Home & Woodland Garden
MANITOGA, the House, Studio and 75-acre Woodland garden of mid-century designer Russel Wright (1904-1976), is a National Historic Landmark, an Affiliate Site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a World Monuments Watch Site. It is one of the few 20th century modern homes open to the public in New York State.
HOME & Woodland Garden
Press for Manitoga
New York Magazine - Wendy Goodman's Design Hunting
Happenings: A Sunset Tour of Manitoga
The Best House Museums in the US, Mapped
Landscape Architecture Magazine
A Russel Wright Encounter
The Art of Preservation
Manitoga Summer 2017 and PennDesign Artist Residency
Journal News / Poughkeepsie Journal
Experience an Artist's Vision at Manitoga
Russel Wright: Nature's Student from Home to Table
Open Space Institute
OSI Protects Manitoga Heritage Trail Network
Top 10 Architecture Day Trips Just Outside NYC for Modernism Lovers
10 Artists' Homes And Studios You Can Visit In New York
30 New York Landmarks You Need To See Before You Die
Manhattan Users Guide
Out of Town Column features ECSTATIC LIGHT
Curbed New York
The Best NYC-Area Day Trips for Architecture Lovers
Dragon Rock, Russel Wright’s House and Studio, is widely considered an outstanding example of Organic Modern architecture ca. 1960. Architect David Leavitt (1918-2013) is credited with the exterior design and Wright, the interior design. It was occupied by Wright and his family until his death in 1976.
Distinctive features of the House include large expanses of glass allowing for views of the 30 foot Waterfall, the Quarry Pool, and surrounding landscape. A large, smooth, cedar tree trunk functions as a design element and is the main structural support of house. Boulders, plantings, and stone terraces are positioned to bring the outdoors in, blending architecture and landscape. Unique built-in architectural artifacts, designed by Wright, fuse natural and man-made materials in new and unexpected ways. Here, we see luminous butterfly wings pressed between sheets of translucent plastic, pine needles embedded in green plaster walls, and a roof covered with a lush carpet of native plants.
Wright intended Manitoga to be not only a home for himself but “an exaggerated demonstration of how individual a house can be.” He shaped Dragon Rock into a house of high drama, a theme evident from its approach -- a vine-draped wooden pergola separating the house and studio, seductively veiling the view of the Waterfall.
Over the last decade, a series of restoration projects addressed the House windows and doors, and the installation of a new green roof, among other improvements. With the building envelope now restored, Manitoga is poised to begin work on much-anticipated interior restoration.
Dragon Rock has been featured in numerous books and publications, including Life, The World of Interiors, Modernism, Preservation, and most recently, Don Freeman’s 2014 film Art House.
Russel Wright's Studio
The Studio was Russel Wright’s personal space where he slept and worked. It illustrates many of the recurring themes at Manitoga including an integration of the built and natural environment, the influence of Japanese design, the juxtaposition of natural and synthetic materials, and efficiency and functionality.
Distinctive features include a “worm’s eye view” upon entering the space, pocket windows on three sides which, when lowered, meld the indoors with outdoors, and a moon-faced doorknob to the adjoining terrace where Wright would sit and look at the moon. Ceiling treatments are many and include painted epoxy embedded with white pine needles, fluorescent tubes softened by quilted canvas, and illuminated panels. The cedar-lined bathroom is inspired by Pullman train cars.
A number of Wright designed furnishings are on view in the Studio including an early 30s black lacquer lazy Susan coffee table and a bedside table manufactured by Statton that embodies Wright’s focus on easy functionality.
From 2001 to 2004, the Studio underwent extensive restoration. It opened to the public in 2004 nearly restored to its 1963 appearance and includes 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 70 years ago, Russel and Mary Wright acquired an abandoned quarry and surrounding hillside in the Lower Hudson Valley and slowly restored this land to a place of extraordinary beauty. Inspired by the legacy of the Wappinger people, the ancestral residents of the area, Wright called the emerging vision for these 75 acres “Manitoga” or Place of Great Spirit.
In its concept, design, and management, Manitoga is completely unique, uniting art, science, culture, and nature with an ecological aesthetic that is both human and spiritual. At a time when most Americans are profoundly alienated from nature and feel isolated from or sentimental toward the world they share with other living things, Manitoga can be seen as an important step in the evolution of our consciousness.
At Manitoga, Wright took on a difficult task: to help the average person see and understand the subtle and seemingly chaotic world of the Northeastern deciduous forest. Instead of imposing rigid forms and preconceived patterns on his landscape, Wright sought to make contact with the fluid structure and connecting patterns of the natural world...he waited for the place to reveal itself to him and delighted in the complex order that unfolded over time.
Although the many elements of the garden are familiar—house, terraces, parking lot, trellis, and paths—nothing is conventional. Wright’s integrating vision changed all the familiar components, blending the built elements and the natural landscape together so that each was enriched, enhanced, and transformed by the other. Just as the house is interwoven with the site, the hillside is connected by views to its larger context of the Hudson River Valley, and the visitors themselves are involved in an intimate and unfolding relationship to the place.
For Wright, working on his garden was a process involving three activities. First, close observation over a number of years of a landscape he knew intimately and cared for deeply. Second, discovery and recognition of significant forms, patterns, and relationships. And third, clarification and dramatization of the element, so that its critical features stand out boldly enough to be perceived by the casual visitor.
The orchestration of movement was another important technique used by Wright to move the visitor from the more passive role of observer into a more active role of participant. Manitoga is an interconnected whole where carefully crafted transitions carry the walker through the garden in a continuous movement which flows from place to place.
Along each path, the landscape and its themes unfold sequentially. There is an introduction, a dramatic build-up, elaboration of a theme, and then a climax or goal; the building of tension and its dramatic release—the whole design a musical composition.
Like the Japanese Tour Garden, “one is carried through this experience as though the course of footpaths had a musical rhythm. From the shadows or the thicket, one suddenly emerges upon a spacious view.... In this garden-drama one becomes the hero oneself because one ‘creates’ the garden by walking through it. The blueprint is there, and a most winning one it is too, but the experience is created by the viewer.”
In 2016, Open Space Institute and Manitoga worked in partnership to guarantee the protection the of the Russel Wright designed trail network at Manitoga. The agreement guarantees permanent public access to Manitoga’s scenic footpaths while protecting a key access point to the Appalachian Trail, through the adjacent Hudson Highlands State Park.
Landscape text excerpted from Manitoga's Design Management Guide
Photos: Top to Bottom: Dragon Rock, Vivian Linares; Russel Wright's Studio, Rob Penner Photography; Moss Room, George Patanovic