Druid Heights Artists Retreat
In 1954, feminist poet/philosopher, Elsa Gidlow purchased five acres of land above Muir Woods National Monument along the Northern California coast. The garden bloomed under her hand, and an intimate, lively community grew up around her. She named this place Druid Heights. During the four decades she spent there, Elsa often reflected on her lifelong struggle to support herself as a writer, and she dreamed of a retreat where women artists could come and work in a peaceful, supportive environment. Elsa wanted to encourage women just as she had Alan Watts in his creativity by providing Alan a home in a beautiful place.
At the time of Elsa's death on June 8, 1986, the Druid Heights property had been appropriated by the National Parks System. However, through Elsa's bequest and the efforts of Marcelina Martin, who had come to know and love her in the last seven years of her life, Elsa's dream of an artists' retreat was kept alive and given form. On Solstice of 1988, Marcelina was joined by Hallie Iglehart Austen, Arisika Razak, Karen Geiger, and Joan Iten Sutherland to incorporate as a nonprofit organization. Druid Heights Artists Retreat celebrated
its birth on December 21, 1988 at San Francisco Zen Center with a public gathering to perform Elsa’s Winter Solstice ritual.
Our vision was to find and develop a home for D.H.A.R., where artists could come for retreats in a community of artists integrating art, spirituality, and ecopolitics. Our goal was to create a place which nourished the artist within the context of this community and which encouraged healing of spirit and mind. Since we were unable to acquire property, D.H.A.R. focused on providing grants for residencies at an existing retreat in Northern New Mexico.
Druid Heights artists retreats began in the Summer of 1989. We gave priority to women artists who were creating art that was life-affirming, socially engaged, and innovative. We were committed to including the full plurality of women in our society: all ages, colors, classes, physical abilities, and stages in their artistic careers. Recognizing the critical importance of women's creativity for our culture's survival, we supported artistic development for groups who have not usually been so supported. We invited writers, visual artists, media artists, dancers, theater/performance artists, musicians, and artisans in traditional and ceremonial forms to apply for residencies. As a harbor for the arts, we sent painters, writers, photographers, multimedia and performance artists on retreat. DHAR continued to give retreat to artists as long as our financial base held. In 1995 DHAR ceased to provide retreats to artists and reorganized the non-profit. DHAR turned its energy to managing the Literary Estate of Elsa Gidlow. That has been the mission over these last three decades in accordance with Elsa’s wishes. Elsa’s dream of the retreats has never changed and continues to be held as Elsa’s final legacy.