The ceramic arts have been fostered in Woodstock since the Byrdcliffe and Maverick art colonies were formed in the early years of the 20th century. This weekend brings the opportunity to compare historic and contemporary ceramic arts as fostered in the two art colonies, on display in two separate-but-related exhibits, one in New Paltz and the other in Woodstock.
The Dorsky Museum of Art on the campus of SUNY-New Paltz is currently showing “Carl Walters and Woodstock Ceramic Arts.” The exhibit remains on view through May 21, highlighting Walters’ ceramic sculpture along with his more functional pieces (plates, bowls, vessels and jewelry). Created in his Maverick studio from the 1920s through the early ’50s, a number of Walters’ pieces are glazed with his signature “Walters Blue,” a vivid turquoise inspired by ancient Egyptian ceramics. The works are shown within the context of a small selection of works made by artists at the Byrdcliffe Art Colony, including Zulma Steele, one of the first artists who lived and worked there, creating her line of pottery called “Zedware.”
The other show, opening this weekend at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts in Woodstock, is the Byrdcliffe Guild’s “Selections: Woodstock Ceramic Arts Today.” The group show displays the work of contemporary ceramicists Rich Conti, Eric Ehrnschwender, Sophie Fenton, Mary Frank, Robert Hessler, Jolyon Hofsted, Brad Lail, Young Mi Kim, Joyce Robins, Arlene Shechet, Grace Wapner and Elena Zang. The exhibit will be on view Friday, February 24 through Sunday, April 9, with an opening reception at the Center held on Saturday, February 25 from 2 to 4 p.m. An additional opening reception for “Selections” will be held earlier that day at the co-sponsoring Historical Society of Woodstock from noon to 4 p.m. (The Historical Society will be open on Saturdays and Sundays during the run of the exhibition.)
The Walters retrospective at the Dorsky and the contemporary “Selections” show in Woodstock are both curated by Tom Wolf, an acknowledged authority on the Woodstock art colonies and professor of Art History at Bard College. Wolf enlisted students from his “History of Art in Woodstock” course to assist in the curating of the shows, giving them valuable behind-the-scenes experience, he said, in learning what it takes to put a show together. Wolf will co-moderate a panel discussion on “Carl Walters and Woodstock Ceramic Arts” at the Dorsky Museum on Saturday, March 11 at 2 p.m. along with Tom Folk, Caroline Hannah and Bill Rhoads.
Carl Walters (1883-1955), a native Iowan, was trained as a painter at the Minneapolis Art Institute and then studied in New York City alongside Robert Henri and George Bellows. He and his wife moved to Portland, Oregon in 1912, where he was commissioned as part of the World War I effort to create a series of lithographs depicting men building ships. The striking monochromatic prints rendered in forceful drawing style are included in the New Paltz exhibit, along with a number of his watercolors done with drawinglike strokes of the brush that anticipate the way he decorated his later ceramics.
When Walters returned to New York in 1919, he became captivated by the blue glaze that he saw on the ancient Egyptian ceramics at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once he’d taught himself to work with clay and learned how to duplicate the vivid blue glaze, he switched his focus to ceramics, working out of his studio at the Maverick Colony. The show at the Dorsky displays a selection of the whimsical ceramic animal sculptures for which Walters became known, along with some of his ceramic “cabinet” sculptures: boxlike constructions that serve as “stage sets” for figural scenes.
Walters also took up working in glass, building his own glass furnace. After a year of experimentation, he created his major commission in that artform: a set of 60 glass panels depicting animals and circus performers. The panels formed the doors of the Whitney Museum of Art at its first location on West Eighth Street, the doors later relocated to the museum’s second location on 54th Street. When the Whitney moved to 75th Street, the doors were put in storage. The doors are represented at the Dorsky in life-sized photo replicas, flanked by individual panels cast separately in plaster, glass or metal, plus three of the original plaster molds from which the panels were cast.
“Carl Walters and Woodstock Ceramic Arts,” February 4-May 21, Wednesday-Sun, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., $5 suggested donation, panel discussion Saturday, March 11, 2 p.m., SUNY-New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive (75 South Manheim Blvd. for GPS), New Paltz; (845) 257-3844, www.newpaltz.edu/dorskymuseum.
“Selections: Woodstock Ceramic Arts Today,” February 24-April 9, Friday-Sunday, noon-6 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday by appointment, free, Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 36 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-2079, www.woodstockguild.org. Opening receptions: Saturday, February 25, 2-4 p.m., Kleinert/James Center; noon-4 p.m., Historical Society of Woodstock, 20 Comeau Drive, Woodstock, free, (845) 679-2256, www.historicalsocietyofwoodstock.org.