Woodstock before Woodstock, and Other Artists’ Colonies

Joanne Artman Gallery
Aug 3, 2018 3:25PM

Before Woodstock became the mecca of the hippie generation, the area was already a hotspot for artists, thinkers, and dreamers who all flocked to Byrdcliffe, the original Woodstock arts colony. The colony was a favorite destination for the likes of pop icon and musician Bob Dylan, modern artist Milton Avery, and actor Chevy Chase.

William Morris wallpaper design, 1862 (Image Courtesy of WikiCommons).

Cottages of Byrdcliffe from a 1909 photograph (Image Courtesy of WikiCommons).

Byrdcliffe was founded in 1903 by the son of a millionaire Yorkshire textile baron, Ralph Whitehead and his wife, Jane Byrd McCall, as an art colony of artists and craftsmen who were interested in subsistence and community living, a radical idea for the time. Whitehead, an idealist (and a little bit of a philosopher), was interested in implementing the theories of one of the British Arts and Craft Movement founders, William Morris. Morris hypothesized that much of the mire of modern society stemmed from the separation of work from art, joy, and craft. Whitehead aimed to create a space where work and art lived side by side, ideally somewhere that was also picturesque. Thus, Byrdcliffe was born. The community of like-minded individuals and teachers was housed in chalet-like houses, decorated with handmade furniture, and drew artists and visitors from across the world. It remains an active artist destination today as part of the Woodstock Guild, and is best known for its contribution to the architectural legacy of the Arts and Crafts movement.

But most importantly, Byrdcliffe should be remembered as being one of the first of its kind to provide refuge to liberated women seeking roles outside of homemaker and housewife. At the colony, women were free to take on nontraditional roles, to dress as men and pursue their craft. According to Les Walker as quoted in a New York Times Article, “The women of Byrdcliffe were among the first liberated women in America…It was one of the few places creative women who didn’t want to be housewives could go in those days.”

1909 Postcard Depicting Monhegan Island, Maine (Image Courtesy of WikiCommons).


The stories and legacies of artist colonies in America and across the globe are a treasure trove of unique characters, practices and tales. In Europe, the mid 19th Century saw a mass movement of artists away from urban centers to the countryside, and in America too, many artists sought the refuge of a rural locale and a community of like-minded artists.

Here are a few other artist colonies worth a notable mention:

Monhegan Island, Maine– mid 19th Century – present day

Famous summertime artists’ colony located on an island off the coast of Maine. A favorite destination for NYC-based landscape painters seeking inspiration amongst its rocky outcroppings and picturesque views such as that of Lobster Cove. Also known for its hermit.

Sedona, Arizona– mid 1950s

A popular destination for modernists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, the artists established an artistic milieu within the rural town of 500 ranchers and the small Native American community. Intellectuals such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Yves Tanguy were a few of the visitors.

Barbizon, France– 1830s – 1870s

The landscape and inhabitants of the town of Barbizon were a major subject for the artists working as part of the Barbizon school. The major characteristics of their collective work are realism, tonal qualities, loose brushwork and attention to form.

Ein Hod, Israel –early 1900s – present day

Founded by Dada artist Marcel Janco in 1953. The village is located at the base of Mount Carmel, and surrounded by olive groves, and is a well-known community of some of Israel’s most celebrated artists and musicians.

Laguna Beach, California– 1920’s – present day

In the early 1900s the small town had a large portion of the community working in creative fields, attracting an even greater number of painters, filmmakers, photographers, and writers by the 1920s. This rich history has shaped Laguna Beach into the flourishing arts scene it is today, home to the Laguna Art Museum, as well as numerous art galleries, including our own!

Writen by JoAnne Artman Gallery  ||  www.joanneartmangallery.com

326 North Coast HWY, Laguna Beach CA  ||  511A West 22nd St, New York NY

Joanne Artman Gallery