Visiting America’s Historic Artist’s Homes and Studios allows you to go straight to the source. Forty-four locations (and growing) across the country share the actual spaces and places where the nation’s greatest artwork was made.
Art museums and galleries display creative output. The inspiration, process and effort which led to that output can best be experienced in the artist’s studio and home.
In 1999, the National Trust for Historic Preservation established the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program to commemorate sites of great American artistic achievement. Launched with a $220,000 grant from The Henry Luce Foundation as an experimental program with 20 properties, it has blossomed into a 44 member nationwide network to “celebrate and investigate creativity.”
The HAHS program is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the places where art was made. Every HAHS site, each listed on or determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, was the home and working studio of an American artist. Each of these places, all open to the public, is now devoted to understanding and explaining how an artist made their art.
The program features the homes and studios of famous artists including Andrew Wyeth (Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania), Edward Hopper (Nyack, New York), Georgia O’Keeffe (Abiquiu, New Mexico) and Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner (East Hampton, New York), and little known artists like Gari Melchers (Falmouth, Virginia), Grace Carpenter Hudson (Ukiah, California) and Ann Norton (West Palm Beach, Florida).
The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens
The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens became one of the newest HAHS destinations when it was admitted to the program in the spring of 2019.
“One of the things I kept thinking about was if I were just meeting these (artists) for the first time, if I was just going (to these cites) for the first time, if I don’t know anything about their art, what is it that will resonate with someone for whom it’s their first moment of understanding that they can go to these places,” Valerie Balint, Historic Artist’s Homes and Studios program manager and author of “Guide to Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios,” a book produced to bring greater attention to the extraordinary artistic legacies being kept alive at these locations, told me.
Ann Weaver Norton (1905-1982) was born in Alabama, moving to New York at 19 to further her artistic education. Studying at the National Academy of Design, the Arts Student League and Cooper Union, she would go on to be included in group shows at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art.
Weaver arrived in West Palm Beach after being hired by Ralph Norton to teach sculpture at the then Norton Gallery and School of Art, now Norton Museum of Art. The two married in 1948. Ann Weaver was Ralph Norton’s second wife; his first died in 1947 and the ANSG and Norton Museum of Art are not officially related as institutions.
Norton began creation of the gardens adjacent to her home in 1965. They now feature 250 species of tropical plants and nine of her monumental sculptures.
“The gardens is a magical combination of an historic home, Ann Norton artist’s studio and a two acre, rare tropical garden where Ann Norton’s monumental sculptures, built in situ, are mysteriously discovered as you wander,” ANSG Chairman Frances Fisher said. “It’s full of mystery and adventure.”
While located only two miles from downtown West Palm Beach, the gardens feel like an escape. Lush greenery envelopes visitors. Norton’s sculptures serve as guideposts for guests touring the grounds which feel much larger than two acres.
Norton’s gardens are beautiful, her sculptures dramatic, but it is inside her masterfully preserved artist’s studio where visitors can truly begin to know her.
“Let’s say you go to a gallery or a museum or a public square where a monumental sculpture might be erected, you’re there and you’re communing with that artwork just as an artwork, but when you go into the spaces like these, you get into the mind and the ethos of the artists, but also the person,” Balint said. “You understand how they lived their life and the ways in which maybe they’re different from we mere mortals who are not artistic geniuses, but also the ways in which they are exactly like us… (Norton’s) way of dealing with illness (she died of complications from leukemia in 1982) is something I think we can all relate to, right, and you can read that in a book, but I think it is very much more potent when you are there.”
Being there makes all the difference.
It’s one thing to read about the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s another thing entirely to be there, in July, in the early morning and throughout the afternoon channeling those days in 1863 when so many thousands lost their lives.
When you can see the gently undulating landscape of the battlefield with your own eyes, see the Little Round Top, see the tree lines and stone walls and gauge the distances for yourself, the battle takes on personal intimacy it can’t on the page or film
That intimacy also serves as the magic of the historic artist homes and studios.
“(Norton’s studio is) not just a part of the tour,” Fisher said. “We like to say that Ann Norton’s spirit is channeled there, in fact, the artists that visit, they all feel a special inspiration from being in the studio and being surrounded by Ann Norton’s work.”
So will visitors.
Order your copy of the “Guide to Historic Artist’s Homes and Gardens” here.