James Cox and Mary Anna Goetz, married nearly 45 years now, are seated behind their Willow gallery talking about the 25 years they’ve been part of Woodstock and the new exhibit of works by Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason they’ll be opening this Friday, July 10. The couple’s been telling all about how they picked the place for Cox’s first gallery all his own, who helped them get settled, and the warm welcome they’ve felt from the local community from the get go.
Then the subject of memorable events within that 25 years comes up and the couple break into hooting laughter as they each try telling the tale of the she bear that lay siege to their home for an entire summer, starting while they were away on the Cape and ending, after an evening escapade wherein Jim had to beat back the bruin with a fireplace poker, with state Encon officers bringing in a trap to take the bear away.
“A few weeks later they called to say she was again headed our direction; they had a homing device on her by then,” Jim noted.
“We said it was up to them to keep her away from our kitchen,” Mary Anna added.
Goetz (originally from Oklahoma) and Cox (from Indiana) had met in college and eventually moved East to the New York metro area. The couple attended the 1969 Woodstock Festival from Newark, New Jersey, where he was working for Vista and she for the Urban League. But then Manhattan called; Cox became the legendary Grand Central Art Galleries’ second director while Goetz had two children and continued her painting career at the Arts Students League and Salmagundi Club.
“Then I wanted out of there,” Cox said. “I’d started dealing with Woodstock artists, and then my mother mentioned that she had a friend from South Bend who was Fritzi Striebel’s sister.”
Elizabeth “Fritzi” Striebel was wife to John Striebel, a well-known cartoonist who used to work his adopted home town into his Dixie Dugan comic strip as “Stockwood.” She suggested that the Coxes meet a friend of hers who knew the art scene at what was then the Woodstock Artists Association.
“I got there and was immediately told I was late by this tall white haired woman,” Cox recalled. “But then Aileen Cramer showed me all around town, introducing me to all the artists still alive then, and by the time I left I was really sold on the whole idea of moving to Woodstock.”
By May, Cox had taken what had been known for years as the red barn (and later Hawthorne Gallery) on Elwyn Lane. The couple bought a house on Mill Hill Road next to the lumber yard so he could try out his dream of walking to work.
“Two kids, two cats and a dog,” he recalled. “It was a great time for the arts in Woodstock. Tom Fletcher opened around then, and Elena Zang. Before long the Guild was building the Kleinert/James Arts Center and the artists association was working on the Towbin wing.”
Goetz recalled that the other galleries in town included Bob Angeloch’s Paradox Gallery, and Anne Leonard on Tinker Street. The Rudolph Gallery, where Bread Alone is now, had just closed. Woodstock Framing Gallery was showing more and more contemporary art, as was Mike Densen’s Vasco Pini, where Lotus now is on Rock City Road. The Landau was still the Village Pub, full of enough cigarette smoke that no one needed to actually light up inside; the Center for Photography at Woodstock was still upstairs from the Tinker Street Cafe.
“It’s cool, as we look back, to see how so much that was started then has survived and actually grown stronger,” Cox added. “Nick Buhalis had just left the school of art but suddenly there were all these new teachers there.”
The new James Cox Gallery opened in June, 1990, with an exhibit of classic Woodstock artists Cox assembled including George Bellows at the height of his new auction popularity. He called it “The New Era” and rented buses to tour his old New York clientele around town, including the Artist’s Cemetery.
Goetz remembers stuffing hand-printed invitations all night, and the huge lawn party that Ann Blanch, the painter Arnold Blanch’s final wife, threw for the couple to introduce them to everyone still alive from the town’s glory days.
“We had big shows almost every month, and plenty of auctions,” Cox recalls of that first gallery in town where he showed Leslie Bender, Richard Segelman, Ernest Frazier, Christie Scheele and other new talents he was finding and championing around the region. “Then I started getting whole estates such as Carl Eric Lindin and Tomas Pening. We held events with Family, and then with the Woodstock Arts Board.”
All along, though, Cox and Goetz — like so many Woodstockers in their first decade in town — were still looking for a “more perfect” spot where they could combine gallery and studio, plus their home. Eventually, after going on and off the market several times, they found their current compound off Route 212 in Willow. After two years converting an old barn into a gallery and studio, plus renovations to the main house and outbuildings, they moved in and opened the new James Cox Gallery in 1996.
So what were the couple’s big highlights over all these years?
Cox mentions a big party thrown at the late Lee Mills’ mansion on Ohayo Mountain in tandem with Alice Lewis and the Woodstock Arts Board, where the then-millionaire premiered the collection of classic Woodstock art he’d put together, and had guest Geoffrey Holder emcee the evening of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Then there were the storytelling evenings he put together around the pizza oven he had built out back of his gallery, one SRO with the great Malachy McCourt holding everyone spellbound.
“My daughter’s wedding was a delight; finding the remarkable work of Joseph Garlock in an old wood shed; this one huge Doris Lee auction we had; and all the friends who moved up here after we did,” he recalled. “Then there was my handling the world-wide publicity and marketing of the Leonardo Horse, a 24-foot high bronze horse, a gift to the Italian people from America, that now resides in Milan. It was featured twice on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, and when we hosted the three day unveiling in Beacon 80,000 people came.”
Goetz smiles and goes back to that bear, and seeing her husband battle her away from a ripped-off plywood window cover with a measly piece of shaped iron.
“I love that people are still calling us green horns,” she adds, while also noting her delight teaching courses at the Woodstock School of Art for decades now. And all the friends the couple have made over what is now decades.
“As for the things that most made us feel at home in Woodstock, I would have to point to those ‘universals’ like seeing your kids perform in local school productions, participating in Woodstock’s Halloween parade, and attending those incredible Woodstock funerals with their soaring rhetoric, group laughter, and plentiful warm hugs,” Cox added. “Being accepted into those inner circles of lifelong Woodstockers for parties, dinners and celebrations — getting to know Alf Evers, Eva van Rijn, Kit and Gordon Taylor, Alice Lewis, the Sweeneys. I guess it’s all just like any other small town, only cooler.”
To celebrate their 25th, James Cox and Mary Anna Goetz are not opening their latest exhibition this Friday, July 10 with a usual blast, but also planning a “huge” full moon garden party, like that thrown for them when they arrived in town a quarter century ago, at their home on July 31.
Look for your invites…just don’t expect them to be hand printed or stuffed into envelopes this time around.