Yaddo, the longtime artists community in Saratoga, deserves the National Historic Landmark status it won from the Interior Department last week, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand deserves credit for carrying the ball in Washington for it. The honor not only recognizes the historic importance of this special place, the first artists colony in the country, but should ensure a successful future by raising its national prominence and helping it raise money through donations and grants.
Yaddo was established by financier Spencer Trask and his poet wife, Katrina, in the early 1900s on their donated 400-acre estate. Here were two wealthy people who valued nature, beauty and art, saw the connection between them, and wanted to use their money to promote them.
The property features winding roads, walking paths, waterfalls, marble arches, statues, small lakes and a lovely rose garden, which was designed by Spencer Trask as a gift to his wife before his death in a train crash in 1909. It also features an ornate, 55-room stone mansion where visiting artists, about 200 per year, live for up to two months at a time.
Some of America’s most famous artists, including Langston Hughes, Katherine Anne Porter, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, have had retreats at Yaddo. They, along with less-famous artists from all around the world, have used their time there to renew themselves, to think, dream, conceive and create.
The grounds are part of it, and they and the gardens, which are tended by an army of volunteers, are open regularly to the public, including for tours. The building, not so much — or practically not at all. When it and the accompanying studios were opened for public tours in 2011, it was the first time since 2003 — and only the fifth time since the retreat was established in 1926.
That may give the place a certain mystique, and it’s necessary to preserve the artists’ sanctuary. But the mansion is closed for maintenance and repairs in September, and that should be a time to allow the public in for tours. Let them see this historic landmark, be inspired by it, as so many artists have been, and by what has been created there.