In 1973 Norma Millay Ellis, sister of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, founded The Millay Colony for the Arts as a residency center for visual artists, writers and composers. The first artists arrived in 1974 and lived and worked in a small building on the Millay estate. In 1976, Norma gave to the Colony the barn her sister had built from a Sears & Roebuck kit. It was soon renovated to accommodate four artists. With studios looking out on meadows and forest, the barn has provided hundreds of artists with an inspiring and tranquil home.
Norma Millay Ellis died in 1986 at the age of 92. With the inspiration of her and Edna, the Colony has continued to grow and thrive.
In the mid-1990's, the Colony brought together a team of six artists with disabilities to design an environmentally-friendly building for the Colony using the principles of universal access. The resulting building is our lovely Main Building that houses our offices and all public rooms for residents with all levels of physical ability.
Now in its 35th season, The Millay Colony has already offered residencies to nearly 2,000 artists from the U.S. and abroad.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine on February 22, 1892. She published her first poem, Renascence, at age twenty. In 1917, after Millay's first book, Renascence and Other Poems, was published and she had graduated from Vassar College, she moved to Greenwich Village and quickly became part of the literary milieu in New York. She also was very involved with progressive, anti-war politics.In 1927, Millay was arrested for protesting the proposed execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Edmund Wilson deemed Millay "a spokesman for the human spirit."
Millay and her sister Norma soon became members of the Provincetown Theatre Group, and in 1918, Millay directed and took the lead in her own play, The Princess Marries the Page. In the next several years, she explored sexuality and feminism in her poems and attracted a series of high-profile lovers. By 1923, her poetic reputation on the rise, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
In 1923, Millay married the Dutch merchant Eugen Boissevain. Their "open marriage" was a source of both controversy and admiration. In the mid-1920's, they purchased a 635-acre blueberry farm in Austerlitz, a country hamlet north of Manhattan in Columbia County, New York. Millay named the property "Steepletop" after a flowering bush that grew in the fields, and here she lived, worked, and hosted contemporaries from the literary and art world from 1925 until her death in 1950.
In 1951, the poet's sister, Norma Millay Ellis and her husband, the painter Charles Ellis, came to live at Steepletop, where they continued Millay's legacy of artistic pursuit and eventually founded The Millay Colony.