Roger Brown Study Collection: New Buffalo, Michigan
In 1977 Roger Brown purchased property in New Buffalo, MI, a beach community 85 miles east of Chicago. He commissioned his partner, George Veronda, to design a home and studio retreat. Completed in 1979, the Veronda Pavilion (figs. 1–8), 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.
Please note: The New Buffalo property is operated, year round, as a residency retreat for SAIC faculty and staff and is not open to the public.
The River 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 (figs. 9–34).
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. 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 (figs. 35–46).
Brown's partner George Veronda died tragically in 1984. Brown continued to spend much time at the New Buffalo retreat (figs. 47, 48), until 1995, when he gave the home, studio, and art collection in New Buffalo to SAIC––his first major gift to the School. His intention was to provide an artists' retreat for SAIC faculty and staff, to facilitate the creation, study, and appreciation of art. 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.
In 2007 the Historic Landscape Studio class, offered through SAIC's Historic Preservation graduate program and taught by Carol Yetken, 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 fieldwork, and created a comprehensive preservation plan, with site plan drawings of the historical landscape, the existing conditions, and preservation recommendations. The preservation plan has guided work on the landscape annually since 2007, and the site (fig. 49) is gradually flourishing, reflecting Roger and George's original intentions.