WHEN ROBERT AND CAROLYN Hedin moved back to their hometown of Red Wing in 1992, they had no idea they were about to create one of the region’s most important residential arts centers, rivaled only by Chicago’s Ragdale Foundation. Robert, an accomplished poet, translator, and creative-writing instructor, planned to continue to write and translate. Carolyn set up a yoga studio and began renovating old buildings in downtown Red Wing.
All that changed dramatically when Robert learned that his grandfather’s estate, the 330-acre Tower View Farm, a prominent area landmark five miles outside of Red Wing, was no longer needed by its owner, the Red Wing School District. A. P. Anderson established Tower View Farm as his home, farm, and laboratory during World War I. A mostly self-taught polymath born to Swedish immigrants in a dugout, Anderson was the inventor of the puffed wheat and puffed rice process that revolutionized modern cereal-making, and he went on to hold more than 25 patents. After his death, the farm’s facilities had been used as a technical school and a nanny-training facility.
The Red Wing School Board accepted Robert’s proposal to turn the buildings and grounds into a residential arts community. The Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies opened in 1995. With a darkroom, outdoor kiln, glass-blowing studio, blacksmith shop, printmaking facilities, and writing studios, it is interdisciplinary—one of only 100 such centers in the nation.
The imposing 85-foot tower for which the Center is famous (it conceals a giant water tank, but also a writer’s garret) looks out over the bluffs of the Cannon River, where Robert played as a child. The meticulously restored Anderson family home now houses five artists, writers, and scholars for two- or four-week residencies from May through October, an exclusive group chosen from applicants around the country and overseas.
During a recent autumn session, the residents included a poet, a novelist, a painter, a scholar, and a quilt-maker. During the day, the residents all worked feverishly in their studios. Some afternoons or weekends they rode bicycles along the Cannon Valley Trail or read the Great River Review, Minnesota’s oldest continuously published literary journal, now put out by the Anderson Center. They wandered the grounds, which include a restored woodland stocked with delicate pin oaks and a prairie where steel sculptures squat like massive insects. Several long-term resident artists—painters, potters, fabric artists, sculptors—live on the premises, sharing space with a printing facility (Red Dragonfly Press) and an art gallery full of prints by famous artists of the last century.
Mostly, the artists work, inspired by the Anderson Center’s quiet setting. For some, the tower’s 76 steps become a sort of divine
StairMaster that they ascend to take in a 360-degree valley view. Artists can inhabit the magical-seeming room at the tower’s peak; John Coy worked there on some of his award-winning children’s books (Strong to the Hoop, Two Old Potatoes and Me).
But the place is hardly cloistered. The Center’s galleries exhibit the work of regional artists and are open to the public. There also is an annual A. P. Anderson Award given to an artist whose career has impacted the lives of Minnesotans; past winners include memoirist Patricia Hampl, choral director Philip Brunelle, and choreographer Lise Houlton. Of course, the most obvious recipients are the ones who will never receive the award, though they’ve won several others for their efforts: Robert and Carolyn Hedin, for restoring and broadening the legacy of one A. P. Anderson.