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The Peter Matthiessen Center: For Writing, Conservation & Zen

photo courtesy of Peter Matthiessen Center

The Peter Matthiessen Center: For Writing, Conservation & Zen

Sagaponack, New York


You can make a tax-deductible gift in support of The Peter Matthiessen Center through the Peconic Land Trust online or by mail to Peconic Land Trust, PO Box 1776, Southampton, NY 11969. Please indicate Peter Matthiessen Center when making your donation.


A coalition has been formed to raise funds to purchase the former Matthiessen residence, restore its buildings and create the Peter Matthiessen Center in Sagaponack.

Funds are also being raised to hire staff and create an endowment for maintenance, programs, scholarships and stipends. The coalition includes two of Peter’s children, Alex Matthiessen (the former “Hudson Riverkeeper”), Rue Matthiessen (a writer), John Halsey (President of the Peconic Land Trust), Sarah Kautz (Preservation Director of Preservation Long Island) and several others with experience in land preservation, architectural rehabilitation, historic restoration, architectural site planning, nonprofit organization, fundraising and the arts.

The first priority of the group is to raise $95,000 in seed money to stabilize the buildings on the property, form the 501(c)(3) and hire a fundraising consultant to begin the task of raising the millions needed to purchase the property. We also need help getting the word out to build a groundswell of support.

To make a donation today, click here!

For more information on: 

  • Tax-deductible contributions please contact: Peconic Land Trust, Kim Quarty at KQuarty@PeconicLandTrust.org:
  • Volunteers & Outreach education: Lillian Ball at lillianball@waterwash.org
  • Volunteers, press & background: Lee Carlson at lee@leecarlson.life


Background

For more than sixty years, 527 Bridge Lane in Sagaponack, NY, was home to the writer Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen, one of the great figures in American literature, died in 2014. Over the course of his sixty-odd year career he wrote thirty-five books and was the only author to win the National Book Award for both fiction and non-fiction.

The property he left at the corner of Bridge Lane and Sagg Main Street has not yet been redeveloped and remains an exceptional and wild place. In a small studio, abutting what were once potato fields, original and influential works flowed from his pen. Around the dining room table in the main house, major literary and artistic figures talked, argued, and laughed. In the circular driveway, black-robed Japanese Zen monks arrived in 1968 on what would become the first of many trips to introduce Eastern philosophy to The West.

The six-acre property features two twentieth century buildings —Matthiessen’s house and a detached writing study on the other side of a small orchard – as well as a horse barn that the long-time Zen master converted into the Ocean Zendo.

Since his death, an exciting idea has emerged and taken root: the creation of a cultural center that expands on Matthiessen’s lifelong passions for writing, environmental conservation and Zen Buddhism. Initial responses to the idea have ranged from enthusiasm to ecstasy. As one mourner put it not long after Matthiessen’s death, “The East End without Peter will be like Provence without lavender.” That sentiment is still very strong.

A coalition has been formed to raise funds to purchase the former Matthiessen residence, restore its buildings and create the Peter Matthiessen Center. Funds are also being raised to hire staff and create an endowment for maintenance, programs, scholarships and stipends. The coalition includes two of Peter’s children, Alex Matthiessen (the former “Hudson Riverkeeper”), Rue Matthiessen (a writer), John Halsey (President of the Peconic Land Trust), Sarah Kautz (Preservation Director of Preservation Long Island) and several others with experience in land preservation, architectural rehabilitation, historic restoration, architectural site planning, nonprofit organization, fundraising and the arts.

The only other similar institution on The East End of Long Island is the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs. Yet, there are organizations both in the U.S. and around the world that can be used as starting points for envisioning what the Peter Matthiessen Center will become. Author’s homes such as the Hemingway House in Key West, William Faulkner’s house in Oxford, Mississippi, and Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Connecticut are good examples, though not as far reaching in scope as what is imagined for the Peter Matthiessen Center. Retreats such as Ragdale, north of Chicago, or Yadoo, in Saratoga Springs, New York, are popular meccas for writers and artists. In addition, we can look to the Hamptons’ other nonprofit cultural properties: the Madoo Conservancy, Longhouse Reserve and The Victor D’Amico Institute of Art. However, none of these have the same vision. Situated at the writer’s former home, the Peter Matthiessen Center will be a first of its kind, an interdisciplinary institute dedicated to writing, environmental conservation and Zen practice.

The Peter Matthiessen Center will be a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. It will serve to help preserve the literary and cultural history of the East End, as well as function as a place where writers, activists and spiritual leaders can gather. It will be a valuable addition to the Hamptons community, providing jobs for staff, teaching opportunities for school groups, and exhibits for residents and visitors. The property itself will be restored to its former condition—an enchanting mix of historic buildings, cultivated gardens and natural habitat. The last will provide a vital educational tool in promoting Matthiessen’s lifetime commitment to protecting wildlife.

The group envisions a multi-phase, multi-year campaign to bring the Peter Matthiessen Center to life:

  • Phase I: raising funds to acquire the property (two separate lots) and stabilize current buildings on lot one.
  • Phase II: continuing the capital campaign to renovate current buildings and grounds, hire initial staff, start site plan review, begin residency program.
  • Phase III: Continue capital campaign, open doors to public, hire additional staff. Finish long-term site plan (working closely with town for phase IV).
  • Phase IV: Additional fund-raising to secure endowment and add additional small structures to lot two, which is currently an empty lot (resident cottages, administration offices, classroom/meeting area)

There is a lot of work to do for The Matthiessen Center to become a reality. We need volunteers with experience in:

  • Legal (real estate, not-for-profit formation)
  • Fundraising (public, private, grants, major donors, etc.)
  • Construction/Renovation/Preservation
  • Marketing/PR
  • Accounting/Finance
  • Graphic Design
  • Others?

Our first priority is to raise $95,000 in seed money to stabilize the buildings on the property, form the 501(c)(3) and hire a fundraising consultant to begin the task of raising the millions needed to purchase the property. We also need help getting the word out to build a groundswell of support.

For questions related to:

  • Tax-deductible contributions please contact: Peconic Land Trust, Kim Quarty at KQuarty@PeconicLandTrust.org:
  • Volunteers & Outreach education: Lillian Ball at lillianball@waterwash.org
  • Volunteers, press & background: Lee Carlson at lee@leecarlson.life
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