Introduction

From the publication: From Bethany To Beacon Falls by Nicholas Fox Weber

When Josef and Anni Albers established the Foundation that would carry on their legacy, they cited as its purpose “the revelation and evocation of vision through art.” Their credo can be felt not just in the words, but in the tone of the statement: ineffably calm, absent an “I” or a “we”, devoted to the glories of seeing and creating with a prevailing quietude.

Unexpected circumstances enabled us to build the headquarters of the Albers Foundation on a 75-acre parcel of land in rural Connecticut. Anni’s younger brother, Hans Farman, came to realize, after the Berlin wall came down, that it might be possible to achieve restitution of some family property in what was formerly East Berlin. His and Anni’s, and their sister Lotte’s, father had been partner in a furniture company. This business had had a building with showrooms not far from the Brandenburg Gate, with a factory next door. Working through an excellent attorney in Berlin—Herr Von Trott, nephew of one of the men who had tried to assassinate Hitler—Hans discovered that where the factory had been was now a vacant lot covered in rubble, and that the Art Nouveau showroom building was derelict, but that this property could, indeed, be traced to his father and his father’s partner. The Nazis had taken all of this in the late 1930s because the owners were Jewish, and the D.D.R. had claimed it after the war, but now, indeed, with the astonishing changes initiated by German reunification, the family members were entitled to their shares.

Herr Von Trott organized the sale of the vacant site and the crumbling edifice. Anni Albers, Hans Farman, and the three children of their sister Lotte, no longer alive, were each entitled to one sixth of the proceeds. Hans and his wife and I went to Berlin to sign the necessary paperwork. (Anni, while still living, was past cognizance of such matters, and I had her power-of-attorney.) Eventually, the rubble in what had become some of the most prime real estate in the world enabled the Albers Foundation to buy its site—dense woods on rolling land, surrounding a small lake—and put up a modest building that could house its offices and archives and art collection.

For over twenty years previously, my wife and I had been living in an old farmhouse that abutted this property, and, at the same time that the Foundation was being constructed, its marvelous designing architect, Tim Prentice, planned a modest studio for us. The idea was a free-standing structure of various purposes, meant in part to give our adolescent daughters their own space, but also to give my wife, a novelist, a calm setting of her own for writing, and to provide large walls on which to hang the paintings of my late mother, a painter whose subject matter was almost invariably West Cork, which she and my father had discovered as their personal paradise. When our own studio went up, we realized that, with a few variations, it would make a dream of a setting for a working painter or sculptor or printmaker.

That notion enabled me to go to James Clark, son of two collectors of Josef Albers work-these rarely perspicacious art lovers focused almost entirely on Albers, Mondrian, Brancusi, Leger, and Mark Tobey-and ask him if he would fund such a studio in his parents’ memory. He did so, and a couple of years later I found another donor, who remained anonymous, to pay for a second such studio. These two structures enable artists to come to the woods of Bethany, Connecticut and work in idyllic conditions of comfortable enough accommodations and a high degree of solitude. The idea is a retreat for a period of two or three months. We select artists who are highly qualified not because they work in any one particular style but because they are capable and serious – and want to push their own abilities away from the distractions of the art world. No one can apply for a residency; the people who are invited have to be recommended by one of a few friends of the Albers Foundation, or have his or her work seen by one of us. Anyone who comes has to be the sort of person who can not only survive a degree of aloneness, but who can thrive with it. Anni and Josef Albers loathed the idea of networking and career negotiating that figure too largely in the lives of artists today; they believed, rather, in the pursuit of the higher ideas of art, of the furtherance of one’s technical know-how and the development of more imagination and vision as well as skill. The aim of our studios is to perpetuate those goals, to provide calm and the opportunity for reflection and work in a place where there is good light, and where everyday life seems pretty much in order.

Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.


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