Jasper Johns to leave Connecticut estate for artists retreat

FILE — In this Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 file photo, President Barack Obama, left, awards the 2010 Medal of Freedom to artist Jasper Johns during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, in Washington. Johns, 87, is planning to leave behind his residence in the hills of Litchfield County, Conn., as an artists' retreat. The town of Sharon, Conn., approved the application  Sept. 13 and the first selectman says it will bolster its lively art scene. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
In this Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011, photo, President Barack Obama, left, awards a Presidential Medal of Freedom to artist Jasper Johns during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. –Charles Dharapak / AP, File

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Famed painter Jasper Johns is making plans for his rural estate in the Connecticut hills to become an artists’ retreat after he’s gone.

The 87-year-old artist, who has lived and worked in the town of Sharon for the last two decades, received its blessing last week for his property to host as many as two dozen artists at a time to live, share meals together and work on their craft.

In the small Litchfield County town, some see his decision as a boost for the lively local arts scene. Art studios dot the town green in the community of some 3,000 people where Johns is a towering if seldom-glimpsed figure.

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“I really think that’s the best use of that property because it extends his legacy,” First Selectman Brent Colley said. “A lot of us never see him. He never comes out. But he employs a lot of people and he’s been a great asset to the town.”

Johns is considered a major influence on pop, minimalist and conceptual art through his work dealing with themes of perception and identity. His textured images of American flags became icons of modern art, and he was honored by President Barack Obama in 2010 with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The town planning commission approved the proposal last week. A Johns representative sought the exception to zoning rules now because knowing the town’s position will help with his estate planning, according to the minutes from last week’s hearing.

The plan calls for a retreat, set up as a charitable or nonprofit organization, with about 20 employees. The property is a few hundred yards from the town’s main marketplace. It consists of six parcels of land, including some with residences. Planners say no additional construction is planned for now although some barns may need to be converted to studios. Besides the property, Johns plans to provide an endowment for the artists retreat.

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Colley said it is a fitting plan for the property that Johns has acquired and steadily improved in recent years.

“He’s done a nice job of renovating and renewing that whole portion of town,” Colley said.