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A Thing of Life and Movement: Hunt Diederich in Woodstock and Beyond

By Bruce Weber

Pierre Nobel (Active 1920s)

Hunt Diederich, c. 1920

Gelatin silver print

Studio of Edwin N. Peabody

William Morris Hunt, 1879

William Morris Hunt (1824-1879)

Sand Banks with Willows, Magnolia, 1877

Oil on canvas

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Hunt Diederich achieved great renown as an exponent of decorative wrought-iron sculpture. He lived intermittently in Woodstock from 1917 through the early 1930s. Born in Szent-Grot, Austria-Hungary in 1884, Wilhelm Hunt Diederich was the son of Eleanor Hunt, daughter of the American painter William Morris Hunt and niece of the architect Richard Morris Hunt. His father, Colonel Ernest Diederich, who bred and trained horses for the Prussian army, died in 1887 of injuries sustained in a hunting accident when Hunt (as Wilhelm was called) was just three years old. As a child, Hunt was educated in Switzerland but made occasional visits to America. At fifteen, he and his brother Kurt moved to Boston, where they lived in the house of their painter grandfather and attended Milton Academy. Between 1902 and 1904, young Hunt attended the Boston Museum Art School, where he studied drawing from the antique with Philip Leslie Hale, life drawing with Frank Benson, and painting with Edmund Tarbell. Initially influenced by the example of his grandfather, William Morris Hunt, Diederich started out as a painter in the Barbizon mode before his interest turned to sculpture.

Emanuel Frémiet (182-1910)

Chauchard, c. 1904

Plaster

Musée d’Orsay

Paul Manship (1885-1966)

Self-Portrait, 1906-1907

Pencil, watercolor, ink and chalk

Smithsonian American Art Museum


At the age of twenty, Diederich traveled to Paris, where for about a year he studied with the French Academician and animal sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet at the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle at the Jardins des Plantes. Little of Diederich’s student work has survived, but his art of the time is known to have been humorous and light-hearted in spirit.


In 1905, Hunt returned to the United States and traveled to Wyoming, where he tasted cowboy life on a ranch owned by one of his cousins. Next, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for two years, studying antique drawing from plaster casts with Thomas Anshutz; life drawing, anatomy and painting with William Merritt Chase; and modeling with Charles Grafly.


At the school, Diederich became close friends with fellow student Paul Manship, and, as he explained, “readily mastered the elementary technique of my craft.”[1] In 1907, he and his fellow sculptor traveled to Spain, where they drew and modeled and slept in the open air on beaches and along roadsides. After returning to Philadelphia, Diederich was expelled from the Pennsylvania Academy for using improper language in a class made up of men and women.

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Might and Right, 1909

Bronze

Westmoreland Museum of American Art


Paris became Diederich's base from 1908 to 1914. Might and Right dates from 1909 and is Diederich’s earliest extant piece of sculpture. Diederich’s modeling is quick, direct, lively, and impressionistic. The surface of Might and Right is covered with a paint-like coating, which may have been used to hide imperfections in the casting process. During this period of his career, Diederich often favored gold-colored patinas. Though small, the piece is packed with the power of the combat between the two muscular figures, whose facial features are only suggested. At this time Diederich became interested in creating rough and tumble subjects.

Hunt Diederich (188-1953)

Greyhounds, 1913

Bronze

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art


Back in Paris, Diederich studied briefly again with Frémiet, exhibited in the spring salon of 1910, and visited Spain, Germany, Italy—he had a one-man exhibition in Rome in 1912—and in Africa. In France, he became close friends with the sculptors Elie Nadelman and Alexander Archipenko, who went on to come to America, with Archipenko summering in Woodstock, and Nadelman and his wife Violet forming a friendship with Woodstock artists Florence Ballin Cramer and Konrad Cramer.


Diederich had an artistic breakthrough in 1913 when, as Diederich scholar Carol Irish Brakebill has noted, he began to “depart from Academic conventions of aesthetic beauty in order to concentrate on expressing his own inner feelings through his work.”[2] Artistic success followed upon the exhibition of his Greyhounds at the autumn salon of 1913. A critic for Burlington Magazine wrote that “one of the finest, perhaps the finest, of the sculptures [in the exhibition] is the Greyhounds of Mr. Hunt Diederich, a young American sculptor who lives in Paris, but was up to now unknown.”[3]

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Stag and Hounds, 1930

Wrought Iron

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Weathervane, c. 1920

Sheet iron

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Fighting Cocks Firescreen, n.d.

Wrought iron, cut metal, metal mast

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Matador and Bull, n.d.

Paper cutout


Diederich left Europe at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. He settled in New York, where he began to establish his reputation as a decorative artist and sculptor. He soon became renowned for figurative pieces created in wrought iron with the technical assistance of blacksmiths. He portrayed hounds, stags, horses, riders, fighting cocks, and bulls and toreadors—often in the thick of combat.

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Fighting Cocks, 1919

The Plowshare

May-June 1919

Linocut

Private Collection NY

Courtesy Conner Rosenkranz, NY

Hunt Diedrich (1884-1953)

Hounds on Leash, 1919

The Plowshare

May-June 1919

Linocut

Private Collection NY

Courtesy Conner Rosenkranz, NY

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Master of the Hunt, 1919

The Plowshare

January 1919 (cover)

Linocut

Private Collection NY

Courtesy Conner Rosenkranz, NY

Mary de Anders Diederich (1890-1953)

Cover Design, The Plowshare,

June 1918

Woodcut

Woodstock Public Library


Diederich began spending time in the Woodstock area in the summer of 1917, when he and his artist wife Mary de Anders Diederich rented a house on the Maverick in West Hurley. Following Ilonka Karasz and possibly Paul Rohland, the couple were the first visual artists to spend summers there. During their time on the Maverick the couple created prints for White’s periodical The Plowshare, including an image by Hunt of a horse and rider and dogs for the cover of the issue of January 1919. In his autobiography the Maverick founder Hervey White noted how Diederich was “always nosing about in old rubbish to pick up some junk to convert into art. One day it was a shallow bowl that he dusted on the seat of his pants and took away. He returned in an hour with a brown and yellow bowl with designs on the inside and out. [Diederich] always remained about Woodstock, interspersing [his stays] with serial residences [in] Spain, Germany, Mexico, Paris or Long Island.” [4]


Diederich was fanatically right wing politicaly. White noted that during his time on the Maverick he insisted on upholding the Germans during World War I, and getting into arguments with every patriot who came along. White tried to get him to stop arguing, and he said he would but didn’t. Diederich had an antagonistic personality. Louis Bouche, who frequented the art colony in Woodstock in the 1920s as well as in later decades, remarked that “his curious manner frightened me. He had an almost evil look . . . .”[5] The painter George Biddle said “He could be sweet, affectionate and generous with younger artists, and he befriended the poor and misfits. He disliked those who were successful and identified himself with the failures. He had a beautiful manly, tender voice, with deep musical overtones. He was extraordinarily handsome in a rather brutal male way.”[6]

Unknown Photographer

Florence Ballin Cramer at Florence Gallery, New York City, 1919

Gelatin silver print

Konrad and Florence Ballin Cramer Papers,

Archives of American Art


Diederich was especially active in the art colony in the late teens and early 1920s. He was among the members of The Florence Gallery in New York, which was in existence from November 1919 through May 1920. The gallery was an outgrowth of the desire of a group of Woodstock artists to have a regular place to show their work in the city. The gallery was started by the Woodstock artist Florence Ballin Cramer as a cooperative venture. It showed mostly Woodstockers, including Diederich, Grace Mott Johnson, Andrew Dasburg, Henry Lee McFee, Eugene Speicher, Paul Rohland, Caroline Speare Rohland, and Florence and her husband, Konrad Cramer. Elie Nadelman and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, who later establshed a summer home in town, also exhibited at the space.

Former Beekman House (NOW RARE BEAR AND HOME OF AL EVERS PAPERS), 2019

Unknown Photographer

Beekman Store, c. 1907-1909

Postcard

Fern Malkine-Falvey Archives

(CURRENT SITE OF WOODSTOCK ARTISTS ASSOCIATION)


Diederich played a key part in the transaction that led to the purchase of the Woodstock Artists Association’s current property. In late 1919 he aided the fledgling association by coupling their acquisition of property with their seller’s requirement that it include the purchase next door of the old Beekman House, the current home of the Rare Bear store and the papers of the historian Alf Evers. For a brief period Diederich and his family lived next door to the association. White noted that during his intermittent stays in Woodstock and various other places Diederich bought “junk real estate . . . and [transformed] it into saleable property.” [7]

Unknown Photographer

Woodstock House of Clemence Randolph

Robrt Winthrop Chanler in white suit,

Clemence Randolph 2nd from left.

Private Collection

Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872-1953)

and Hunt Diederich (1884–1953)

Mille Fleurs: A Three-Part Folding Screen, 1919

Wrought and cast iron, cut aluminum, wood panels with gesso,

silver-leaf and polychrome

Private Collection, Courtesy

of Conner Rosenkranz


In the mid-1920s, Diederich sold the artist Robert Winthrop Chanler the house in Woodstock that he purchased for his mistress Clemence Randolph. Diederich lived there for a period after selling his Tinker Street property. The chimney of the house was once adorned with a weathervane by Diederich, and decorated with lamp shades and window panes by the artist. Diederich and Chanler were friends in Woodstock as well as New York, where Diederich frequented some of the wild parties at Chanler’s house on East 19th Street. Diederich collaborated with Chanler on the screen pictured above. Chanler’s screens generally feature bold chromatic harmonies, combinations of gold and silver backgrounds, and metallic overlays. Diederich added the images of men and animals in cut aluminum and wrought and cast iron. Diederich also collaborated with Woodstock artist Konrad Cramer.


Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Relief for Fireplace of

Arnold and Lucille Blanch, n.d.

Bronze


In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Diederich was making pottery at Byrdcliffe. The Woodstock Bulletin announced in 1929 that Diederich “has recently returned from some unknown world pilgrimage, and is settled for the season in ‘The Apples’ in Byrdcliffe, where he will work in cahoots with one C. R. Morris to make pottery.”[8] The potter, builder, inventor, collector of concert grand pianos, and real estate broker Claremont Robert Morris, was primarily involved in art and music circles in New York, and lived for a period in Kingston. At some point during his stays in the area Diederich created a decorative relief for the base of a fireplace in the Maverick home of the artists Arnold and Lucille Blanch. His Hounds and Hares Chandelier originally was in a private collection in Woodstock.

Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)

Hounds and Hares Chandelier, c. 1925

Cut steel, wrought iron and brass chain


Diederich’s career flourished through the 1920s, a decade in which he created screens, lamps, shades, chimney pots, chandeliers, brackets, trivets, candlesticks, andirons, pottery, weathervanes, and fountains. In addition to metal, he worked in stone, wood, and ceramic. He also produced paintings and many pencil and crayon drawings. In his decorative work Diederich concentrated on making things that were useful and beautiful. He believed sculpture should be kinetic rather than static. The art critic, author, and collector Christian Brinton remarked that his sculpture was “a thing of life and movement rather than academic mobility.”[9] The artist and critic Guy Pène du Bois called Diederich “a decorative revolutionary . . . . armed with humor,” while noting that his subjects were “fantastic arabesques—moving pictures of burlesque pursuits, explained in the manner of a modern, in a style crisp and bold and dandified.”[10] Diederich believed that there could “be as much aesthetic joy in making a candlestick or designing the leg of a table as in the treatment of the nude. . . . Sculpture has been too long an affair of marble and bronze. It is too remote, too inaccessible. We must do everything possible to extend its scope and appeal, to insure for it a wide, more popular acceptance.”[11]

Unknown Photographer

Hunt Diederich with Unfinished

Sculpture of His Wife, c. 1925

Gelatin silver print

Archives of American Art


While traveling in Germany in 1923, Diederich purchased Burgthann, an eleventh-century Bavarian castle, where he spent considerable time in later years. Five years after this, he seriously injured his right ankle after he fell off a scaffold. For the rest of his life, he suffered chronic pain, which diminished his creative activity. In 1937, he moved with his family to Coyoacán, one of the sixteen boroughs of the Federal District of Mexico City. Returning to New York four years later, he purchased a house north of the city in Tappan, but produced little new art as his health continued to deteriorate. He began to suffer from mental illness as well. Diederich died on May 14, 1953, in Nyack, New York. Interest in his folk art-inspired work had greatly diminished well before his death, but it revived late in the 1980s and continues today.


[1] Diederich is quoted in Christian Brinton, “Introduction,” essay in Catalogue of the First American Exhibition of Sculpture by Hunt Diederich (New York: Kingore Galleries, 1920), n.p. [2] Carol Anderson Irish Brakebill,”William Hunt Diederich: Negotiating the Path from Sculpture to Decorative Arts, ”M. A. Thesis, Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, 1999, p. 109.

[3] R.E.D, “Art in France,” Burlington Magazine 24 (December 1913): 172. [4] Hervey White, “Autobiography,” manuscript in the Papers of Hervey White, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, p. 137.

[5] Buche is quoted by Garnett McCoy, "Editorial Note," Archives of American Art Journal, vol. 24, no, 4 (1984): 28.

[6] Biddle is quoted in Ibid., p. 28.

[7] White, p. 137.

[8] "New Pottery Makers Will Work in Byrdcliffe,” Woodstock Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 3, July 1, 1929, n.p.

[9] Brinton, n.p. [10] Guy Pene du Bois, “Hunt Diederich, Decorator, Humorist and Stylist,” Arts & Decoration 7 (September 1917): 515.

[11] Diederich is quoted in Brinton, n.p.

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