Artist in the House
It’s an artist’s dream: eight weeks in a barn studio, a car, and $10,000.
It’s an artist’s dream: eight weeks in an idyllic New England town, charming guest cottage, a barn studio, a car, and a $10,000 stipend. It sounds unbelievable, but thanks to Erika Klauer, this fantasy is reality.
Having spent most of her life in Litchfield County, Klauer knew what a treasure this part of the state was. So when a parcel of land, 90 acres replete with stately white house, barn, and a guest cottage came up for sale at the top of a hill in Washington, she knew she had found her paradise. “The first year, living in the house by myself, I started thinking about what I might do with the property. When my friend Christopher Beane spent a weekend, he didn’t want to leave and said it would make a great retreat. So I started investigating the possibility of forming a residency program.” Thus the Steep Rock Art Association was born.
“I have enjoyed hiking on the trails at Steep Rock for years, so the name was chosen as an homage to that incredible organization,” Klauer explains. Other than in name, they have no affiliation with each other.
Since its inception in 2004, over twenty artists have come to stay. But it is still one of the best-kept secrets. “We’ve never advertised and we’ve never been written about—until now,” says Klauer. “I spend a lot of time visiting galleries and talking about the organization, so it’s really word-of-mouth that has brought artists to us.”
The applicants are usually at the beginning of their career and Klauer feels they are the ones who will benefit most from this opportunity. Some are in need of financial help; others want the opportunity to be in a quiet place to create a body of work. One of the only requirements is that the artist has had at least one solo show. The applicants are chosen by the association’s board, of which Klauer is president. In some instances Klauer has pursued an artist who has caught her attention. Ahmed Alsoudani, for instance, is a figurative painter from Iraq and living in New York, who was in residence in 2010.
“Only visual artists are eligible to apply and there are no restrictions or requirements once the residency begins,” Klauer says. “It takes a while for the artist to orient himself to new surroundings. There is the issue of space and how best to navigate it. There is nothing else to do so they concentrate on their work. I don’t even visit the studio unless I am invited.”
The program runs from April through October. There are no winter residents since the barn is not heated. During the eight-week stay, the artist is also assigned an intern to help as needed. “We instituted the intern program about five years ago,” Klauer explains. “It’s a great opportunity for a student to work closely with an artist.”
The newest recipient, and the last for this season, is a young abstract artist named Wyatt Kahn. The 30-year-old New Yorker works with unprimed canvases that have been cut into odd shapes and then pieced together to form a new image. He sees his work as wall sculptures and is toying with the idea of exploring sculpture while he is at Steep Rock.
Because of its success, Klauer is thinking about the future. “We are going to be expanding, but there are issues to be addressed: Do we winterize the barn and operate all year? Or do we buy another property and offer more than one residency?
For Klauer, a mother of two young sons with a demanding job in New York, her involvement with Steep Rock Association brings bounteous rewards. “For me it’s a labor of love. I am invited into the world of someone with an amazing imagination. To be able to contribute to an artist’s growth is worth all of our efforts.”
At the end of each residency, Klauer holds a reception, open to the public, to honor the artist and display the work created while at Steep Rock. Wyatt Kahn will be honored on November 2.