After 70 years, Skowhegan’s founding principles are the core of the program and the organization.

The founding and development of Skowhegan in 1946 is deeply connected to the explosive energy that characterized post-war American culture. In the mid-1940s the art world was in ferment; what was to become known as the New York School was in its formative stages. Willard W. Cummings (1915-1975), a New England portrait painter, shared his vision for enriching and educating the practical art experience of young artists with a friend he met while in the Army War Art Unit, Sidney Simon (1917-1997). Along with Henry Varnum Poor (1888-1971), already an established presence in the American art scene, and Charles Cutler (1914-1970), a New England stone sculptor, these men founded an American summer art school that would ultimately achieve an enduring place in the development of American artists: the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. Though Cummings, Simon, Poor, and Cutler were committed practitioners of traditional skills and saw these skills as forming the core of Skowhegan's original curriculum, their design of the program reveals a uniquely capacious vision. They did not intend Skowhegan to be a retreat into the countryside to simply nourish their own artistic philosophies and fend off change, but to be a place that would develop artists by offering an honest, supportive forum for divergent viewpoints. 

Lee Bontecou welding in the sculpture yard as a participant in 1955.

From the start, Cummings, Cutler, Simon, and Poor intended Skowhegan to be a significant contributor to the dialogue of contemporary art — an intention symbolized by the establishment of and continuity offered by the year-round New York office. The first generation of Skowhegan artists, Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly, William King, Nancy Graves, and Janet Fish went on to establish names for themselves in the New York art world and introduced the Skowhegan experience to the city. Bill Cummings led the School through its formative years ensuring from the start that it welcomed a culturally and artistically diverse group of students.


Co-founder Willard Cummings hosting participants in The Red Farm, circa 1965.

Becoming an artist is a risky thing to do; being one is much riskier. Skowhegan seems to foster an attitude for risk-taking of all kinds, and this may well be its lasting contribution.
— Calvin Tompkins