Arts and Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926) designed and built the Ragdale House and Barn as a summer retreat for his family. The Shaw family was a creative one, including two architects, two poets, a sculptor, a painter, a weaver, and a cartoonist. The family’s creativity lives on in the extended Ragdale family that now takes up residence year-round just 30 miles north of Chicago in Lake Forest, Illinois.
Howard Van Doren Shaw designed the original Ragdale Ring in 1912 as an outdoor theater to perform his wife’s plays, which were often enjoyed by audiences of more than 200 people. His design mirrored an outdoor garden theater he had seen in Italy. The audience sat in a circular orchestra paved with grass and surrounded by a low limestone wall, with the stage level with the top of the wall. Evergreens formed wings for entrances and exits, and columns topped with baskets of stone fruit framed both sides of the stage. Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay—friends of the Shaws—are said to have attended plays there.
The Meadow Studio was built on the 50-acre prairie adjoining Ragdale as a sculpture studio for Shaw’s daughter Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897-1978). Sylvia worked there for 35 years, and many of her pieces feature animals or children. Her most famous sculpture is the Bird Girl, which was featured on the cover of John Berendt’s novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Shaw’s granddaughter, poet Alice Judson Hayes (1922-2006), created the Ragdale Foundation, a nonprofit artists’ community providing a peaceful place for artists to work. She ran it out of her childhood summer home and initially managed everything from admissions to cooking to mowing the lawn.
The Foundation reacquired the Ragdale Barnhouse from the Preston family, who had purchased it from the youngest Shaw daughter, Theodora, in the late 1940s, and remodeled it in the 1950s. The addition of the Barnhouse made it possible for Ragdale to house thirteen artists and writers at a time. Both the Barnhouse and the Ragdale House were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Alice Judson Hayes donated the buildings and the five-acre grounds to the City of Lake Forest, preserving the Ragdale property. They agreed that the Ragdale Foundation could continue to operate its program and buildings for 25 years.
THE FRIENDS’ STUDIO
Commemorating the long friendship of their mothers, The Friends’ Studio was conceived and funded by Alice Hayes and John Holabird. This large, well-lit space provides live/work spaces for visual artists, composers, choreographers, and performance artists. It also functions as a place for performances and exhibitions.
The Ragdale Foundation Board and then-Executive Director Susan Tillett secured a 99-year lease with the City of Lake Forest, ensuring Ragdale’s long-term future as a thriving artists’ community and asset to Lake Forest.
Ragdale’s $4.5 million capital campaign funded the renovation of the Barnhouse, upgrade of artist facilities, and restoration of Shaw’s landscape, as well as building a $2.5 million endowment. The Chandler Studio, a new universally accessible studio, was one of the capital projects completed through the campaign.
During its 30th anniversary year, Ragdale mourned the loss of founder Alice Judson Hayes. Listen to Remembering Ragdale, a Chicago Public Radio story about one resident’s experience at Ragdale in 2006.
NEW MEADOW STUDIO
Ragdale celebrates the opening of the new Meadow Studio. Once the site of sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson’s studio, the original structure became dilapidated and was condemned. In 2007, Ragdale began a two-year collaboration with 4th- and 5th-year students from Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture. Designed and built by the students with Ragdale staff and volunteers, the Meadow Studio sits at the edge of the prairie.
RAGDALE HOUSE RENOVATION
The Ragdale House, the largest artists’ residence at Ragdale, reopened following a year-long renovation and a $3 million capital campaign. The goal was to function better for residents while still retaining the original charm. The most significant areas addressed were electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems. Renovation began in March, 2010 when the Lake Forest City Council approved Ragdale’s request to borrow $2 million. Using green technology such as geothermal heating and cooling, Ragdale hopes to realize energy savings of up to $10,000 annually.