Madoo Conservancy is a gem in the heart of Sagaponack. Madoo is the late artist, writer and gardener Robert Dash’s (1934-2013) 2-acre organic garden, home and studio. Today, the Conservancy is dedicated to the study, preservation and enhancement of the horticulturally diverse garden, as well as to continuing the legacy of its beloved founder. The garden is open to the public every year from May through September 20, and private visits can be arranged at other times of the year. This summer marked the inaugural exhibition in the summer studio, Rob Selects Bob: Paintings by Robert Dash,—all from 2007—selected by Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art.
En route to Madoo, driving down Sagg Main Street, one becomes engulfed in old trees lining the broad road sprinkled with historic early settlement homes. It’s easy to see why Robert Dash became entranced by the location. Madoo is incredibly peaceful and tranquil. From the driveway, chirping birds and rustling leaves are the only sounds. The word “Madoo” is old Scots for “my dove,” a term of endearment that reveals Dash’s love for the place. In his book Notes from Madoo, collected from his bimonthly column in The East Hampton Star, Dash wrote: “The holly has not been pruned for several years and may be considered a living sculpture. In high season Huldine, a clematis, twines through it, the pale blossoms being made brighter by the dark backing of the holly. That clematis prefer alkaline soil and holly acidic sorts doesn’t seem to occur to them.” In this one small excerpt, the artist, gardener and poet are all one.
While living in Manhattan, Dash was a poet and also wrote art criticism for Arts and ARTNews. There, in the mid-50s, he met and became lifelong friends with Fairfield Porter, while painting at night. Dash had his first solo exhibition in 1961, at New York’s Kornblee Gallery. In 1967, he purchased the 18th century farm buildings in Sagaponack, where he stayed for over 40 years.
After a self-guided tour of the gardens, I was led to Dash’s summer studio by Madoo’s executive director, Alejandro Saralegui. The barn (which dates from 1744), with its high ceilings and exposed beams, has not been altered much since the artist was last working there, and the paintings are hung on the walls right near where they were originally painted. As Saralegui explained that Dash always painted with classical music playing in the background, often Rachmaninoff, a delightful image was painted in my mind—one of the pleasures of visiting an artist’s studio.
The paintings on view are all depictions of Sagg Road, in typical fashion for the artist who painted landscapes inspired by his surroundings. Composed from memory, they have an expressionist sensibility and a notable mood surrounding them. Of these late-career paintings, Robert Storr wrote, “Madoo changed from an elegantly English-style garden to an extravagantly improvised, wondrously hybrid American one. Dash’s painterly manner underwent a similar metamorphosis, from gestural naturalism to spirited formal invention.”
Dash’s artwork is in the permanent collections of the Modern Art Museum in Munich, the Guggenheim Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts and the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. Dash’s archives of poetry, manuscripts and letters were acquired in 2010 by the Beineke Library at Yale.
Painting continues at Madoo—though the site closes to the general public after this weekend. On Saturday, September 20, “Madoo Paints” fall session begins with painting classes in the garden with artist Eric Dever. The series of six classes will take place on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information on painting classes and other programs, visit madoo.org or call 631-537-8200. Madoo is located at 618 Sagg Main Street, Sagaponack.