All content copyright © Roll Publishing, Inc

Visit us on the web at

Roll Art & Image
< back

Nicole Carroll Art Consulting

everyone’s favorite “little art” show: Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s 5 X 7 Showby M. R. Smith

It’s the week after Thanksgiving, December 3. They start lining up before the doors are unlocked, standing for an hour or two on the sidewalk. Regardless of the temperature (usually cold) or weather, they’re out there, all bundled up, a mellow crowd—but coiled and ready to move quickly. Suddenly, the door opens and in they pour, some with particular locations in mind to find their bargains, some just wanting to be the first to choose something interesting, enjoying some mild chaos, elbows akimbo, light jostling…

No, it’s not Wal-Mart or Target on Black Friday, this is Woodstock we’re talking about. And it’s not mindless consumerism driving those braving the cold, waiting to get inside the toasty Kleinert/James Arts Center, it’s an appreciation for fine art for an excellent price, as well as the revered Woodstock arts association for whom these funds are being raised. The “5 X 7 Show”—now in its eleventh year—is well worth the chilly queue and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, which for decades has been one of the region’s greatest artistic resources, makes sure everyone goes home a winner.

Though most people associate Woodstock primarily with music and 60s pop culture, those in the know—and surely anyone who lives within 100 miles of it—are well aware of its deep history in the visual arts. Thanks to the area’s scenic beauty and relatively easy access to a major cultural city like New York, the Catskills have long attracted those looking for more bucolic surroundings to create in. In 1902, a wealthy English gentleman named Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead bought up seven farms on Mount Guardian, with the notion of creating a “utopian” arts and crafts community. When completed, Byrdcliffe—the name combining the middle names of Whitehead and his heiress wife Jane Byrd McCall—comprised 30 buildings with shops for metalworking, pottery and woodworking, a large studio for Bolton Brown’s art classes, a dairy barn, guest houses, a dormitory for students, and White Pines, the Whitehead’s home.

Though many artists, writers, musicians, social reformers, and intellectuals passed through Byrdcliffe, it was unable to sustain itself as a self-sufficient community, and after Whitehead’s death in 1929, Jane and son Peter struggled to keep it going, eventually selling much of the surrounding land to pay taxes and maintain the colony’s core, which was kept intact. When Peter died in 1975 (Jane had passed in 1955), he left Byrdcliffe to the Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen, which then merged with the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony to form the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild (WBG), and in 1979 the Byrdcliffe Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The arts colony—still going strong—is the oldest continuing arts colony in the U.S.

Since then, the Guild has expanded into a non-profit arts and environmental organization with over 600 members, adding the downtown-Woodstock Kleinert/James Arts Center, which houses the Byrdcliffe Shop as well as a gallery and performance space. The cabins at the art colony are available only to artists in all genres. Musical and theatrical performances occur year-round (though mostly in the summer and fall), and the Artist-in-Residency program attracts applicants from around the world. But with grant money increasingly difficult to come by, the Guild has had to get creative to keep funding levels up. Good thing there’s a whole bunch of creative people around these parts.

Ask anyone at the guild and they’ll tell you: the “5 X 7 Show” was the brainchild of Carla Smith, a longtime Guild Board of Directors member. It’s a simple concept that works beautifully. The Guild puts out the word to the greater artistic community, including, of course, their 600+ membership, to submit an unsigned small-scale work, exactly 5” by 7”. Paint, drawing, watercolor, encaustics—anything goes. The pieces are arranged in the gallery, and the doors are opened. All pieces are priced at $100, first come, first choice. Since the pieces are anonymous, nobody knows the artist’s identity until the work is purchased. As some of the artists are actually quite famous, some patrons can walk away with pieces valued significantly higher than the C-note. And though the opening day attracts many sales, the works stay on display for the whole month.

Artist and Guild Board of Director Nancy Azara laughs when I ask about the opening.

“One of the things that always happens is that the people who are waiting at the beginning of the line have an idea of whose art they’re interested in, and they just rush through the door, and run right to where they think they will find the artist they’re interested in—and it’s not always right—they rush to the piece, get the number, and run back in line! Sometimes they elbow each other; sometimes people try to jockey with how much the piece is worth. I’ve heard of a woman trying to sell her piece that she paid $100 for to someone else, if they gave her a better deal!”

This year they have even more entries, well over 200, which will require them to hang the show salon style, rather than as a ribbon through the gallery. But those who missed the opening night (this magazine hits the streets days after) should still drop by Kleinert/James sometime in December; by no means are all pieces already sold. A participating artist herself, Nancy notes, “sometimes really important pieces of art are available after the first day. It’s funny how that works, there are so many (pieces) that people kind of miss the major artists sometimes. I got a really good piece a week and a half after it opened (last year).”

And sometimes the artists play with expectations. Nancy: “I remember one year (one of the artists) was working on the idea of making pieces that didn’t look like her work. She was really having a good time with it! Artists will do that…some artists have fun with the fact that somebody mistook their work for another person’s. There’s a lot of playfulness that happens.” Later in the exhibition, some of the items are even reduced to $50, priced to move.

As a result of the 5 X 7 Show, as well as the popular Winter Solstice Concert featuring Happy Traum and Friends (please see roll music highlights), the Guild starts with a bit more to budget for the coming year. There’s much to be done; having recently lost their executive director, the search continues, while the duties are covered by Board Operations Liaison Matthew Leaycraft, who resigned his Board of Director’s post to get more involved in the day-to-day operation. “I’m here to make sure everything’s going smoothly, we chart the path to the future, make sure we’re in a very solid, sound state so we can hire someone who can take this on for the longer term.” Matt’s roots are deep in the arts community; his grandmother Julia arrived in Woodstock with the Art Students League in 1908, later became friends with Jane Whitehead, and spent time at Byrdcliffe.

And though endowed fellowships are still available—most recently the new Milton & Sally Avery Arts Foundation for a visual artist, awarded for a Byrdcliffe Artist-in-Residence—the extra funds have been a big help, as the Guild continues to function and even grow during these difficult times for the arts (is it ever not?). Matthew explains, “What we’re trying to do is expand our programs, on the basis of what we have available and the people who are willing to contribute. One of our fundamental goals for the coming season this summer would be to get more programming happening up at Byrdcliffe. We’re expanding the Artist-in-Residency program there so that it occupies an additional building, so we’ll have twenty more people. We’re improving our ceramics program, and we have tentative plans to resurrect our jewelry program.”

Byrdcliffe’s future looks good to Nancy as well. “The Guild has a lot of new people on the B.O.D., (along with) some of the people who have been on it for awhile. We’ve just had a donation of a low-interest loan to help us through some of our struggles in our finances, which are always such a problem with non-profits. Actually, it’s surprising, we’re recovering from some of the obstacles we’ve set up! We’re working on staying in a positive and exciting place, and just bringing that further.”

Sponsored in part by Ulster Savings Bank, The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s “5 X 7 Show” is at Kleinert/James Arts Center, 34 Tinker St., Woodstock,, 845.679.2079. The show runs through 12/31, gallery hours Fr-Su 12-5 PM.


Bruce Ackerman, Debbie Adelman, Chris Allieri, David Andrews, Nathalie van Mulken Andrews, Jeanette Aprile, J.H. Aronson, Daniel Atyim, Orli Auslander, Nancy Azara, Barbara Bachner, Alan Baer, Byron Bell, Ana Akama Bergen, Barbara Berlind, Suzanne Bevier, Kristy Bishop, Darla Bjork, Bobby Blitzer, Laurie Bloomfield, Katherine Bradford, Hope Brennan, Maria Britton, Jude Broughan, Matt Bua, Katherine Burger, Brent Bushnell, Donna Byars, Andrea Cabane, Marty Fusin Carey, Sofia Carmi, Claude Carone, Michael Cartuccio, Nancy Catandella, Stella Chasteen, Sasha Chermayeff, Lara Chkhetiani, Brian Chu, Nancy Chusid, Yolanda Cioffi, Tricia Cline, Anne Crowley, Peggy Cyphers, Frank D'Astolfo, Carol Davis, Leila Daw, Paul deLaura, Tasha Depp, Priscilla Derven, Ruth Drake, Sarah Draney, Lynn Dreese-Breslin, Marls Dudley, Richard Edelman, Donald Elder, Judith Emilie, Christopher Engel, Renee Englander, Konie Fatum, Sarah Faux, Carol Field, Manuela Filiaci, Stacy Fine, Howard Finkelson, Gene Fischer, Stacie Flint, Rei Fraas, Adah Frank, Martha Frankel, Pascal Frey, Betsy Friedman, Miriam Frischer, Bo Gehring, Jim George, Judith Gerrard, Joan Giordano, Judy Glasel, Milton Glaser, Bob Glassman, Amy Godes, MaryAnna Goetz, Kathy Goodell, Barbara Gordon, Elissa Gore, Calvin Grimm, Laura Gurton, Teri Hackett, Frances Halsband, Thea Hambright, Shelly Hamilton, Elaine Hammond, Jared Handelsman, Bernard Handzel, Ann Hanson, Susan Harrington, Jan Harrison, Catherine Hazard, David Hecht, Eileen Brand Hedley, Steve Heller, Elaine Hencke, Hera, Amy Hill, Vivienne Hodges, Sandy Hoffman, Janet Hofsted, Pat Horner, Roman Hrab, Thomas Huber, Beth Humphrey, Heather Hutchison, Hatti Iles, Margaret Innerhofer, Charise Isis, Betty Jacobson, Kate Jacobson, Alice Jaffe, Annette Jaret, Georgette Kadgen, Mark Thomas Kanter, Gloria Kaplan-Mirsky, Laura Katz, Stephen Kerner, Jessica Kerr, Mark Kessler, SeoKyung Kim, Stuart Klein, John Kleinhaus, Lucinda Knaus, Katherine Koch, Harvey Konigsberg, Judith Koppersmith, Anthony Krauss, Mato Kroyen, Claire Lambe, Mike Lambert, James LaMontagne, Dakota Lane, Katerina Lanfranco, Gretchen Langheld, Barbara Laube, Ellen Leo, Gay Leonhardt, Leonard Levitan, Ellen Levy, Ivan Liberman, Mary Licause, Annette Lieberman, Shelli Lipton, Harriet Livathinos, Justin Love, Ellen Luzy, Delores Lynch, Henrietta Mantooth, Carol March, Grace Markman, Maralyn Master, Katharine McKenna, Paul McMahon, Maureen McQuillan, Sarah Mecklem, Elin Menzies, Chris Metze, Melissa Meyer, Allen Midgette, Jeffrey Milstein, Erica Minglis, Nick Minglis, Shiv Mirabito, Michelle Moran, Laura Moriarty, Ann Morris, Grey Ivor Morris, Portia Munson, Andrea Neher, Paula Nelson, Susan Nickerson, Howard Nisgor, Astrid Nordness, Lucy Nurkse, O, Robert Ohnigian, Alex O'Neal, Pia Oste-Alexander, Ann Pachner, Victoria Pacimeo, Lindsay Packer, Sandra Palmer-Shaw, Courtnay Elizabeth Papy, Suzanne Parker, Laura Pepitone, Paulette Petterino, Susan Phillips, Vincent Pidone, Marilyn Price, Courtney Puckett, George Quasha, Susan Quasha, Raquel Rabinovich, Lynda Ray, Bernice Reitmeyer, Carol Rice, Ron Richter, Jacquie Roland, Rachel Romero, Meredith Rosier, Nathania Rubin, Kathy Ruttenberg, Thomas Sarrantonio, Robert Schaad, Lisa Schaewe, Anne Liljedahl Schock, Linda Schultz, Istar Schwager, Robert Selkowitz, F. Green Shaughnessy

Roll magazine -