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ON THE SCENE: Craigarden incubates

Craigarden farm store sign on Route 9N (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The late architect and fine artist Paul Nowicki, and his wife, the ceramicist Barbara Tam, dreamed of creating an artist residency on their Hurricane Road property in Keene. And they worked hard to make it happen.

Nowicki designed and built a beautiful studio and, in 2000, they launched the Hurricane Mountain Clay Studio. A fire hampered their initial effort, but Nowicki rebuilt, and they pushed forward.

Facing an early death, Nowicki suggested to his wife Barbara that Michele Drozd, who he knew through the ceramics community, be invited to carry the vision forward. Drozd established the nonprofit Craigarden, expanding upon Nowicki’s idea.

While maintaining ceramics as its center, it came to include other arts, public readings, lectures and farming. In contrast to such well-known residencies as MacDowell and Yaddo, Drozd wanted a residency program that engaged in the significant issues of its community, such as addressing hunger and the food deserts that exist in the Adirondacks.

“I loved being at Craigarden when it was located in Keene,” said potter Mary Barringer. “It was a wonderful place to work. What was different from other residency programs is that my studio was butted up against the farm. I shared a living space with other artists whose work is very different than mine. I loved working in a non-specific arts context. It raises the question of what it means as an artist to be alive right now. That was special then, and it’s only gotten more relevant.”

David Speert, a retired pediatrician and founding board member, said that he doesn’t know of any other residency program that brings such diverse people and factions together, people with a common interest but often very differing skill sets. Thus far, it’s included ceramics, creative writing and the culinary arts, along with several others. Speert hopes they will bring in forest husbandry and woodworking.

Drozd, while a ceramicist, brings a lot of life experiences to the table that reflects her holistic view of the arts. She is the former executive director of the Essex Farm Institute, communications and development director for Adirondack Architectural Heritage, membership assistant at the Adirondack Council, and, as a designer, has led the renovation of two historic lodges, one then turned into a bed and breakfast. Fundamentally, her vision and entrepreneurial spirit needed a larger space of its own. Now it is located about two-thirds of the way to Elizabethtown from Keene on Route 9N.

The property is 320 acres and borders the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness. Thus far, they have established a farm stand with an attached chicken yard and sheep pasture. Within are a small but terrific array of ceramic ware and organic produce. Further, to encourage people to save their kitchen food scraps, five buckets of them can be traded for a dozen eggs.

“I used to bring my compost to feed their chickens when they were based on Hurricane Road and continued that in their new location,” said Tamra Mooney. “The egg-share program was Michelle’s idea, and I helped initiate it. Now there’s quite a few people doing it.”

Craigarden has become a recognized leader in bringing together stakeholders desiring to expand organic food accessibility to people throughout the region. Before the pandemic that forced the postponement of many in-person meetings throughout the area, Craigarden presented several Winter Food Justice Summits at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Momentum and progress are evident after just a couple of years.

Yet greatly missed during the transition to the Route 9N property have been the artist residencies. To address that need, Drozid recruited Keene-based architect Nils Luderowski to design the campus and provide advice on an overall site master plan that’s winding its way through the state Adirondack Park Agency.

“I need something to spin a web around,” said Luderowski. “I make people write a two-page essay. You have to tell me, without showing me any pictures, a story about the building, why you want to build the building, and why you want to spend the money. My best clients are good at that sort of thing. If you can’t weave a web, you have no structure.”

Luderowski came up with five buildings linked together and strung along the contour. All are on the same plane because a priority is a campus that’s entirely wheelchair accessible. Each building has a different function similar to the design of the traditional Adirondack Great Camp. The sacred space is the kiln.

Even though the buildings are in the design stage, and their application is going through the APA, Craigarden will launch a summer residency program this year with four artists living off-campus. They’ll work with Craigarden’s farm program while doing their art, research and helping develop other initiatives.

“At its core, Craigarden is a place-based residency program,” said Drozd. “We take a comprehensive perspective of what art means. We believe in the creative process, be it used in agriculture, medicine, research, scholarly writing, or elsewhere. We provide time and space for creative people to focus on their work. The other important aspect of our program is that we’re not a closed gate residency. We’re interested in being fully integrated into the community.”

“I feel excited about the idea that we will be able to re-start our programming, get people up to the Adirondacks, and people in the Adirondacks onto the property,” said Lanse Stover, board president. “I love the idea of bringing people of different disciplines together and finding ways to leverage that creativity to benefit those people and to bring interesting dialogue and experiences to the area.”

Craigarden’s farm stand address is 9216 state Route 9N.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)

(Correction: The spelling of Michele Drozd’s name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. The News regrets the error.)