How Yaddo, Saratoga’s Famed Artist Retreat, Came to Be

The art world has Spencer and Katrina Trask to thank.

American artist Eastman Johnson, seen here painting a portrait of Katrina Trask, has multiple works in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Doing good has been around in Saratoga for a long, long time. Case in point: Yaddo, the celebrated artists’ retreat featured on the cover of this magazine, exists today because of the generosity of financier Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina, herself a writer. After all four of the couple’s children tragically died, the Trasks first transformed their fortune into a corporation in 1900, then established the artists’ retreat in their Queen Anne revival mansion in 1926. 

While the estate, so named by their late daughter, Christina (it was her antonym for “shadow”), was the Trasks’ home before they, too, passed on, it wasn’t their first on the property. Pictured here is Katrina, sharing a quiet moment with Spencer’s business partner, George Foster Peabody (whom she’d later marry after her husband’s death in 1909), while being painted by well-known portrait artist Eastman Johnson at her and her husband’s original mansion. That home would burn to the ground in 1891, exactly a decade after the Trasks’ arrival in Saratoga. Only then would the reconstruction project by architect William Halsey Wood begin on the “new” Yaddo mansion—the one that still stands today and recently underwent its own multimillion-dollar face-lift. 

Peabody would go on to serve as the Corporation of Yaddo’s first executive director, and the mansion welcomed its first artists-in-residence, four years after Katrina’s death in 1922. If only the Trasks, whose undying appreciation for the arts is evident in this photo, could see Yaddo—and Saratoga, for that matter—now.

Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the director of content at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living.


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