I lived in the Hudson Valley for several years in the early to mid 1980s and yet, I had never visited Manitoga, an artist’s retreat created out of the remnants of an abandoned rock quarry. Last month, it was time to rectify that situation and see what Manitoga was all about. In the end, it was worth the two hours drive (one way!) to see this place, even on a very hot and humid Saturday.
Manitoga consists of a house and adjoining studio and the surrounding landscape, encompassing 75 acres, most of which was barren as a moonscape when the Wrights bought this property in 1942. Russel Wright (one L in that first name, and no relation to Frank Lloyd) supervised not only the house construction (designed by David Leavitt) but the establishment of the gardens and waterfall that runs through the property. Today, there are fee-based tours of the house and studio, as well as hiking trails you can explore (suggested donation of $5 for trail usage). If I still lived in the Valley, I’d visit here again and explore those trails in all seasons.
The main house itself wasn’t that interesting (at least to me) but the Studio was pretty cool. I could see myself living here. I could not, however, see myself getting much work done because just look at the view from the desk.
I don’t know that I would ever leave the bathtub once I got in, both because it’s rather deep and because, again, that view… And there’s clearly room to set down my margarita glass, so someone was thinking ahead.
Wright did have some eccentric ideas about bringing nature into the house. The ceiling of the studio has sprigs of pine needles embedded in it, which didn’t really do much for me. But this door, covered with peeling bark was actually pretty fun. I don’t know if the bark lasts a long time or if you have to keep recovering the door. Still, it’s a design element that fits in well with his goal of minimizing the difference between inside and outside.
Another experiment, not by Wright, but by someone else, was this translucent wall divider. Look closely at those ovals. Can you figure out what they’re made of? Me, either. Turns out they are toilet paper rolls, cut into thin strips, and then assembled with light paper on either side. It’s actually a cool project and I might try it sometime if I ever have a place that could use a translucent wall divider.
Wright made his name as an industrial designer, starting from the mid-1930s. The clocks in the cover photo (way up top there) are his design, and one of my tour companions was sure they had the avocado one in their kitchen back in the 1960s.
If you’re of a certain age, you might remember when celery sticks were all the rage to serve as an appetizer or tea-time snack. The top row below is a collection of celery dishes, specifically designed to hold those long green things. Whatever happened to celery? I never see it now but it was a ubiquitous offering in the early 60s.
The Center works with various artists each year, who exhibit on the grounds or in the house. I fell in love with this light fixture the second I saw it. And, no, it didn’t deter me at all to find out that each light is a casting of a cow bladder (I think it was a cow…). It’s just delightful. I’m a udder sucker for unusual lighting.
Here’s one last look at the house, which you can barely see. It’s in the middle of the photo, slightly left of center and above that lighter bit of rock face. As his intention was to have it blend into nature, you can see it does that very well!
I usually go on these tours by myself, but this time I had the rare treat of meeting up with old friends, Gregg and Emma, who were up for a Saturday afternoon adventure. After the tour, we retreated to the air-conditioned comfort of the Hudson House River Inn, hard by the river in Cold Spring, for some lobster bisque and great conversation. Emma and Gregg, thanks for sharing the adventure, it made the day even more special.
Want to Know More?
- Manitoga website
This place has been here forever. Will be here forever. Oh, it is gradually changing but it is eternal.