- The MacDowell Colony: A Musical History of America’s Premier Artists’ Community
The MacDowell Colony for creative artists in Peterborough, New Hampshire has been fostering the careers of composers, writers, and visual artists for almost one hundred years. Some of the most distinguished names in American arts and letters are on its rolls: Aaron Copland, Thornton Wilder, Willa Cather, James Baldwin, and Leonard Bernstein number among them. The colony's underlying philosophy is based on Edward MacDowell's belief that artists working in different disciplines can benefit from contact with one another—a fact that makes it somewhat anomalous to single out music for study. Those who come to the MacDowell Colony are provided a place to work undisturbed within a community of other creative artists. In addition to Copland and Bernstein, the composers who have been in residence include Amy Beach, Roy Harris, Mark Blitzstein, Douglas Moore, Otto Luening, David Diamond, Lukas Foss, Louise Talma, Ned Rorem, Barbara Kolb, and Richard Danielpour, to name but a few. The colony is arguably MacDowell's greatest legacy. The composer was in the throes of his final illness when it began in 1907. It was his widow, Marian MacDowell, who brought the place to life. For this reason, the colony has received scant attention from MacDowell scholars, who generally end their inquiries with the composer's death in 1908. British scholar Bridget Falconer-Salkeld attempts to remedy this unjust neglect with The MacDowell Colony: A Musical History of America's Premier Artists' Community.
The MacDowell Colony offers a fascinating case study in the arts in twentieth-century America. Its history illustrates the early struggle of American artists to forge a national cultural identity and the gradual emergence of the United States as a major artistic force. It is also a pre-feminist story of how one woman's devotion to her late husband sparked a movement that influenced the arts in small towns and big cites across the country. Marian MacDowell's network of loyal clubwomen formed the base of the colony's support during its formative years and provides insight into an overlooked but important aspect of philanthropy in America at the grassroots level. Regrettably, Falconer-Salkeld's study captures little of this. As the first published full-length treatment of the MacDowell Colony, it disappoints.
A Scarecrow Press publication, this book is aimed at an academic audience. The first of its six chapters provides a context for the formation of the colony with an overview of earlier artists' communities that may have influenced its development. Cited as models are the Chautauqua Institution in New York, and art colonies in Dublin and Cornish, New Hampshire and Old Lyme, Connecticut—the latter known as the "American Barbizon" and founded at the home of Florence Griswold, Marian MacDowell's cousin. The following two chapters deal respectively with the origins of the MacDowell Colony and its founder, Marian MacDowell. The remaining chapters offer a chronological survey of the colony up to 2000 with an emphasis on the composers who worked there.
The author makes several missteps in her study, and they are of two kinds. There are errors that can be verified as such by consulting other sources, such as the reference to Henry F. Gilbert as a "black composer" (p. 98), and the description of the Mendelssohn Glee Club of New York as "the men's chorus that MacDowell had formed at Columbia and conducted for two years" (p. 33). Gilbert was an early colonist and known for his use of African American elements in his compositions, notably his Comedy Overture on Negro Themes of 1909. [End Page 989] But no biographical source identifies him as African American, including Sherrill V. Martin's recent Henry F. Gilbert: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004). The Mendelssohn Glee Club figures prominently in the colony's history for the funds it raised in 1906 to help cover MacDowell's medical expenses. Not needed for the composer's care...