There are certain stories that come across our desks at Forest & Bluff that we fight for. And anytime, that anything is happening at Ragdale, it’s an out and out war about who’s going to get the assignment. Lucky me, I drew the long straw this month.
This June 15, at its annual gala, Ragdale, the beloved artists’ community based in Lake Forest, will unveil its newest fete—the Ragdale Ring. “What I love is that it’s not really new,” explains Jeffrey (Jeff) Meeuwsen, Ragdale’s Executive Director, over grilled cheese and an Amidei salad at Market House on the Square. “The Ragdale Ring was something [Howard Van Doren] Shaw had built for his wife who was a playwright. She would put on shows for 200 people, right here in Ragdale’s backyard.”
Jeff, who is always looking for ways to make connections between Ragdale’s history and the contemporary works of its artists, suggested to the Ragdale Foundation’s board members that they reintroduce the Ragdale Ring this summer as a way to promote Ragdale alumni, as well as build awareness for the contribution Ragdale makes to the creative community. “Everything we do should be mission-driven,” Jeff says.
To the board’s surprise, Jeff was able to solicit proposals from a number of accomplished architects nationally. With the board’s approval, he selected plans drawn by Stephen Deitrich Lee of New York. The winning design is both dramatic and functional, based on a repetitive pattern of wooden elements that are stitched together into a flexible daisy-chain. The resulting venue will be a dynamic, sculptural, lacework installation ready to house both performance and seating areas on the west lawn behind the Ragdale House.
Construction of this temporary structure will take place throughout the month of May, with the design team living in residence at Ragdale and experiencing what it’s like to be part of the community. The intention is that the ring will remain in place through Ragdale’s Art Walk in October. “The hope is that every year we’ll hold a contest where various architects and designers can submit plans for their vision of the Ragdale Ring, so that each and every year it will be reinterpreted in a new way,” Jeff says. “I’m a big fan of public art that changes.”
Jeff has recently moved into the caretaker’s home at Ragdale. While this is only for the short term until he finds a house to buy in the area, living on the premises is giving him a new perspective on even the little things at his historic home that underwent a massive restoration in 2012. “When I walked into the main house, I caught my foot on the hallway rug and I thought to myself, ‘how many other people are doing the same thing?’”
It’s the conversations around the dinner table with the artists that enrapture Jeff the most, feeding his own artistic stirrings of the visual art he hopes to someday soon have time to create. Having recently lengthened the number of days an artist can stay in residence as well as changing the day that residents can move into Ragdale, Jeff loves to watch the creative process at work as sculptors, writers, and composers from all over the world share ideas with one another. “I’m responsible for this most amazing place,” he says of Ragdale. “But it’s a little bit like running a restaurant with the most fantastic food that no one has ever heard of. We’re working hard to change this.”
Ragdale is located at 1260 N. Green Bay Road in Lake Forest. To learn more about Ragdale or to purchase tickets to the Ragdale Ring Gala, visit ragdale.org.
-Ann Marie Scheidler