Grantee Spotlight: Manitoga

Famed industrial designer Russel Wright built his iconic home, Dragon Rock, in 1942 on the side of an abandoned quarry. It was a dramatic choice recalling Wright’s early career designing theater sets.

For years, he studied the surrounding landscape to place house, studio and gardens—collectively called Manitoga—in harmony with their natural setting. At Manitoga, in the scenic town of Garrison, just across the Hudson River from West Point, the natural and man-made blend and accentuate each other. It is a celebration of the power of land reclamation and of living in creative harmony with nature.

NYSCA support has helped preserve Wright’s design philosophy and life’s work through grants to restore exteriors and interiors on the site. In 2002, the Architecture + Design Program funded a site master plan that informed all subsequent projects. Along the way, NYSCA helped Manitoga establish a museum program and an artists’ residency.

Manitoga Dragon Rock
Dragon Rock, Home of Industrial Designer, Russel Wright (1904-1976), Garrison, NY. Photo: Vivian Linares

“The museum program formalized what we were doing in terms of addressing visitors and being responsible [curators] of the collection that we were caring for,” says executive director Allison Cross. “It gave us a framework to develop skills and procedures to help collections management. [NYSCA] funded a staff position, a museum educator. That funding was really critical [in] caring for collections and interpreting them for the public.”

After extensive renovation, the studio also opened to the public in 2004, featuring Wright’s recreated white Formica desk, his Herman Miller “relax” chair, collectibles from his travels, an ashtray and a signature pack of Salem cigarettes. Over the past decade, a series of restoration projects addressed the house windows and doors and the installation of a new green roof, among other improvements. Interior preservation work is ongoing, including a 2018 NYSCA grant to restore the kitchen and dining area.

Visitors to the site can also enjoy performances that enhance the stunning setting. Recent highlights include a commissioned piece by composer Ben Neill called “Manitoga,” which premiered in 2014 and was revived in October 2017 at the Winter Garden in New York City.

Manitoga’s upgrades, expanded program and higher profile have helped boost the number of visitors by a whopping 60% or more since 2013. “It’s impressive. With other organizations you get one grant,” she says. With NYSCA, “Vivian can call and they’ll offer, ‘You might want to try [for] this grant,” Cross said, referring to Vivian Linares, director of Collections, Interpretation & Preservation. “They’ve been really supportive and welcoming.”

– Dade Hayes

Header image: Dragon Rock, Home and Studio of Industrial Designer Russel Wright (1904-1976), Garrison, NY. Photo: Vivian Linares