Artistic Ragdale haven hidden in plain sight

  • The puppet workshop is part of the high school workshop programs at Ragdale in Lake Forest.

    The puppet workshop is part of the high school workshop programs at Ragdale in Lake Forest. Courtesy of Ragdale

 
By Sue Masaracchia-Roberts
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 9/12/2018 12:46 PM

The summer home built by American architect Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1897, lies on more than 50 acres of prairie and stands today for a more creative purpose.

Named for a country house in England, Ragdale has become a nonprofit international retreat annually serving 200 artists, writers, musicians, dancers and poets.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
The summer house built by American architect Howard Van Doren Shaw on more than 50 acres of prairie in 1897 exists today for a more creative purpose. Named for a country house in England, Ragdale has become a nonprofit international retreat serving 200 artists, writers, musicians, dancers and poets annually.
The summer house built by American architect Howard Van Doren Shaw on more than 50 acres of prairie in 1897 exists today for a more creative purpose. Named for a country house in England, Ragdale has become a nonprofit international retreat serving 200 artists, writers, musicians, dancers and poets annually. - Courtesy of Ragdale

The campus, tucked away off Waukegan Road in Lake Forest, includes four buildings that serve as workspaces and sleeping quarters. Public programs are offered throughout the year, including a high school camp, the Ragdale Ring summer performances, the Halloween "Rags to Witches" event and periodic public tours.

Ragdale's mission is to provide a place for artisans to step away from daily obligations, research ideas, experiment with solutions, connect with peers and create connections that will advance their work and careers, and offer community-focused inspiration and engagement.

Jeffrey Meeuwsen
Jeffrey Meeuwsen
by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We offer residencies of up to 25 days, free school programs to 1,500 students from more than 30 schools, host an international design competition and produce more than 40 community programs annually with a modest staff and budget of below $1 million," said Ragdale Foundation Executive Director Jeffrey Meeuwsen, 50, of Evanston. "These student programs, even more important now that so many arts programs have been cut."

One campus building was designed and created by IIT students.

In 1976, Shaw's granddaughter, poet Alice Judson Hayes, created the Ragdale Foundation, as a nonprofit artists' community providing a peaceful place for artists to work. She initially managed everything from admissions, to cooking, to mowing the lawn. Ten years later, Hayes donated the buildings and the five-acre grounds to the city of Lake Forest, preserving the property. The 50 acres of adjacent prairie were given to Lake Forest Open Lands to manage in conservancy. The Ragdale Foundation Board and Executive Director Susan Tillett secured a 99-year lease with the city in 2001.

Today, the program can accommodate up to 13 residents at one time as part of 12 sessions per year plus some one-week themed residences. Ragdale is funded mostly with individual donations through fundraising and through grants.

Artist fellowships, creative sabbaticals and residencies are available and vary in length and can be repeated. Fellows receive a stipend in exchange for doing work with local schools, while others pay a subsidized fee during their stay that includes meals and space.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Book making program for high school students at Ragdale.
Book making program for high school students at Ragdale. - Courtesy of Ragdale

Alumni are invited to assist with programming and be performers. Poet Ravi Shankar and writers Sara Paretsky and Lawrence Block are among notable alums.

Applications for residencies, due a year in advance, "are carefully curated to ensure a cross-pollination of disciplines. This blending (of candidate genres) encourages meaningful, creative shared conversations," said admissions and grants manager Amy Sinclair, 28, of Chicago.

One recent resident, Columbia College visual arts and photography professor, Judy Natal, 65, of Chicago, described Ragdale as "a magical place, a jewel hiding in plain sight. (It is) a place for me to get all these (ideas) out of my head, get things on a wall and work undisturbed, surrounded by people at different stages of their practice. Being there has definitely moved my work forward. The stimulation (received) from this incredible group was an education in itself."

With several programs in visual arts, performing arts and two literary programs all taught by working artists, students receive instruction and get to know one another.

Performances on the lawn at Ragdale in Lake Forest.
Performances on the lawn at Ragdale in Lake Forest. - Courtesy of Ragdale

"The last day is a public performance and a student exhibition where students can bring family and friends to the campus and show off what they've been doing all week," said writer Patty McNair, 59, a professor at Columbia who has worked with Ragdale's arts camp.

In the six years since he joined Ragdale, Meeuwsen said officials have doubled the number of fellowships, increased financial aid for low-income artists, lengthened, residencies, launched and expanded school programs, introduced the Ragdale Ring design-build competition and residency.

He plans to focus next on campuswide accessibility, refresh the historic gardens and create a new dance studio.

"If we do not reach young people and nurture them, the whole arts ecosystem will collapse. Our school programs aim to introduce creative careers and possibilities to introduce young people to what it would be like to be an architect, choreography, filmmaker or writer," he said.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.