Late last year, Matthew Leaycraft resigned his position as Executive Director of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild and Art Colony, AKA “Byrdcliffe” or simply “The Guild,” to concentrate on his vocation as a pastor. Leaycraft, a former board member, stepped into the breach when the previous and short-lived Executive Director, Peter Nesbitt, resigned on discovering that the organization was in perilous fiscal shape. That the art colony has struggled financially is no secret, but then that is often the case with non-profits of this type.
Byrdcliffe, founded in the early 1900s by Ralph Whitehead, is generally agreed to be Woodstock’s crown jewel, not least because of its location high above the town. The problem with Byrdcliffe is that it is property rich and cash poor — a fatal combination when the property includes, as Byrdcliffe does, a lot of high maintenance, aging historic buildings, and a membership that, rightly, does not want to see the colony die the death of a thousand cuts through the selling off of assets to pay bills. Therefore it represents a challenge to any candidate willing to captain the ship. Jeremy Adams, a quiet spoken unassuming Englishman has donned that cap. He took over the role of Executive Director on January 2nd of this year so now, six months in, seems like a good time to find out how he is doing, and what form his vision is taking for this wonderful gift left to Woodstock by Mr. Whitehead, and one in which many of us in the Valley are invested, one way or another.
Claire Lambe: Like all creative institutions and individuals in the Woodstock area, we’re excited to welcome a new executive director to the Byrdcliffe Guild, which means so much to us and has such a remarkable and long tradition. Do you have roots in Woodstock or connections to it?
Jeremy Adams: My wife’s best friend’s family has had a house in Shady for over fifty years, and she would come and visit in the summertime. When we had our first child 11 years ago we started renting in the general area for a month in the summer, and in 2010 we purchased our own home just outside of Stone Ridge. At the time we thought being weekenders would soothe our itch for living in the area but we found out it actually exacerbated it!
CL: The Hudson Valley has that effect on people all right. We imagine that your role as executive director will mingle financial and creative stewardship. Do you have experience on both fronts?
JA: I have worked in the art world in a variety of capacities for 23 years. Ten years ago I was hired to launch and build a non-profit arts organization in NYC [The CUE Foundation* more info at end of article]. Over the years I grew the organization from one to six programs, increased revenue by 50%, and ended up managing five full-time and one part-time staff.
CL: Do you have plans for the Guild’s future that you would be prepared to share with Roll Magazine and its readers?
JA: Byrdcliffe was born as a reaction to the Industrial revolution, I feel there are now many artists who are reacting to the technological revolution and are seeking a return to making things. I’d like to increase the activities that artists, both within the colony and the larger community in the area, can become involved in. It should be a site of inclusivity, a site of experimentation, and a hive of activity. I also want to build a stronger connection between the Byrdcliffe colony, the Kleinert James Center for the Arts and the community of Woodstock and create programming that benefits everyone.
CL: I think there will be a lot of people happy to hear this. There have been times where the colony has seemed aloof from the town. Are there any off-the-wall ideas, circumstances permitting, that you could add to this?
JA: Broaden the concept of what is arts and crafts to include more activities including a kitchen garden, bee keeping, cheese making, beer brewing, but all of these would be down the line, my first focus is to strengthen the current range of activities.
CL: Great. The upkeep of the Colony’s many celebrated dwellings is always at the forefront of Guild members’ minds. Do you have plans or suggestions you could share with us?
JA: The colony is beautiful as we all know, but it is 112 years old, and we walk a fine line between “rustic” and “run-down.” The long term plan is to invest in the upkeep of the colony because without the buildings we don’t have anything. I would also like to create more space for artistic activity; right now we don’t have enough spaces for the creation of work for our seasonal and year round artists.
CL: The Guild fosters art in its many forms, including theater. Do you have favorite practitioners — in the arts generally — that would give us an idea of your personal tastes and preferences?
JA: I come from a visual arts background, my favorite all time painter is Philip Guston so I’m excited to be working in the same area where he made so many fantastic paintings. My musical tastes are blues oriented; I listen to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, Ted Hawkins and a number of others. I apologize but I am a theater novice, I don’t go nearly as often as I would like to so don’t feel qualified to comment! The last play I saw was “Two Guvnors” which must be nearly two years ago. Sorry.
CL: Jeremy, we will make it our mission to correct your theater deficit. Regarding Philip Guston, he is indeed one of Woodstock’s great artists and is buried in the Artist’s Graveyard right in the town, just off Rock City Road. Now that you have been at the Guild for nearly six months, are you finding the job — its requirements — very different from your work at the CUE Foundation, or not so much?
JA: No they are pretty similar in many respects though on my second day I had to deal with a tree falling on somebody’s car, that didn’t happen so much in the city. I’m sure now that we move into more programming at the colony things will be more different. I’m very excited for the seasonal programming that begins in May.
CL: What plans are on the cards for this season?
JA: ARTBARN just presented This is a Ghost House, a new theater piece written by Melissa D Brown inspired by the notorious hoarders of Harlem, the Collyer brothers, the psychology of labyrinths, and the lengths we’ll go to hide from ourselves. And we have two very interesting art shows opening in June: Big Bambú by Doug + Mike Starn at the Kleinert, and Katharine L. McKenna’s fabulous landscapes at the White Pines house – both open in June. And there will be various events happening at the theater over the summer including, I believe, your company “The Woodstock Players” will be performing a play.
CL: That’s right, we are bringing a new play by our artistic director, Carey Harrison, entitled Nero at the Movies – that will be at the end of August. Some great concerts are coming too I believe and, of course, the Artist-In-Residence season will begin very soon. One of the really fun things about the AIR program, for locals, is the pot-luck Open Studio events that happen at the end of each round of residents.
JA: Indeed. We also have a lot of artists’ studio visits scheduled throughout the summer. On June 7, attendees get to see the studios of artists Judy Pfaff and Tanya Marcuse, on July 26 the studios of Julia Santos Solomon and Melinda Stickney-Gibson will be open, and on August 23, people will be able to have an inside look at the studios of Heather Hutchison and Mark Thomas Kanter. It is very exciting.
CL: And I see that the last event includes a meal at the home of artist Donald Elder – that will be a treat! We will include a link to the website at the end of the article and, readers, I encourage you to check it out as there are some super entertainments on the menu. Like a good many residents of Woodstock, you’re British-born. How does this affect your view of America generally, and Woodstock in particular?
JA: Well I’ve now lived in the US for 25 years so feel pretty Americanized! What I enjoy about Woodstock is the great diversity of people and the fact that so many people from all walks of life end up hanging out together in ways that I don’t think would ever happen in NYC. Woodstock is very non-hierarchical in some ways.
CL: This is true – the easy-going social scene is one of the great things about it. At the same time, the likelihood is that your plumber or bicycle repair person is also an artist, a musician or a writer, or all three. How did you manage this exceptionally cold winter? —a taste of mid-Hudson Valley hardship!
JA: I managed it out of necessity. I spent a lot more time than I had envisioned trying to remove ice dams from my roof and piles of snow from my deck. Though having spent many years in NYC I enjoyed the fact that snow didn’t end up looking all black and dirty within 24 hours.
CL: No interview is complete with at least one trivia question: if you hadn’t taken the path that has led you here to Woodstock and this particular position, what would you be?
JA: Probably a commentator on soccer, I was never good enough to play the game professionally but probably would have found a way to become involved in it somehow!
CL: Soccer! Ah, maybe not so Americanized after all. Thank you, Jeremy, for talking to Roll Magazine and we all look forward to what you will be bringing to the table at Byrdcliffe in the next few years.
Featured image: Jeremy Adams, Executive Director of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, with drawing of White Pines by Byron Bell. Drawing and WBG logo supplied by DMC Design.
Unless otherwise noted, all images are courtesy of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild website.
*CUE Art Foundation is a visual arts center dedicated to creating career and educational opportunities for emerging and under-recognized artists of all ages.
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. In addition to her art-making, she is also the company manager and designer for The Woodstock Players Theater Company—as the company designer she is responsible for everything from the website to the set design. Writing credits include contributing author to Teen Life in Europe (part of the Teen Life Around The World series), and articles and reviews for this publication.