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Konrad Cramer: A Woodstock Artist of Ambition and Invention -Part 2

Updated: Aug 20

By Bruce Weber

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946)

Konrad Cramer at 291, 1914

Platinum print

National Gallery of Art


Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Still Life with Tulips, c. 1929


In the late 1920s, Konrad Cramer (1888-1963) produced some of his finest work, including a group of still lifes featuring flowers in a vase and fruit in a bowl, placed at the center of the composition, around which elements tilt or go in and out of perspective, with browns and grays adding an overall sense of warmth.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Still Life with Flowers in a White Vase, 1928

Betty Krulik Fine Arts


Other still lifes of the 1920s recall American theorem pictures of the early 19th century—a reflection of Cramer’s great regard for American folk art. Konrad and Florence Balln Cramer were pioneering collectors of American folk art, along with their friends, the sculptor Elie Nadelman and his wife Viola.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Immo, November 1928

Oil and pencil on homosote board


At the end of 1927 Cramer began painting still lifes on homosote panels or boards. He used the soft wallboard for most of the paintings he produced between 1927 and 1935. These formally sophisticated and masterfully unified still lifes feature a realistically rendered central object around which cubistically fragmented elements and words revolve. These still lifes sometimes include erotic imagery—here a leg and garter, and a hint of pink lingerie.


In 1929, Cramer was one of the winners of the Dudensing Gallery competition for the most deserving unknown American artist. At this time Dudensing was one of the leading galleries of contemporary European and American art in New York. In 1931, the future Abstract Expressionist Adolph Gottlieb and Cramer were awarded a two-person show. Cramer and Dudensing eventually had a falling out over the gallery’s slowness in paying for the sale of his work.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Untitled, c. 1930

Watercolor on paper


In the early 1930s, Cramer was inspired by Surrealism to execute several paintings and watercolors in the Woodstock area of buildings, boats and gas stations. In these works he juxtaposed the real and fantastic, and developed an interest in sketching and painting the man-made landscape.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Untitled (Woman on Chair with Arm Raised),

c. 1920-1925

Monotype on paper


During the 1920s Cramer was active as a printmaker. This interest emerged after he studied lithography with Bolton Coit Brown in about 1920 in a class that met at Henry Lee McFee’s studio. Cramer’s prints of this period include his untitled monotype of a flapper—one of a small group of related figurative works by the artist that date from the middle of the decade.

At this time Cramer was preoccupied with teaching at the Dalton School in New York City (then known as the Children’s University School), where he taught for three years. In 1929 he created abstract murals for the school’s two mathematics rooms. He executed the murals with the help of Lorenzo D. “Tode” Brauer, at the school’s new building on East 89th Street in Manhattan. Only preparatory drawings survive. The murals dealt with the subject of the machine in the contemporary world, and featured images of skyscrapers, touring cars, airplanes, test tubes, girders, and Arabic and Roman numerals.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Drawing for Dalton School Mural, 1929


In the 1920s, Cramer also found work teaching at the Woodstock Summer School of Applied Art, giving instruction in tie dying, embroidering and stenciling, among other things, He also was an instructor at Judson Smith’s Woodstock School of Painting in the 1930s, teaching the various techniques involved with preparing art materials (including sizing canvases, grinding pigments, and mixing varnish).


Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Florence, c. 1930

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Conversation, n.d.

Lithograph on paper

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


Dating from about 1930 is Cramer’s portrait of his wife Florence. The artist placed fragmented images of his own likeness in the background, looking up at Florence from all angles or bending to kiss her shoulder. In the 1930s, he and Florence attended the erotic evenings that were organized in Woodstock by the artist Emil Ganso. Among the other artists to attend were the then married couples Arnold and Lucille Blanch, Austin Mecklem and Hannah Small, and Doris and Russell Lee. At these events a passage from one of Ganso’s collection of erotic books usually would be read aloud, and the artists improvised illustrations to the text. Ganso often brought the drawings to his New York dealer Erhard Weyhe, who put them on display in a back room devoted to erotica. For his wife’s eyes only, Cramer created a Cupid’s Almanac, featuring drawings of sexual acts accompanied by hand-lettered instructions.

Florence Ballin Cramer (1884-1962)

Landscape (Cramer Homestead),

c. 1930-1935

Florence Ballin Cramer (1884-1962)

Lumberyard, Rondout, Kingston, New York, 1930s

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


In the 1930s Florence Ballin Cramer had her most productive years as an artist. With the help of an inheritance, the family’s financial situation improved dramatically and the Cramers purchased land and a house in Bearsville. The Cramers later sold the former Ricks farmhouse, at the corner of route 212 and Ricks Road, to Florence’s brother, Irving Ballin. Up until recently it was owned by Florence’s brother-in-law Gordon Taylor, who had been married to the Cramer’s daughter Margot. With her two daughters in school, Florence had time to paint and show her work. In the mid-1930s, her art appeared in exhibitions at the Whitney, Carnegie, and Corcoran Gallery of Art, and was handled by the Marie Harriman in New York and Rudolph Galleries in Woodstock, which was housed in the current home of Bread Alone.


Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Retrospect, January 1935

Weatherspoon Art Museum


In 1935, Konrad Cramer was included in the important Whitney Museum exhibition Abstract Painting in America, which celebrated the pioneers of abstract painting in the United States. The exhibition included Cramer’s unlocated Composition #7 (probably an abstraction of 1913), and his new painting Retrospect, which he created specifically for the show. The painting features an image of a 8 x 10” view camera flanked on the lower left by a partial image of his Improvisation #1 in the Whitney’s collection, and on the lower right by a partial image of a recent still life. Cramer sums up his past and present, and points toward the future with the inclusion of the camera.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Eugene Speicher, 1935

Gelatin silver print

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art


During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Cramer raised questions about what artists were painting for, about the place that artists of the day had in relation to society, whether artists were showing a clearer way to a better life, and whether painting was an obsolete art form. In around 1936, Cramer abandoned painting and began to take photographs of his friends artworks, commissioned portraits, and took informal photographs of family groups, weddings, parties, friends and babies. He became excited about the potential of using the miniature Leica camera —an enthusiasm shared by his Woodstock friend Yasuo Kuniyoshi, whom Cramer photographed in 1937.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Female Nude with Cloth, c. 1938

Solarized print

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art


Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Abstraction, 1940-1950

Gelatin silver print

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


Over the course of the last three decades of his life Cramer explored a variety of photographic subjects and styles. He experimented with solarized gelatin silver prints of nudes. He created abstract photographs, which he made by placing objects or plants on photosensitive paper that are exposed to light, using prisms or panes of glass, composite printing techniques, or capturing patterns of light waves. Cramer took landscape photographs of snow, some of which are lyrical and realistic in nature, others that are totally abstract.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Snow Scene, 1936

Gelatin silver print

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Tools, c. 1940-1950

Gelatin silver print

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


Cramer created documentary style images of the streets of Woodstock as well as those of nearby towns. He made still lifes of small objects set in a shallow space.

Konrad Cramer (1888-1963)

Self-Portrait with Grecian Bust, 1946

Gelatin silver print

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


Self Portrait with Grecian Bust dates from 1946, and ranks as one of Cramer’s finest achievements as a photographer. Florence Ballin Cramer reported that the image is “a composite taken on one film. A classic cast in the center full face, his own profile back of it, one of his reversals to the left underneath, and one of his drawings to the right partly superimposed over the face of the cast but translucent.”(1) To create this photograph, which recalls Cramer’s investigations of Cubism of around 1913-1914, the artist combined two set ups. He put a prism in front of the lens and then set up the still lifes, one in front of the lens, and the other placed at an angle, so it was reflected by the prism directly into the lens. The photograph is simultaneously autobiographical, abstract and classical. The classical head of Hermes stands out clearly and boldly at the center of the image.


In the late 1930s, Cramer opened the School of Miniature Photography in Woodstock, and was hired by Bard College in nearby Annandale-on-the-Hudson to teach one of the first photography courses to be offered at an American Univerity. Alfred Stieglitz contributed a recommendation.

Florence Ballin Cramer (1884-1962)

Konrad Cramer, c. 1925

Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild


Following the deaths of Konrad and Florence Ballin Cramer in the early 1960s the Woodstock artist Arnold Blanch remarked that they had "lived full and dedicated lives, dedicated to the goodness of doing and enjoying."(2)


(1) Florence Ballin Cramer is quoted in Tom Wolf and Franklin Riehlman, “Konrad Cramer: 1917-1963)” essay in Konrad Cramer: A Retrospective (Annandale-on-Hudson: Edith C. Blum Art Institute, Milton and Sally Avery Center for the Arts, The Bard College Center, 1981), p. 23.

As previously noted. Tom Wolf’s doctoral dissertation remains the finest and most complete study of Cramer’s life and art. See Tom Michael Wolf, “Konrad Cramer: His Art and His Context” (Volumes 1 and 2), New York University, 1985.

(2) Arnold Blanch, “[Foreword],” Memorial Exhibition: Florence and Konrad Cramer (Woodstock, New York: The Woodstock Guild, 1963), n.p.

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