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New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture

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By David Penaherrera

In 1929, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force established the Whitney Museum of American Art in eight contiguous buildings (former townhouses and stables) on West 8th Street. Today, the New York Studio School is educating and forming new artists under the same extensive roof that once housed the first Whitney Museum. Offering programs in a variety of media, from drawing to sculpture, the school is one of the United States' premier fine arts graduate schools.

The New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture is located at 8 West 8th Street, in Greenwich Village, New York City. Greenwich Village is an important landmark on the map of American bohemian culture. The neighborhood is known for hosting artistic and avant-garde residents, and for the alternative culture they propagated. Due in part to the progressive attitudes of many of its residents, the Village has traditionally been an incubator of new social, cultural, political and artistic movements and ideas. This tradition as an progressive enclave was established during the late nineteenth century and early twenty centuries, when small presses, art galleries, and experimental theaters flourished. 

The New York Studio School was the first site of the Whitney Museum of American Art, which was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Her patronage was responsible for the museum's foundation, and Juliana Force, the museum's first director, shaped the original concept of the Whitney as a feasible enterprise. They formed the first museum exclusively dedicated to American art exhibitions. They also supported the nation's non-academic artists (who worked in styles of painting and sculpture not under the influence of European academies of art). The institution's roots date back to 1914, when Gertrude Vanderbilt opened the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village to showcase her private collection, and she soon convinced Force to manage it. In 1929, they offered the entire collection (around 500 pieces), as well as a proposal to build a new wing to house it, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The offer was declined. Consequently, in 1931 Whitney remodeled the Whitney Studio in a more modern, classical revival style, and convert the space into the first Whitney Museum. Force, the gallery manager, decided not to display already recognized artists, but rather to favor progressive, burgeoning American artists. Amongst those exhibited were works by Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, George Bellows, John Sloan, and Maurice Prendergast. The Whitney Museum was the first to display American abstract art, and was influential in reviving interest in nineteenth-century American artists such as Winslow Homer and Robert Feke. The museum stayed in this location until 1954, and 13 years later the New York Studio School saved the building from demolition. 
The former Whitney Museum was design by the architect August Noel. Noel was born in New York and trained in architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He completed an apprenticeship in New York, and set up his own office in 1920. He later became senior partner, with G. Macculloch Miller, in the firm of Noel and Miller, with a branch office in Newport, R.I. The firm was especially well known for its designs of stately residences, most of them on the East Coast. He also designed the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Museum of Racing, and a number of public buildings in Newport, R.I. 
Painter Mercedes Matter and a group of her students formed the New York Studio School of drawing, painting and Sculpture in 1963. They were dissatisfied with the fragmented nature of art teaching inside traditional art programs. From its conception, the school was founded on the principle that “drawing from life should form of the basis of artistic development.” Moreover, students were encouraged to develop their own artistic training instead of attending a group of disjointed classes. The early faculty included famous painters such as Alex Katz, Charles Cajori, Earl Kerkam, Louis Finkelstein, Philip Guston, and sculptures such as Sidney Geist, Peter Agostini and Reuben Nakain. The New York Studio School did not offer any formal degrees just until few years ago, but students are now able to obtain a Master of Fine Arts. 
The New York Studio School building, designed in Modern & Classical Revival modes, features stone foundations, and brick, stucco and sandstone walls. The original site was occupied by eight discreet buildings. Four town houses (originally 8,10,12 and 14 West Eighth Street) were fronted on the south side of West Eighth Street. Attached to the rear of the town houses were four former brick stables, which had their own entrances on the north side of MacDougal Alley.
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