10 Things You Didn’t Know About: Woodstock Art Colony

Compiled by Antoinette Rahn

Nestled in the forests of Woodstock, New York is the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild (commonly referred to as the Woodstock Art Colony). In the Guild’s own words it is “one of the earliest utopian art colonies in America.”

It’s been 115 years since the inception of this art colony in 1902. Today many of the foundational principles continue to shape the work created at Byrdcliffe. Enjoy ten intriguing acts about this unique center of creativity…

1 The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild came into existence in 1902. It’s non-profit status dates to 1938.

Seeking Space to Nurture Artistic Ambitions 

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Oil on canvas, “St. Lawrence River Sunset,” by Birge Harrison, Woodstock Art Colony, 20th century, 25 x 39 inches. (Photo by Eric R. Lapp)

2 Enamored with the natural beauty of Woodstock and the Catskill Mountains, first identified by friends Hervey White and Bolton Brown, husband and wife duo Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead and Jane Byrd McCall, purchased an estimated 1,500 acres on Mt. Guardian with the purpose of developing a utopian art colony. Fusing their middle names, Whitehead and McCall named it Byrdcliffe.

3 In May of 2017, collector Arthur Anderson donated 1,500 artworks — by Woodstock Art Colony artists — to the New York State Museum in Albany. The donation features artwork by more than 170 artists. 

4 Various artistic disciplines are among the pursuits at Byrdcliffe, including painting, metalwork, pottery, furniture making, design, weaving, and photography. Creative works coming out of Byrdcliffe greatly reflect the changing landscape of artistic expression. Examples of the Arts and Crafts movement, Impressionism, Cubism, Realism, abstract and folk art, and the Studio Movement are some influences represented in works attributed to Woodstock Art Colony artists.

Woodstock Art Colony Works Draw Bidder Interest

5 In 2014, an oil-on-canvas painting titled “January Thaw” by Woodstock Art Colony instructor Walter Koeniger realized $2,700 (with buyer’s premium) during an auction at George Costopulos Auctioneers, Woburn, Massachusetts.

6 The Woodstock Art Colony is reportedly one of the longest running year-round arts colonies in America.

7 Exhibitions and events are plentiful at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. During autumn of this year, visitors can enjoy two different displays. On display through Oct. 15 is the installation “Drawing Sound.” This unique exhibition features the collaborative work of musicians/composers and a visual artist. It began as a research project at the University of Edinburg, Scotland. According to the Byrdcliffe site, it is “…a series of luminous abstractions that used color and shape to direct professional musicians, who composed music by way of the images.” The second exhibition of this year is titled “Terra.” Eight artists contributed works that speak to environmental issues in the world today and personal responsibility of all humans. 

Progressive Partnerships

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“Young Greyhound” bronze statue, Grace Mott Johnson, 1911, Woodstock Art Colony. (Photo credit Eric R. Lapp)

8 In the mid-1930s, Woodstock became the site of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) office, part of the Federal Art Project. In just a couple years, lithographs for all Woodstock artists had been printed, according to an article posted at the site of D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc. The result was four hundred prints. Byrdcliffe Colony artists were often selected to create murals commissioned by the Federal Art Project. *Consider the Jan. 18, 2017 issue of Antique Trader to learn more about the Federal Art Project. 

9 The Colony has drawn and continues to attract artists and visitors from around the globe, including leading educator John Dewey, musicians Leon Barzin and Bob Dylan, painter George Bellows, actress Helen Hayes, and comedian and performer Chevy Chase.

10 It wasn’t always sunshine and harmony at Byrdcliffe though; there were moments of disenchantment among artists and instructors. At one point a group branched off to create the Maverick art colony, which involved a music festival loosely deemed as a precursor to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

Sources: ArtFixDaily; www.woodstockguild.org; http://www.nysm.nysed.gov; www.nytimes.com; www.dwigmore.com/woodstock_essay.html.


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