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Summer Studios: The Artists of St. Mary’s of the Lake

Summer Studios: The Artists of St. Mary’s of the Lake June 26, 2024
Artists selected for a residency at the Paulist Fathers’ Lake George retreat choose the places that that will become, temporarily at least, their summer studios.
Artists selected for a residency at the Paulist Fathers’ Lake George retreat choose the places that that will become, temporarily at least, their summer studios.

For many on Lake George, St. Mary’s of the Lake, the New York-based Paulist Fathers’ retreat on the lake’s east side, is the proverbial mystery wrapped inside an enigma.

So among the many things you might not know about it,  for the past sixteen years, the 153 year-old retreat has hosted week-long residencies for visual artists, regardless of any  particular religious faith they may or may not choose to profess.

The program’s presiding genius is Father Frank Sabatte’, artist-in-residence at the Church of St. Paul Apostle, the Paulists’ mother church  on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He is also the director of St. Mary’s of the Lake, a position to which he was appointed  this year.

Artists are selected for a Lake George residency by a jury, which assesses not only their portfolios but the likelihood that the applicant will benefit – artistically, professionally, personally – from a week or two on Lake George.

Each weekly session can accommodate 14 or 15 artists. A few will apply for places in both sessions. A $500 per week fee is charged, but for artists who are cannot afford that, scholarships, funded by anonymous donors, are available.

“The artists love the place. They love the food, they love the water. It’s a great experience,” said Sabatte’.

Almost as soon as they arrive, the artists begin looking for the places that will serve, temporarily at least,  as their summer studios.

“The workspaces they choose may depend upon the medium in which they’re working. A sculptor may wish to work in the garage. We have rooms that are rarely used. Some people may set up tables and work outside,” said Sabatte.

Few will produce a finished piece of art by the end of a week; they may, however, break through to previously uncharted territories of the artistic imagination, places from which they can explore the themes and ideas that may, ultimately, lead to works of lasting value.  

According to Sabatte’, the value of a residency at St. Mary’s-of-the-Lake lies not only in the freedom and space to develop artistically, but in the many interactions artists are likely to have with their peers.

“The artists take their meals together, they engage in conversation and they make connections with each other, something that is important to them both professionally and personally,” said Sabatte.’ “They also show each other their work and, if asked, give critiques.”

As an artist himself, Father Sabatte  said he finds his exchanges with artists during the residencies to be invaluable.

“When I’ve shown people what I’m working on, I’ve received some great critiques. I’ve gotten way more from this project than I’ve given to it,” he said.

The dinner table conversation is rarely casual or superficial, said Sabatte’.

“I invite conversation,” said Sabatte’.  “I’ll inquire about what might be relevant to them at this particular moment in their lives. I will mention that I have discovered that the relationship between the contemplative life and the artistic life is a very strong one. I will reaffirm my belief that artists are society’s antennae – they have something to teach us  about the directions in which the culture is headed.”

Most of the artists selected for residencies have MFA degrees and some may already have relationships with the Paulist Fathers, relationships that Father Sabatte’ has been cultivating since he arrived in New York in 2006.

“My life since 2006 has been all about artists, about talking to them during studio visits. I ask what’s happening with you in this work, what’s stirring in you, what’s moving in you? And we talk. And only then will I reveal that my name is Frank and that I’m a Catholic priest,” he said.

Father Sabatte’ was living and working in California when the Paulist Fathers’ administration invited him to come to New York and continue his art work while, at the same time, “starting something for artists.”

“That  could be whatever I wanted it to be. I couldn’t say no to that,” he said.

“Something for artists, whatever I wanted it to be” turned out to be Openings, an interdisciplinary artists’ collective, and a regular series of exhibitions at the Church of St. Paul Apostle in Manhattan.

“At first, the artists were nervous about exhibiting at a church. Very few practice religion. But in our second exhibit, we showed work by a Hunter MFA grad, who went back to her circles and said, ‘you can trust them,’” Sabatte said. “So far as I know,  St. John the Divine and the Church of St. Paul the Apostle are the only churches in New York showing the work of secular artists. Ours is the only Catholic church doing this.”

The exhibitions are meant to spark conversations, some cross-cultural, between Catholics and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, straights and gays.   Others have sparked conversations within the art world, such as one 2020 show which the New York Times’ critics labelled one of that year’s ten most significant shows in New York.

“What the Openings Collective has become is really a conversation, a conversation with young, contemporary artist about what it means to be a human being among other human beings,” said Father Sabatte.

For more information about the Lake George Artist Residency and the Openings Collective, visit

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