In the summer of 1955, an unlikely meeting of the minds occurred in the forests of southern New Hampshire. It happened at MacDowell Colony, the art residency founded in the early years of the 20th century as a place for creative minds to flourish amid the meadows, white clapboard houses, and stone cottages.

The great Marcel Duchamp, the pathbreaking French-American Dada artist, had been given a special invitation to spend time at MacDowell. Also on hand that summer was painter Milton Avery, an American contemporary of Duchamp’s who was known for his strongly simplified, abstracted scenes. Decades later, Avery’s wife, Sally, recalled in an interview with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art that her husband taught Duchamp a valuable skill set during the summer. Was it a painting technique? A way to see the world through art? Advice about dealing with galleries or museums? None of the above. “Milton used to play pool every night,” explained Sally. “He was very good. Duchamp had never played, so Milton was giving him lessons.” She added that Duchamp told her husband, “‘Milton, I am going to have cards printed: Marcel Duchamp, pupil of Milton Avery. He thought that was the greatest joke.”

Artists’ residencies, and the change of scenery they provide, encourage artists to form connections like these that are as unpredictable as art itself. Sometimes it’s all good fun and at other times these programs—away from the art world’s pressures—are the site of major creative breakthroughs or hard-won progress on a long-gestating piece. Founded in 1907, MacDowell, which recently dropped the “colony” from its name,

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