In the Alf Evers archive, owned by the Woodstock Guild, there is a blue plastic slide box notated in the collection’s recently compiled “Finding Aid.” Among the contents of this box are: “6 slides of newspaper articles pertaining to ‘art colony war’ and ‘snooperism’; …a ‘Fakir’s Menu’, Salmagundi Club;… Lord Cornbury in female dress;…2 slides of “Jr. Order of United American Mechanics” (said to be fascist group); garden view (Alf’s?)”
In addition to the thousands of slides collected by Evers, the eminent local historian, volunteers are plowing through boxes of notes, newspaper clippings, photographs, maps, local literary magazines, and much more. The Guild purchased Evers’ archive with the help of a private donor in 2004, shortly before his death, when he was a few weeks shy of 100 years old.
The Finding Aid to the Alf Evers Archive lists alphabetically arranged folders by subject and details the contents of large archival boxes and smaller boxes of slides. Available online at the Guild’s website, the Finding Aid will serve as a guide to historians, genealogists, artists, and other researchers interested in the history of Woodstock and the surrounding area.
Eila Kokkinen, an art historian and former assistant curator for drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, was the first volunteer to plunge into the effort to organize the mass of material collected by Evers. She began to list the files he assembled for his research as he wrote The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock (1972), Woodstock: History of an American Town (1987) and Kingston: City on the Hudson (2005). Marilyn Masters helped out, sorting through the various drafts of these books.
In addition, said Kokkinen, “He was a pack rat, and he photographed everything. He picked up photos and tintypes at yard sales. He kept newspapers and little magazines published in Woodstock in the 20s and 30s. These are valuable resources for anyone researching local artists.”
According to Woodstock poet Ed Sanders, who was Evers’ secretary in the last decade of his life, “Alf was very democratic in his outreach to upper and lower echelons in the region, adept at getting memories, letters, and photos from families who trusted him to annotate the past with accuracy.”
Complicating the cataloguing process, said Kokkinen, is the fact that Evers was almost blind toward the end of his life, so the file contents did not always match the labels. Sanders said that as Evers was revising his final book, they printed out the manuscript in 18-point type — the size of a newspaper headline — and he would read the text through two magnifiers taped together.
On the other hand, said Sanders, “He was an organized collector. He knew where all his books were. When he wanted a particular book, he could tell me which shelf it was on and what color it was.”
Kokkinen took on the monumental task of cataloguing the archive out of a wish to be useful in a cultural setting that would make use of her skills. “I also admired Alf very much,” she added. “He was a splendid regional historian.”
Other volunteers have been led to the cataloguing effort by their own interest in the materials. For a fundraising event, Erica Obey came seeking information on the Turnau Opera Company that was resident at the Byrdcliffe Theater in the 1950s and 60s. Dave Holden’s fascination with local maps and the Comeau Property brought him into the process, and Glenn Kreisberg became involved because of his research into native artifacts.
Another researcher to use the archive was Cambiz Khosravi, who needed information on the Maverick Festival for his film “Woodstock: In Search of Utopia.”
Kokkinen cherishes many of the items she comes across in her, such as a photo from around 1910, depicting a group of artists seated at easels where the Bradley Meadows shopping plaza is now. “They’re facing Overlook Mountain, with nothing but space between them and Overlook.”
She also likes the photo of the toboggan run that started at the top of Ohayo Mountain. “You could start there, and heaven knows where you ended up! They put it in when they were trying to build up Woodstock as a resort town in the 30s.”
Sanders, who learned to read Evers’ “incredibly difficult handwriting”, helps out with the cataloguing as well. The process is far from finished, and the Finding Aid is a work-in-progress, but it already contains an abundance of topics, searchable online at https://ulsterpub.staging.wpengineguild.org/.
The project, said Sanders, is “a labor of love, a treasure, a marvel. He was an American genius. I’ve know a lot of smart guys, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg. Alf was smarter than all of them.”
The Alf Evers Archive is available for consultation on Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Contact the Byrdcliffe Guild in advance for an appointment at 845.679.2079.