The Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in rural Maine has received a $250,000 gift from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation to build a new studio building for artists’ use. The new structure, to be named after the late Abstract Expressionist painter, will be the 15th designated studio building on Skowhegan’s historic 350-acre campus, where Frankenthaler herself resided as a visiting faculty artist in 1986.
The funding for a new building comes in the midst of a campus-wide renovation and construction initiative still in the planning stages, according to Skowhegan co-director Katie Sonnenborn. “The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation gift is coming at a moment of critical development that Showhegan has been undertaking for the last 12 to 18 months,” she told ARTnews. “Their early participation in the development of this vision we think will be critical to its longterm success and viability.”
To be presented later this month to Skowhegan’s two controlling boards—a board of governors made up of artists who have participated in residencies or otherwise worked as faculty, and a board of directors of a more conventional kind—the plan calls for the renovation of existing facilities and the prospect of additional new buildings to be used by artists selected for intensive nine-week residencies in a program that dates back to 1946.
“For the last five years, Skowhegan has really focused on deferred maintenance, which is not terribly sexy but is important,” Sonnenborn said. “We’ve rebuilt several studios and several residences, beefed up our crew, and, over the past year, have been through series of interviews and conversations addressing what we need to provide on campus to meet the needs of artists working in the 21st century.”
Areas of focus include studio spaces as well as dining facilities and residential quarters—plus the campus itself. “Our physical landscape and campus is an active part of our program—it’s not just a backdrop,” said Sarah Workneh, a fellow co-director at Skowhegan. “It has a lot to do with the experience of history as you walk the grounds and touch things that artists have touched before you. When you have buildings that have hosted thousands of other artists, it’s palpable on a daily basis. While it doesn’t hold you captive in nostalgia, it does inspire confidence.”
In a statement, Clifford Ross, chairman of the Frankenthaler Foundation, said, “The foundation is extremely pleased to support Skowhegan in offering new studio workspaces that will carry Helen’s name. She valued exchanges with students and young artists throughout her life, finding her time at Skowhegan not only meaningful but also productive for her own work.”
For the institution, Sonnenborn said, the gift will help toward answering a question that Skowhegan has made central to its mission: “What are the tools that we need so that the program can continue for another 75 years?”