Members of the HSW Board and Advisory Council write about their favorite pieces from the collection.
Arnold Blanch, Hervey White in His Studio, c. 1926
This seminal Woodstock portrait of Hervey White, founder of the Byrdcliffe and Maverick art colonies, was painted in about 1926. The work was originally acquired in September 1929 by the Whitney Studio Galleries in New York, and entered the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection upon its formation in 1931. In 1953, Blanch was personally involved in exchanging this work for his 1951 canvas Four Ships. Shortly after Blanch’s death in 1968 his former partner, the artist Doris Lee, donated the painting to the Historical Society of Woodstock.
In 1921, Arnold and his artist wife Lucile attended the Art Student League in New York’s summer school in Woodstock, studying landscape painting with Charles Rosen. Two years later they joined several of their former classmates at the Minneapolis School of Fine Art at the Maverick art colony in West Hurley after White invited them to become long-term residents, and built them a home as well as a separate studio for Arnold.
Hervey White is pictured seated on the couch in his still existing cottage on what is today Maverick Road. He named the cabin Bearcamp for the Bearcamp River in Chicaurua, New Hampshire. This was his principal residence from the time of the founding of the Maverick in 1905 through the early 1940s. In West Hurley, White wrote novels, produced the Maverick Festival, published and entertained, among other pursuits. He offered houses to kindred spirits, such as Arnold and Lucile Blanch, who paid modest rents when they were able to. White built the simple rustic cottages with his own limited funds, and at times with his own hands. After serving in the United States Army from 1941-1943, the sculptor Raoul Hague moved into friend White’s former cabin, where he resided and worked for nearly fifty years.
S.S. Sea Horse
The Sea Horse sign is emblematic of the legendary bar where beats and hippies from Greenwich Village partied with the artists, plumbers, carpenters, actors and free thinkers of Woodstock. The “Horse” was the social heart of Woodstock from the early 1940s until 1962, when the owner, Navy veteran Dick Stillwell, died behind the bar and was laid to rest on the ping-pong table.
Olivia (Tinker) Twine
Moses Shultis' Tin Horn
The Down Rent War took place in the Woodstock area during the 1840s. The genesis of the rebellion started years before when families moved here after the revolutionary war and were allotted 100 acres by landowners like the Livingstons. Tenants were obligated to clear the acreage, plant orchards, build a farmhouse, barn, and erect fences. In addition, they had to pay taxes and commit a team of oxen and two days of work a year to build roads. After seven years, the farmers would receive a deed and be obliged to sign a lease of the landlord’s devising or risk losing everything. The deeds were of several kinds: perpetual leases, some for 99 years and others for one-, two-, and three life leases.
By the 1840s, most of the landowners with three-life leases had passed away, and the landowners and their agents were beginning to enforce their leases and push people off land that families had farmed for generations. The farmers sought to redress their plight with the New York State Legislature without success, and so, although they might be peace-loving, they were forced to bear arms to defend their acreage that they paid for many times over through tithes and levies. Farmers from Woodstock joined together with allies from Delaware and Schoharie Counties and dressed in calico masks and jerkins to disguise their identities and skirmished with the landlord’s agents and the county sheriffs. To warn of the coming of Livingston’s men, the farmers blew on tinhorns. There are few relics left to remind of us the Down Rent War, but the Society is fortunate to possess Moses Shultis’s tinhorn. Though its owner is long gone, and the horn is now silent, it evokes in me the sound of freedom. By 1846 the Down Rent farmers prevailed and won their battle.
2014 Bicentennial Quilt
The Bicentennial Quilt is a lasting gift presented to the Town of Woodstock to commemorate the town’s 200th Anniversary in 1987. The 96 by 111-inch quilt was started in July 1986 and completed in May 1987. Each square is twelve inches, and the quilter was given complete artistic freedom within the square. The quilters who so lovingly created their squares ranged in experience level from “none (nervous) to lifelong (assured).” Once the squares were ready, the work was finished at former town supervisory Val Cadden’s home on a quilt frame donated by Helen Jackson and Kathleen Elwyn. The gray-blue sashing and outer border represent the bluestone that underlies everything in Woodstock, N.Y. The various greens on the inner borders represent the lush green foliage visible in the spring and summer throughout the township. The red binding was chosen as an accent color to reveal the delicate hand-embroidered titles and signatures stitched by former town clerk Vi Rudick. Approximately 2,650 person-hours went into creating this fine piece of history.
For years, the quilt was on display in what I recall as the Rondout Bank (now the Bank of Greene County), located in the former A and P grocery store building in the Bradley Plaza. I was happy to learn that it was accepted into the Historical Society of Woodstock collection when the bank relocated to West Hurley, N.Y.
I was part of this quilt project because I saw it as an ongoing work of beauty for our town. I am responsible for the square that depicts Mowers Saturday, Flea Market. When he learned about the project, my husband John Mower asked, “who is going to do the fire company building?” When the reply was, “no one,” John decided that he would be the novice quilter to represent the volunteer fire companies that serve Woodstock.
As noted in the booklet that accompanies the Bicentennial Quilt, “The quilt has a good representation of local historical sites and activities.”
Janine Fallon Mower
Woodstock Playhouse Program from 1975
The Woodstock Playhouse grew from the vision of Robert Elwyn, a descendent of one of Woodstock’s oldest families. Elwyn emerged from his work as an actor, director and theater manager at the Maverick Theater as an independent visionary. With Overlook Mountain as backdrop, Elwyn in the spring of 1938 began to construct a theater. Unique in its inception, both inside and out, construction was completed in just 48 days, permitting the opening of 'Yes, My Darling Daughter' on June 30, 1938.
Over the years, ownership of the Playhouse evolved, featuring many acclaimed musical and theatrical performances, and multiple personalities at the helm. In 1972, owner Edgar Rosenblum sold the Playhouse to Harris Gordon. Under Gordon's leadership, the Playhouse continued to represent the best in Summer Theater. In summer 1975, I was fortunate enough to join the acting company, and appear in “The Mousetrap,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” and “Prague Spring.”
In 1988, with the Playhouse just one month shy of its fiftieth anniversary, Memorial Day dawned with the theater engulfed in flames. The completely wooden structure burned quickly and ferociously, lighting up the early morning sky over Woodstock. The Playhouse had served as the primary center of professional theater, music and dance in Woodstock for fifty years. When Woodstock awoke that morning, “the colony of the arts” understood immediately that more than a building had been lost.
Despite the loss, the vision of Elwyn persisted and valiant efforts by Woodstock community arts lovers aimed to return performances to the site. The New York Conservatory for the Arts stepped forward to purchase, preserve and complete the revitalization. Beginning with a simple stage and outdoor seating, the new Playhouse evolved to include a representation of the original façade of Elwyn's theater.
The Woodstock Playhouse, today, presents a celebrated summer stock season with its own rising professional company. Elwyn’s legacy lives on.
Lewis Arlt and Richard Heppner
Christmas Card by Karl Fortess
One of my HSW archive favorites is the collection of Holiday cards made by Woodstock artists and their friends. Woodcuts, drawings, and paintings, these cards are unique works created specifically for a specific holiday or event, often with text and/or other hand drawn additions addressed to the individual recipient. These wonderful small works are a window into the artist’s use of their creative powers in everyday life.