Anna B. Carolan and the Rescue of the Woodstock Artists Association, Part 1
Updated: 5 days ago
Gerald Leake (1885-1975)
Portrait of Anna B. Carolan, c. 1950
Front View of Woodstock Art Gallery,
after May 1922
Gelatin silver print
Woodstock Artists Association Archives
In the summer of 1941, Anna B. Carolan (1886-1972) stepped in to stave off a crisis that threatened the Woodstock Artists Association’s existence, and which led to the termination of the Association’s lease at the Woodstock Art Gallery on Tinker Street. The organization had been the sole inhabitant of the gallery from the time of its opening to the public in 1921. The crisis at the Woodstock Art Gallery was mitigated in major part as a result of a change, in 1938, to the Association’s summer exhibition policy, which led to a broader and more inclusive representation of Woodstock artists. The following year it was reported that this “new policy, which has put an end to most of the old barriers, has pacified insurgent groups and has resulted in a new harmony.”(1)
“Good Paintings Will Cure Gallery Ills,
Declares Speicher,” The Overlook,
August 2, 1940, p. 1.
Behind the scenes, however, dissension was brewing over the new exhibition policy among some of the leading artists of the art colony, including Eugene Speicher, Carl Eric Lindin and Judson Smith. At a meeting of the organization’s executive committee in early August 1940, Speicher spoke out for stronger exhibitions. The local weekly publication The Overlook reported that Speicher told those attending that since “the introduction of the so-called democratic idea into the administration of the gallery . . . the standard of quality of exhibits has been lowered [and] metropolitan art critics do not visit with the frequency they used to . . . .”(2) He further remarked that “while sales of paintings are a necessary objective there is always danger of over-commercialization [and] suggested that some of the younger painters with painting ability put some of the enthusiasm into painting they now reserve for sales ballyhoo. He is of the opinion that good paintings are the shortest route to sales [and] that the quality of exhibitions at the gallery could [also] be improved with fewer paintings . . . .”(3)
“Carl Lindin and Judson Smith Resign
as Officials of Artists Association,”
The Overlook, September 13, 1940, p. 1.
The dissension at the Woodstock Artists Association progressed in September when the organization’s president, Carl Eric Lindin, and treasurer, Judson Smith, resigned their positions on the board of the Artists Realty Company, the holding company which oversaw the Woodstock Art Gallery’s operations. Lindin’s letter of resignation appeared in The Overlook: “It is almost a quarter of a century ago since I entered upon the rather delicate and dubious position as errand boy, janitor, arbiter, and president of the Woodstock Artists Association. On the whole it has been a fine experience, accompanied at times by severe headaches. . . . there has never been lack of difference of opinion during these many years . . . . And if the Association suffers from old age or growing pains, the remedy is always the same: that is, the one which Eugene Speicher suggested at a recent meeting; ‘Paint and exhibit better pictures!’. . . . ”(4)
In the wake of Lindin and Smith’s resignation a stalemate arose between the Artists Realty Company and the Woodstock Artists Association on how to move forward. In order to cover the immediate financial expenses of operating the building, the Artists Reality Company chose to lease out the gallery space to interested parties. In early July the Kingston Daily Freeman announced that the “big news of the week is that the Artist’s Realty. Co., Inc., has leased the Art Gallery, on the Village Green, to Miss Anna B. Carolan, from the 15th of July to the 5th of September.”(5) Carolan’s decision to lease the gallery came on the heels of her return from a five-month trip to Panama, and her likely chagrin at the prospect of the Woodstock Art Gallery being closed indefinitely was matched with a desire to help restore the gallery’s reputation as an exhibition space.
Anna Benedicta Carolan was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 10, 1886. Her parents were the concert pianist, Benedicta M. Carolan, and the actor, theatrical director, and dramatic coach, John J. Carolan. Her father went by the stage name Alfred Young, and was involved with the New York School of Dramatic Art, the New York Society for Expression, and the Amaranth Society of Brooklyn. A member of the Players Club in Manhattan, Carolan’s obituary described him as an “intimate of the people of the stage from the time of [Junius Brutus] Booth [Jr.]”(6)
Marion Greenwood (1909-1970)
John J. Carolan, 1931
Cottage Rented by Marion Greenwood,
203 Library Lane, Woodstock, New York
The Carolan family resided at a three-story brownstone at 713 Putnam Avenue in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Upon her father’s death in 1935, the residue of his estate of nearly $200,000 was left in equal shares to his children, Anna, Benedicta, William and Katherine.(7) According to Carolan descendants, Anna chose to take ownership of the Putnam Avenue property instead of her portion of the inheritance. In 1931, Carolan commissioned Marion Greenwood to draw a portrait of her father, a strict and sober taskmaster. Greenwood first visited Woodstock in 1920 when she was eleven years old, and over the course of the early decades of her career returned regularly to the town, renting property in various locations, including a cottage near Anna’s house on Library Lane, before acquiring a permanent home of her own on Glasco Turnpike.
Anna B. Carolan, 1908
From “Shakespearian Play by Girls of Adelphi College,”
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 23, 1908, p. 21
Carolan attended Girl’s High School in Brooklyn, where she graduated in 1904. Early in life she followed in the footsteps of her father, and was engaged in acting. In her junior year she co-presented Charles Marsham Rae’s comedietta in one act A Fair Encounter.(8) In the fall of 1905, Carolan entered Adelphi University, where she was a member of the glee club and drama society. Carolan performed in numerous productions at Adelphi, including Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In 1906 her illustration of Alice Fuller’s poem “The Christmas Feeling” appeared in the Christmas issue of the school publication The Lituus.
Anna B. Carolan (1886-1972)
The Christmas Feeling, 1906
The Lituus, vol. 3, no. 6,
December 20, 1906, cover
It was probably while attending Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in the summer of 1915 that Carolan met the Nicaraguan-born writer and translator Salomón de la Selva, who was taking classes at the school.(9) De la Selva is primarily remembered today for his advocacy of Latin American poetry, and his translations of English poetry into Spanish, and Latin American poetry into English. The writer dedicated his poem “The Sorry Madrigal” to Anna, with whom he may have had a romantic interlude:
So like the Spring she was,—warm, not too
And sweet to smell,—
There was no guile in her, or any harm
In what befell.
Except the seasons change, flowers to fruit
And fruit to seed,
And seeds must break or ever leaf and root
Fulfill their need.(10)
Over the course of her lifetime, Anna associated with many well-known writers, including poet e. e. cummings and novelists Aldous Huxley and George Victor Martin. She was a voracious reader, and conversant in several languages
Anna B. Carolan (1886-1972)
Catskill Landscape, 1955
In New York City, Carolan took classes at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute (dates and instructors unknown). She came to Woodstock in the summer of 1914 when she attended the Art Student League’s Woodstock School of Landscape Painting, and became enamored with the creative life of the town. The school was directed by John F. Carlson with the assistance of Frank Swift Chase and Walter Goltz (Carolan credited the latter as her instructor). Sometime between 1917 and 1919 she attended Winold Reiss’ summer art school in neighboring Bearsville. In 1922 she attended Hayley Lever’s landscape painting class at the League school. Also, at some time Carolan studied landscape painting in Woodstock with Cecil Chichester.(11) She continued to paint landscapes of the Catskills into the 1950s.
Suitcase of Anna B. Carolan with Her Initials
and Stamp of Hotel Nord in Milan, Italy
In around 1918, Carolan began her career as a public school art teacher in Brooklyn. By 1921, she had transferred from P.S. 32 to Boys High School, where she taught painting, drawing and art appreciation for two decades. Summers were generally spent in Woodstock or abroad. In the summer of 1922 she signed her name along with over thirty other summer artist residents to a petition protesting the modern art on view in an exhibition at the Woodstock Artists Association. The protest was led by William C. L. White, a fellow instructor at Boys High School, and was triggered by paintings on view by Konrad Cramer, Andrew Dasburg and Henry Lee McFee, whose Cubist-inspired works inventively incorporated bits of tin, wood, and plaster, newspaper clippings, and other assorted found materials.(12) The artist and art writer Norbert Heerman reported that the works “aroused such astonishment that men like Dasburg, McFee, and Cramer have been forced to place ‘Do Not Touch’ placards on their pictures in order to safeguard them.”(13)
Victor Charreton (1864-1937)
Murol in the Snow, c. 1920
Cleveland Museum of Art
Anna B. Carolan
French Village, c. 1920s
In 1923, Carolan joined a tour party of students and graduates of Adelphi College, and spent the summer visiting France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “everyone will return early in September with the exception of Miss Carolan, who will spend the winter studying art in Paris.”(14) Carolan remained in Paris till the autumn of 1925. During the course of her time in Paris, she studied with Victor Charreton at the Académie Julian, and attended the Grande Chaumière and the Sorbonne. In her colorful and light filled landscapes of the time she generally followed Charreton’s stylistic example, and carried on the legacy of the French Impressionists. The art writer Alan Burroughs remarked in 1922 that “newer art is too harsh for Victor Charreton. [He] stands with those Impressionists who painted so cleverly that the younger men revolted and even resolved to paint clumsily. . . . Charreton is outside the influences which ferment so quickly in ‘the art center of the world.’”(15)
Anna B. Carolan (1886-1972)
Spanish Landscape, c. 1930s
By 1930, Carolan began to form a more favorable outlook on modern art, and her work was gradually influenced by the art of Paul Cézanne and the School of Paris. In 1930, The New York Times published her letter about a recent excursion by her high school students to view the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh. She recalled that when the exhibition “opened I was most enthusiastic and encouraged the 14-year-old boys under my artistic care to attend. [Some] voted on their favorite. The following was the result: Seurat 34[,] Van Gogh 13[,] Gauguin 11[,] Cézanne 3[.] Most of them gave reasons to back up their choice. Seurat’s unusual technique and haze-like effect easily gave him first place. [These] classes were highly amused because so few approved of teacher’s choice, Cézanne.”(16) In January 1934, Carolan gave a talk on modern art at the Business Women’s Club of the Bedford Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.(17)
Anna B. Carolan (1886-1972)
Anna B. Carolan (1886-1972)
Cow in Yard in Front of Woodstock Studio, n.d.
Following her return to America from France in the autumn of 1925, Carolan began to exhibit at the Neighborhood Club in Brooklyn Heights. She had a solo showing there in late 1929 which consisted mostly of paintings she created on a recent Mediterranean cruise.(18) In 1931 and 1932 Carolan exhibited works at the annual exhibitions of the Society of Independent Artists in Manhattan. In future years her showings were limited mostly to the Woodstock Artists Association and the Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen. She also occasionally showed at exhibitions at Twilight Park in Tannersville, north of Woodstock. Carolan continued to paint landscapes, still lifes and figure compositions, but her commitment to painting dimmed in the 1940s when she became involved with directing the Woodstock Art Gallery and then The Little Gallery.
Anna B. Carolan
Young Woman, 1940
Exhibited at the
Woodstock Artists Association
Upon leasing the Woodstock Art Gallery in June of 1941 and becoming its acting director, Anna B. Carolan chose to delay the opening of the first summer exhibition till mid-July in order to have sufficient time to organize a show of the first quality. The day prior to the opening the Saugerties Telegraph related that it “is Miss Carolan’s hope that by re-establishing high standards in the gallery, Woodstock will assume its former position as a great art center.”(19) The Overlook reported that paintings on view at the gallery in the summer of 1941 were “limited strictly to those produced by Woodstock artists. Although not all of them will be represented at the first exhibition, Miss Carolan said she plans to try to have every outstanding local artist represented [in] at least one [of the two] exhibitions.”(20) In mid-July the newspaper further reported that “considerable interest has been aroused in the summer’s series of exhibitions and art lovers and critics from far and near are expected to attend. The first show has been well publicized in the art sections of the New York City newspapers and several critics from these papers probably will attend.”(21)
During the course of the summer of 1941, Carolan was described in the local press as being a regular summer resident of Woodstock who was widely known as a painter and teacher of art. She was also credited for her direction of the Woodstock Art Gallery. Her experience as a high school teacher inspired her to seek to stimulate young people’s interest in the summer exhibitions. Carolan admitted young people to the gallery free of charge, and instituted an essay contest for boys and girls of high school age or younger, who were asked to submit a critical review of the first exhibitition. Cash prizes were distributed to the first and second prize winner.(22)
Invitation for First Summer Exhibition,
Woodstock Art Gallery, July 19, 1941
Woodstock Artists Association Archives
The first summer exhibition featured twenty of the foremost artists of Woodstock and four non-resident artists. The show was hailed in The Overlook as one “of the finest collections of paintings ever assembled in Woodstock.”(23) Among the Woodstock artists represented were Speicher, Lindin, Henry Mattson, Charles Rosen, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Dorothy Varian, Georgina Klitgaard, Frank London, André Ruellan, Joseph Pollet, Stuart Edie, Mary Early, Reginald Wilson, Jo Cantine and Hermon More.
In mid-July, the Saugerties Telegraph announced that the second exhibition of the summer “will be open to all Woodstock artists, [and] be strictly juried to assure the same quality as in the opening show.”(24) The exhibition featured paintings, prints and sculptures by a combination of established and younger artists of the colony, including Orville Peets, Norbert Heerman, Peggy Dodds, E. J. Ballantine, David Rudolf Bernatschke, Josephine Barnard, Ethel Canby and Mariquita Villard.
In the weeks leading up to the closing of the second exhibition in early September, a series of informal gatherings were held by a temporary executive committee of the Woodstock Artists Association, who were charged with mapping a program for the organization’s future. The gatherings led to conversations with the board of the Artists Realty Company, to the creation of a plan for the future of the artists association, and to the Woodstock Artists Association organizing an exhibition that autumn at the gallery.(25) Among the artists to play a major role in the reorganization were Julia Leaycraft and Joseph Pollet.
The Woodstock Artists Association’s plan was outlined in an article in The Overlook, and included a major change in exhibition policy: “It has been felt that often the necessity to make money for rent, other expenses, etc., seriously interfered with a rigorous jurying of works on the basis of quality, and further that many interesting painters were debarred from showing because they were financially unable to pay for the wall space. To avoid both these evils it is proposed to establish a [fairly priced] membership fee entirely distinct and detached from exhibition rights [and] to seek ways to raise . . . operating expenses by means other than exhibition fees such as dances, lectures, lay memberships and other activities [and] if possible, to raise such funds in advance.”(26) It was also recommended that the Association “re-arrange the gallery in some way to make the exhibition space more interesting, with the consent of the owners,” and it was noted that the executive committee of the Artists Realty Company felt “very strongly that for this society to function as its best the central core of the membership should be composed of professional artists in the community who are willing to be active in the affairs of the body and have its best interests in mind.”(27)
In 1942, the Woodstock Artists Association was back in full swing at the Woodstock Art Gallery. Six exhibitions were on view and the organization was again in the national eye. The Woodstock Press considered it to be “one of the most ambitious seasons ever undertaken by the organization”(28) By the end of the summer, with the United States joining the war effort abroad, The Overlook concluded that “whatever groups there have existed before in the Association they are now functioning as one, standing together. Both the older members and talented newcomers indicate their responsibility to produce more and better art in a world at war.”(29)
I would like to thank the family of Anna B. Carolan for their assistance in researching and writing this essay. In addition I would like to thank the following people for their valuable help; Kim Apolant, Librarian, Woodstock Public Library, Hannah Frieser, Executive Director, Center for Photography at Woodstkc, Mikhail Horowitz, Emily Jones, Archivist, Woodstock Artists Association, Ashley Kranjac, MLIS, Digital Collections Manager, University Archives & Special Collections, Adelphi University, March Avery, the Milton Avery Trust, MacWillie Chambers, Peter D. Hulme, Jonathan Cohen, Janine Mower, Fern Malkine-Falvey, Giles Malkine, and Tom Hambright.
1-“The Woodstock ‘Annual’ Succeeds Under New Policy,” 1939, otherwise unidentified article, scrapbook covering period around 1939, Woodstock Artists Association Archives.
2-“Good Paintings Will Cure Gallery Ills, Declares Speicher,” The Overlook, August 2, 1940, p. 1. By the mid-1930s, the exhibitions of the Woodstock Artists Association had dimmed in quality, due, at least in part, because artists of the colony were diverting their energy and attention elsewhere. In 1935, the art writer, novelist and short story writer Ernest Brace remarked that that year’s summer exhibitions “clearly indicated that the energy of the community was no longer exclusively centered upon the Art Gallery,” and explained that “besides a new gallery [the Sawkill Gallery], and the [great local] interest in [the Sawkill Painters and Sculptors] organization, many of the painters have been employed on [federal] work projects or have been busy preparing sketches for . . . government competitions . . . .” Ernest Brace, “Construction Ahead: The Summer in Woodstock, 1935,” The American Magazine of Art 28 (November 1935): 676. In 1939, the association began to be challenged by the newly formed Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen and its exhibition program which included works of fine art. For an article on the guild’s early success see “Woodstock Craftsmen's Fair, Marks 7 Years of Effort, Growth,” Kingston Daily Freeman, December 13, 1946, p. 9.
3-Ibid, p. 1.
4-“Carl Lindin and Judson Smith Resign as Officials of Artists Association,” The Overlook, September 13, 1940, pp. 1, 8.
5-Jane Kennedy, “Woodstock,” Kingston Daily Freeman, July 2, 1941, p. 13.
6-“John J. Carolan, Old Actor, Dies,” Brooklyn Times Union, November 24, 1935, p. 24.
7-“Carolan Estate $125,239,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 14, 1936, p. 15.
8-“The Girls High School, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 30, 1904, p. 16.
9-Official Publications of Cornell University, vol. 3, number 3, The Register of Cornell University, 1915-1916 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 1916), p. 283.
10-Salomón de la Selva, Tropical Town and Other Poems (New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1918), p. 116.
11- Carolan’s study of art is reported in Anna B. Carolan, “You Can’t Eat Your Goldfish and Have Them Too,” Woodstock Gargoyle, August 1949, n.p, and “Woodstock Artists Have Local Exhibit,” Kingston Daily Freeman, July 6, 1964, p. 21. I would like to thank Richard Pantell for initially bringing this publication to my attention. The Art Students League and Pratt Institute do not have records of Carolan’s attendance.
12-For a discussion of the conflict and the petition see “Art Board Scores the Ultra Modern,” The Brooklyn Standard Union, September 24, 1922, p. 13. Also see Bruce Weber, “In Quest of Harmony: The Founding and Early Years of the Woodstock Artists Association, Hudson River Valley Review, vol. 36, no. 1 (Autumn 2019): 34-54.
13-Norbert Heerman, “Modernists Capture Woodstock,” American Art News 20 (August 19, 1922): 5.
14-“Society,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 29, 1923, p. 7.
15-Alan Burroughs, “Charreton-Latter Day Impressionist,” International Studio 75 (April 1922): 173.
16-“Concerning Mr. Dove,” The New York Times, March 30, 1930, p. X12.
17-“Boro Society Notes,” Brooklyn Times Union, January 5, 1934, p. 5.
18--“Private View of Paintings Given at Neighborhood Club,,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 14, 1929, p. 8.
19-“Art Gallery at Woodstock Preview Next Saturday P.M.,” Saugerties Telegraph, July 18, 1941, p. 4.
20-“Plan Symposium at Art Gallery,” The Overlook, July 11, 1941, p. 1).
21-“Art Gallery Opens July 19 with First of Two Exhibits,” The Overlook, July 3, 1941,
22-Ibid, p. 1.
23-Ibid., p. 1.
24-“Art Gallery at Woodstock Preview Next Saturday P.M.,” Saugerties Telegraph, July 18, 1941, p. 4.
25- Artists Plan Fall Show Mrs. Leaycraft Chairman,” The Overlook, September 5, 1941, pp. 1, 8.
26-Ibid., p. 8.
27-Ibid., p. 8.
28-“Artists Plan Six Exhibitions at Gallery During Summer,” The Woodstock Press, May 22, 1942, p. 1.
29-Cited in Joan D’Arcy, “Joseph Pollet (1897-1979)," essay in A Knowing Innocence: An Exhibition of Oil Paintings from the Estate of the Artist and Loans from Private and Public Collections, Joseph Pollet 1897-1979 (Woodstock, New York: James Cox Gallery, 1995), p. 10.