That home, built with a mixture of classic Alpine, Arts and Crafts and neo-Adirondack touches that were all the rage in the early years of the 20th century, was where Byrdcliffe Colony founders Ralph and Jane Whitehead saw themselves patronizing a revival of Ruskinian aesthetics in a surrounding colony of artist houses and studios, crafts workshops and sylvan fields. The Whiteheads had earlier tried a similar experiment in the Santa Barbara area of Southern California, but missed the seasons and surrounding cultural capitals offered back East. In Woodstock, they established an almost baronial setup, built upon a state-of-the-art infrastructure of underground water piping and complex road and garden systems, that started evolving as soon as it was first set in motion.
Over the years, the Colony became more fine-arts-based, with some homes shifting into private hands, while maintaining a draw for creative types that has lasted consistently up to this day. A library eventually shifted into the present-day Byrdcliffe Theater; fields filled in with maples and birch; the Whiteheads added on rooms to their estate home, added plumbing, set up an impressive gallery/workshop room that was part studio, part salon over the years.
The poet Wallace Stevens and novelist Thomas Mann spent time in the Colony, as did dance legend Isadora Duncan and educator John Dewey. Later, Bob Dylan lived in a large rambling home in the woods that had arisen and overtaken the original mountain views. And then the original idea of the Colony revived, drawing new artists and writers, theatrical companies and musicians to its several dozen homes, studios and theater spaces, as well as the entire surrounding community.
Ever wonder why the idea of Woodstock grew large and supple enough to be able to encompass a giant music festival that drew a generation together, while moving far beyond the town itself? Or what it is that has maintained the community’s allure and cultural resonance to this day, both regionally and on a worldwide basis?
By starting at White Pines and ending in one of its modern counterparts for cocktails, Byrdcliffe’s Woodstock House Tour features and embodies the eclectic mix of distinct homes and unique mountain gardens that have helped push Woodstock to the lead of the region’s real estate market in recent decades, while simultaneously maintaining the Whiteheads’ ideal of cultured lives lived in harmony and balance with Nature. There is an original “Woodstock Handmade” home from the late 1960s/early 1970s, with a full wall of stained glass reengineered in recent years to withstand the march of time. There’s a noted composer and author’s home featuring bluestone terraces and magnificent views as well as a rare indoor pool. A classic Woodstock artist’s house and detached studio, now home to a retired book editor and his painter wife, mixes classic touches from a library and soaringly windowed studio with modern odes to changing views. One place focuses on a series of flowing water gardens; another mid-century house exemplified the glories of those years’ most tasteful qualities. Fine art, contemporary and more classically Woodstock Modernist, fills most spaces, along with scenic panoramas both grand and intimate.
It all kicks off this Saturday, June 25, with tour tickets and map available from 10:30 a.m. until 12 noon at the Byrdcliffe Shop, located in the Kleinert/James Arts Center at 34 Tinker Street, just off the Woodstock Village Green. House Tour homes will be open for viewing from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The reception will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at a home on the tour, to be let known to those who purchase tour tickets with that element added as part of their package.
For further information, call the Guild at (845) 679-2079 or visit www.woodstockguild.org. Dibs on the indoor pool!