About: History

 

About the Wassaic Project

The Wassaic Project programs music, art, dance and film at a level of excellence seldom available as such an intimate experience. The buildings that the project occupies, a converted grain elevator turned exhibition space, and an auction barn turned studio and workshop, are unique and historic.

In addition to producing excellent cultural programming, the Wassaic Project has become a constant economic stimulus in the Wassaic and Dutchess County region. The artists and staff increase the downtown population by 10%, and exhibitions and events bring a steady stream of visitors to the hamlet while the Wassaic Project sustains a deep commitment to the history of our buildings and townspeople, and the beauty of our location.

In the six years the Wassaic Project has been operating, we have grown our annual summer festival attendance from 500 to 4,000; developed the exhibitions program which includes 3 or more exhibitions per year in over 8,000 square feet of gallery space; launched the guest curator program which has worked with 21 curators in 4 years; developed the education program and started collaborating with local school systems for the 2012-2013 school year; and seamlessly integrated the Wassaic Project into the community and architecture of Wassaic, NY. The Wassaic Project has created collaborative programming with MASS MoCA, Recession Arts, the Invisible Dog, Galapagos Art Space, New Amsterdam Records, The Aldrich Museum, Allegra Laviola Gallery, Columbia University, the New School, and CUNY Hostos.

The Wassaic Project operates in conjunction with advisory committees for its art, music, dance, film, and writing programs, working with luminaries in each field including Alanna Heiss (MoMA PS1), Lucien Zayan (Invisible Dog), Liliana Greenfield-Sanders (Sundance), and Earl Mosely (Earl Mosely Institute of the Arts).

The Wassaic Project Co-Directors are Eve Biddle, Bowie Zunino, and Jeff Barnett-Winsby.

the history of the wassaic project and the hamlet of wassaic

The Wassaic Project’s location in a refurbished mill and livestock auction house adds to the  unique atmosphere and achievements of this organization. While it primarily functions as a dynamic arts residency and exhibition space, The Wassaic Project also doubles as a restoration venture that is breathing life back into the town’s historic buildings.

In the 1800’s, the town of Wassaic experienced an economic boom with the arrival of the Gridley Iron Works and the Borden Condensed Milk Factory. In 1875, the Gridley’s built a large community barn which was later transformed into a livestock auction house by the Luther family in the 1940’s and which is now home to artist studios and the film center.

The Maxon Mills Company built the seven story grain elevator in the early 1950’s, and for the next forty years the building was used to process and store animal feed.  By 2005, the mill had been closed, condemned and on the point of demolition when Architect and Developer team, Tony Zunino and Richard Berry, stepped in and embarked on a major renovation. Ardent preservationists, Mr. Zunino and Mr. Berry, were confident that the historic site should be preserved for future generations. With architectural ingenuity, they maintained the original character of the building and created a usable space for the community.

Not long after, in 2008, Artists, Bowie Zunino (Tony’s Daughter), Eve Biddle, and Elan Bogarin, approached the new owners with a proposition to host a contemporary arts festival in the renovated building.  With the prospect of breathing new life into the building and opening the space up to the public, Mr. Zunino and Mr. Berry agreed to give it a try. That year, the first Summer Festival, featured forty artists, fifteen musicians, and brought in over 500 visitors.

Appreciative of the festival’s potential, the then directors: Bowie, Eve, and Elan, immediately began fundraising to make the festival an annual (and free) event. They added a fourth co-director, Jeff Barnett-Winsby, and in 2009, the second Summer Festival quadrupled with close to 2,500 visitors, over one hundred artists, and twenty-five bands.  Mrs. Bogarin stepped down after that summer to focus on her film career and other artistic endeavours, but is still closely involved in supporting the project.

From its modest beginning in 2008, The Wassaic Project has grown steadily each year: It has extended its Exhibition season to the whole summer; developed its community programming featuring Last Saturdays Community Programming; and initiated a thriving Arts Education program in the local schools. The old animal stalls in the Luther barn have been transformed into artist studios, with a year-round competitive residency program, and the auction ring is now a unique film screening room and performance venue. In the back of the barn there is now a woodshop and a screen- printing studio.

The Wassaic Project received its 501c3 status in 2010. It is funded with the generous support of volunteers and devotees; grants from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Arts Mid-Hudson (formerly the Dutchess County Arts Council), the Dyson Foundation and the Wallace Foundation.

The Wassaic Project’s Buildings

The Maxon Mills

The Maxon Mills, owned by the Maxon Mills Company, was built in 1954 and remained in active use as a feed elevator until the 1980s. The Maxon Mills Company operated by collecting assorted grains from farmers and distributing credit for the amount collected. Farmers had different varieties of grains to offer depending on where their land was located. The mill’s function was to mix the grains to create a complete feed for livestock, especially cattle. The farmers who supplied the grain could then use the credit to purchase the complex mix of grain produced by the mill. In its heyday the Maxon Mills Company distributed grain to six counties, reaching as far as Vermont, using the railroad as its method of transport.

The Maxon Mills is not only significant historically but also architecturally. It is one of the last remaining wood-crib elevators in the country and railroad model-making enthusiasts use Maxon Mills as a prototype for the design of feed elevators. Currently, the Maxon Mills functions as the Wassaic Project’s exhibition space.

The Wassaic House Hotel

The Wassaic House Hotel, built in the 1850s by Noah Gridley of Noah Gridley and Son Ironworks, was a direct product of the railroad and functioned as a leisure location where upper class railroad passengers could rest, dine, and socialize. The hotel abuts the Maxon Mills and now serves as an exhibition, artist studio, and office space.

The Luther Barn

The Luther Barn was built in 1875 by Noah Gridley and Son Ironworks. After World War II the Luther family purchased the barn and transformed it into a thriving center of commerce and communication between New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The Luther Barn was a dynamic market; it was a space to sell, buy, and barter for an array of goods and, more famously, an auction ring for a variety of livestock. The Luther Barn played an important role as one of the few establishments that brought together farmers from all three states. The last auction was held in December of 2002. In 2009, the Wassaic Project reclaimed the Luther Barn; the former animal stalls have been adapted for artist studio spaces, and the former auction ring is used as a film screening room and a performance venue.

The Harlem Valley Line

The Wassaic train station was originally constructed adjacent to the Maxon Mills. The station was shifted to its current location in 2000. The railroad, which reached Wassaic in 1852 thrived as a commuter and freight line and extended as far as Chatham, NY and made connections as far as Albany, NY and North Adams, MA. The railroad replaced river transport and served as an important lifeline for commerce. Nevertheless, as automobile culture emerged so did accessible highways, turnpikes, and interstates. By the 1960s railroad service was cut back, severely affecting businesses. In 1972 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) began the existing commuter service.

Tree grows out of the roof of the Maxon Mills building

Tree grows out of the roof of the Maxon Mills building

Wassaic House

Wassaic House

Mill rehab // Photo by Fred Shake

Mill rehab // Photo by Fred Shake

Maxon Mills INC Sign // Photo by Matthew Slaats

Maxon Mills INC Sign // Photo by Matthew Slaats

Outside the Luther Barn... a long time ago!

Outside the Luther Barn... a long time ago!

Luther Barn // Photo by Jeff Barnett-Winsby

Luther Barn // Photo by Jeff Barnett-Winsby

Kilns // Photo by Nicole Lenzen

Kilns // Photo by Nicole Lenzen

Hammy Sign // Photo by Nicole Lenzen

Hammy Sign // Photo by Nicole Lenzen

Tree grows out of the roof of the Maxon Mills buildingWassaic HouseMill rehab // Photo by Fred ShakeMaxon Mills INC Sign // Photo by Matthew SlaatsOutside the Luther Barn... a long time ago!Luther Barn // Photo by Jeff Barnett-WinsbyKilns // Photo by Nicole LenzenHammy Sign // Photo by Nicole Lenzen