The Town of Woodstock, New York, has an international reputation as a cultural and intellectual center. The history of this unique village is the focus of constant study and debate. Few would dispute that its origin as an art colony began in 1902 when an Englishman named Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, student of John Ruskin and friend of William Morris arrived in the idyllic mountain valley and set about establishing a utopian arts and crafts community known as Byrdcliffe.
Shortly after the first artists and intellectuals arrived, a series of reactions and scenarios began to unfold. The Maverick colony, founded by Hervey White, allowed musicians, writers and artists greater freedom of expression. Then New York’s Art Students League established its summer school in Woodstock, attracting both students and teachers of renown.
Many societies and groups have formed over the past eleven decades, promoting an astonishing array of philosophies, art forms and means of expression. Depending upon what time period you examine and your special interest, you will find one art form or another the more ascendent, the livelier. Theater, opera, poetry, music, literature, painting, sculpture and crafts all vie for prominence in this cultural crucible.
If the lively arts are the warp of Woodstock, the weft is made up of the social and political forces that enjoy unusual tolerance and freedom of expression. Socialism, the peace movement, ecological ideologies and numerous philosophical and religious cults have all found haven in Woodstock.
Fifty years before the world watched with amazement at the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Festival “Three Days of Peace and Music”… Woodstock artists, writers and musicians were producing artistic festivals with theatrical extravaganzas and bohemian revelry.
The list of famous names associated with the town would fill a volume. In the distant past Isadora Duncan danced, Helen Hayes debuted, John Burrows lectured, Edward G. Robinson acted, Robert Henri taught, George Bellows painted, John Reed organized, Archipenko sculpted, Kuniyoshi printed, Will and Ariel Durant chronicled…all in Woodstock. A skip to the 1960s and 70s would find the townsfolk intermingling with fellow Woodstockers Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Milton Avery, Janis Joplin, and Philip Guston. Today Milton Glaser designs, David Bowie records, and Peter Shickle reminds… us all that, as in decades past, people debate if Woodstock is changing for the better or for the worse.