Some artists don’t just create masterpieces --
they live in them.
Photographer Don Freeman’s poetic journey
through eleven houses artists built for themselves.
A love song in film to the places art lives.
Art House is a visually-rich documentary film that
seeks to explore, preserve and celebrate the
fascinating homes a series of distinguished American artists created for themselves.
Photographer and filmmaker Don Freeman penetrates the intimacy of these homes with great sensitivity and documents the meticulous attention paid to every minute detail, from door knobs to landscape, structure to opulent surface. With narrative and Interviews, the film seeks to place each house
within the context of its owner's life and career, providing insight into each home’s development and
its place in the oeuvre of the artist.
The homes range from the hauntingly beautiful
castle-like residence of tile designer Henry Chapman Mercer, to the surreal desert megastructures of visionary architect Paolo Soleri, whose last filmed interview appears in this film.
The natural extravaganza of waterfalls, gardens and paths created by Twentieth Century designer Russell Wright are explored in conversation with his daughter, as are studio homes of sculptor and furniture legend Wharton Esherick, landscape painter Frederic Church, architect and furniture maker George Nakashima, sculptor Raoul Hauge, architect, painter, sculptor, and potter Henry Varnum Poor,
and sculptor Cosantino Nivola.
The private domains of Art House are utterly unique, spanning a geography stretching from New England to Arizona, each imbued with an artist's singular vision and talent. Several homes have been awarded National Historic Landmark status, some are open to the public, others have sadly fallen into disrepair. Hence, Art House is an artist’s attempt at historic preservation for a neglected architectural typology. As some of the photographs and video represent the last record of
the house as created by the artist, the film is both a love song to artists’ most intimate creation – their own habitats -- and a call to action in preserving, promoting and visiting these architectural artifacts.
Ultimately, the film is a conversation about art and
the places art lives. A conversation about architecture carried on by artists and craftsmen who don’t just create masterworks but live in them.
My dedication to the project began with a series of photographic essays published in the World of Interiors (UK) and Architektur und Wohnen (Germany), raising awareness of this little known architectural typology. Subsequently a New York Times piece featuring my photographs of the Henry Varnum Poor House in Rockland County led to the halt of its demolition.
After publication of Artists' Handmade Houses,
(Abrams, 2011) I returned to make this documentary, interviewing Paolo Soleri and family members and others deeply involved in the care of the houses. I came away with anecdotes and insights into their development and their place in the oeuvre of the artists.
My longtime friend and collaborator Alastair Gordon's narration guides the viewer through the philosophical connections that bind these houses together.
Each of the private domains featured in Art House is deeply imbued with the unique vision of its creator, and a physical embodiment of what it means to be an artist, to live an integrated life dedicated to art. For the most part the artists were not architects, and built over a lifetime (Henry Varnum Poor's Crow House, Wharton Esherick, Maverick artist Raoul Hague) giving each place a sense of resonance and duration that most architecture doesn't possess. George Nakashima and Paolo Soleri, who did train as architects, gave precedence to a craft-based approach to building their houses.
The fate of many of the houses in the film remains
in the balance, for example that of Eliphante and Raoul Hague's home, to name just the most urgent cases.
Even the handful of houses that have been awarded National Historic Landmark status, such as White Pines at Byrdcliffe, would benefit from conservation efforts that often come at a high price tag. “It's my hope that the dissemination of this film will bring awareness to these houses so that the public will support and experience them in person.”