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GEORGE AULT AND THE OLD AGRARIAN CATSKILLS: COMMUNITY AWAKENING, RUSSELL'S CORNERS, DEATH, PART 3

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

By Bruce Weber


UPCOMING EVENTS

Norma Morgan:

In the Lands of the Moors and Catskills Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

Sat., April 22nd, Reception 4-6 p.m.

(Exhibition Curator)


Presentation and Panel Discussion:

The Historic Woodstock Art Colony:

The Arthur A. Anderson Collection,

Samuel Dorsky Museum SUNY

New Paltz

Tuesday, May 2nd, 5:30 p.m.

Unknown Photographer

Louise Frances Jonas and George Ault at First Woodstock House, Autumn 1937

Archives of American Art

Former Second Woodstock Home of George and Louise Ault, 2 Juniper Lane,

From 1942-1948, 2022

Woodstock Area Map. c. 1942

A=Approximate Location of

Ault's First House

B=Location of Ault's Second House

C=Location of Russell's Corners

D-Location of House Pictured in Old House, New Moon


In June 1942, George and Louise Ault rented a three-room house for $12 a month at 2 Juniper Lane, close to where Lower Byrdcliffe Road joins the Glasco Turnpike. The area, then known as Snyders Corners, was approximately a half mile from the center of town. The house lacked plumbing but was wired for electricity. The recently married couple continued to use kerosene lamps for light because they didn’t want to take on the expense of a monthly electricity bill. The change in residence inspired the artist to explore subjects close to the new location, including the old rural barns at Russell’s Corners, where Ault created a series of paintings which rank among his finest.

George Ault (1891-1948)

Nude and Torso, 1945


A partial view of the house's interior appears in Ault’s humorous painting Nude and Torso. The picture includes a back view of an almost completely unclad Louise, and a Greco-Roman marble torso of a nude Aphrodite, which Ault’s father purchased in London in around 1900. The couple hoped to sell the sculpture, and use the money to help to pay for building their dream house in Shady. They sought an appraisal in the city, and were misinformed that the piece had no real value, that it was “merely a copy of a copy.”(1) Around 1970, Louise donated the torso to a university, and learned that the sculpture was authentic, and appraised at $30,000.(2) If the Aults had been correctly informed about the work's authenticity and financial value, their economic situation would naturally have changed appreciably for the better.

George Ault (1891-1948)

Old House, New Moon, 1943

Yale University Art Gallery

House Depicted in Old House, New Moon, 20 Rock City Road, 2022


Following the move, Ault fell in love with a Victorian-era house next to the Colony Hotel on the lower part of Rock City Road, very close to the center of town. One of the Ault's neighbors informed them that the house, which has Palladian-style windows, a tower, and a tower room, was built by a man from the nearby hamlet of Mink Hollow.(3) Ault told Louise that he wished he could “buy [the house]. I’d move it to another location and paint it pink and blue.”(4) Ault depicted the house at twilight relocated to an imaginary landscape, empty except for the small evergreen trees, large bare tree at center, crescent moon, and cartoonish ghost-like clouds floating in the sky.

George Ault (1891-1948)

The Plough and Moon, 1940

George Ault (1891-1948)

Festus Yaple and His Oxen, 1946

Cleveland Museum of Art

George Ault (1891-1948)

Moonlight Desert, 1941


Under the influence of Surrealism and the metaphysical paintings of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico, Ault began to add elements of dreams or fantasies into his pictures of Woodstock, and sometimes created works based entirely on his imagination. In The Plough and Moon, Ault joined his fascination with the magical glow of moonlight with his down-to-earth agrarian interests. The fictional Festus Yayple and His Oxen was spurred by a winter walk George and Louise took along the edge of a ridge, and stories that Ault was told by Catskill folk about the area’s agrarian past, including his oxen buyer and trader friend Cambridge Lasher. The landscape consists of a pair of mountains, a lowering sky, jagged rocks, a sole figure leading a pair of oxen, and several dead trees spread across the composition. In the 1940s, the artist also painted desolate landscapes devoid of any connection to his rural surroundings, including a series of pictures of deserts. In the early 1940s, Ault became an advocate for Surrealism. In a letter of 1943 to the Art Digest he remarked that “Surrealism has opened up a whole new world of art expression, a world of strange and wonderful imaginative beauty; just as Giotto did in his time, and the impressionists and post-impressionists did in their turn . . . .”(5)

Peter A. Juley & Son

Alfeo Faggi, n.d.

Gelatin silver print

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Unknown Photographer

Georgina Klitgaard, 1920

Archives of American Art

Peter A. Juley & Son

Henry Mattson, 1930

Gelatin silver print

Smithsonian American Art Museum


Shortly after the Aults moved to their new house, the Poughkeepsie Sunday New Yorker hired Louise to write a column about local personalities. Over the course of late 1942 through early 1944, her articles included profiles of the Woodstock artists Alfeo Faggi, Georgina Klitgaard, Henry Mattson, and artist, historian and herbalist Anita M. Smith. The publication of the articles led to Ault’s presence in the art colony coming more fully out into the open. He now formed friendships with Faggi, Klitgaard and Mattson, and even occasionally attended exhibition openings. Ault’s social life was still erratic and limited. He continued to choose not to attend local parties. Louise remarked that he had “had enough of parties and art colony nonsense [in earlier years] to last the rest of his life.”(6)


Ault told Louise that he saw a lot of artists who puttered but did not work hard enough, and that he had learned a long time ago not to putter.(7) He may have been drawn at least partially to Faggi, Klitgaard, and Mattson because they were equally devoted to their art. In the 1940s, Faggi was one of the most dedicated artists in the art colony. He rose every morning at 5 a.m. and worked in his studio on his sculpture till the light failed, rarely socialized, and had no hobbies or outside activities.(8) Klitgaard lived in a remote house she and her writer, artist and mariner husband Kaj had built in 1920 on the side of a ledge at the very steep end of the present Cricket Ridge near Roundtop Mountain in Bearsville, with an incredible panoramic view, and worked devotedly on her landscapes. Mattson had struggled to devote all his time to painting. He had to take on odd jobs, including spading gardens and mowing lawns, but after winning the Clark Prize at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1935 he fully committed his time to creating marines, landcapes, portraits and still lifes, while also taking part in local artistic affairs. Mattson was one of the most beloved artists in Woodstock, and his kind and generous nature broke through to Ault.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Hercules Davis, c. 1925

Anita M. Smith Collection


Little is known about Ault’s relationship with Anita M. Smith. She briefly wrote about him in her 1959 book Woodstock History and Hearsay, commenting on his death and reporting that he “worked quietly for years in a tiny box of a building on the Glasco Turnpike.”(9) It is likely that Louise formed a stronger tie with Smith, and following her husband’s death she gave Smith a watercolor by Ault. He would have agreed with Smith’s belief that it was critically important for artists of the area to dig into the history of the countryside. In her article on Smith, Louise related how the Philadelphia-reared artist “didn’t see how one could paint the Catskills without knowing something of the people who lived among them. . . .,” or how one could paint without wishing “to know why the fields were where they were and why the fences were where they were.”(10) Ault and Smith possibly shared a relationship with the Lake Hill farmer Hercules Davis, whom Smith painted, and Ault likely knew through his friendship with Davis' daughter Jenny at the Elwyn House.


In the 1920s, Smith began to look deeply into the history and folklore of the Woodstock community. In time she would gain the trust of longtime families in the area. Louise reported that Smith found that “breaking into mountain society was genuinely difficult. When she eventually was invited by the mountain people to their quilting and wedding parties her gratification was complete, and she knew for once the real thrill of being ‘accepted’ in exclusive society.”(11)


In 1931, Smith presented the first in a series of papers on the history of Woodstock at the Historical Society of Woodstock, which would be incorporated into her book, Woodstock History and Hearsay, published in 1959. Based on detailed and thorough scholarship, the publication covers the period from Native American times through the early and later decades of the art colony, and features a broad-ranging collection of folk stories, gathered from Catskill Mountain families and resident artists.

Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917)

Moonlight Cove, 1880

The Phillips Collection

Gerald Leake (1885-1975)

Portrait of Anna B. Carolan, c. 1950

Private Collection

George Ault (1891-1948)

Wastelands: Winter, 1940


Ault and Mattson shared a great love of the art of Albert Pinkham Ryder. Reproductions of Ryder’s works hung on Ault’s Woodstock studio walls, and Mattson was greatly inspired by Ryder’s dark and romantic marine paintings.(12) Ault later added reproductions of paintings to his studio walls by the Spanish surrealist Joan Miro.(13) Mattson introduced Ault to Anna B. Carolan, proprietor of The Little Gallery. After seeing some of his recent work she invited him to exhibit at her space in The Nook, a local ice cream and sandwich shop at 59 Tinker Street (now the home of Happy Life Productions), which gave over part of the interior to the exhibition of art.(14) Oils and Gouaches by George C. Ault was on view from July 26-August 7, 1943, and was the first solo exhibition of Ault’s work since his large and successful exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in 1928. The exhibition at The Little Gallery featured ten works, among them the Woodstock subjects Old House, New Moon; Black Night: Russell’s Corners; and Wastelands: Winter.


Shortly after meeting Ault, Carolan committed to buying Old House, New Moon for $200, and gave the artist $25 towards its purchase.(15) Unfortunately at the end of the exhibition Carolan failed to finalize payment, and instead acquired a smaller, unidentified, work for $50.(16) The Ault's disappointment over failing to sell Old House, New Moon led them to “not so much as mention [the lack of its sale] between us. . . . it was too frightening to be forced to realize that that which meant so much to us [financially and personally] could be whimsy in another.”(17)

George Ault (1891-1948)

Jane Street, Corner of Hudson, 1931

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum


Following his exhibition at The Little Gallery, Ault placed some of his paintings on consignment at the Rudolph Gallery in Woodstock. Barns on Mt. Tobias; Winter Landscape; Jane Street, Corner of Hudson (later donated to the Woodstock Artists Association by Lillian and Karl Fortess), and In Summit, N.J. were included in the summer exhibition Select Group Show of Paintings and Sculpture by Contemporary Woodstock Artists, which was on view at the gallery on Mill Hill Road (now the home of Bread Alone) from July 21 to September 4, 1945.

George Ault (1891-1948)

Brook in the Mountains, 1945

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Brook Depicted in

Brook in the Mountains,

With Overlook Mountain

Barely Visible Through Trees in Distance,

Opposite 31 Lower Byrdcliffe Road


Also on consignment at the gallery was Brook in the Mountains, which features a dazzling and magnified view of the small waterfall and boulders in the brook that runs north from Lower Byrdcliffe Road, opposite 31 Lower Byrdcliffe Road, a short walking distance to the west of Eugene Speicher's house (noted on map at top) and what is now Bellows Lane, where Speicher's close friend George Bellows once made his summer home, and which is very close to Russell's Corners. The Aults became familiar with the waterfall during the course of their walks from Snyders Corners to and from the village.


The Rudolph Gallery nearly sold Brook in the Mountains to a woman who considered purchasing the picture because it “matched the lampshades in her house.”(18) Agitated by the idea that this “strongly composed gentle Catskill landscape” was vulnerable to the whims of potential purchasers, Louise succeeded in convincing her husband to agree to pull the picture from the gallery.(15) It is likely Louise’s emotional attachment to the painting motivated her to select this work for the cover of her book Artist in Woodstock: George Ault, The Independent Years.


Shortly after Brook in the Mountains was pulled from the Rudolph Gallery, Ault ended his relationship with the space when owner Rudolph Fiolic offered him advice on what and how to paint.(19) Louise remarked that as “abruptly as it had begun, the experience of selling work [in Woodstock] ended; once more the channel to a [local] public closed.”(20) Encounters such as the one with Fiolic, and Ault’s dismay over some of the changes taking place in the town (which included an explosion of summer visitors, and an uptick in modernization, with the accompanying loss of some of the town's old agrarian Catskill ways), led him to consider returning to New York City in the mid-1940s.(21)

George Ault (1891-1948)

April in Albany County, 1941

Oil on canvas board

George Ault (1891-1948)

Hunters in the Catskills, 1940

George Ault (1891-1948)

The Hunter’s Return, 1943


Ault regularly contributed in the 1930s and 1940s to the Albany Institute of History and Art’s annual showings of artists of the upper Hudson, including Came’s House and April in Albany County. He also contributed to the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Carnegie Institute of Art, where his works were regularly lauded in the press. Around the end of World War II, Ault’s art began to sell more consistently again, including Hunters in the Catskills, Barns on Mt. Tobias, Studio Window Sill, Black Night: Russell’s Corners, Hunter’s Return, and Festus Yaple and His Oxen.

Former Short/Russell Family Farmhouse, 66 Rock City Road, 2022


Between 1943 and 1948, Ault created a series of four nocturnal paintings and one by daylight of the barns and corn crib in the area once known as Russell’s Corners in Woodstock. The spot looks moderately close to the way it did at that time, and is located about a quarter mile from the center of town at the intersection of Lower Byrdcliffe Road and Rock City Road, and about a quarter mile from the artist's home on Juniper Lane (see map at top). The corners were originally the property of John Wigram, land surveyor for Robert Livingston, who built the barns to go with the farmhouse at 66 Rock City Road (originally known as Wigrams Lane).

Andy Lee Field, Woodstock - Former Farmland of Short and Russell Family


In 1830, John S. Wigram took over his father’s farm, which he sold during the course of the decade to the Short family (Russell’s Corners was alternately known as Short's Corners, including on the Rudolf and Margaret Wetterau map of 1926 of Woodstock artists' houses). Upon Calvin Short’s death in 1917, the 52-acre property was deeded to his daughter Euphemia, who was married to Cyrus Russell (who had run the farm for years). Euphemia and Cyrus moved out of the farmhouse in 1920 (their son Luther remained there till his death in 1971), and in 1921 they sold the farmland (located to the immediate south of their house), to the Woodstock Country Club to create the town’s recreational field.(22) The Russells also once owned the hill off to the immediate west of Rock City Road, in the vicinity of Mountain View Road. The lower part of the hill became the Evergreen Cemetery, and the top became the Woodstock Artists Cemetery. When drawing up architectural plans in 1902 for the building of Byrdcliffe, Bolton Brown set up an office to work in in one of Calvin Short's barns.

Area Near Where Ault Originally Stood

to Study the Configuration of Barns, Sheds and Various Properties

at Russell's Corners, 2022


When Louise walked to the market in town George sometimes accompanied her to the corners, where he would wait for her, leaning on the railing alongside the stream on Lower Byrdcliffe Road, and study the configuration of barns, sheds and various properties. Ault next fell into the habit of walking into the village at night to leave a grocery list for delivery the next day, which gave him the opportunity to scrutinize the spot under the veil of nightfall and the gleam of electric light. During the many hours Ault pondered the scene he was “looking and listening like a deer in the woods.”(22)


Rudolph and Margaret Wetterau’s map of Woodstock's artists houses of 1926 provides a semblance of the configuration of the various barns at Russell’s Corners as they still existed in the 1940s. Ault's fascinating pictorial strategies in the series of five works center on four buildings pictured schematically on the map.

Detail of Wetterau Map of Woodstock Artist Houses of 1926

With Configuration of Barns in Ault's Paintings of Shorts/Russell’s Corners

Former Corn Crib at Russell's Corners, Corner of Lower Byrdcliffe Road

and Rock City Road, 2022

White Barn that Remains

at the Corner of Lower Byrdcliffe Road

and Rock City Road,

Facing North toward Former Corn Crib


The corn crib and white barn remain in the same location as when Ault painted them. Just south of the white barn on Rick City Road stood the red barn that served as a blacksmith's shop, until it was demolished in 1957. It appears at the left in Daylight at Russell's Corners, pictured below, and the spot is pictured in Grant Arnold's lithograph of 1936. A writer in the Catskill Mountain Star lamented the destruction of the barn and shed with their "good and satisfying proportions, [with] the quaint rickety slant of the shed on the north side."(24)

George Ault (1891-1948)

Daylight at Russell’s Corners, 1944

Crystal Brides Museum of American Art

Grant Arnold (1904-1988)

Cy Russell’s Barn, 1936

Lithograph on paper (Reversed)

Tyler Art Gallery,

State University of New York at Oswego

Area where blacksmith's barn and shed

once stood on Rock City Road,

looking north toward white barn, 2022


The red barn which is located across the road from the corn crib is pictured in profile below in Bright Light at Russell's Corners. It was turned 90 degrees counterclockwise by a later owner, so it no longer fully faces the white barn and corn crib today.

George Ault (1891-1948) Bright Light at Russell’s Corners, 1946 Smithsonian American Art Museum

Red Barn on Rock City Road,

Across from Corn Shed,

Now turned 90 degrees counterclockwise so barn no longer fully faces

Lower Byrdcliffe Road and white barn, 2022


The stark natural geometry of the forms of the barns and sheds of Russell’s Corners appealed to Ault, and helped inspire him to create the five works in the series, all pictured below in the order of the date of their creation: Black Night: Russell’s Corners, Bright Light at Russell’s Corners, Night at Russell’s Corners, August Night at Russell’s Corners, and his daytime view, Daylight at Russell’s Corners.

George Ault (1891-1948)

Black Night, Russell’s Corners, 1943

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

George Ault (1891-1948)

Daylight at Russell’s Corners, 1944

Crystal Brides Museum of American Art

George Ault (1891-1948) Bright Light at Russell’s Corners, 1946 Smithsonian American Art Museum

George Ault (1891-1948)

Night at Russell’s Corners, 1946

George Ault (1891-1948)

August’s Night at Russell's Corners, 1948

Joslyn Art Museum


In the nocturnal pictures Ault focused on the abstract planar qualities of the groupings of buildings intersected by Lower Byrdcliffe Road, and the varied network of linear patterns of the electric wires overhead, which appear and disappear in the light. Light is subtly different in each of the nocturnal pictures. Ault illuminates the buildings by electric light alone, rather than the moonlight effects he favored in his other nighttime pictures of Woodstock. The lamp forms a harsh and piercing light source. The natural light’s saturated intensity in Daylght at Russell’s Corners is in startling contrast to the other pictures.


The Russell barn series held a mysterious and almost mystical power over Ault, and he imbues the paintings with a strong sense of melancholy, stillness, and loneliness. Art historian Alexander Nemerov has referred to the Russell barn paintings as “real and unreal at the same time.”(28)

After developing the habit of walking down to Russell’s Corners at night to contemplate the area, Ault painted his first work in the series, Black Night: Russell’s Corners, from the vantage point of Rock City Road, looking south literally from out in the road, with the corn crib and white barn located down the road at his right. He silhouettes the red blacksmith's barn and shed, part of the white barn and corn crib, and a dead tree against the dark sky, the forms barely illuminated by the single teardrop-shaped lamp shining on the corner. A small section of the red barn across the road (later turned counterclockwise) is visible at far left.


Black Night: Russell's Corners was a source of discussion among local artists when it was shown at Ault’s exhibition at The Little Gallery in July 1943.(29) Louise remarked that “Everyone knew the Corners, many had painted it; no other had worked from the abstract approach, utilizing electric wires that crossed the road combining the barn and road composition with electric light and the mystery of the night, to create a rural nocturne.”(30)


As we have seen, nocturnes were a recurrent subject in Ault’s art since he was in his late teens. He produced nocturnes through each of the decades of his career, including many cityscapes, that were set at night with the buildings silhouetted against darkened skies. His nocturnal paintings in the Russell Corner’s series are dominated by red, white and shades of black. He informed Louise that people would think there is just one black in his nocturnal series, but that it was really “different blacks, several shades.”(31)



The second work in the series, Daylight at Russell’s Corners of 1944, was painted exclusively in the studio. Ault frequently walked to the spot to make mental notes for the composition.(32) He essentially repeats the composition of Black Night: Russell’s Corners but portrays the scene from further away in order to reveal more of the surrounding landscape, now pictured on a frigid winter’s day under a heavy snowfall. As previously noted, the red barn and shed on Rock City Road that was demolished in 1957 appears to the left of the white barn. The red corn crib appears at the far right. A dead tree stands in the center of the composition. At the far left is the lamppost, and a small portion of the red barn that is located across the road.

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)

The Mysterious Departure, c. 1930-1933

Indianapolis Museum of Art


Bright Light at Russell’s Corners is the third work in the series, and dates from 1946. Ault pictures the scene from the vantage point of the spot near the stream on Lower Byrcliffe Road, looking east to Rock City Road, where he sometimes waited for Louise’s return from shopping in the village. The red barn across the road is silhouetted against the night sky, and is dimly lit by the electric light, which casts a slightly brighter light on the white barn. Two sets of powerlines cross the composition. The scene is dark and mysterious, and is reminiscent of the paintings of de Chirico.


George Ault (1891-1948)

August’s Night at Russell’s Corners, 1948

Joslyn Art Museum


Night at Russell’s Corners and August Night at Russell’s Corners were both painted in 1948, and are the final nocturnal works in the series. The paintings are blacker and more intense than the other nocturnal scenes. Ault utilizes the identical vantage point from the rear of the blacksmith's shop, facing north on Rock City Road. Part of the back of the white barn is seen at the far left in Night at Russell's Corners. In August Night at Russell’s Corners Ault intensifies the light at center, while dimming the light on surrounding buildings. He also reduces the electrical wires to two nearly invisible lines. The red barn across the road from the corn shed is slightly visible at the far right. Susan Lubowsky has remarked that in this canvas the artist provides “a final contemplation of an emotionally potent scene.”(33)


The Russell’s barns series has inspired a variety of interpretations by art historians. Alexander Nemerov views the series (at least in part), as reflective of wartime: expressive of the somber mood of our country during World War II, and that their clarity and order served as a personal defense against the demons that haunted the painter.(34) Andrew Hemingway believes the pictures reveal Woodstock’s agrarian past “mercilessly illuminated by modern technology.”(35) John P. Murphy regards the series as “symptomatic of the entire Woodstock [art colony] project understood as the collective viewpoint of the colony’s artists in treating Woodstock as a antimodern antidote to New York City.”(36)

Red Barn (Not Pictured in Series)

and Corn Crib. Opposite White Barn.

This red barn was once home to the gallery at Parnassus Square,

Lower Byrdcliffe Road, 2022


In February 1948, the Russell estate sold the complex of barns and corn crib at the end of Lower Byrdcliffe Road to Frances Diderick who turned it into Parnassus Square. The Catskill Mountain Star reported that at the time of the purchase all of the structures “were run down and some were in a state of collapse . . . . The place was stuffed full of hay and cornstalks, and machinery and junk. Parts of the roof were falling and the floors and some of the sills were rotten. All in all it was a very sorry place.’”(26)


Around the time of Ault’s death in late 1948, Dederick was busy renovating the buildings, putting in new roofs, and floors, partitions and lights, including in the large barn immediately to the west of the corn crib (not pictured in Ault’s series), which she turned into a successful and popular art gallery, exhibiting numerous artists of the town, including Alfeo Faggi, Dorothy Varian, Margaret Lowengrund, Agnes Hart, and Ault, himself (with work lent by his widow Louise). The initial exhibition of her gallery opened in August 1950. The Kingston Daily Freeman reported that the debut display, The New Group, was the “first show [fully consisting] of non-objective art in Woodstock, and includes Rosemarie Beck, Gwen Davies, Nicholas Marsicano, Sal Sirugo, and others.”(27) The corn crib and white barn were converted into living spaces. Another barn stands to the left of the former gallery, and operated for a period as the Night Gallery.


Ault died on the night of Thursday December 30, 1948, when he either accidentally fell, or intentionally jumped, into the flooded, swollen waters of the Sawkill. A torrential rainstorm lasting two days melted snow and caused extensive flooding in Woodstock. Earlier on the day of his death Louise had gone for an overnight trip to the city in order to meet with a publisher. She returned home on Friday, and did not find the key in the place where the couple ordinarily kept it. She went to the village to look for Ault, and make inquiries. The state police put out a teletype, and a five state alarm with a description of the missing artist.


Ault had last been seen about 11 p.m. on December 30th walking in the storm in the darkness alongside the stream that runs through the center of Woodstock. It was believed he went into the water a considerable distance upstream from where his body was found, possibly between the Tannery Brook and country club bridges.(37)

“Woodstock Artist’s Body Found in

Sawkill Creek,” Catskill Mountain

Star, January 7, 1949, p. 4


Ault’s body was discovered on Tuesday January 4, 1949 caught in a tree limb in the wooded creek outside the village across the road from the Art Students League of New York’s summer school (on the former grounds of the National Youth Administration center and current home of the Woodstock School of Art), and close to the Big Deep swimming hole, then the property of artist Zulma Steele (now Zulma Parker). The body was discovered by police supervisor Kenneth Wilson and officer Ray Dunn, who had formed a search committee. The coroner Ernest A. Kelly officially ruled the death a suicide by drowning.


Louise believed her husband had been taking one of his regular nighttime walks, and lost his footing while walking on the small Tannery Brook bridge that crosses Tinker Street in the center of town, fell into the Sawkill, and was carried downstream by the swift current. In

Artist in Woodstock: George Ault, the Independent Years, Louise wrote about how enthralled Ault was by storms, and that he liked to witness their “wild wetness” and “violence,” which he found “so elemental.”(38) She noted that on one occasion he asked her to accompany him on a walk in a heavy storm.(39)


Louise feared that Ault suffered a heart attack on the night of the 30th, as he had developed a serious heart condition. Louise wrote a letter to the artist Marguerite Zorach in which she reported that no water was found in her husband’s lungs, and related her belief that he had suffered an attack, then groped around in the dark, and fell into the flooded waters.(40) Ault recently had been working on a new canvas, and Louise and he planned a New Year’s Eve supper with two invited guests at their home off of the Glasco Turnpike.


In an interview in 1978, the artist Grant Arnold recalled the storm in 1948 in Woodstock, and the circumstances of Ault's death, and related his belief that the death was not a suicide. In an unpublished manuscript focusing on his time living and working in the area, he further discussed the terrible nature of the storm, Ault's tragic death, and related that in Woodstock he had become friendly with Ault's nephew Leslie and his wife Margaret, who during the summer months visited him several times in the basement of the Woodstock Artists Association where he worked as a lithographic printer from 1930-1940. Ault and Arnold probably first met in 1930 at the Art Students League in New York, when Arnold printed Ault's lithograph #1 Lower Manhattan.


On Leslie and Margaret's visits to the artists association they were accompanied sometimes by Louise and George, whom Arnold talked to about painting and life in the country.(41) Arnold explained that as a result of the December storm the town's streams rose very high, and "a friend of mine named George Ault . . . . was last seen at a railing of a small bridge overlooking the rushing water where the big rocks were being torn down. In fact, it was an emergency period. They had to call out the firemen and state troopers to evacuate people who lived near a small stream that overflowed . . . . state police . . . instituted a search for him . . . . they found him . . . days later . . . down the stream. He'd evidently become dizzy by the rushing of water and fallen in, because he wasn't the type of guy who'd commit suicide."(42) Matthew Leaycraft, the grandson of the Woodstock artist Julia Leaycraft, met Louise Ault on a few occasions, and recalls how adamant she was that Ault had not committed suicide.(43) It is also possible that the artist fell stumble drunk into the water.


A memorial service was held for Ault at the Woodstock Artists Association on January 19, 1950. Among the attendees were Kaj Klitgaard, husband of artist Georgina Klitgaard, who read A. E. Houseman’s poem A Shopshire Lad, one of the artist’s favorite writings.(44) In September a memorial exhibition of Ault’s art opened at the association, which featured 60 oils, watercolors, gouaches and pencil drawings, including the canvas he was working on at the time of his death. The exhibition committee that chose to hold the show consisted of his artist friends Georgina Klitgaard, Henry Mattson and John Ruggles.(45)

George Ault (1891-1948)

Study for "Just a House”, 1933

Graphite on paper

Smithsonian American Art Museum

John Ruggles (1907-1991)

Broadview Road, 1933

George Ault (1891-19480

Universal Symphony, 1947


A review of the Artists Association exhibition was written by Woodstock artist Margaret Lowengrund for Art Digest.(46) Closer to home, a review appeared in the Catskill Mountain Star which referred to August Night at Russell’s Corners as “the sort of picture bound to strike a positive response in anyone at all familiar with the locality.”(47) John Ruggles wrote a brief essay for the memorial exhibition brochure. A native of New York City, Ruggles visited Woodstock regularly in the 1920s and 1930s. before settling there in 1945. Ault and he probably became friendly in the summer of 1933, when Ruggles painted a variation on Ault’s study for his oil painting Just a House, executed the same year.(48)


Ruggles commented on several of Ault’s pictures, including his recent painting Universal Symphony, in which he amalgamated Surrealism with nonobjective abstraction and made a “new approach to art.”(49) He mentioned that in Woodstock, Ault “made many friends among the native people who interested him as the last representation of the old Agrarian Catkills.”(50) Ruggles also quoted a line from the poem "A Shopshire Lad" by Houseman: - "I, a stranger and afraid in a world I never made,” and said that these words touched Ault acutely and “rebellious, and disdainful of many things in life, he passes by means of his painting, from a world he did not make, into a world of his own.”(51)


At the time of Ault’s death the couple’s six-year lease on their rented house on Juniper Lane was about to expire. They recently had arranged to meet with realtor George Neher to find a new place. After Ault’s death Louise returned to the city to live and work, but maintained her contacts and friendships in Woodstock, including with Betty Sturgis, who was involved in the formation and building of the Woodstock Artists Association’s permanent collection which was initiated in the early to mid-1970s.(52)


Louise donated a group of works to people that she, or both she and her husband, had been acquainted with in Woodstock, including Georgina Klitgaard, Anita M. Smith, gallerist Mrs. Nan Pini, industrialist Felix Von Kahler (whose wife Lillie was a sculptor), artist and local philanthropist Alice Wardwell, attorney Martin Comeau, and artist Karl Fortess and his educator wife Lillian, who was also involved with the early formation of the permanent collection of the Woodstock Artists Association. As noted, the Fortess’ donated Ault's Jane Street, Corner of Hudson, to the association. Lillian informed art historian Susan Lubowsky that “Ault was an impoverished recluse with a volatile personality.”(53) Anita M. Smith wrote how Ault "fell victim to an Overlook Mountain stream. . . . He was suddenly swept away in one of the Sawkill's flash floods that periodically remind us we are only here as tenants of nature."(54) Louise devoted the remainder of her life to furthering Ault’s reputation, working closely with art dealers and placing works in museum collections, and helped establish George Ault’s reputation as one of the leading American artists of the period, and a bright moon in Woodstock’s orbit.

__________________________________________________________________________________

I want to offer my thanks and appreciation to the many people who have helped with my research and writing on George Ault. I wish to first thank the artist's niece Susan Ault for her generosity in discussing Ault's life and family background and sharing material in the family archives. Barbara Carlson was her amazing self, spending many hours literally combing the area with me just north of the village for links to Louise and George's life in Woodstock. The always helpful Jonathan Elwyn aided importantly in discovering various current locations, including Cambridge Lasher's former house, and, among other things, helped educate me about the Elwyn House. John Kleinhans generously helped me eye and explore the old Russell's Corners area and match up vistas. Others who have proven very helpful are Donald Lokuta; Alexander Nemerov; Karen Schleicher; Janine Mower; JoAnn Margolis; Jason King, Will Nixon; Kim Apolant, Librarian, Woodstock Public Library; Emily Jones, Archivist and Collection Manager, Woodstock Artists Association and Museum; Jean Ruggles; Alexander Katlan; Fred Baker; Paul Alexander; Mikhail Horowitz, and W. Douglas McCombs, Chief Curator, Albany Institute of History and Art.


1-Louise Ault, George Ault: Artist in Woodstock, The Independent Years, (Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1978), p. 40.

2- Susan Lubowsky, “George Ault,” essay in George Ault (New York: Whitney Museum of American At at Equitable Center, 1988), p. 40. It is not known where the sculpture is located.

3- Louise Ault, George Ault: Artist in Woodstock, The Independent Years, p. 81.

I would to thank Karen Schleicher for originally pointing out the location of the house that appears in Old House, New Moon, which was briefly the home of her grandparents Eugen and Mina Schleicher, which spurred my interest and curiosity in learning about Ault's deep connection to the architecture, history and rural or agrarian life and fabric of Woodstock,

4-Ibid., p. 81.

5-George C. Ault, “Anent Klaus Mann,” Art Digest 17 (June 1, 1943): 4, 27.

6- Louis Ault, George Ault: Artist in Woodstock, The Independent Years, p. 136.

7- Anita M. Smith, Woodstock History and Hearsay (Woodstock, New York: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 190. Smith’s book was first published in 1959 by the Catskill Mountain Corporation in Saugerties, New York.

8- Alexander Nemerov, To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America ((Washington, DC. and New Haven: Smithsonian American Art Museum and Yale University Press, 2011), p. 18.

9-Smith, p. 154.

10- Louise Jonas, “Debutante, Anita Smith, Chose to Become Ulster Herbalist,”

Poughkeepsie Sunday New Yorker, November 22, 1942, p. 5A.

11-Ibid., p. 5A.

12- Andrew Hemingway, The Mysticism of Money: Precisionist Painting and Machine Age America (Pittsburgh and New York: Periscope Publshing Ltd., 2013), p. 173.

For more on Mattson's art and career see my article in Learning Woodstock Art Colony.

13-Ibid., p. 178.

14-To learn more about Anna Carolan see the author’s two part piece on the gallerist, collector and founder of the Woodstock Museum of Art in Learning Woodstock Art Colony.

15- Louise Ault, George Ault: Artist in Woodstock, The Independent Years, p. 85.

16-Ibid., p. 90

17-Ibid., p. 90.

18-Ibid., p. 148.

19-Ibid., p. 150.

20-Ibid., pp. 150-151.

21-Hemingway p. 236.

22- Louise Ault, George Ault: Artist in Woodstock, The Independent Years, p. 30.

For more information about the Wigram connection to Woodstock see Richard Heppner and Janine Fallon Mower, Legendary Locals of Woodstock (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2013), p. 28.

23-“Woodstock’s Old Smithy Being Torn Down,” Catskill Mountain Star, February 28, 1957, p. 3.

24-Ibid., p. 3.

25-In the George Ault file in the Woodstock Artists Association archives there is a single page document titled “Russell’s Corners,” which includes a timeline from 1806 to 2000 pertaining to the history of the ownership, development and sale of the property. For an article on the Wigram family with a few references to the Russell's see Louise Hasbrouck Zimm, "The Wigrams of Woodstock," Publications of the Woodstock Historical Society, no. 4 (July 1931): 20-29.

26-“Frances Dederick and Her Parnassus Square,” Catskill Mountain Star, August 5, 1951, p. 3.

27-“New Show Opens,” Kingston Daily Freeman, August 30, 1950, p. 5.

28-Nemerov, p. 105.

29-Hemingway, p. 184.

30-Louise Ault is quoted in Hemenway, p. 184.-

31-Louise Ault, “Questions and Answers,” George Ault Papers, Archives of American Art, microfilm roll D247, frame 26.

32-Louise Ault, Artist in Woodstock: George Ault, the Independent Years, p. 127.

33-Lubowsky, p. 37.

34-In his publication on Ault, Nemerov discusses the Russell Corners series in great depth and offers a range of interpretations on various pages, expecially pp. 59-96, 115-121.

35-Hemmenway, p. 187.

36-John P. Murphy, “Back to the Garden: The Woodstock Artists’ Colony,” Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestrn University, 2017, p. 30. For a fascinating article on the site and series see Will Nixon, "Into the Night with George Ault," Woodstock Times, July 19, 2012, pp. 8-9. About the time of the article Will, Teresa Giordano, my wife Joanne Pagano Weber and I walked about Russell's Corners on a moonlit night in homage to Ault's series and this still evocative spot in the heart of Woodstock.

37-“George C. Ault,” Kingston Daily Freeman, January 5, 1949, p. 2.

38-Louis Ault, George Ault: Artist in Woodstock, The Independent Years, p. 138.

39-Ibid., p. 138.

40-Letter from Louise Ault to Marguerite Zorach, March 11, 1949, George Ault file, Woodstock Artsts Association archives.

42-Grant Arnold, "Woodstock, The Everlasting Hills," completed typed manuscript, p. 462. A copy of the completed typed manuscript is in the collection of the Historical Society of Woodstock. I would like to thank Bill and Marsha Arnold for sharing this important document, and for permitting a copy to be made for the Historical Society of Woodstock.In the manuscript (p. 588), Arnold also discusses a trip he made with Leslie Ault into New York City in the summer of 1942 to see a newsreel about the murder of strikers at the Bethlehem Steel Mill in Pennsylvania.

42-Grant Arnold is quoted in "Interview with Grant Arnold," December 24, 1978, p. 24. I would like to thank Michael Flanagan, former gallery director of the Tyler Art Gallery, State University of New York at Oswego, for sharing Arnold's series of interviews. The interviews were originally discovered by Patricia Phagan, former Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Frances Lehman Art Gallery, Vassar College, when she was undertaking research for her important 2002 exhibition there, Made in Woodstock; Print Making in Woodstock, 1993-1945. I am currently undertaking research on Arnold for an exhibition drawn from the Arnold Collection at Oswego featuring his work, and, mostly, a selection of the lithographs he printed for other artists in Woodstock between 1930-1940. This exhibition opens in October 2023 at the Woodstock School of Art.

43-Conversation with Matthew Leaycraft, December 1, 2022.

44-"Ault Services,” Kingston Daily Freeman, January 20, 1949, p. 23.

45-"Will Hold Memorial at Gallery in September,” Kingston Daily Freeman, July 28, 1949, p. 19.

46-Margaret Lowengrund, “George Ault- 1891-1948,” Art Digest 23 (September 15, 1949): 20.

47-"Memorial Show Held for Artist G. Ault,” The Catskill Mountain Star, September 16, 1949, p. 6.

48-I would like to thank John Ruggles' daughter Jean Ruggles for informing me of the connection between Ault and her father's depictions of the house at 66 Broadview Road. Email from Jean Ruggles to Bruce Weber, July 27, 2022.

49-John Ruggles, “The Art of George Ault,” essay in Memorial Exhibition: George Ault (Woodstock, New York: Woodstock Artists Association , 1949), n.p.

50-Ibid., n.p.

51-Ibid., n.p.

52-Conversation with Abigail Sturges, daughter of Betty and Hollister Sturges. September 2022.

53-Lubowsky, p. 28.

54-Smith, p. 155.







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