Woodstock School of Art’s Off the Wall show chooses from private collections

Florence Ballin Cramer, Woodstock Farmhouse, Oil, c. 1920s, 14.5 x 17.5, courtesy Gordon Taylor, Aileen Cramer Collection.

“One of the pleasures of visiting friends in their homes is the opportunity to look at personal art collections,” write Paula Nelson and John Kleinhans in their catalogue introduction for the new exhibit they’ve curated for the Woodstock School of Art, Off The Walls: Artwork from our Patrons’ Collections, which opens on Saturday, October 21 for a run through December 16. “It is a special privilege to see artwork ‘at home’ and to talk with collectors about pictures they have chosen to live with and admire daily.”

Off The Walls neatly weaves together several Woodstock cultural strands. It demonstrates the town’s classic sense of style, of the sublimely inspired, conceived, and crafted art that people who are drawn here want to support, and moreover wish to have on view in their homes. It shows how art students become artists and collectors, and vice versa; the cultured world is its own sustaining ecosystem. And it further pinpoints how this encompassing aesthetic has grown to incorporate both history and contemporary scenes, including artists outside of the direct Woodstock milieu.

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Nelson and Kleinhans describe themselves as “artists who have been associated with the Woodstock School of Art since the school’s founding.” Nelson is a former board president who served as the WSA’s registrar for many years. Kleinhans is a photographer who, like his wife and partner, has also been a WSA student, volunteer, exhibitor, program director, board member and curator of five previous School of Art exhibitions, as well as one at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum. They ran the WSA Saturday Artists Slide Lecture Series for 25 years, and were administrators for the WSA Artists Residency Program, and the WSA National and Regional Competition Exhibitions. They’ve been seen as key members of the local arts scene for decades now.

“We’ve been working on this exhibit for a year now,” Nelson noted in a recent phone interview.

“We were volunteered by the board,” Kleinhans added, deadpan.

The two noted how they decided to hone the many who have given to make the School of Art what it is today, a proud continuation of the upstate Artists Students League experiment that helped Woodstock become the longstanding artists’ draw that’s cemented its reputation to this day. Larger donors were honored for not only amounts given, but types of donations (including homes, estates and years of time). Representing some of the earlier donors’ collections meant working through WAAM or other institutions.

“It was a much larger enterprise than we’d anticipated,” Nelson said. “But also an opportunity to see some really great art.”

What’s in Off The Walls, the couple added, includes some never- or little-seen treasures, including a couple of George Bellows’ prints; one brought to life by Byrdcliffe co-founder Bolton Brown; a Roy Lichtenstein; piles of Julio De Diego jewelry and sculptures, and a large, memorable Gene Ludins painting of some urban boys with birds. There’s some great Ed Chavez work and an exquisite gem of an evening meditation by John Carlson; a small John Sloan, and various works from the Kuniyoshi and Cramer families. A modern mixed piece by Dutch artist Tjibbe Hooghiemstra, and some other work created in the past 20 years, lends the whole show an added vibrancy that nods to Woodstock’s awareness of its place in a larger art world, while still specializing in that which made its legacy over decades of hard artistic work. A portrait of a young Kleinhans by his mother, and one of Nelson as a young woman, lend a wonderful personal touch to all on view.

“We aimed at something a little quirky, a little unusual,” said Kleinhans.

“There were tons of things we wished we could have included but didn’t have the room for, “Nelson added.

What’s there, though, is a perfect exhibit of Woodstock as an arts center, full of its own aesthetics but appreciative of others’, as well. And always a place for lending art and artists a real home.

Off The Walls: Artwork from our Patrons’ Collections opens at the Woodstock School of Art, located on Route 212 just east of the village of Woodstock, with a reception on Saturday afternoon, October 21 from 3 p.m. to 5 pm. For further information stop by the school, call 845-679-2388 or visit www.woodstockschoolofart.org

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