BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Can you imagine the glow from 40 candles on 40 birthday cakes? Grateful friends and fans baked forty whimsical cakes to honor the fortieth anniversary of Ragdale, the Midwest’s largest artists’ colony. Over 250 celebrants, including descendants of its architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, strolled through the Lake Forest estate’s magnificent grounds, sharing memories, and enjoying artists’ performances.
But even that many candles couldn’t total the number of writers, artists, dancers, and poets—3000 and more—who have spent two weeks of creative tranquility at the Arts and Crafts estate built in 1897. Mitch Ryerson paid tribute at the event to his mother, poet and writer Alice Judson Ryerson Hayes, who founded the colony 40 years ago. The daughter of Howard Van Doren Shaw, she gave Ragdale to the city of Lake Forest in 1986.
Guests mingled in the marvelous open-air Ragdale Ring, designed by Shaw in 1912 following a visit to an Italian villa. Members of the benefit committee Phoebe Turner, Roland Kulla, Maureen Grinell, and Jeanna Park, along with Board President Sally MacDonald and Executive Director Jeff Meeuwsen, greeted guests.
From the very first days, when Howard Van Doren Shaw and his family constructed fences there, and friends such as Upton Sinclair and Carl Sandburg came out to write, Ragdale has been a center of creativity.
As Executive Director, Jeff Meeuwsen, said about the founders:
“I love the idea of this uniquely creative family, the Shaws, establishing a place where the imagination can run free. Ragdale was designed for renewal, contemplation, fellowship, and play. It’s no wonder that the Shaw family is filled with artists, scholars, educators, and peace activists.”
Meeuwsen described what’s ahead for Ragdale in this coming decade:
“Ragdale runs on ingenuity, passion, hard work, and the generosity of our contributors. We are devoted to serving and resourcing creative practitioners as they achieve leaps in the development of new works. That mission will never change, but the needs of artists are ever-changing. We must continue to evolve. Our current goals include new support for artists with disabilities, artists working in collaboration, social practice artists working in community, dance artists, and artists of color. We also feel a great responsibility to advance the arts in less-advantaged neighborhoods. Creative people need access to opportunities whether they are 5 or 85.”