Tuesday, August 21, 2007

" Russel Wright's Great Spirit "

In the Lower New York Hudson Valley, a wonderful artistic site to explore is the forest garden and dwelling place of Mid 20th century designer Russel Wright. Russel found and bought the land in 1942 after it had been stripped for its lumber and granite supply. The granite was used to build many historic buildings in and around the NYC area. Wright spent a few decades working the land to transform it into a beautiful forest "garden" sculpted by his love of nature. He also built a fantastic modern house for himself and his family that emerges out of the rock, adjacent to a quarry pond that is filled by a tall but gentle waterfall. The land is called Manitoga which means Great Spirit in Algonquin, and the home is called Dragon Rock after the rocky cliff that slopes down to the quarry pond like a dragon bending over to drink.

The house's structure consists of two parts, the main house and the studio, and includes eleven levels overall. Some levels are substantial, and others are small like perches, resulting in compelling variation. The construction of the house is the perfect mix of 20th century experimental materials utilized in a natural Japanese-like style. Inside, where the juxtaposition of the space-age construction and the side of the mountain live, it feels like the Flintstone's house built with Jetson's materials, and it completely works. The structure sits on the land much like a tree house but built into a cliff and is wonderfully tranquil. When you are in it surrounded by the organic sensibility and the ambient nature pouring in through the glass walls, you don't want to leave. House tours are scheduled every day now, so it's easy to spend a lot of time there. They begin in the lower plain, go up the short forest walk around the house, through the studio and main house, and back down via the pond walk to the starting point. All in all the tour takes a generous 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how many queries guests ask, etc. Tours of the house require registration and begin at specific times.

Russel also carved wonderful forest walks in the woods, close to the house perimeter, and also further out around the property area of about 80 acres. Maps are available for following the paths around the land. You can walk at your leisure whenever the grounds are open. Russel created some paths to be easy, and others more difficult for hardier hikers. Each path was given its own name and points of interest, such as lookouts across the river. He also inserted sculpted areas that he called "rooms" on the paths, where hikers could sit, enjoy, and be still with the Great Spirit.

I consider it one of the highlights of my life, and a great privilege, that I was able to volunteer and work at Manitoga for a number of years. What I saw and learned there, as a docent and as a Russel Wright fan, will stay with me forever. Please visit Manitoga if you find yourself in the area. Every year improvements are made with special grants that preserve Russel Wright's dreams for Manitoga and the people visiting it. The website is: http://russelwrightcenter.org/. Becoming a member will help support this important place for Russel and for the future, and qualifies you for special events. If you cannot visit, a wonderful DVD tour narrated by Garrison Kieler is available on the website.