On Saturday, July 11, the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild holds its annual Barn Awards Dinner fundraiser up at the Byrdcliffe Barn, complete with cocktails, music, and a farm-to-table dinner to celebrate the achievements of the forces that continue to make the Woodstock community great.
This year the honorees will be two quiet creative sorts whose impact has been large now for decades. Grace Bakst Wapner, sculptor, painter and artist of many media, has been one of those steady forces, gentle and always full of smiles, who’s also been at the forefront of many local issues. As well, she’s been a key exhibitor everywhere there is to be shown in Woodstock, and at countless top New York galleries, too. And a friend to seemingly everyone.
Doug James, who will also be performing on drums at the event with his close friends John Simon, Bill Crow and Teri Roiger, moved to town for the fun of the place and once here helped fund renovations at the Center for Photography and Guild, which named its Kleinert/James Arts Center partly for him. He also helped build the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum’s Permanent Collection, where he still sits on the governing committee.
“In the late 60’s I was running a PR office in the Chrysler Building, itself quite a life, when my old friend John Simon asked me to come up here for a weekend. The result was good times hanging out with Levon Helm, Rich Manuel and Rick Danko, shooting pool with John Hartford, joking with Mama Cass,” he said this week of what ended up driving his sense of commitment to Woodstock. “It was obvious that I would want to spend more time here, and it took a few years to realize the town needed some payback. That too was its own reward. I hope that new folks in this town will see it as I did and add to that picture.”
How, specifically, did James feel connected to Byrdclife and the Guild?
“Well, first the house I lived in is in the neighborhood. Then Paul Butterfield and I — at the urging of a Woodstock carpenter named Fred Goldfrank — bought the hardwoods inventory of a Soho furniture company that went out of business, and we needed a place to store it. I went to see Peter Whitehead, who let us put it in the barn,” James answered. “I liked Peter and felt I owed him a favor, so after he died and left Byrdcliffe to The Guild of Craftsmen, I asked Aileen Cramer what was going to happen to Byrdcliffe. She said, ‘Well, you asked, so now you’re the vice-president.’ I knew I was in trouble.”
Wapner, who moved to Woodstock in 1964 with husband Jerry and her two children Kenny and Erika, is a native New Yorker who majored in social science at Bennington College with the intention of pursuing a career in psychology before embarking on a clay sculpture career based on dance studies which explored “the emotional underpinnings of relationships.” Her exhibition record includes shows at galleries and museums in New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Charleston, Albany, and Woodstock plus reviews in The New York Times, NY Arts, Art Forum, The New Yorker, Review and Arts, and these pages. She received a Sculpture Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978/79, and was commissioned to create the Woman of Vision Award by the National Association of Women from 1988 to 1990.
In the 1960s, she shared a studio with legendary sculptor Eva Hesse. Over the years her close friendships have included everyone from Mary Frank to the late Sol Lewitt.
Simon, who will be playing piano with James on Saturday in the acoustically soaring Barn, is a composer and record producer known for his work on classic albums by The Band, Janis Joplin, and Simon and Garfunkel, and later film soundtracks and ballet scores for choreographer Twyla Tharp. Crow has played with bands led by Stan Getz, Al Haig, Quincy Jones, and Benny Goodman, among many others. Roiger is a jazz vocalist, but also plays piano, composes music and writes lyrics. James, in addition to his philanthropy, wit and penchant for turning a great PR phrase, is a life-long jazz drummer who owned Woodstock Recording Studio and was the voice of WDST’s Sunday ‘Sound of Jazz’ for nine years during the 1980s and 1990s.
As part of Saturday’s event, James will be given the Guild’s Whitehead Award, named after Byrdcliffe’s founder Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead. The Byrdcliffe Award is being given to Wapner in honor of her decades of elegant creativity.
“What have I learned after all these years here?” James asked himself this past week, in anticipation of this weekend’s award. “That when you live in the woods you appreciate even more that there’s a much bigger world out there.”
Tickets for Saturday night’s Barn Awards Dinner, which starts at 5:30 PM, start at $100 for Byrdcliffe members. For more information, call 679-2079, see www.byrdcliffe.org or just head on up to the barn at 485 Upper Byrcliffe Road.