Speaker: Karen Zukowski  

This paper reveals the intriguing past and imperiled future of Crow House, the handmade home and studio built by Henry Varnum Poor, painter and ceramicist. Starting around 1920, a colony of writers, actors, designers and intellectuals grew up along South Mountain Road in New City, NY, with Poor at the heart of it. Poor’s artistic work evolved in symbiosis with the land and these people. The first iteration of the house incorporated chestnut and sandstone salvaged from the property, while later additions and outbuildings used cement block and plate glass; this combination also appeared in properties Poor built for his neighbors. Poor dug clay from his own streamside and built a half-timbered studio for his kiln. His family and his home became motifs on pots and plates and canvases, and his neighbors’ houses were ornamented with his tile and paintings. Poor died in 1970 and his heirs could not afford to keep the property. By 2008 the Town of Ramapo purchased it, using NYS funds accompanied by a preservation covenant. Nonetheless the property has fallen into gross disrepair. Now a valiant Friends group seeks a brighter future with the property restored and used once again for art-making. 


Karen Zukowski is an independent historian who writes and consults on topics in American visual culture, especially homes and other immersive environments. She holds a PhD from the Graduate Center of City University of New York, with a dissertation on late nineteenth-century artists’ studios. She has been the curator of Olana State Historic Site and remains on its board. She is on the advisory council for the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; on the board of the Wassaic Project, a community-based contemporary arts organization; and chairs a committee overseeing the restoration of Louise Nevelson’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd in St Peter’s Lutheran Church, Manhattan.