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.”