McHugh and Downes MacArthur Fellows
Saratoga Springs, NY (October 15, 2009) — Two Yaddo artists — poet Heather McHugh and painter Rackstraw Downes — are among the 24 creative professionals awarded 2009 MacArthur Fellowships from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, it was announced recently in Chicago.
The MacArthur Fellowship is a five-year grant to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for more in the future. It is a "no strings attached" award designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements. There are no limits on age or area of activity. Individuals cannot apply; they must be nominated. Each fellow receives a $500,000 stipend paid in installments over five years.
McHugh, 61, was cited by the award committee for "intellectually challenging, yet emotionally engaging verse that balances gravity with humor." The committee said McHugh's poetry is "richly layered verse that unabashedly embraces such wordplay as puns, rhymes, and syntactical twists to explore the human condition" and lauded her as a dedicated teacher and "a significant voice in American literature for nearly 40 years."
The author of eight volumes of poetry, numerous works of translation, and a book of essays on poetics, McHugh received a B.A. (1970) from Harvard University and an M.A. (1972) from the University of Denver. Her books of poetry include A World of Difference (1981), Hinge and Sign: Poems, 1968-1993 (1994), The Father of the Predicaments (2001), Eyeshot (2003) and Upgraded to Serious (2009), among others. From 1999 to 2006, she was Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and she has served as a visiting faculty member at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers since its inception in 1976. She is currently Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington in Seattle, a post she has held since 1984.
In a statement, the selection panel credited Downes, 69, for "rendering minutely detailed oil-on-canvas landscapes (that) invite viewers to reconsider the intersection between the natural world and man-made objects" and for "challenging familiar conceptions of realist painting in works of formal rigor and quiet, yet stunning, beauty." The award committee called Downes "one of the most distinctive representational painters of his generation."
Downes received a B.A. (1961) from the University of Cambridge and a B.F.A. (1963) and M.F.A. (1964) from Yale University. His work is in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the National Gallery of Art, among many others. His essays on visual and literary artists as varied as John Constable, Fairfield Porter, and Samuel Beckett have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Art in America, and Art Journal. He lives in New York City.
Similar to Yaddo, the MacArthur Fellows Program, sponsored by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, emphasizes the importance of creative individuals in society. Nominees are reviewed for their achievements, but the fellowship is an investment in a person's originality and potential rather than a reward for past accomplishments. In line with that goal, in 1990 the foundation established an endowed residency at Yaddo to annually support the visits of two creative artists working in any discipline. Performance artist Mike Doughty and playwright Young Jean Lee most recently held the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Residency at Yaddo. To date, 27 Yaddo artists have received MacArthur Fellowships. For a list of all the Yaddo recipients, click here.