Three Artist Colonies to Inspire You
Written by Erin J
You’re an artist. You live for art. You love to find inspiration and often times find it while in the company of other people. Collaboration entices you and you find yourself carousing the cafes at night in search of other artists. What should you do? Well, that’s easy! You should move to an artist colony.
Artist colonies have been a somewhat popular option for artists for the past 100 or so years. Some were founded at the turn of the 18th century, others are brand new. They seem to exist on every continent, in most countries.
Artist colonies are intentional communities for artists. They are places where artists agree to live and work together. They can be urban or rural but always have one thing in common: permanent or semi-permanent co-living for the purposes of collaboration, community and inspiration.
I had the opportunity to visit three in my life. Two are now defunct, and the other is also a school operating to this day. There are many well-known artist colonies, no doubt responsible for priceless works of art. Many were home to the most famous artists in history and of today.
I visited this former artist colony just outside of Moscow, Russia, in 2002. It was winter time and I remember the feeling I had in my body when I stepped foot on the property, which now functions as a museum. Chills ran up and down my spine because I knew that great artists had once called the place home. Some of my favorite writers, including Isaac Babel and Boris Pasternak, had cottages there.
The artist colony is, in fact, a village which dates back to the year 1646. There is an Orthodox church and behind a cemetery where many prominent artists, writers and politicians are now buried. Walking around the grounds I could feel the ghosts of those artists and writers that once walked the same paths. It was a surreal feeling.
Although the place is beautiful, it does have tragedy as well. Pasternak died there in 1960 and Isaac Babel, a well-known dissident writer, was found and arrested while staying at his cottage in Peredelkino. He was later taken to the notorious Lubyanka prison in the heart of Moscow and shot in the head. This was the fate of many Soviet writers of that period. Luckily, the place survived despite such terrible luck, and we can still enjoy it nearly one hundred years after it was founded.
Monte Verità, Switzerland
Another now non-operational artist colony is located about five miles from my current town. I pass by it often and it always inspires me because of the absolute beauty and pull the place still gives off. In Ascona, Switzerland, this ex-colony stands on top of a small mountain, named Monte Verità, or mountain of truth. The mountain is surrounded by forests, which was part of the reason so many people visit. The nature is supposedly magnetic and the grandest work of art.
Founded in 1900, this artist colony has been a part of the local scene until this day, still home to many artistic expos and other functions. The original founders, Henry Oedenkoven and his companion, Ida Hofmann, started the vegetarian colony to try to reacquaint themselves with the human spirit in the changing times just after the industrial revolution.
Many artists and intellectuals, mostly from Northern Europe, came to the colony, attracted not only by the mountain’s magnetism but also by the surrounding nature. Gaining inspiration in the company of great minds, no doubt many great works of art were the end result. For example, it was the meeting place of the Dadaists from the North, and Rudolf von Laban, the German expressionist pioneer of modern dance.
Today, Monte Verità is a hotel and restaurant with a special Japanese tea garden on the premises. There is also a museum where one can peruse the art collection of the former owner, Baron Von Der Heydt, who bought the location as a private residence in 1926. And who can miss the famous “Russian House”, now part of the museum grounds, which housed Russian students after the Revolution of 1905?
According to researcher Christine Eggenberg, “although no lasting and distinctive art form came into being, the influence of this offbeat resort in Southern Switzerland is reflected in nearly every work of fiction or art created during this period.” If you enjoy the thought of visiting a place where famous artists such as Herman Hesse, Paul Klee, and Isadora Duncan once called home, you will enjoy a stroll here among nature, taking in all the intellectual and artistic energy from great minds of the past.
Ox-Bow, Michigan, United States
I visited Ox-Bow many years ago when I was still a senior in high school. After all these years, I can still remember the inspired feeling I had when I entered the grounds. It’s located in Saugatuck, a quaint little town on what is known as the “Art Coast of Michigan”. This artist colony has a school, a museum, a summer camp for children, and of course, still functions as a colony for artists to live and work together. The thing I loved most about the place was the glass-blowing studio. What a wonderful art!
Ox-bow, originally known as the Summer School of Painting, was founded in 1910 by a group of artists from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The location is perfect for artists seeking isolation and retreat from the big city. For instance, Shel Silverstein, a Chicago native, spent time at Ox-Bow, and maybe he found the motivation he needed to write his countless children’s books while surrounded by sand dunes and endless nature.
Throughout its long 128-year history, things may have changed, but one important aspect has remained: the feeling of inspiration that comes from living and working in common. And as an added bonus, this artist colony is also an accredited school so it’s possible to get college credits as well.
How’s that for inspiration?
There are hundreds, possibly thousands of artist colonies in the world. For those that need a boost of inspiration, I suggest visiting one for a day or a weekend. For those that need a more permanent solution, why not seek out an artist colony and benefit from all it has to offer? Who knows, you might end up with a beret or a pencil-thin mustache!
Erin is a travel-loving friendly introvert that lives in Europe. She studied all things Russian as an undergrad and went on the get her MA in Russian Literature. Originally from Michigan, she now spends most of her year in Switzerland. She loves editing, writing, teaching, art, history, art history, music, cats, vegan food, and speaking out about injustices. She has three adorable children and one feisty feline.