Remember the artists? In this year of anniversaries ending in zeros, it’s vastly important to look at the history of Woodstock’s art colony and find the connections that take us back to the rural town that became a haven for the denizens of the brush, the painters, sculptors, the creators of the beauty of the visual, made from almost anything, fine pen and inks, oils, rock ledges, large chunks of bluestone, canvas, fabrics, wood…
Calvin Grimm is one such connection. This 74 year old abstract painter who still lives in the house he built 50 years ago with his own hands (that was one of the Woodstock Handmade Houses highlighted in the book of that name), has made a new investment in himself and the art he produces. It’s a new studio, again built 90 percent of the way by himself with pristine white walls, Grimm-designed storage racks and work table — a sanctuary for paintings that can be 5-feet x 6-feet, or tiny canvases, all engorged with color and shape evoking emotions that run all directions from ecstasy to apocalypse.
Grimm is inviting art lovers to a Grand Opening/Gallery Exhibition of his work (as well as some pieces he owns of other Woodstock artists) 1 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday August 17 and August 18 (and each weekend through Labor Day) at his new studio at 14 Lion’s Way in Shady (on the left side of Hutchin Hill Road).
The studio sits some 25-30 feet from his front steps in the wooded Shady setting, just down a bluestone pathway he built, which he says “is very distinctly designed. Instead of going from the house to the automobile, it goes from the house to the studio…there’s a message in that that I needed to give myself. I also closed down my post office box, and brought a streetside mail box to give myself less reason to leave…”
He’s been here longer than the 50 years he’s lived in his house. “My grandparents lived here, my grandfather was the pharmacist in Stowell’s Drug Store…He was a pharmacist during WWII. My parents were visiting here, they were married here…I don’t know who married them, but I think it was in the Neher’s house on Neher Road. I started visiting when I was two weeks old and I stayed with my aunt who was living here. My aunt, uncles and cousins all lived and visited here. Melissa Leo is my second cousin, born to Arnold Leo who was a child here and went to the school that was behind where CVS is now. He and his sister were painted by Jane Jones, a wonderful portrait painter…It’s wonderful to know all these things, to have experienced them and to remember them.”
I asked him who was his favorite artist to know when he was growing up.
“Well, John McClellan impressed me greatly. He and his wife had a little gallery in Twin Gables. My grandmother used to stay there. They had a little gallery in the porch room there. He was a fabulous lithographer, draftsman. I spent a lot of time in there talking to them and looking through the work. He captured a lot of the landscape here, but he was far beyond that, it was social and political as well. To me he was sort of like Thomas Hart Benton, getting the local culture from the people. I remember a lithograph of particular note of the view from a mountainside of people picnicking and it looks down on a little town with a church steeple just like our Dutch Reformed church. He was just pulling this romantic memory together of Woodstock.
“A lot of those older artists I didn’t meet because I was in the wilderness in Wyoming leading wilderness expeditions there after building my house. I did that for a number of years…” earning, he said, 87 cents an hour.
“And these artists were passing away at the time. But Bud Plate, I’m very fond of his work, it inspired me and influenced me a great deal in a way that similar to Arshile Gorky, who did spend come time here, and I understand De Kooning spent his first summer in the U.S. here. So those were some of my influences…”
He talks about the new studio, nestled next to a small pond.
“I started about two years ago. I built 90 percent of it myself. I contracted some people to do some of the high, difficult places, the roof. But I designed it and built it…I had two buildings here that were actually restorations of an old carriage shed. It was storing paintings and part of my studio. I took those down and built this attached to my former studio that I built in 1980. This has been long desired and long overdue. My work was getting larger, my studio was getting fuller, it was just not an efficient way to work. It wasn’t inspirational, it was extremely frustrating.
“With my older studio, in 1980 I built it with the intention of painting in it by Christmas day. I made the same commitment to myself for this studio. So this past Christmas, I had one wall completed and the lights hanging to illuminate that wall and I started painting on that day.
“But the last two years have been full steam ahead building. It takes considerable focus to prioritize everything to one thing like that. I’ve been painting since then, but I had other walls and other lights to do and building this table and the storage racks…
“I have in the last two years been making paintings when I could, so there is work that is more current here. There will be pieces in the exhibition that are six by six inches and pieces that are five by six feet…Probably between the studio and the outside grounds and my home, there could be 30 works displayed, and there are flat files of works on paper and these other paintings in storage that are now easily accessible. One of the pieces in my house is from college, in 1964…
“The theme of this exhibition is to span a distant time both with painting and with the actual physical place because they’ve been integral to my life.”
Do you describe your paintings in words?
“You know, I pick titles,” says Grimm. “There’s a particular painting that I love, its 5×6 feet — and there’s a relationship to music as well. You know the McGarrigle sisters from Canada? The title to the song I don’t quite remember, but one of the verses goes ‘my love for you is like a sinking ship and my heart is on that ship out in the ocean…’
“During a particular romantic portion of my life I was feeling this, listening to this song while making this painting and it’s in the Deep Ocean Deep Space series — so that became the title, ‘My Heart Is On That Ship Out In The Ocean.’ Now, how much does that visually relate to the painting? It’s only within my emotions that I connect the two.”
He speaks of a painting he began 30 years ago, put away, pulled it out and worked on it, repeating the pattern several times until finally finishing it last year.
“In a lot of my work I talk about how chaos is an element in all of life. We’d like to think that we can move through life with grace and balance, whereas a large part of nature is in a state of chaos, which is in a state of finding balance as well. So when the painting came to feeling balanced to me I felt like either I had matured to the point where I could appreciate the painting, or the painting came in cooperation with who I am now.
“Like a lot of paintings the original is just the starting point and then there is the relationship between the painting and painter that’s not really explainable, except that I’m following my feelings about forms and colors. We can talk academically about what makes up a painting, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a great deal of emotional interaction between the work and creator. This is part of Abstract Expressionism. The founders of the era felt the painting had an importance as well, that it’s not really our control of the painting, but your collaboration with it that makes that painting alive and not just a replica of something. It is its own story of its own existence.”
Grimm is not a rich guy. Yes, he’s had numerous solo exhibitions and his work hangs in prestigious collections, but he’s a working artist. Carefully marshaled savings over years, a home equity loan and the ability to do so much of the actual physical work at the age of 74, allowed him to create this new environment.
“I’m so happy with what I have. Making my space now, my home and this whole environment I’ve created for people to share with me, is going to be a wonderful trip. I’ll have paintings hanging outdoors, I love this stockade fence. They will be inside the house…”
He’s also donating ten percent from the sale of art — five percent each to the Woodstock Land Conservancy and WAAM. “For me they fit perfectly into my motivation, my ongoing inspiration about being here. The two things that move me the most are art and the environment, and I’ve been a member of the Artists Association for probably about 50 years, since I settled here. The Land Conservancy, I was a champion in the early stages of preserving important landmarks in Woodstock including the top of Overlook Mountain into state wilderness land.
“If I had a message for the community or those people that are coming to experience any particular part of Woodstock — the music or the environs — it’s that the whole thing is one meshed together wonder. The environment’s been protected by the artists, who gave the impetus to others to also protect it. That’s been the tradition. And it’s not just the artists, but the long term local people who worked here and farmed here, and know the relationship and support it.”
In his house visitors will see a the work of other artists, living and dead — a beautiful Emil Ganso, work by Alf Evers, Karl Fortess, Clarence Schmidt, Roberta Sickler, Alan McKnight, Doris Lee, Konrad Cramer, Hans Van de Bovenkamp…
“I think it’s important to keep before the visitors that they have this opportunity to experience a greater part of Woodstock, and that’s one reason I’m having this opening.”++
Calvin Grimm’s Fifty years of Insight On-site Grand Opening/Gallery Exhibition takes place 1 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday August 17 and Sunday August 18 (and each weekend through Labor Day) at studio at 14 Lion’s Way in Shady (on the left side of Hutchin Hill Road, look for the mailbox). For more information, call 845-679-7183 or 406-451-8082 or see www.calvingrimm.com.