A few days before he and fellow Geezer Corps members Lorin Rose and Jim Hanson were set to release Paul Wesley Arndt’s 32 foot six inch long canvas painting from the Bank of America wall it has made beautiful for decades, town historian Richard Heppner had a slight note of apprehension in his voice. But note: that level of apprehension was quite slight.
“Michael Densen looked at it and doesn’t believe it’s going to be all that complicated,” Heppner said, adding that he and Rose had already tried taking the old canvas off its mooring at one of its ends. And it came off relatively easily. “It seems to have been affixed to the wall with paper paste. Michael gave us some good tips on how to proceed, and will hopefully be there to help. The one thing we do know is that the process is going to be slow.”
Densen, besides serving as the town’s fire chief for years, has also wowed several generations of local artists as one of the region’s top framers and art restorers.
On Wednesday morning, May 16, the Geezer Corps got together with Sunflower Natural markets co-founder Bob Whitcomb, town justice Richard Husted, and former Woodstock fire chief and art framer Mike Densen to successfully remove the Paul Arndt mural that’s been a mainstay of the bank building in Bradley Meadows for decades. According to town historian and Geezer Heppner, the work proceeded quickly yet carefully after a hard start. “There were some patches already in it,” he said. “Densen will repair those. It all came off as one piece.” The rolled mural, which is now “resting comfortably,” will be eventually placed in Woodstock Town Hall on Tinker Street. Heppner added, “We left a nice Jackson Pollock on the wall.”
The Geezers rolled the 32 foot six inch long Arndt painting, oil paint to the outside per Densen’s instructions, for eventual placement along the Woodstock Town Hall’s windowless western wall. Its home of decades in the now moved out Bank of America which was formerly Fleet and Norstar Bank (originally it was an A&P Supermarket), is set to reopen as a Bank of Greene County branch in September.
Bradley Meadows is currently owned by Sunflower Natural Foods co-founder and co-owner Whitcomb, with partners. In addition to the changes in the bank building, which also houses A&P Bar and Woodstock Healing Arts, Sunflower is currently undergoing major renovations and expansion, expected to take the coming year to complete.
“We have to fur it out to accommodate a pipe on that wall,” Heppner said of the Arndt painting’s new home while bringing up one option: to build the wall out a few inches. “We’ll see how things go once we’re in there with the painting.”
Heppner and crew believe the Arndt painting was created in one piece, but they’re unsure if it was painted on site or not. The one thing Heppner seems certain of, regarding the painting’s provenance, is that it apparently began its public life in the Rondout National Bank when that entity was still located in the other portion of Bradley Meadows, where Sunflower’s new entrance will be, and various drug stores were located up until last year.
The historian said that Ken Osterhoudt, who used to own the liquor store in Bradley Meadows, told him he recalls a since deceased relative of Heppner’s by marriage, Clifford Elliott, having “put it up” in the space it was set to come down from this week.
“I have an email from Ken saying how Cliff helped Paul Arndt out when the thing got moved,” Heppner added. “As to where it got painted, all I know is that Arndt lived on Library Lane, and I’m not sure he could have painted something this big there unless he was rolling the work out as he worked on it.”
In earlier days, long before television and even film, epic rolling paintings up to several hundred feet in length were traveled around with musical accompaniment and narration. While most have disappeared over the ages, several eventually found home in large “cyclorama” buildings now preserved as museums at sites such as Gettysburg, Waterloo, and Moscow. Only 30 now survive, including one by Kingston artist John Vanderlyn, of the palace and gardens at Versailles, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
“We have a clipping from 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,” noted Woodstock Artists Association & Museum historian Emily Jones when asked about the large painting earlier this year. “We have an undated clipping (I’m assuming from 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 Freeman that Jones found 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 many Woodstockers who’ve been in town since the early 1970s and longer, the A&P remained at what is now the bank site into the early 1970s.
Arndt was a student in Paris of Jean Leon-Gerome at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and in Chicago at the Art Institute. He became known for his murals on steamships, in public buildings, and painted 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. He died in 1978.