Draw all the attendees of Woodstock’s top exhibiting nonprofit arts organizations together for a post-Labor Day party and several things become clear straightaway. Pretty much everyone knows most everyone, and many know the entire crowd. There’s a welcoming air about the room at the Woodstock School of Art Saturday, September 14, after all had taken in coordinated exhibits at five of the town’s arts organizations, even with a chamber music group playing at its entrance, although people tend to keep their eyes darting for new faces entering the field of vision. Conversations run light, centering on what folks have found fun and intriguing in the Woodstock Collects shows and new Woodstock Artists Association & Museum Radius 50 exhibit they’re supposed to have just seen, or maybe on post reception plans, including the select after-party some have been getting invites to.
Add in the fact that the five Woodstock Collects exhibits focus on little-scene private collection pieces from the town’s cultural past — at the now 80-year old Woodstock Guild, at the 40-year old Center for Photography at Woodstock, at the centennial-celebrating WAAM (in its Towbin Wing’s 1+1+1 show), at the Historical Society and the Woodstock School of Art where everyone’s gathered — and a justified sense of town-centric pride conjoins the room. As well as the distinct sense that Woodstock is still a private club where a knowledge of its cultured past, beyond the festival 50 years ago, is still key to membership.
“It seems you also have to be pretty old,” added my 13-year old, after having fielded a phalanx of people he’s not seen in years, who all spoke about when we used to carry him to openings in a pumpkin seat or stroller. Not that there weren’t still younger Woodstockers in attendance Saturday afternoon.
Milo did acknowledge, afterwards, how he still remembered many of those who remembered him from when he was very little. And he noted that Woodstock was still “a real town,” despite all the crowds he’s come to associate the place with each summer.
Driving home after declining post-revelry revelries, my wife and I spoke about the great events where Woodstock’s seemed to all come out as one in the past…a big bash thrown up on Ohayo Mountain several decades back where a new collection of classic old works were unveiled, the Dalai Lama’s speech on Andy Lee Field, many of the Volunteer Day picnics, more big funerals than any of us care to remember, the big arts festivals, Jim Cox’s full moon bashes, the old in-town CPW auctions. Plus the perennials that are the envy of other municipalities in the area: the Halloween parade, Thanksgiving at the Community Center, Santa’s secret arrivals on the Village Green.
A majority of the conversations I got into involved personal histories…the multiple decades we’d all known each other. And that’s despite the fact that I still feel like a relative newbie, and a bit of an outsider for never having actually lived in Woodstock. No matter that many on hand had clear memories of the artists being regaled from Woodstock’s vaunted heydays of the 1930s onward, albeit from their later years; the point of Woodstock Collects — exemplified at its busy, crowded, convivial reception at WSA (whose lawns will likely show evidence of the event for weeks to come) — was that history need not be owned…just shared, appreciated, and understood as something truly special.
The numerous catalogues created for the massive exhibit demonstrate this, as does the way the WAAM’s 1+1+1 show reaches beyond families into newer artists working in and around town, while its Radius 50 exhibit shows how widely art, and our entire culture, has moved from those days these memory exercises on view around town still herald.
That all said, quite a few of those we spoke with were somewhat surprised at the means by which Woodstock defines itself in different circles of interest, taste, and inevitably influence. Many of those now making their presence known in town, if not at the big Woodstock Collects bash, have been drawn by other elements of the local experience far beyond art. Restaurants, maybe, or the same terrain and real estate, more expensive than it once was, that helped fuel the artistic hejiras of the last century.
Gradually, though, the roomful of Woodstockers we spoke with reminded us, subtly and sometimes even directly, how new always becomes old. And then – voila! – everyone’s gathered as they were Saturday, sharing memories from before they’d even started thinking in terms of Woodstock.