WAAM kicks off its centennial

The Opened Door, diptych painting by Lucile Blanch, from the WAAM Permanent Collection.

There may be no better way to feel part of a community than to be asked to help curate an exhibition honoring its cultural legacies. 

At least that’s how I felt when asked to pick three pieces from the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum Permanent Collection of 2000 plus items, along with dozens of others around town, for their upcoming opening exhibition for a year of Towbin Wing and various gallery shows celebrating the institution’s first hundred years: Arbitrary History: The People’s Choice, which kicks off with receptions on Saturday, February 2.

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Was this a conflict of interest? I hope not; I looked at it as a means of journeying deeper into this town’s art than ever before for articles and essays, reviews and previews.

The People’s Choice show, curated by WAAM executive director Janice La Motta, will include selections by “invited members of the community, from the postman to politicians” who were directed to either the Permanent Collection’s online catalog, or lent access to the actual vaults downstairs at the main space on Tinker Street.

The Woodstock Artists Association permanent collection, although officially begun in 1973, started building as soon as the town’s artists realized there was a strong organization centering their creative efforts in their chosen home town. Painters John F. Carlson, Frank Swift Chase, Andrew Dasburg, Carl Eric Lindin, and Henry Lee Mc Fee had come together to form a group “to provide much needed exhibition space for the numerous artists who had made Woodstock their home,” as today’s WAAM website notes. “Some had come as early as 1903 to live at Ralph Whitehead’s Byrdcliffe, while others studied or taught at the Art Students League’s summer programs. Still more visual artists found camaraderie and a place to call home ‘on the Maverick,’ a progressive community founded by poet and writer Hervey White. Early members of the association included George Bellows, Lucile Blanch, Konrad Cramer, Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent, Leon Kroll, Eugene Speicher, Zulma Steele, and Eva Watson-Schütze.”

When the Association’s founding members created an Artists’ Realty Company to purchase land and construct a building to “give free and equal expression” to all artistic styles, the idea of permanence, of legacy, was as key to the organization’s sense of mission as its various efforts to have the art world of the 1930s, 40s. and 50s recognize Woodstock’s contribution to the nation’s rising cultural pedigree. By the time the Permanent Collection was founded, it was able to almost immediately gain substantiality through the gifts of local artists and collectors, who had been waiting for such a day.

Go through the 2,200 plus items in that collection now — most of it available online through the regionally shared online archive at the Hudson Valley Visual Art Collections Consortium (hvvacc.org) — and what immediately comes to view is a sense of breadth beyond expected landscapes, Modernist works, and known artists. The number of early experimental photo works is impressive, the various prints fairly astounding, and the paintings numerous and of various styles. 

What will make this coming community-sourced exhibition so rich will be the ways it both reflects the acknowledged “greats” in the collection and some forgotten talents and tropes. 

At the same time, it will be rich to see how this exhibit shines as played against what else will be showing in WAAM’s other galleries, upstairs and downstairs, come the opening of all on Saturday, February 2. 

Legacy is the name for the first Main Gallery show of the Association and Museum’s 2019 season, featuring works by WAAM’s active membership and extended into the main floor’s central Solo Gallery space. Active Membership is granted artists who have either been selected for a solo exhibition in recent years, had works accepted into four juried shows over the course of two years, or been okayed for the status through WAAM’s in-person or online Active Member jurying process. 

The show has been organized around ideas regarding the legacies of the Woodstock Artists Colony and the region’s art history, and how such concepts get reflected in one’s work. As a subset of this larger exhibit, the Solo Gallery will highlight six specific artists who have shown with some regularity in the organization’s downstairs Active Member Walls space: Mercedes Cecilia, Fred Di Vito, Jose Gomez, Maria Kolodziej-Zincio, Amy McGuire, and Gloria Mirsky.

Downstairs, there will be a Small Works exhibition of paintings, prints, photography and sculpture juried by Wayne Lempka, Professor of Art at Marist College, and a new Youth Exhibition Space show celebrating legacies in a particularly young fashion.

“The building is getting a fresh facelift inside and out, with newly painted galleries that include a new color in the Phoebe and Belmont Towbin Wing, shop and downstairs lobby area along with a mural in our stairwell,” noted La Motta in a recent e-blast to members and friends of WAAM. “We have a new reception desk (thanks to a generous donor) and beautiful new banners on the front of our building that announce what this year of celebration is all about — celebrating 100 years of community, art, history and creativity!”

The new Arbitrary History exhibition will run in the Towbin Wing into May, to be followed by a 100 Years/100 Objects show into August. Other public celebratory events will include a big July 20 birthday bash, a community engagement wall installed in the renovated WAAM shop with prompts for involvement, and more to-be-announced centennial-themed exhibitions, performances, lectures and other events.

For its membership, which has been predictably bristly with regularity throughout the past century, the Artists Association & Museum will be launching a new WAAMart.org website, offering special centennial year membership rates, and offering with membership a complimentary North American Reciprocal Museum Association membership allowing museum admissions and discounts at participating museums.

“We have so much to celebrate this year,” La Motta noted.

And so much to look forward with this new “arbitrary” show.

What did I pick? 

Visit the exhibit. To tell… now that would be a conflict.

For further information on Arbitrary History, Legacy, and other exhibits opening at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum for its centennial year starting February 2, as well as upcoming events and opportunities tied to the WAAM centennial, visit woodstockart.org or call 679-2940

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