Since 1897, the Ragdale House has sat on around fifty acres of virgin prairie in Lake Forest. And since 1976, the Ragdale Foundation has existed on the property as an organization that provides short-term artist residences. The foundation is now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary and is commemorating the occasion with an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, which will feature work by former artists-in-residence. The exhibit is part of the foundation’s efforts to form a stronger bond with the city of Chicago. “Ragdale would really like to be thought of as Chicago’s artist community,” Susan Tillett, executive director, explains. The Ragdale Foundation is the fourth-largest artist community in the country, and it hosts twelve artists, which can be a mix of visual artists, writers, composers or choreographers, at one time. The facility, which includes the Ragdale House, a converted barn and two additional studios, allows artists to retreat for anywhere between two and eight weeks, without being inhibited by the demands of the “real world.”
“Basically we give them the gifts of time and space,” Tillett says. They have no responsibilities while they are here, so they get a remarkable amount done.” And because the facility allows reapplication, many artists have formed a relationship with Ragdale where they continue to visit the facility throughout their careers.
Tillett personally understands the demands and financial constraints often placed on local artists. Prior to her employment at Ragdale, she was a writer and photographer living in Glencoe. A childhood friend had been given a residency at Ragdale, and when Tillett drove her friend to the facility, she immediately fell in love. She began regularly walking her dog around the property just to take in its beauty, never knowing that she would eventually become the director of the foundation. Since 2000, she has spent the majority of her days on the property. But while she often joins the artists for their scheduled 6:30pm dinner, she maintains her own residence two miles away from Ragdale. “It’s really heavenly here, but you have to go home at the end of the day,” Tillett says. (Sarah Danke)
The Ragdale 30th Anniversary Exhibition shows at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington, (312)744-6630, through January 13, 2007.