1931 - 2016
Ann Stokes was born in Moorestown, NJ in 1931. She was the great-granddaughter of Charles Pratt, a pioneer of the US petroleum industry and the founder of the Pratt Institute of Art in NYC. She was a lifelong Quaker, attended Moorestown Friends School, Goddard College, and was an active member of the Putney Friends Meeting House (VT). She is remembered as a poet, artist, political and environmental activist, strong supporter of women and gay rights, and a philanthropist.
In 1959, she purchased 124 acres on Welcome Hill Road. There, she built her home out of boulders from existing stonewalls and barn boards purchased from NH barns. Eventually, she and several of her friends planned and built a complex of studios on the property. In 1970, she turned it into an artist’s retreat for women, complete with nature trails, whose isolation and wilderness setting were meant to stir the imagination. Drawing inspiration from this all female working crew, she wrote the book “A Studio of One’s Own” in 1985.
Ann was a deep lover of nature, a poet, and painter. But she is best remembered for her activism and philanthropy. She supported causes at both the local and national level. She often had gatherings of local politicians in her home and once ran for Sheriff in West Chesterfield. She lived her values and spoke her mind plainly. Her handwritten letters to newspapers, including The Times and the Washington Post were pointed and often poetic in their impact. Her poems were published in Ms. Magazine. She was passionate about politics, particularly women in politics, civil rights, and gender equality. She proclaimed her lesbian identity with power, joy, pride, and grace. In addition, Ann gave to many environmental and conservation organizations.
In 1965, she purchased Madame Sherri’s Gulf Road property which included “The Castle”. She had met Madame Sherri shortly before her death. Madame was known for her lavish soirees, and Ann honored her by sponsoring a series of parties in her honor. The most noted one was was “The Feast of the Wild Boar” which was attended by 200 invited guests. It toasted, roasted, and boasted Madame’s rather colorful life and legacy. This and several of her other parties included entertainment by Nina Simone and the Arthur Hall Dance Troop.
Ann worked diligently to preserve the integrity of the Gulf Road property. In 1976, she granted a conservation easement to the 488 acres. This was followed in 1990s with a series of donations, finally consisting of the entire property to the “Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests”. Now, the area is called the “Madame Sherri Forest”. Its trail system includes the two-mile Ann Stokes Loop, dedicated to her in 1998. It leads to Indian Pond and offers some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. This forest gift from Ann is enjoyed by hundreds each year for hiking, parties, weddings, films, ghost hunters and photographers.
Ann was active in her later years, painting and maintaining the studios for visiting artists. In 2006, she performed in the stage production of “Gay and Grey” at Putney’s Sandglass Theater. Her last year was spent surrounded by her friends and memories as she stoically succumbed to cancer in 2016.
The Welcome Hill Studios is her legacy. It is run by the Ann Richardson Stokes, Inc. The studios offer creative women a beautiful, nurturing place in the woods to gather their thoughts and be inspired. Long and short stays are possible. www.welcomehillstudios.org
Ann will always be remembered for her strong opinions, her passions, her generosity and her laughter. And her forward thinking contribution to Chesterfield's open spaces.