an old chair

For future and existing residents of Lake Forest, it is quickly evident that the townsfolk have a longstanding love affair with a historic arts center simply referred to as Ragdale. Even from first glance, the mammoth-sized farmhouse oozes a special kind of nostalgia. From the glistening panes to the whispering old trees, it’s easy to see that this landmark has a story to tell.

But, Ragdale isn’t just for the storybooks, rather it is a living legacy, offering a haven to budding and established artists alike. It’s also a focal point for Lake Forest residents, a gathering place alive with both the spirits of yesteryear and the essence of today’s youth.

The Architectural Relevance of Ragdale

Both the house and the barn at Ragdale were built in 1897 by Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, a celebrated entity of the American Craftsman design movement. The philosophy behind the American Craftsman style (which influenced architecture, landscaping, interior design, and decorative arts) was a subtle retaliation against the Industrial Revolution. It was indeed a purpose-driven act of love, to preserve the value of unique craftsmanship in contrast to the emerging cookie-cutter lifestyle. So, even from its first framework, Radgale was born with roots for the artistic community.

Howard Van Doren Shaw and his family lived (including daughter and sculptor, Sylvia Shaw Hudson) in the residence as their summer village home during the early 20th century. He named the property Ragdale, after an old Tudor-style country house in Leicestershire, England

The Ragdale Ring

First created in 1912, the Ragdale Ring is an outdoor theater on the premises, still a beloved threshold for artistic, dramatic, and theatrical presentations today. In its birth, the Ragdale Ring was created as a stage for the Shaw family to offer public performances to the community, including seating to accommodate up to 200 spectators. Most of the presentations were the plays written by Howard Shaw’s wife and playwright, Frances Shaw. In the current era, the open-air theater hosts an annual competition for international artists to showcase works of landscape, design, architecture, sculpture, public art, and performance.

The Ragdale Foundation

More than eight decades after Ragdale was first constructed (in 1976), Howard Van Doren Shaw’s granddaughter created the nonprofit Ragdale Foundation. A poet herself, Alice Judson Hayes, wanted to create a place of respite for artists of all types. What is often referred to as an Artist Colony, The Ragdale Foundation has now been operating for more than 40 years. In her accordance with her death in 2006, Ms. Hayes donated the family home and foundation to the community. Currently, more than 200 residence programs and artist fellowships are offered annually, earning recognition as one of the largest, interdisciplinary artistic communities in the USA.

Interested in living near amazing historic and architectural gems like Ragdale? Contact us today to schedule a tour of our community.

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