For those with the slightest creative bent, there is something inherently romantic about ‘artsy’ places, places where great artists congregated, often out of poverty, a sense of adventure, a disdain for convention. Present day fans still make the pilgrimage to commune with the spirits of their artistic heroes. This list is about living and breathing art colonies in the U.S. that no longer occur in urban slums but thrive in small towns, all the more notable for being the raison d’etre of the town’s very existence. All of the below are in beautiful natural settings. A few have artistic tradition a century old. Some have revived places on the verge of ghost town status and what could be more romantic than that? What follows is a list of intriguing places in which art is the core of a modern sustainable economy. Off the beaten track, these places offer tremendous travel value. The list comes from, of all places the World Property Journal, with artistic elaborations only your Escape Here correspondents can share.
10. Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Had they all lived at the same time, four of the greatest American artists of all time would have been neighbors here, just a few miles from each other in the historic Berkshire mountains on the Massachusetts-Upstate New York border whose homes have now become museums. Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, authors Edith Wharton (The Age of innocence) and Herman Melville (Moby Dick) and the picture postcard perfect village of Stockbridge; the home of painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell. Rockwell’s legendary works achieved great fame and following in the Saturday Evening Post. He captured the spirit of small town America before its demise and his illustrations remain much admired for their nostalgic depiction of a world that is largely extinct. Some of his greatest works are on display. The Arts are the soul of Stockbridge with gardens, theater and a short drive away, the fabulous Tanglewood Music Festival.
9. Sag Harbor, New York
Yoga studios and spas have crept into the 200-year-old whaling port in the tiny Hamptons on Long Island. Its literary credentials are impeccable and it is mentioned several times in Moby Dick. Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck lived and wrote Travels with Charley here. It remains a writer’s colony though reminders of its whaling past are prominent. Art shows are everywhere and year round. The Sag harbor Fine Arts Center, quite an accomplishment for a village of 2,100, features quality musical performance and dance recitals. The scenery is spectacular in a quiet place that, like Rockwell’s art, is a window on another time.
8. Manitou Springs, Colorado
The charming town at the foot of Pike’s Peak (Elevation 14,110) is on the Register of Historic Places. The Ute Indians knew they had a good thing long ago, but the town with its 11 springs was founded only in 1872 as a spa destination and has been a tourist attraction ever since. Still the native presence remains strong with amazing ancient cliff dwellings. The frontier settlement layout and vibe remains but there are some two dozen working art studios and an artists’ co-op now as well as chamber music and frequent art walks. Among the better known local artists is Michael Baum whose Disneyish yet charming southwestern landscapes are done in the unusual medium of oil on linen.
7. Madrid, New Mexico
After the gold and coal ran out so did the inhabitants in the 1950’s. The Wall Street Journal carried a for sale ad offering the whole place for $250,000. No one bit so Madrid became a ghost town. Somehow the old buildings survived until artists move in and turned it into a colony of galleries and studios. Folk art and crafts range from handmade cowboy boots to exquisite Cerillos turquoise from the nearby Turquoise Trail to native artifacts. There are spas and restaurants even though the last census records a population of 210, most of whom came from somewhere away and never went back. And it’s MA-drid by the way. Not to be confused with that pretender in Spain.
6. Carmel-By-The-Sea, California
Many would say the greatest work of art in the area is the Pebble Beach Golf Course, opened in 1919 and considered the greatest, most beautiful course in the country. A town of 4,000 has four exceptional venues for the performing arts. It is a wealthy enclave now but in the early 20th century it was a sanctuary for impoverished bohemian artists left homeless by the Great San Francisco earthquake. It’s memorably captured by Jack London in Valley of the Moon. Writers, painters, photographers and poets found inspiration in the beautiful stretch of Pacific shore. A Shakespearean tradition dates from 1911 and is still going strong. Far from bohemian now but visual artists still share the same inspiration.
5. Delray Beach, Florida
As the 20th century wound down, Delray Beach was a dying town with shuttered storefronts and apparently no future. It is now a burgeoning arts center as The Delray Art League promotes the art scene and has over 200 members. Pineapple grove is a happening art ‘hood’ with galleries, cafes and cool buzz. The Arts Garage is a unique venue serving up all types of experimental musical forms. The old industrial warehouses have been transformed to Artists’ Alley and house dozens of working spaces, and there are more at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts. Performing artists can find venues at Delray Square Arts, plus the average temperature in January is 71. Makes you feel like getting artsy don’t it?
4. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is Cherokee country while European settlement began in 1806. It lays claim to being home to the largest independent arts community on the continent that has its roots in the Great Depression in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains. The Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail features over 100 artisans along an 8-mile loop that produce exquisite Americana artifacts; ceramics, pottery, jewelry and wood carvings.
3. Cody, Wyoming
The town takes its name from William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill. It’s known especially for the renowned Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a clutch of five museums celebrating different aspects of Cody’s life and legacy as well as the American Frontier experience, including the Whitney Western Art Museum. The New York Times calls the Smithsonian-related complex “among the nation’s most remarkable museums” A thriving local art scene culminates in the annual Rendezvous Royale community festival topped off by the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale.
2. Fredericksburg, Texas
A fascinating place settled by German immigrants in the 1850’s, named after a Prussian price with a unique Texas German dialect spoken. The age of political correctness has not precluded the use of the nickname Fritztown. Known as the peach capital of Texas, the town’s artistic bent came with the settlers, among them accomplished artists from Dresden. Galleries abound and local sculptors have national reputations. The town can also claim an Art School and Guild.
1. Taos, New Mexico
As the light of Provence once lured the eye of Vincent van Gogh, the magical light and dramatic landscape of the southwest town of Taos has lured a number of critically acclaimed and commercially successful visual artists over the last century. High end inns and hotels in Santa Fe feature the iconic paintings of Inger Jerby, a Scandinavian native who found her way to Taos and stayed, part of a new interpretation of Old West painting. The art colony, the beautiful setting and the a significant Native presence have drawn artistic legends like Georgia O’Keefe, photographer Ansel Adams and the great British novelist D.H. Lawrence.