Come spring, an art campus will begin to grow in Rockland.
The Ellis-Beauregard Foundation, which provides artist residencies and grants for visual artists and composers, has received permission from the city to build a 4,400-square-foot residence and studio complex for up to four artists on Knowlton Street, a dead-end and now private road in the north end of Rockland where the foundation has offices in the former home of its founders, the artist-couple Joan Marie Beauregard and John David Ellis.
The new single-story building will be constructed on two lots across the street from the foundation offices and will include a green, or living roof, made with vegetation. The $2.5 million privately-funded project also calls for the possible addition of a black-box theater attached to the existing building with the foundation offices, as well as the creation of a natural amphitheater that would be nestled in the termination of the dead-end road.
The new building – made with wood, powered by the sun and designed to capture abundant north-facing natural light – will be constructed where two private homes formerly stood. When the homes became available in fall 2020, the foundation acquired them. One was torn down and the other moved to make way for the new building, which will include four studios and private residences and common kitchen and communal space.
Knowlton Street is now crumbling blacktop, indicative of the character of the neighborhood. The foundation paid the city $25,000 to discontinue Knowlton as a public road, turning the 125-foot street into a private way. The foundation, which now owns much of both sides of the street, plans to remove the blacktop and replace the surface with water-absorbing stones. All new construction is planned with eco-friendly building materials, said Donna McNeil, executive director of the foundation.
“We are creating a campus, as it were,” she said. “We were super happy we got the stamp of approval from our city. Now there is nothing in the way of beginning. We plan to break ground in the spring.”
The Ellis-Beauregard Foundation is among more than a dozen artist-endowed foundations operating in Maine, created by the estates of artists to perpetuate their own legacies while also often providing residency and fellowship opportunities for living artists. David Ellis formed the foundation after his wife, Joan Beauregard, died in 2009, and the foundation became active after he died in May 2015. The foundation offers residencies, fellowships and grants, and currently leases space at Lincoln Street Center, where artists live and work.
The foundation tried to buy the Lincoln Street building, but opted to build when it couldn’t reach an agreement. The Rockland Planning Board signed off on the site plan for the new building at its November meeting. The foundation has yet to apply for permission to add the black box theater to the building that houses its offices, at 11 Knowlton St., but that will happen soon, McNeil said. The new building will be built on the lots of the former homes at 6 and 12 Knowlton St.
City Councilor Louise Maclellanruf sponsored the foundation’s request to turn the road into a private way, and said the plans for the new building and the development of the mini-campus fit into the city’s goal of smart economic development. She described the area as “a neighborhood in transition” and said that the addition of the building will improve the look of it.
“It’s a rare opportunity when somebody comes to you and says, ‘I would like to buy a street,’ and their plan for that street is so innovative, creative and – dare I say – progressive, you just had to say, ‘Yeah!’ and get behind the project,” she said.
Architect Matthew Baird said he was attracted to the site because it’s the kind of place “you can imagine artists moving to. It is down at the end of dead-end street, on a side street, a ways back from the water and from the port. Like many New England towns of this kind, it’s got this beautiful slightly ramshackle feeling back there.”
Baird’s challenge was to design studio and living spaces for individual artists, with communal space for cooking and gathering. At this time, he favors heavy timber construction, with wood left to weather. “There will be no painted surfaces,” Baird said. “We are making environmental moves everywhere that we can. We are making a green roof to absorb water when it rains. We are proposing a solar array that will generate enough power as the studios need. We are trying to have as few fossil fuels as possible.”
Baird, who has offices in Maine and New York, said he is designing the space with a sense of permanence, relatively speaking. “We are putting these studios together in hopes they are there in 100 years,” he said. “It’s exciting to work for an institution that thinks in those terms.” He described the studios as an armature, subservient to the work that happens within. “We always say, we do not want the architecture to get in the way of the artists' creativity,” he said.
Since it began operating in 2016, the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation has housed 166 resident artists. Most stay between four weeks and six months. Some have stayed a year.
Ellen Golden, an artist from Woolwich who chairs the foundation board, was friends with Joan Beauregard and David Ellis, and said this project fits within their vision for the foundation and how they lived. “They were deeply committed to their work, but they also admired other people’s work and were quite engaged in supporting and nourishing the arts. They were interesting people. It was a great experience knowing them, and I think they would like this place. I think they would feel good about what the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation has been able to do.”
Ellis and Beauregard met in New York in the early 1960s, at the Art Student’s League in New York. They married in 1979, moved to Round Pond and eventually to Rockland in 1990 when they built the house on Knowlton Street. It’s an usual house, with artist studios on the first floor and a kitchen and living space up above. The foundation reconfigured the home as offices on the ground floor and storage and archive on the second floor.
“The way the stock market worked, David ended up with more money at end of his life than he ever anticipated. To his credit, he decided to put in the community,” Golden said.