Photographer Roberta Price’s work on communes at Bethel Woods

George and Grace at New Buffalo, 1969 / Roberta Price

The concept of communal living has been around a long time – probably as long as people have, although the so-called American Dream of owning a private home has made it less fashionable for most of the past couple of centuries. Sometimes it works rather well, Israel’s kibbutzim and Ulster County’s own local Hutterian Bruderhof, being obvious examples. Other forays like the 19th-century Massachusetts Transcendentalists’ famous Brook Farm experiment and the early 20th-century Byrdcliffe artists’ colony in Woodstock did not last very long.

But in the late 1960s and ‘70s, communes enjoyed a brief vogue as a manifestation of the hippie counterculture. The murderous antics of Charles Manson’s “Family” in 1969 dealt a serious public relations blow to the movement; but it was counterbalanced to a degree by the heroics of Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm in keeping the peace and providing food and medical care to the attendees at the Woodstock Festival that same summer, turning a disaster area into a lasting icon of mass cooperation. A number of communes subsequently stuck around long enough to make an impression, for better or worse, on the larger culture.

The Southwest, in particular, was a hotbed of communal enclaves, and a photographer named Roberta Price spent seven years chronicling them on a grant-funded research project, observing many communes and becoming a resident of Libre (“Free”), located in the Huerfano Valley in southern Colorado. During this time period, Price took more than 3,500 photographs of rural commune life in the Southwest; first as a “participating observer” and later as an “observing participant.”

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Now living in Albuquerque and working as an attorney, Price wrote a book in 2004 titled Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture, which was chosen as one of the Top Ten University Press Books of that year. Her second book, Across the Great Divide: A Photo Chronicle of the Counterculture (UNM Press, 2010), won the Forward gold medal for photography books in 2010. It then became the basis of a traveling exhibition curated by Mary Anne Redding of the New Mexico History Museum.

The exhibit’s last stop before becoming a part of the permanent collection at Yale University’s Beinecke Library is the Museum at Bethel Woods, where “Across the Great Divide: Photographs by Roberta Price” opens this Thursday, August 2 and runs through Monday, December 31. As part of Bethel Woods’ 2012 Speaker Series, “How the West Was One: 1970s Rural Communes & Utopian Vistas in the Southwest,” Price will describe her personal experiences on Southwestern communes in the 1970s, sharing the story behind the exhibit.

The Speaker Event on Thursday, August 2 at 4 p.m. will include stunning photographs and fascinating stories of this important time in American history. Following the talk, Price will answer questions for the audience. General admission to the Speaker Event costs $5; entry is free for members or with Museum admission.

Price’s photographic memoir serves as a point of departure for examining the place of autonomy and community, capturing the hope, optimism and utopian promise that fueled that period. Her research project became a personal journey, documenting the work, play, relations and structures of hippies, communes, architecture, countercultural luminaries and events in the Southwest in the late 1960s and ’70s. Price explains that the title of the exhibit refers to the “cultural divide between generations in the late ’60s and the ’70s, and to the temporal divide across which we now view these images.”

The Corridor Gallery at Bethel Woods will simultaneously show the exhibit “Celebrating Woodstock: Photographs by Lisa Law,” a former Hog Farm member, featuring 47 color and black-and-white photographs of the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

In conjunction with the opening of “Across the Great Divide,” Bethel Woods will also presents a screening of the film True Grit on August 2: the first of a four-part series Summer Film Series that will explore films about the American West and its role in public consciousness. It will continue with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Saturday, August 4; The Magnificent Seven on Thursday, August 9; and Blazing Saddles on Saturday, August 11. Tickets to the films cost $8 general admission, $6 for members. The doors open at 6:45 p.m. with a 7 p.m. showtime.

Through Labor Day, the Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. To purchase tickets in advance or for more information about Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, visit www.bethelwoodscenter.org or call (866) 781-2922.

 

 

“Across the Great Divide: Photographs by Roberta Price” opens this Thursday, August 2 at the Museum at Bethel Woods, with a lecture by Price at 4 p.m. General admission to the talk costs $5; entry is free for members or with Museum admission. Bethel Woods will also screen True Grit on August 2 and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this Saturday, August 4, both at 7 p.m. with a fee of $8 general admission, $6 for members. For more info visit www.bethelwoodscenter.org or call (866) 781-2922.

 

 

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