Long-time Woodstocker Jane Axel died in the comfort of her own home at the end of Elwyn Lane on March 2. She was 90 years old. Born and raised in New York City, the only child of Arthur and Lillian Corn Bender, Jane attended NYU where she earned a Master’s in English Literature and also studied Fine Art. First appearing in Woodstock in the late fifties, Jane regularly attended drawing classes at the Art Student’s League Summer Program as well as eventually studying sculpture with Master Carver Tom Penning. Briefly and most unhappily married to a local photographer, she became good friends with a remarkable Woodstocker named Mutzi Axel, who — along with many friends — encouraged her to divorce.
Mutzi was first known to Woodstock as a cook at the legendary “SS Seahorse” and was sometimes seen squiring about one of two children from an earlier marriage. Small, squat, with a cat-like face handsomely adorned with a distinctive mustache and goatee, he was mostly made of muscle and — often squinting through the haze of a cigarette — exuded a near constant good cheer. Mutzi and Jane fell in love and were married circa ‘61. He created a family residence by re-building a house in Shady badly damaged by fire, where Lucinda Knauss lives today. Mutzi then briefly went into the building trade with the (so far) immortal Bud Sife, today, hail and hearty, living in Fleischmanns. Jane commented to a friend that she’d never been happier in her life. They moved briefly to Library Lane, socializing with John Pike and his wife, as well as writer Ted Sturgeon and family. Jane dubbed the neighborhood “Fish Row.”
Outwardly anyway, they were a peculiar pair: he staying to end of every party, gregariousness personified, always ready to help a friend hoist a particularly heavy beam into place. (Nearly every Woodstock male built his own family house in those days — or so it seemed.) Jane, on the other hand, was with-held, contemplative, uncomfortable in a large gathering, though a droll and pungent wit would occasionally flash from out of nowhere, followed by flowing, knowing laughter.
In the later sixties, Mutzi bought the huge old barn towards the end of Elwyn Lane, converting it into an antique shop locally famous as “The Red Barn” (later The James Cox Gallery and today The Hawthorne House.) He created a living space in the upstairs, including a studio for Jane, and then he built a free-standing house on the hill above the Red Barn. This would be Jane’s last home.
Artists Pia and Frank Alexander were in a recorder club with Jane, which included painters Georgina Klitgaard and Dorothy Varian. Sometime around the death of Mutzi in ‘85 (his son Leon told me, “They both hated funerals. So Jane hosted a farewell party for Mutzi instead,”) Jane went back to school in Albany, eventually becoming a psychotherapist, in part to assuage her own grief. Eventually she became very involved with the indomitable Holly Beye, whose theater group for seniors, “Holly’s Comets” often produced surprisingly powerful work. As the years passed, Jane once bought Pia a season ticket to the Maverick Concerts. Pia would pick her up every Sunday and fondly remembers, “Jane never missed a Sunday’s performance — not one.” Best friends for many years with today’s 100 year-old Noami Halpern, Jane and Nomi traveled extensively together, including a trip to Israel. Fellow Maverick Concert fanatic, Betty Ballantine, also traveled for a few winters with Jane, and on a summer’s day the two could be seen sipping a five o’clock champagne over a board of Scrabble before a last dip in Betty’s flower-festooned pool. I sat with Jane often on such an August afternoon and one day — after a long silence — I finally summonded the temerity to ask: “What is it, Jane? You seem so blue…”
She looked out over the pool, raised and dropped her cane in frustration and blurted out, “It’s well past 20 years already but — damn it all if I don’t think of Mutzi…still. And though I feel like quite a fool to admit it…well, I miss him. Every day. I do.”
You’ll forgive the sentimental conceit of our including Jane’s pen and ink drawing of Mutzi dozing, after a long day’s work or a long night’s party. And of our wishing Jane her patiently awaited place beside him for The Big Sleep…there will be a small party marking the occasion to be announced later in the spring.
Jane is survived by her step-son Leon Axel, a radiologist and researcher at Jane’s Alma Mater, NYU, and his sister Susan Axel Bedsaul.