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Edward Alexander MacDowell (1860-1908) was one of America’s most celebrated pianists and composers of the 19th century. As a young child, Edward began taking piano lessons in Manhattan and would experiment with composition, draw on his music books, and jot down poems and fairy tales when left unsupervised.. The unique versatility of his talents and his wide imagination contributed greatly to Edward’s expressionism throughout his career.
When he was fifteen years old, Edward enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire in France. During one of his French classes, Edward was discovered having drawn a portrait of the teacher. His instructor was so overwhelmed by the likeness, that he showed an eminent painter and instructor at the Ecole de Beaux Arts. The artist was so impressed with the sketch that he begged Edward’s mother to allow him to enroll in his art program. Edward remained at the Conservatoire, but two years later he registered at the Frankfurt Conservatory in Germany where he studied piano and composition under Carl Heyman and Joachim Raff. Under the mentorship of Heyman and Raff, Edward was able to “direct the currents of his own temperament into definite artistic channels” (Gilman 1908, 10).
Edward taught for one year at the Darmstadt Conservatory in 1888 after which he began to teach privately. It was during his private sessions that he fell in love with one of his pupils, Marian Griswold Nevins, whom he eventually married in 1894. Several years later, Edward and Marian moved back to America settling in Boston until Edward was appointed the position as the first director of music at Columbia University in New York City.
In 1896, Mr. Edward MacDowell and his wife Marian bought a dilapidated farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Edward was one of America’s greatest composers and pianists of the Romantic Period (1830-1900), and Marian had been a concert pianist in her youth. The couple renovated the farm in order to create a place where Edward could compose music without interruption. He said, “This is a house of dreams untold. It looks out over the whispering treetops and faces the setting sun.” It was on this serene property where MacDowell composed his best-known works “Piano Concerto No. 2” and “To A Wild Rose”.
In 1904, Edward resigned from his position at Columbia. Shortly after his resignation, Edward was involved in a traffic accident that caused him to suffer from depression, dementia, and occasional paralysis for the remainder of his life. To fulfill her husband’s dream after his death in 1907, Marian expanded their private sanctuary in the woods so more artists could develop their skills in the solitude. Former President Grover Cleveland and J. P. Morgan helped fund the MacDowell Colony’s development while Marian traveled across the country educating groups and raising money to send artists to the retreat.
Originally, six cottages were set up with food and supplies provided daily for each artist. Since its initial inception, the Colony has grown from 60 acres to 600 acres and from 6 cottages to 31 one-person studios. Nearly 9,000 artists have been awarded fellowships to date. For many artists, time at the MacDowell Colony proved to be a turning point in their careers, and some have gone on to win Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, Tony Awards, and Oscars.
In 2020, the Board of MacDowell dropped “Colony” from its name to remove terminology that may hold connotations of oppression, exclusion, and hierarchy. The name change represents MacDowell’s ongoing efforts to maintain a program free of barriers to accessibility and participation.
While attending a conference for music teachers in New York City in 1920, Hyla Florence Long learned about the MacDowell Colony. Before returning home to Oklahoma City, Long visited the Colony in New Hampshire and was inspired to begin a local chapter in Oklahoma. On February 7, 1920 Long and some of her friends of the Symphony organized the Oklahoma City Club of Allied Arts. The Club began with 27 members and grew to become one of OKC’s most prestigious social clubs. By 1951 the Club grew to its peak membership with over 800 supporters.
Monthly meetings were held at members’ homes and exclusive locations such as the Governor’s Mansion, the Skirvin Hotel, and golf and country clubs. Meetings featured programming that highlighted the talents of Oklahoma artists. Singers, orchestra conductors, solo instrumentalists, jazz ensembles, painters, sculptors, composers, and writers were just some of the many guest artists. Some of the artists invited to speak or perform at the Club’s monthly meetings went on to become very successful and internationally known.
The main reason for the club’s establishment was to provide fellowships for Oklahoma artists to spend 6-8 weeks at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. The mission states, "The object of this organization is to perpetuate the membership of Edward MacDowell; to further the development of the MacDowell Colony at Peterborough, NH, and to encourage and inspire the creative work of the allied arts."
Endowment fellowships to the Colony were established in the name of the Oklahoma City Club and in honor of Mrs. Floyd Reeves Bull, a good friend of Marian MacDowell. The Oklahoma City Club awarded MacDowell Colony fellowships to 26 Oklahoma artists. Some of the artists were fortunate enough to be awarded fellowships multiple times.
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The University of Central Oklahoma recognizes the university's main campus is located on the traditional lands of the Caddo and Wichita people.
Visit the UCO Land Acknowledgement website to learn more.