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Yaddo: Making American Culture


October 24th, 2008 - February 15th, 2009


This exhibition explores the role of Yaddo, the artists' retreat, in fostering 20th-century American arts and letters. Founded in 1900 by financier and philanthropist Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina Trask, Yaddo began receiving guests in 1926 and was immediately hailed by The New York Times as a "new and unique experiment, which has no exact parallel in the world of fine arts." Since that inaugural season, Yaddo has navigated the roiled cultural and political life of 20th-century America while hosting thousands of artists and writers, including such luminaries as James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Flannery O'Connor, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Jacob Lawrence, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Philip Guston, and Sylvia Plath.

The exhibition is drawn from the intimate letters, papers, photographs, art objects, and ephemera that constitute the Yaddo Records, now in The New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division; from collections throughout the Library; and from Yaddo’s own holdings of rare books and artworks.

The story of Yaddo and the artists that it has fostered offers a window onto some of the most significant events of 20th-century history: the economic and social turmoil of the 1930s, the destruction and displacements of World War II, the paranoia of the McCarthy era, the "race problem" from Jim Crow segregation through the Civil Rights movement, and the rise of the women’s and gay rights movements — all helped shape Yaddo, the lives of the artists who sought shelter there, and the works they produced. The exhibition explores the multiple ways that Yaddo as an institution, and the artists it supported, were ultimately anything but sequestered from the shifting social, political, and economic crises that marked the 20th century.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated collection of essays, edited by exhibition curator Micki McGee, published by Columbia University Press.

The companion volume is available for purchase at The Library Shop by clicking here.