaposition when you stand there and think about how two people, who are both American abstract expressionists, who lived and worked together, can have completely different modes of process, even in the same space. I can tell you that. We can read about that in a book. And we can definitely see their art on a wall and understand, perhaps make those sort of inquiries into 'how does one achieve that?' But it's different when you stand there.

Jennifer Huberdeau, UpCountry Magazine editor, can be reached at jhuberdeau@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter at @BE_DigitalJen or at 413-281-1866.


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