It’s one thing to consider an arts colony, such as Woodstock, in terms of its artists. You can also be impressed with the organizations that come to life and become institutions supporting those artists.
But then consider the role played by those who collect the colony’s art in establishing that creative community’s sense of importance, and its stature in a greater world of Art.
The collectors are curators after a fashion, and complete the puzzle that establishes a region’s credentials.
Over the coming months, that role will solidify locally starting September 14, with the inauguration of a major five gallery Woodstock Collects set of exhibitions.
An inkling of what would be happening appeared last May, when a pair of Woodstock art lovers and supporters held a very special musical fundraiser for a Woodstock Collects catalogue, augmenting the efforts of the participants, the Woodstock School of Art, the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, the Historical Society of Woodstock and the Center for Photography at Woodstock.
“A very special exhibition…I am loaning three Bellows’ drawings never seen before, a Ganso and a Rosen,” said collector Arthur Anderson, who recently created a trove of the town’s art at the State Museum in Albany.
“This is the biggest collaboration we have ever undertaken,” noted Center for Photography executive director Hannah Frieser. “Naturally we are very excited.”
Art historian Susana Torruella Leval — who has an essay, along with the exhibitions’ curators in that fully-illustrated (and completed) 72-page catalogue, noted that together, the five organizations participating in Woodstock Collects “point to a common future as part of the town’s artistic alliance — confirming that creative energy and activity are alive and well in Woodstock.”
The exhibitions have been sourced entirely from local private collections and will mark the first major collaboration between the various entities since a number worked together during the Byrdcliffe centennial that started 16 years ago, along with the efforts to digitalize collections in tandem with the Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz a decade ago. Although each of the five participating organizations uses a different curatorial approach, telling a story that illuminates that organization’s history, a number of key figures still shine through as emblematic of the town’s imprimatur as a long-relevant arts center. Think Milton Avery, George Bellows, Lucile Blanch, Manuel Bromberg, Konrad Cramer, Julio de Diego, Mary Frank, Marion Greenwood, Philip Guston, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Georges Malkine, Fletcher Martin, Zulma Steele, Eva Watson-Schütze, and many, many more.
At The Center for Photography at Woodstock, Frieser has curated an exhibit, up through October 20, that will feature the experimental photographs of Konrad Cramer, Manuel Komroff, and Nathan Resnick, and focus on their shift from Pictorialism to abstraction. Deborah Heppner, curator of the show at the Historical Society of Woodstock (on view through October 27), invited HSW board members to submit works of personal or historical significance, along with written narratives about how the artworks came into their possession. At the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s Legacy of the Arts: Friends, Families, Lovers (through October 13) celebrates artists from every stage of the original arts colony’s history, from Ralph and Jane Whitehead’s Arts and Crafts utopia, to the formation of the Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen in 1939, to the merger between the Guild and the Byrdcliffe Art Colony in 1976 and the addition of the Kleinert/James in 1996, all curated by Tina Bromberg, Abigail Sturges, and Sylvia Leonard Wolf.
The Art Students League in Woodstock 1947–79, curated by Jenne M. Currie for the Woodstock School of Art, looks at the WSA’s precurser and its role in cementing the town’s creative legacy. Finally, at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, whose centennial was the springboard for this curated giant of a celebration, executive director Janice La Motta’s An Artistic Legacy: 1+1+1, presents three-tiered groupings based on a work by a historic Woodstock artist from WAAM’s permanent collection which matches works from the institution’s permanent collection with work by one of that artist’s descendants and a contemporary artist chosen by that descendant. That exhibition will continue through the year’s end.
“While each venue’s exhibition has its own personality, the sum of the five shows reveals the mutual sustainability of the arts in Woodstock, held together by a community of artists, collectors, cultural leaders, and donors,” reads the joint press release for Woodstock Collects, itself a monument to the ways in which shared creativity can enhance and define community.
“The idea for this expansive collaboration was conceived by two board members of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, Abigail Sturges and Sylvia Leonard Wolf. It was put into action by an organizing committee that included the executive directors and presidents of all five organizations,” said Frieser of Woodstock Collects’ origins. “I started to participate in this project as soon as I moved to Woodstock. It was astonishing to see that a community as small as this one, cares so deeply about art and artists. That experience has shaped my understanding of Woodstock as a haven for artists. It also opened my eyes to the countless collectors in our midst, who have filled their lives with art, thereby becoming part of the fabric that makes Woodstock what it is.”
Sturges, a lifelong resident who threw that original catalogue fundraiser last May, described the goal of the collaboration as being, “to delve into the rich collections of painting, drawings, sculpture, photographs, and some crafts in private homes in Woodstock. These works have rarely been seen in public spaces. Our purpose is also to demonstrate to Woodstock the power of a five-organization collaboration, and to reveal the importance of Woodstock art collections to a wider audience.”
Public receptions will be held at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Historical Society of Woodstock, the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum, and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild from 2 p.m. to 5p.m. on Saturday, September 14, ending with a joint celebration at the Woodstock School of Art from 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
Visit any of the organization’s websites, or just come to town on September 14, to enjoy all it means to be a part of such an arts colony. As well as to better appreciate the role top collectors play in the communality of creativity in Woodstock, both then and now.