CAZENOVIA — The Dorothy Riester House and Studio (Hilltop House) at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park (SQHAP) recently received multiple grants from local foundations to support the preservation and stabilization of the “plant room,” Hilltop House’s unique indoor atrium.
Hilltop House is the former home of ceramicist, sculptor, author, preservation activist, and SQHAP founder Dorothy Riester (1916-2017).
The home was designed and built by Riester and her husband, Robert, with help from local contractors.
In 2014, Hilltop House, along with the original 23-acre property, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance as a highly intact example of a mid-twentieth century modern house and artist studio.
In February 2021, the National Trust for Historic Preservation accepted the site into its Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program, a coalition of 48 independent museums that were once the homes and working studios of American artists.
Riester designed the approximately 10 ft. wide by 18 ft. long rectangular plant room to connect two wings of the house. She filled the space with a curated collection of plants and a hand-crafted sculptural fountain.
“Dorothy was known for creating contemporary sculptural fountains and garden follies that were quite dynamic and whimsical in design,” said Hilltop House Director Sarah Tietje-Mietz. “The fountain in the plant room, which is set in the middle of a small, stone-lined pond, is a clay sculpture consisting of stacked concentric rings of small cup- or petal-like protrusions in varying numbers, receding in size as the sculpture reaches upwards to the single waterspout at the top.”
Over the next several months, SQHAP will work with Ashley McGraw Architects, D.P.C, a Syracuse-based firm with expertise in mid-century historic structures, to address multiple issues related to the stability of the room.
According to Tietje-Mietz, the plant room, which was built in the early 1970s, has a completely flat roof punctuated by a triangular skylight.
“This roof system is at the junction of the pitched roofs of the original portion of the home and the 1970s library addition,” Tietje-Mietz explained. “It has been a consistent source of ice dams, water damage, and moisture issues from interior condensation caused by the verdant collection of plants within the space.”
The “pre-planning” stage of the project began this fall. The work kicked off two weeks ago with a cursory inspection of the space by consulting architect Kyle Gregory, of Ashley McGraw, and contractor/carpenter Nick Borsellino.
An exploratory hole was cut in the ceiling to allow for visual inspection of the wood framing, ceiling, and insulation around the skylight. This first step helped the project leaders to better understand the current conditions of the plant room roof and ceiling.
Tietje-Mietz noted that Gregory is working pro bono on the design and scope of the work.
“He brings with him an acute understanding of midcentury architecture and materials and the ingenuity to address the issues incurred by the original design — [all] while sensitively preserving its historic integrity,” she said. “The plant room is such an amazing example of Dorothy’s ingenuity and her ability to connect the indoors to the outdoors achieved visibly through the extensive use of glass, and physically through the use of natural materials and elements in design and construction, not to mention creating two doorways leading out to the landscape surrounding the home.”
The construction phase is expected to begin in late summer 2022.
Funding for the plant room project is provided by The Gorman Foundation, The Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation, and The John Ben Snow Foundation. All three private foundations share a commitment to supporting arts and culture, education, and other community-driven initiatives in Central New York.
Hilltop House received two of the preservation grants in August 2021, and the third in October 2021. In total, the grants provided $37,500 for the project.
“Grant support from these three foundations is a profound affirmation to the historic and artistic value of The Dorothy Riester House and Studio,” said SQHAP CEO Emily Zaengle in a press release announcing the project. “The Hilltop House is nationally recognized for contributing to conversations that demonstrate the importance of artistic thinking. As an artist, Dorothy Riester asked questions and pushed boundaries in every area she worked. Her home, and specifically the plant room, is an architectural manifestation of that thinking. Stone Quarry Art Park is grateful to [the foundations] for their support — for recognizing the importance of the Hilltop House and Studio and working with us to strengthen this architectural feature so that it may continue to serve as an opportunity and an inspiration for future artists and creative thinkers.”
In support of SQHAP’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, five percent of the grant money will be used to create stipends for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists interested in working with the plant room, Hilltop House and/or the Riester Collection.
According to SQHAP, the recent preservation grants follow grants received in 2020 from the CNY Arts COVID-19 Arts Impact Fund, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, and the John E. Streb Fund for New York of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which helped initiate a project to catalog and digitize of the Dorothy and Robert Riester Collection and Archives.
Additional preservation goals for Hilltop House include addressing aging windows and repairing the home’s attached garage.
SQHAP is located at 3883 Stone Quarry Road in Cazenovia. The park offers a unique environment for artists to create and exhibit their work in natural and gallery settings. Open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year, it also provides a space for the community to explore and appreciate the natural world and interact with art and artists.
For more information on Hilltop House, visit sqhap.org/hilltophouse or follow “Hilltop House and Studio” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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