Byrdcliffe: An American Arts And Crafts Colony

March 05, 2005
May 15, 2005

An exhibition that honors one of the most influential arts colonies in the United States is on view at the New-York Historical Society from March 15- May 15, 2005. Produced by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, the exhibition tells the story about this remarkable community that was founded in 1902 and still operates today.

Byrdcliffe is located in Woodstock, NY; a town known for its impact on social change through art, music and non-violent measures. Set against the background of a rapidly changing America, the exhibit concentrates on the arts and crafts created at Byrdcliffe from the colony's earliest days, until the death of co-founder and chief investor Ralph Whitehead in 1929. The colony drew especially large crowds for its 'Maverick' music festivals which were filled uninhibited, bohemian song and dance. Folk icon Bob Dylan continued the music tradition many years later at Byrdcliffe when he and The Band lived and recorded the famous Basement Tapes at a neighboring house in Saugerties.

The exhibit features a total of 191 paintings, photographs, prints, frames, metalwork, furniture, ceramics and textiles from nearly two dozen artists who called Byrdcliffe home. Of equal importance as the art itself, were the utopian ideals advanced by Whitehead and the other founders, combined with the dynamic creativity of its talented but under-appreciated artists.

The exhibit and companion catalog, which is available in the N-YHS Museum Store, examines the historical, artistic and social significance of the colony through three interconnected themes: Quest for the Handmade shows how the work of the artists, writers and critics reflects a rebellion against the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution; Byrdcliffe as a Utopian Community explores the colony's role as an independent entity against an increasingly global backdrop and Artists and Artisans examines the independence and creativity of the artists themselves.

From examples of hand-crafted furniture such as George Eggers' oak Chest with Winter Landscape with its painted panels depicting stark winter landscapes; to jewelry and tableware designer Bertha Thompson's silver table spoon; as well as landscape paintings, ceramic bowls, textiles, photographs and hand-bound journals, Byrdcliffe tells the story of how a community driven by the desire to create beautiful, functional objects drew a diverse array of artisans to a pristine setting in the heart of the Catskills, where they flourished in a communal atmosphere of shared artistic endeavor.

To accompany the exhibit, N-YHS will host two intriguing public programs by expert curators with intimate knowledge of the arts & crafts movement in the early 20th Century. On Wednesday, March 23 Wendy Kaplan, Curator of Decorative Arts, Los Angeles County Museum of Art will deliver a discussion on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America, 1880-1920. On Wednesday, April 20, a gallery talk will be given by Nancy Green, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. Ms. Green is one of the original curators of the Byrdcliffe exhibition.

For a full list of upcoming public programs, please see our programs calendar or to make a reservation call (212) 817-8125 or visit: http://web.gc.cuny.edu/cepp/registration/index.html.

Additional programs and exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society are made possible in part with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency.

Creative: Tronvig Group