Until MacDowell went to Peterborough he had worked under the usual difficult conditions. During the winter he lived in the city amidst noisy surroundings; in the summer he went the rounds of country hotels and boarding-houses. Even the comparative independence of his own house never gave him the quiet and isolation that he craved at times, for there is no household whose wheels can be instantly adjusted to the needs of one member. For years MacDowell tried one makeshift after another until at last in the Log Cabin he found exactly what he needed.
During the last year of MacDowell’s life a society was incorporated under the name of the Edward MacDowell Memorial Association. The purpose of the society was to establish in America a fitting memorial to the work and life of the American composer along lines of MacDowell’s own suggestion. A sum of about thirty thousand dollars had been raised for MacDowell’s benefit. This amount was entrusted to the Association. Mrs. MacDowell deeded to the Association the farm at Peterborough and the contents of MacDowell’s home. The Association at once undertook the development of what has since become known as the “Peterborough idea” and before MacDowell’s death had actually established, in a modest way, a Colony for Creative Artists.
In an article in the North American Review, Edwin Arlington Robinson writes: “It is practically impossible for me to say, even to myself, just what there is about this place that compels a man to work out the best that there is in him and to be discontented if he fails to do so. The abrupt and somewhat humiliating sense of isolation, liberty, and opportunity which overtakes one each morning has something to do with it, but this sense of opportunity does not in itself explain everything ... The MacDowell Colony is in all probabilities about the worst place in which to conceal one’s lack of a creative faculty.”
There is nothing camp-like about the place either in appearance or in manner of life. There are comfortable living houses for the men and women with all the conveniences of running water, electric light, and telephone. A common dining room is in Colony Hall. Here good wholesome food is served as it would be in any well-managed household. This much for the creature comforts. For the other and the more important side of Colony life there are fifteen individual studios scattered here and there through the woods.
The daily routine of life in the Colony is somewhat as follows: After breakfast there is a quick scattering of the residents as each one hurries off to his studio. It may be recalled here what an important place MacDowell’s Log Cabin plays in this scheme, and how the idea has been to reproduce for as many people as might be in the Colony conditions similar to those MacDowell enjoyed—a comfortable home and an isolated workshop. Each one of the