An aerial view of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle. Photo by Chris Maddox, courtesy of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

When Edward Larrabee Barnes designed the campus of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in the early 1960s, the architect didn’t have to account for rising sea levels brought on by climate change. He planned some structures within about 20 feet of high tide, giving artists the experience of sleeping and working at water’s edge.

With a new $4 million gift for campus preservation in hand, Haystack can start thinking about what to do about those vulnerable structures and other long-term campus needs, said Paul Sacaridiz, executive director of the school.

“What does it mean if we think about another 70 years from now and how do we plan for a world we cannot imagine right now?” he asked. “This allows us to think about ambitious projects we want to take on in a way we’ve never been able to do before. How do we increase accessibility to the campus? How do we address the need for housing for staff on campus? How do we look at ways to make the campus more sustainable in terms of environmental impact and energy usage? And ultimately, how do we start to think about climate change on the coastal campus? These are really interesting questions we have to start asking as we look at the next chapter in the school’s history.”

With pitched roofs and large windows, the sleeping cabins at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts are bright and airy. Situated on a steep hill leading down to the ocean in Deer Isle, the sounds and the smells of the ocean pervade the campus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The international crafts school celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2020. The campus consists of simple wooden structures constructed on granite ledge that slopes to the ocean, connected by wooden walkways. The school began inland at Montville in 1950 and moved to Deer Isle in 1961. The campus is considered a masterpiece of American modernism and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. The American Institute of Architects has recognized its design, integrity and cultural significance.

Last month, Haystack announced it had received the gift for campus preservation from the Windgate Foundation, which supports educational programs in contemporary craft. Based in Arkansas, Windgate has given Haystack nearly $7.5 million since 2002, including $2 million in 2013 for an open studio residency program. The latest gift is the largest in school history and the first from Windgate for something other than programming.

Sacaridiz called it “radical and transformative philanthropy” because of its scope and potential impact. “When you endow a fund for campus preservation, it’s the ultimate show of trust,” he said. “This gift will literally outlive us all. In a way, you can’t ask for more. It will make this place possible.”

Haystack operates with an annual budget of about $2.3 million, offering one- and two-week studio workshops in a variety of craft fields and serving as a think-tank for the field of craft with its publications, conferences and other events. The $4 million Windgate gift will be invested in Haystack’s endowment. With the gift, the endowment is worth about $14 million, Sacaridiz said.

According to terms of the gift, the entirety of the $4 million must remain endowed. Haystack will draw about $200,000 in interest annually on the investment for campus preservation, Sacaridiz said. Right now, the school spends about $300,000 on campus maintenance annually. The gift allows Haystack administrators to tackle most of the annual work knowing they can pay for it while planning for longer-term projects the school hasn’t been in a position to consider, he said.

Patricia Forgy, executive director of the Windgate Foundation, said Windgate’s decision to invest in Haystack’s physical campus reflects the value of the school in the international craft community and Windgate’s desire that it remain vital. “An organization’s ability to accomplish its mission has much to do with the strength of the infrastructure in place,” Forgy wrote in an email. “Donors often prefer to support programs or specific areas of interest but it is also sometimes important to consider more basic needs such as staff and board development, or facilities and equipment. For the unique campus of Haystack that opened almost 60 years ago, it has become important to address the maintenance and structural needs of the historic buildings and grounds.”

The gift comes at a key moment in the school’s history and future. Haystack is working internally on a comprehensive strategic plan and may use the Windgate gift to leverage a future capital campaign to accomplish some of the longer-term campus needs identified in the strategic plan. The Portland Museum of Art mounted the first major examination of the school’s early years with the exhibition “In the Vanguard: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 1950-1969.” The exhibition was open this spring and summer and drew national attention. It has since moved to Michigan, where it opens Dec. 14 at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills.

Because of its focus on the school’s roots and founding principles, the exhibition reinforced the school’s mission and purpose, Sacaridiz said. Rather than think about expansion, he and his colleagues are committed to maintaining the school’s intimate and delicate relationship with its surroundings, he added.

“The exhibition allowed us this interesting moment to look back at the history of the school, and while we are celebrating that, we are looking forward to what the next chapter in our history will look like,” Sacaridiz said. “Every decision we make right now is being referenced back to, ‘Where did we come from?’ What are the roots of this extraordinary project and how do we stay close to those roots so the mission of the school stays focused?”


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