A ballroom full of black-tied writers, artists, composers and their friends and supporters last night celebrated and toasted Edward and Marian MacDowell's farm and the rare gift it has provided artists for 70 years - time to work.
Thornton Wilder visited the MacDowell Colony 10 times and used the nearby town, Peterborough, N.H., as the model for "Our Town."
"I can here when I had nothing published at all . . . My indebtedness is very long and very deep." Wilder wrote of the working place for artists created at the farm where Edward MacDowell, one of he United States' first prominent composers, tripled his output because of the ideal conditions.
More than 1,800 writers, artists and composers have been fellows at the MacDowell Colony since invitations were first extended to others to share the working space in 1907, a year before MacDowll's death.
Leonard Bernstein went to MacDowell when he was working on his Mass. Aaron Copland is a past president of the colony and has worked there. Colonists have won 32 Pulitzer Prizes.
"I never want anyone to forget that when he contributes to the colony he is helping a cause that can stand comparison with anything that's going on in the arts in the country," Copland said a few years ago.
In the 34 studios spread across the 400-acre colony, artists have the privacy, quiet and freedom from friends and children that many do not find easily elsewhere. Each fellow has his own studio and can work uninterrupted from the communal breakfast tot he communal dinner - or longer. A lunch basket is dropped outside each door by the only automobile that disturbs the quiet.
Studios come equipped with the typewriters, easels, pianos or other equipment the artist needs. Visits between studios are forbidden without specific invitations.
Painter Sherman Drexler called his two months at MacDowell the happiest summer of his life and only slightly less enthusiastic testimonials abound but there are some who wither rather than bloom. MacDowell's isolation and rural quiet drive about half a dozen of its artists to the cover of their normal lives before completing their residennce each year.
Colonists also talk of the man who found he couldn't write in his studio, so he fed squirrels instead.
The artists are billed $7 a day during their stay, but if they cannot afford to pay, they don't. In 1974, for example, 37 per cent of the artists were excused from paying.
Income from the colony's roughly $1.4 million endowment and residence fees makes up less than a quarter of the annual operating costs. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, private contributions and funds raised by the the annual benefit dinner come close to keeping the colony in the black.
Guests at last night's benefit sat down at the Hotel ballroom to a dinner menu of quenelles de brochet , roast saddle of veal aux chanterelles and apple surprise planned by Julia Child.
The entertainment was arranged by Walter Bernstein, whose recent screenplays include "The Front" and "Semi-Tough," and was drawn from the works of MacDowell colonists, composers Leonard Bernstein and David Del Tredici and writers Jules Feiffer, Honor Moore, Howard Moss. Edwin Arlington Robinson and Wilder, among others.
The performers include Anne Jackson, Martin Balsam and Andrea Marcovicci.
Marian Mac Dowell ran the colony from her husband's death until her own at 98 in 1956. When one colonist, Carl Carmer, went to thank her for his stay he remarked that she seemed to understand the personal needs of all the artists. She replied:
"I lived with a creative artist for a quarter of a century, Ifound out early about the good reasonable things - food, sleep, uninterrupted concentration. The hardest lesson to learn was to tolerate the unreasonable things."
Many colorists find MacDowell life so produtive they seek to return again and again. There are about four applicants for every place and the colony tries to limit stays to three months at one time and to limit the number of visits by one person to 10.
Edwin Arlington Robinson was one of the first applicants and one of the exceptions to the rules. The poet returned every summer for 23 years. Robinson, like Wilder, won three Pulitzer Prizes for work in large part done at the colony.
Anyone may apply for a fellowship and applicant's are selected by committees of experts in the applicant's field on teh basis of accomploishments and promise.
Although the number of artists' studios has gradually increased, little has changed at the colony. One man returning after 47 years when asked what new things he noticed, replied that there was a dart board in the common room and that the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] were bigger.
The central idea remains [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and unchanged: to give creative [WORD ILLEGIBLE] freedom to concentrate [WORD ILLEGIBLE] work for long periods of time.