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Roger Brown in New Buffalo, Michigan

Note: most views were taken by Roger Brown or George Veronda, from 1979 to the mid 1980s.

In 1977 Roger Brown purchased property in New Buffalo, MI, a beach community 85 miles northeast of Chicago. He commissioned his partner, George Veronda, to design a home and studio retreat. Completed in 1979, the Veronda Pavilion, a residence, and the Roger Brown Studio and Guest House, are steel and glass modernist structures tucked into a secluded dunes landscape between the Galien River and the beachfront road. Clearly an homage to Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (Plano, IL, 1950), the buildings are exquisite studies of geometric forms in the natural landscape.

The Pavilion and Guest House contain furnishings designed by Veronda, and an outstanding art collection assembled by Brown, including works by contemporary artists, tribal sculpture and textiles, works by folk and self-taught artists, and iconic examples of Brown’s own work. The site is an integrated environment of art, architecture, and landscape architecture representing the collaborative visions of Brown and Veronda.
Brown embraced the considerable transition from an 1880s storefront building, to the airy ambience of Modernism, with ease. The light-filled interiors provided a tabula rasa for the display of objects, and an ideal setting for Brown’s bold and imposing Twin Towers sculpture. Installed in the living room, the arrangement creates an eloquent complimentary moment between Brown’s and Veronda’s architectural sensibilities.

As in Chicago, his Michigan home and studio functioned as an artistically stimulating environment, while confronting Brown with a new and important element: the continually changing backdrop of nature, and the landscape became a new medium. He began experimenting with landscape design, first surrounding the buildings with a swath of native grasses and flowers, and later planting several hundred rose shrubs. He installed sculptures as focal points in landscape vistas. The sculptures represent the range of objects in his other collections, and include a large sheet metal cross, reproduction Roman busts, sundry architectural ornaments, sculptures by “Joe the Welder”, and other objects.  Brown installed one of his own grand Galvanized Temple sculptures, a hybrid of ancient and modern, classical and vernacular, within the dune landscape.

Roger Brown’s generosity to the School began in 1995 with his gift of his home, studio, and art collection in New Buffalo. Brown’s intention for this gift was to provide an artists’ retreat for SAIC faculty and staff, to facilitate the creation, study, and appreciation of art. The Studio, Pavilion and Guest House have been used since 1996 by SAIC faculty and full time staff, who may apply for two-week residencies through the faculty enrichment and sabbatical programs. With this facility the School offers artists from the SAIC community an ideal counterpart to the stimulation of Chicago’s urban environment, at a secluded Lake Michigan retreat.

The Historic Landscape Studio class (offered through SAIC’s Historic Preservation graduate program), taught by Carol Yetken in the spring 2007 semester, undertook a project to research the landscape history of New Buffalo property, and create a preservation plan. The class conducted intensive research into all archival documentation, conducted extensive field work (including plotting the site and recording existing conditions), and created a comprehensive preservation plan, with site plan drawings of the historical landscape, the existing conditions, and preservation recommendations, as well as a professional PowerPoint presentation. The project was especially valuable, real-world experience, that provided the “client”, SAIC, with a professional preservation plan that is now being prioritized for implementation.

The New Buffalo facility is used by SAIC faculty and staff year-round and is not open to the public.

Coming soon: Roger Brown’s paintings inspired by life in the dunes.


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