News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 28, 2011
Haystack’s campus turns 50

by Jessica Brophy

When the state decided to build a highway through its backyard, the Haystack Mountain School of Arts and Crafts, then located in Montville near Haystack Mountain, looked for a building site where that would never happen again. The trustees chose Stinson Neck in Sunshine, well removed from—well, most everything.

The school’s trustees chose Deer Isle in part because Stonington resident Bill Muir, husband of Emily Muir, was a trustee at the time and suggested the Island.

The land chosen was an oceanfront parcel with a sharp slope dropping 80 feet to the ocean. When the architect, Edward Larrabee Barnes, arrived on the site, the trustees asked him whether the campus should be built at the top of the slope or along the shoreline. Barnes decided the best idea would be to build along the slope itself, according to a 1989 article in Architecture by Robert Campbell.

As Campbell wrote, Barnes “conceived a village of about 20 shingled cottages connected by a system of wooden walkways. The village and its walkways hover a few feet above the ground, which seems to flow beneath them like a green sea tide. Only the supporting posts meet the earth.” Because of this, Haystack feels like a marina with docks and boats, continued Campbell.

Campbell nominated and Haystack received one of architecture’s most prestigious awards, the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-Five Year Award in 1994. Only 41 structures have received this award, including the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Guggenheim Museum. This year, Campbell returned to Haystack for the first time since those initial visits, to attend Haystack’s annual summer conference.

He is pleased with the improvements that have been made to the campus since the building received the award. “The school has done a wonderful job of maintaining the integrity of the original plans,” Campbell said in a recent interview.

Campbell also marked how well Haystack’s architecture lends itself to the school’s mission. “It’s a great fit,” he said. “Having meals in common, lots of public spaces to interact.” Director Stu Kestenbaum agreed the campus is a big part of the experience for those who come to Haystack. “It’s always surprising to people,” said Kestenbaum. “It takes awhile to get to Deer Isle, and even once you’re on the Island it takes awhile to get to Haystack, and you don’t even see the ocean until you’re up near the office.”

That moment of surprise, when new arrivals first take in the many wooden steps drawing the eye to the ocean, and the sloped roofs and straight lines of the decks, is wonderful to watch, said Kestenbaum.

In terms of maintaining the campus, Kestenbaum said it’s about keeping up with the needed repairs. “We always need to reinvest in the campus,” he said, “whether it’s reshingling roofs, replacing windows or decking, or updating old wiring.”

To keep up with the projects, Kestenbaum says the school plans projects three years in advance. At the moment, the big work on the horizon is efforts to make the campus more “green.”

Haystack was recently awarded a $125,000 grant from Save America’s Treasures, a national trust for historic preservation. Those funds, along with monies raised in a capital campaign, will be used to investigate the ways in which solar, wind or other green energy technologies could be incorporated into the campus design.

“It would need to be in keeping with the architecture,” Kestenbaum said. “It would be good to have green technology be a part of what’s here and look toward the future.”

At the summer conference architect James Carpenter, who will be involved with the efforts to make Haystack greener, gave a presentation about light and its role in architecture. During the presentation, Carpenter bemoaned those campuses that grow haphazardly. Haystack, he said, had done anything but. “Haystack brings people more into the landscape,” said Carpenter.

Haystack’s impact on Deer Isle has “attracted many artists and craft makers,” said Kestenbaum, “many of whom have relocated on the Island or nearby.” This makes for a “vital cultural mix,” he continued.

As part of the 50th anniversary, a book featuring essays about Haystack’s buildings, historic and contemporary images and architectural design images will be published.

Also to celebrate is a season-long exhibit, “Haystack Architecture: Vision and Legacy,” curated by architect Carol Wilson that examines the impact of Haystack’s architecture and the legacy of Barnes. The exhibit will remain open into September at Haystack’s Center for Community Programs, across the street from Bar Harbor Bank in Deer Isle, 22 Church St.