The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (AAAL), located in the Audubon Terrace complex, is dedicated to honoring excellence in art, literature and music, with 250 of our country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Take a walk with us through these historic doors.
The Institute, founded in 1898, moved to its current location on Audubon Terrace in 1923. The building was designed by Academy member, William Mitchell Kendall of McKim, Mead & White and houses the library, archives, members’ meeting room, exhibition galleries, and staff offices. An adjoining building, designed by Academy member Cass Gilbert (completed in 1930) houses a 730-seat auditorium and exhibition gallery. Construction of the two buildings was paid for by Academy member Archer M. Huntington, who developed Audubon Terrace as a cultural complex.
Entering the Portrait Gallery (images above and below), the walls are lined from floor to ceiling with hundreds of Academy members, arranged by date of induction and dating back to 1898. Scanning the walls, viewers find the most notable figures in the arts, past and present, including names like F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Edith Wharton ~ the list goes on and on with everyone from Henry Adams and Allen Ginsberg to Frank Lloyd Wright.
Below, stained-glass windows that once belonged to Arabella Huntington, donated to the Academy by her son, Archer Huntington, now sit just outside the Portrait Gallery.
Archer Huntington donated several pieces of furniture, sculptures and rugs that are still part of the Academy collection today.
The bronze statue of El Cid astride his horse was created by Anna Hyatt Huntington, wife of Archer Huntington, and stands in the Audubon Terrace courtyard. To the left and right of the Monument to El Cid are large reliefs of Don Quixote and Boabdil, along with several animal sculptures ~ all works by Anna Hyatt Huntington.
The oak-paneled members’ room (above) contains fifty hand-carved Italian walnut chairs that were designed by McKim, Mead & White, and given to the Academy by Mrs. Elizabeth Cochran Bowen. Between the years 1923 and 1992, each Adademician was assigned a particular chair, and on the back of each chair is a plaque listing the name and date of tenure of each previous occupant. The Academy no longer assigns chairs, however the original 50 chairs still reside in the room.
You will notice that many of the architectural features, artwork and furnishings were donated by Academy members.
The Academy galleries are open during exhibitions, which occur from mid-March to mid-April and again from mid-May to mid-June, from Thursday through Sunday, 1pm to 4pm ~ entering on Audubon Terrace, between 155 and 156th Streets. Also on view during exhibitions, is the Charles Ives Studio (below).
The recreated Charles Ives Studio and exhibition is a replica of the room originally located on the ground floor of the Ives home in Redding, Connecticut, brought to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2014, donated by Charles Ives’s grandson as a permanent exhibition with over 3,000 objects catalogued.
Where did this all come from? Archer Huntington inherited a fortune from his stepfather, railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington. He chose the former estate of the naturalist John James Audubon as the site for the complex.
The entrance to the Academy on 155th Street is adorned with bronze doors (image of one of the doors below), created by Academy member Adolph Alexander Weinman. The doors represent literature, fine arts, and music, and are dedicated to fellow member Mary Wilkins Freeman and all the women writers in the United States.
The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues. New members are elected as vacancies occur.
The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters is located at 633 West 155th Street in Washington Heights.
The Academy shares Audubon Terrace with the Hispanic Society of America, about to complete a major renovation this Fall, 2019, and Boricua College.
Take a look at the man behind the Audubon Terrace, Archer Milton Huntington.