Welcome to the “local Louvre”
Since opening its doors in 1920, the Woodstock Artists Association – now known as the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum– has served as a hub of artistic activity and inspiration in the region. An early display in the original one-room gallery was declared “a first-rate exhibition of fine arts” by a reviewer from the New York Times, who credited the organization with helping to establish Woodstock as a “place of pilgrimage in the art world.” In 1938, Life magazine dubbed the artist-run space the “local Louvre,” in an article featuring association members Arnold Blanch, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Doris Lee, and Eugene Speicher.
The Colony of the Arts
One of the oldest continuing organizations of its kind, the Woodstock Artists Association was founded by painters John F. Carlson, Frank Swift Chase, Andrew Dasburg, Carl Eric Lindin, and Henry Lee Mc Fee to provide much needed exhibition space for the numerous artists who had made Woodstock their home. Some had come as early as 1903 to live at Ralph Whitehead’s Byrdcliffe, while others studied or taught at the Art Students League’s summer programs. Still more visual artists found camaraderie and a place to call home “on the Maverick,” a progressive community founded by poet and writer Hervey White. Early members of the association included George Bellows, Lucile Blanch, Konrad Cramer, Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent, Leon Kroll, Eugene Speicher, Zulma Steele, and Eva Watson-Schütze.
In 1919, resourceful founding members of the Woodstock Artists Association organized the Artists’ Realty Company, a stock company that bought the land and constructed a building to “give free and equal expression” to the range of artistic styles apparent among Woodstock residents. A series of exhibitions were held each year and lithographer Grant Arnold ran a press in the basement, printing editions for Kuniyoshi, John Carroll, Karl Fortess, and others. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Woodstock Artists Association played a vital role in facilitating the efforts of the federally-funded Works Progress Administration in the region, while many members completed public murals or documented social conditions in paintings and photographs that continue to serve as testaments to this period in American history. In the late 1940s and early ‘50s, the association cosponsored a series of art conferences with Artists Equity Association, drawing some of the nation’s leading artists, curators, and museum professionals to the region. During the same period, members hosted festivals and balls as fundraising events for various humanitarian causes.
A Landmark Collection
The association’s Permanent Collection was established in 1973 to preserve and promote the work of important American artists who lived and created in the Woodstock area. In 1992 the Phoebe and Belmont Towbin Museum Wing opened for the exhibition the collection, as well as loans from prominent museums and private collections illuminating Woodstock’s formidable artistic heritage. In recent years, a series of grants from the New York State Council for the Arts has facilitated digital documentation and improved storage for the more than 2000 paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and crafts in the collection. The organization’s Archives and scholarly publications provide a valuable resource for art historians, students, collectors, and the general public.
A New Century at the WAAM
Today’s Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, or WAAM, is run by a full staff of professionals and features an eclectic mix of contemporary art, as well as the work of historical American artists. Artist members participate in juried shows in the Main Gallery held throughout the year. Solo exhibitions run concurrently in the Solo Gallery, while exhibitions in the Towbin Museum Wing showcase the wealth and richness of the region’s artistic legacy, bringing together past and present.
WAAM provides educational opportunities for families, schools, members, and the general public. Education programs include tours and hands-on activities for families and schools groups. The Youth Exhibition Space (YES!) features work from area schools, inspired by examples from the Permanent Collection.
Community events include gallery talks, poetry readings, book signings, musical performances, and networking and professional development sessions for artists. The Woodstock Fine Art Auction, held annually on Labor Day weekend, is a favorite among collectors of American art.
WAAM continues to grow, offering innovative exhibitions and expanded programming for its audiences. Corporate and private donations, membership fees, and grants help to make exhibitions and events possible, bringing the arts and education to tourists and the growing Hudson Valley populace.