Jasper Johns Plans to Turn His 170-Acre Estate Into an Artists’ Retreat

  • Connecticut property will start operating after artist’s death
  • Will be open to visual artists, poets, musicians, dancers

Jasper Johns, America’s most acclaimed living artist, has a plan to make sure his bucolic Connecticut estate remains a creative haven long after he’s gone.

Johns, 87, whose 1950s depictions of the American flag are among the most influential contemporary works, received a green light last week to turn his 170-acre property in Sharon into an artists’ retreat after he dies.

Jasper Johns

Photographer: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

It’s one of the steps that Johns is taking to cement his legacy -- and control how his wealth lives on. He plans to create an endowment to operate the residency and maintain the grounds, according to a proposal submitted to the town’s planning and zoning commission. The endowment would be funded by proceeds from Johns’s estate and his Low Road Foundation, according to the proposal.

Johns bought the first parcel of land on Low Road in Sharon in 1994. As prices for his art surged into millions of dollars, the artist purchased several more adjacent lots in the rustic town of about 2,900 full-time residents. The hillside property abutting a lake includes six houses and a large studio in a barn, according to the proposal. It also features a network of trails and paths, apple orchard and dramatic vistas of a mountain range.

Part of Johns’s 170-acre estate in Sharon, Connecticut.

Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

Together, the lots have an assessed valued of $6.6 million as of 2013, according to Patricia Braislin, a tax assessor for the Town of Sharon. Johns is due to pay about $100,000 in property taxes for the fiscal year 2017-2018, Braislin said.

Zoning Status

Johns sought a change in zoning status granted to educational, religious and charitable institutions even though the retreat would not begin operations until after his death. While the application was unanimously approved on Sept. 13, minutes from the town meeting show some residents suggested there should be local representation on the organization’s board and raised concerns over the lack of details in the application about proposed improvements on the property.

Johns declined to comment for this story.

The so-far unnamed retreat will operate as a nonprofit corporation or charitable organization and will welcome visual artists, musicians, dancers, writers and poets who may work there for as long as three months. The number of artists will be limited to two dozen at any one time, some of whom could work in the barn that has been Johns’s studio for more than two decades.

A map of the Johns property.

Source: Town of Sharon, CT

Like other top artists’s residencies -- the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hamphshire, and Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York -- Johns’s retreat will aim for its participants "to create specific work or more broadly develop their craft,” according to the proposal.

Museums are currently planning major shows of Johns’s work, including one that opens Sept. 23 at the Royal Academy of Art in London. His 1983 “Flag” sold for $36 million at Sotheby’s in 2014, an auction record for the artist.

“Jasper Johns is a modern master,” Stephanie Plunkett, a Sharon resident and deputy director of the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum, said in a statement at the hearing last week. “It is exciting to know that his creative work has continued to evolve right in our midst, and that he wishes to establish an artistic legacy for future generations here in Sharon.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.