The rolling terrain and steeple-centered hamlet in Paul Wesley Arndt’s large mural over the teller counter at the Bank of America branch in Bradley Meadows is familiar. It’s also a quick route into small town nostalgia and, now that the bank has announced its closing this spring, fear and anxiety.
“The woman who helped me said she thinks that the town owns the huge mural in the bank. Anyone care to confirm or deny?” wrote writer Eve Fox in a social media post that quickly went viral last week, drawing comments and a range of startled emojis.
Others promised to look into the matter. We contacted Emily Jones, archivist at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, and town historian/board member Richard Heppner, among others.
Heppner said he wasn’t aware of any town ownership deal for the mural, or any prizes Arndt may have been paid to paint the one in the bank. We spoke at some length about other public images around town, from the John Carlson landscape in the town’s main meeting room at its Comeau Property offices to the Anton Refrigier painting that hung for years over the counter at Woodstock Meats, taken caringly by the business’ longtime owners, and the many works on the walls at the golf course in the town’s gateway district.
Jones said she couldn’t track any evidence of town ownership in her file on Arndt.
“We have a clipping from the Woodstock Times from Sept. 25, 1975 which has a photo of the mural at the Rondout National Bank. That seems to be the earliest mention I could find of it in the files we have,” she noted. “We have an undated clipping (I’m assuming from the Woodstock Times) by Tram Combs when Norstar Bank opened in Woodstock and it says ‘The main reception area was designed around the large mural painting by the late Paul Wesley Arndt (it covered one wall in the old Rondout National Bank). One views the mural across the active banking room as one enters. Mounted on a specially constructed diagonal wall, it is set high enough to be clearly visible from most of the floor. The painting has never looked better. In fact, I heard one man say he thought he had never really seen it before.’”
A later clipping from a September 12, 1980 issue of the Kingston Daily Freeman that Jones found that mentioned Arndt noted how, “When he was in his eighties, he completed the mural of the Woodstock Valley on display at the Rondout National Bank.” Since Arndt was born in 1881, that would have meant that the mural was painted in the 1960s, according to the longtime WAAM employee. The identifying plaque says it was painted in 1966.
“The plaza is aware of the mural and its value to the community. At the moment it is staying in place,” noted Bradley Meadows’ owner Bob Whitcomb, also one of the founders of Sunflower Natural Foods, in an email about the Arndt mural in one of his buildings. “We are also considering its future home if the need comes for that. We want it available to the Town’s people.”
A note from Tara Burke, spokesperson for Bank of America, about the mural and whether the vault would be staying or taken out (as it was in the former Rondout National Bank site that Sunflower is expanding into), said simply that the building is leased. She added that despite requests, the bank would not be leaving an ATM in Woodstock. As for moving local branch employees to other locations, “We work with employees on finding roles within the bank.
Arndt was a student in Paris of Jean Leon-Gerome at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and in Chicago at the Art Institute, and became known for his murals on steamships, in public buildings, and for various theaters around the country. After settling in Woodstock in the 1930s, he became associated with the town’s “Woodstock Impressionists” according to an AskArts bio, which grouped him with other artists of the era who found regular employment with the Federal Arts Project of the day. His works, today, tend to sell at auction in the $50 to $600 range. He died in 1978.
“I did my banking there because of the painting,” said painter Mariella Bisson of the mural in the social media thread started by Fox last week.
Likely, we’ll have to wait and see what becomes of the bank space in the coming year.