MacDowell Colony

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MacDowell Colony
MacDowell Colony.jpg
Colony Hall and Sigma Alpha Iota Cottage
Location 100 High Street, Peterborough, New Hampshire
Built 1908
NRHP Reference # 66000026
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHLD December 29, 1962[2]

Coordinates: 42°53′24″N 71°57′18″W / 42.89000°N 71.95500°W / 42.89000; -71.95500 The MacDowell Colony is an artists' colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, United States, founded in 1907 by Marian MacDowell, pianist and wife of composer Edward MacDowell. She established the institution and its endowment chiefly with donated funds. She led the colony for almost 25 years, against a background of two world wars, the Great Depression, and other challenges.

Over the years, an estimated 7,500 artists have been supported in residence, including the winners of at least 77 Pulitzer Prizes.[citation needed] The colony has accepted artists, composers, playwrights, poets, and writers, both well-known and unknown.[3]


The colony is a community of between 20 and 30 artists, who generally share breakfast and dinner in a common dining room. They frequently engage in group activities in the evenings.[citation needed] Stays average four to five weeks and are limited to two months. Room and board are free, and some residents also receive help with travel expenses. Each artist is assigned one of 32 studios for personal use, available on a 24-hour-a-day basis. Each studio is a separate building with power, heat, simple amenities, lunch delivered, and no telephone. Artists allow visitors by invitation only. Studios are secluded, located throughout the Colony's extensive property.[citation needed]


In 1962, the colony was designated a National Historic Landmark.[2][4][5]

In 1997, the colony was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[6]

Notable works[edit]

Bond Hall in 2012


The composer Edward MacDowell was one of the first seven members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He believed that interdisciplinary associations among artists were valuable.[citation needed]

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

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 would die in 1908.[citation needed]

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. MacDowell began by inviting applicants personally, but by the 1920s had consigned the admission process to a committee.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Through the years more separate studios were built. The program continues in dozens of buildings scattered over 450 acres (1.8 km2) of land.[citation needed]

Medal Day[edit]

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. 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.[10]

Property-tax exemption dispute[edit]

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."[11]

The colony's board of directors paid the bill, then successfully challenged the charge.[12] 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.[13]: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."[13]:p11

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b "MacDowell Colony". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  3. ^ Silverman, Art (March 6, 2007). "Artists Retreat into Solitude at MacDowell Colony". All Things Considered. 
  4. ^ Bradford, S. Sydney & Rettig, Polly M. (January 6, 1976). National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: MacDowell Colony (PDF). National Park Service. 
  5. ^ Bradford, S. Sydney & Rettig, Polly (January 6, 1976). "Accompanying 5 photos, from 1907 and 1975" (PDF). National Register of Historical Places Inventory-Nomination: MacDowell Colony (National Park Service). 
  6. ^ National Medal of Arts (1997). "Lifetime Honors". 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Medal Day". The MacDowell Colony. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  11. ^ Winkleman, E. (November 1, 2005). "Local Government: McDowell Not Advancing Spiritual or Intellectual Well-Being of General Public". 
  12. ^ Brooks, Anthony (Author) & Inskeep, Steve (Host) (October 13, 2005). "Town Demands Taxes from Long-Exempt Artists' Colony". All Things Considered (NPR). 
  13. ^ a b "Town of Peterborough v. The MacDowell Colony, Inc." (PDF). The Supreme Court of New Hampshire. 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]