Walter “Pop” Goltz: Artist/League Secretary/Teacher of the Woodstock Art Colony-Pt. 1 Early Life
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
By Bruce Weber
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
Walter “Pop” Goltz was a seminal figure in the development of the Woodstock art colony. Arriving in the heart of the Catskill Mountain village in 1906, the artist went on to reside there for almost half a century, and became a force in the successful operation of the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting. He taught plein air painting alongside John F. Carlson, as well as privately and at his own school, and created landscapes of exquisite color, tonality and beauty, that rank as important contributions to the landscape aesthetic that developed in the early decades of the art colony, where it dominated artistic production for decades. Up until now Goltz’s life and artistic career have not been the subject of detailed study.
Walter O. Goltz was born on June 20, 1875 in Buffalo, New York. His father, August J. Goltz, a native of Germany, died when his son was in his late teens. His mother, Anna Feyl Goltz, a native of Austria, outlived her husband by nearly half a century. Goltz had three brothers, Charles, Alexander and Arthur, with whom he had the closest relationship. Goltz grew up on Dodge Street on the edge of what is now known as the Allentown Historic District; following the Civil War the area developed into a street car suburb of Buffalo.
In 1891, Goltz began working for the lithography firm of Cosack and Company on Lake View Avenue.(1) In the late 19th century Buffalo was well-known for its fine lithography. Cosack and Company was founded in 1864, and soon established a national reputation, securing work from all over the country. From the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, it was common for young men with artistic ambition to take up the trade of lithography. Initially Walter probably worked another person’s design onto a lithographic stone, and with increased experience, created original designs for greeting cards and other products.
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
They Were Off On Their Wedding Journey, 1898
Margaret E. Sangster, “The Little Rift,”
Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly 57
(November, 1898): 49.
Lucius Walcott Hitchcock (1868-1942)
In the Parlor, 1895
In the mid-1890s, Goltz attended the Art Students League of Buffalo. Incorporated in 1894, the League offered classes in drawing, painting, design and modeling. Goltz enrolled in an evening life class with the school’s director Lucius Walcott Hitchcock. After completing his art study in Paris in the early 1890s, Hitchcock moved to Buffalo and began teaching at the school, and also worked as a book and magazine illustrator. His illustrations appeared regularly in Scribner’s, Harper's Monthly and Woman’s Home Companion. In 1900, Hitchcock was awarded a silver medal for illustration at the Exposition Universelle. Hitchcock probably prodded his student to try his hand at illustration. Goltz modeled his efforts on his teacher’s style of illustration and his penchant for depicting the social elite of the day, in a series of illustrations published in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly in November 1898.(2)
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
Gibbes Museum of Art
Gift of Associate Members of the
Carolina Art Association,
The Art Students League of Buffalo offered the school’s best student a tuition-free scholarship to the Art Students League of New York. Goltz received the prestigious scholarship in 1897. He studied in New York from the autumn of 1897 through the spring of 1899, and attended painting, anatomy, and morning and evening life classes. His teachers included Henry Siddons Mowbray and George Bridgman. Following his study in New York, Goltz moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he served as art director of the city’s art institute, for an unknown length of time. His activity in South Carolina undoubtedly played a part in the Carolina Art Association’s acquisition in 1909 of his spring landscape of the year before (presumably of Woodstock) for the collection of the Gibbes Memorial Art Gallery (now the Gibbes Museum of Art) in Charleston.
Former Cooper House, 99 Tinker Street, Woodstock, New York
In the summer of 1906, Goltz joined the outdoor painting class of the newly established Woodstock School of Landscape Painting, which was run by the Art Students League of New York, from June through October each year. Goltz let one of the rooms at the Cooper House on Tinker Street (now Euphoria Yoga, opposite the Lasher Funeral Home). Among his fellow-artist borders around this period were John W. Bentley, Frank Swift Chase, Ned Chase, Florence Ballin (later Cramer), James Wardwell, and Cecil Chichester. The Cooper House was operated by Evelyn Cooper Lasher, whose father Adelbert was one of the leading citizens of the town. Lasher resided in Woodstock from about 1885 to her death in 1945. Her mid-day dinners were legendary. She divided her guests into two groups. Older artists and regular guests sat in one room, and the younger and more spirited group of artists were presided over in another room by Goltz, who reigned at the head of the table. During warm summer evening‘s Goltz regularly joined his fellow boarders on the porch, where Chichester led them in song.(3)
Goltz was one of the most fun loving artists to live in Woodstock during the early years of the 20th century. Artist Marion Bullard recalled that on arriving in Woodstock by stagecoach in 1908 to attend her first summer of study at the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting, she was sitting high up in a horse-drawn stagecoach, waiting for Eddie, the driver, to get his weekly haircut, when out of Beekman’s store (future location of the Woodstock Artists Association) came a few artists. Among them were Goltz, Allen Dean Cochran, and Henry Lee McFee. Bullard recalled that her “eyes popped open with shocked surprise. They had their heads shaved in patterns, and to the conventional city girl I was then, it was an extraordinary sight. One had plaids, one polka dots and the third had on the back of his head a face—eyes, nose and mouth done in black hair!”(4) The artist Zulma Steele arrived at the Byrdcliffe art colony in 1903. She later recalled Goltz’s early presence in town, along with that of Wardwell, Andrew Dasburg, Eugene Speicher, Ned Chase, Florence Ballin and Florence Lucius, and of joining Goltz for lunch at the Villeta, Byrdcliffe’s inn.(5)
Goltz was a member of the Rock City group. Composed of artists who studied principally with Birge Harrison, the group congregated at the crossroads of the former hamlet of Rock City, located approximately one half dmile from the center of the village of Woodstock. The artist John F. Carlson, who studied painting with Harrison at Byrdclife in 1904 and at the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting in 1906, referred to the artists, who met in the vicinity of Glasco Turnpike and Rock City Road, as the “highbrow group,” and explained that they gathered at a stone wall or around the community pump “busily talking shop, singing and playing the harmonica, [and on] an evening, you might see Andrew Dasburg, Charles B. Cook, Eugene Speicher, Henry Pfeiffer, Walter Goltz, Henry L. McFee . . . William V. Cahill, Frank S. Chase, Edward Thatcher, Margaret Goddard [later Carlson], Marian Bullard, Evelyn Jacus [later Chase], [myself,] and now and then some celeb or other.” (6)
Exhibitions of the “Rock City Group” were held in 1912 at the John Herron Institute Indianapolis, the MacDowell Club in New York City, and possibly other places around the country. These showings featured a small sampling of the group, including the landscape painters Goltz, Bullard, Dasburg, McFee, Cook, Pfeiffer, Alexis B. Many, and Jean Paul Slusser, and the sculptors Grace Mott Johnson and Benjamin Bufano. At the time of the exhibition in Indiana, Harrison referred to the Rock City Group as “an epitome of the most modern tendencies in American landscape painting as exemplified by a group of very talented painters.”(7) In 1916, an art critic for the Los Angeles Times apprised that the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting consisted of “men and women who for the most part have been reared in the same traditions and are painting the same natural features of mountain and valley, and yet who remain distinct in personality, each viewing nature through the medium of his own temperament and emotions.”(8)
In September of 1907, Goltz was honored for his achievements over the summer as a student of Harrison’s class. The Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express reported that four students from Buffalo “took most of the honors at the Woodstock School . . . Mr. [John F.] Carlson received honorable mention for his work, as [Harrison’s assistant] teaching made him ineligible for a prize. G. Lawrence Nelson won the second prize and the third prize award was made to Mr. Goltz. Eugene Speicher received honorable mention.”(9)
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
Winter Landscape with Trees, 1908
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
Cloudy Day, Woodstock, c. 1908
Under Harrison’s instruction, Goltz developed an interest in tonal painting, and began to employ a single, dominant tone or color. He translated the spirit and mood of nature through his expressive simplification of color, line and composition, shrouding landscape elements in hazy, atmospheric effects, and instilling his paintings with a sense of mystery and ethereality. In addition to Harrison’s efforts, Goltz’s paintings sometimes bring to mind the richer and deeper tonal aspects of the later work of George Inness, which inspired a whole school of American landscape painting, known as Tonalism, a branch of which centered around Harrison at the summer school. The writer J. Nilsen Laurvik noted that Harrison’s teaching entailed only “those things which can best be acquired out of doors . . . such as the envelopment of an object in its natural atmosphere, the interaction of colors in light as well as in the shadows, and the important fact that in nature no color exists by itself, above all that the real subject matter of a picture is not the objects in it but the all-enveloping atmosphere that determines its mood and color.”(10)
Goltz’s art went through a subtle but definite transformation during the course of 1908-1910. In the summer of 1908 in Woodstock he encountered the artist Daniel Putnam Brinley, who had spent the previous four years in France, where he was one of the founding members of the New Society of American Artists in Paris. The Society formed in opposition to the conservative Society of American Artists in Paris, which failed to embrace the work of the young modern American painters working in the city, including Max Weber, Alfred Maurer, Arthur B. Carles and Edward Steichen.
Daniel Putnam Brinley (1879-1963)
Daisy Field (Silvermine), 1909
Florence Griswold Museum
Brinley was inspired by the beauty he encountered in the fields, meadows and gardens of Woodstock, and painted under the combined influence of Neo-Impressionism and Fauvism. Brinley bathed his landscape subjects in sunlight, punctuating them with painterly dabs of brilliant color, often applied boldly with his palette knife. He divided his canvases into flat color areas, and sought to achieve a lively and dynamic balance between three dimensional space and decorative pattern. No paintings from Brinley’s time in Woodstock in the summer of 1908 have surfaced. One can get an idea of the radical work he was creating around this time from his canvas Daisy Field, which was painted in the summer of 1909 in Silvermine, Connecticut.
Brinley reported in a letter to his wife that she “would laugh and also be somewhat pleased if you could see the rumpus I have kicked up here in the paint line. A bull in a China shop is about the way to express it. Everyone was going along in a kind of slop brown and were as devoid of color as anything you can imagine. I am not belonging to the school . . . and went along in my natural way. I started a very small sketch of the old church here and packed all the color I could into it. Some of the fellows saw it and wanted to do the same thing so I said come along and have a good time painting. Next morning there were seven doing the church and the instructor Mr. Harrison (by the way a charming man) came around and said he was delighted that someone had got them started to use color and said he was glad that I had come up.”(11)
Brinley followed this up with a further report about how his canvases were stirring things up in the village: “I told you yesterday about the way I was upsetting a good many of the [Harrison students]. They have nicknamed me ‘Claude’ by now [after the 17th-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain]. I am working in the same old way for me after light and color and above all things try to be true to myself and sincere in what I do. . . . I think so far it is ahead of anything I have done . . . . I don’t know about getting any pupils, as half of them don’t know what they want and my kind of painting has taken them by storm and they think it is all a joke one minute and that it is beautiful the next.”(12) He further related that “a lot of us here who paint and think in the same vein have called ourselves the ‘sunflowers’ and we have some red-hot discussion.”(13)
Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979)
The full extent of Brinley’s impact on Harrison’s students is not known, but he influenced a number of them to brighten their palette and broaden their color sense, including James Wardwell, Andrew Dasburg and Goltz. During his early summers in Woodstock, Dasburg practiced Harrison’s Tonalist mode of landscape painting. By the summer of 1908, his teacher’s misty landscapes had lost their appeal to him. It was at the time that Wardwell saw a small canvas that Dasburg painted which expressed “the brightness of the sunshine and suggested they form a sunflower club in revolt against the moonlight formula.”(14) Wardwell encouraged Dasburg’s contentiousness toward what he was being taught by Harrison, and in response to Brinley’s example Dasburg painted a landscape with brilliant morning light falling on cornstalks after a heavy frost had banded the mountains with red among the green.(15) The artist later recalled in an interview that he “was completely absorbed in it. Saturday morning came along when Harrison would review our work of the week. My cornfield was up on the wall and of course I admired it. Harrison came along and he ignored it. I think having ignored it because it was not a gray day or a moonlight, that was the reason. That's how our little Sunflower Club got started as a revolt, a revolt against the moods of moonlight and gray days, the Whistlerian moods which they probably were.”(16)
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
Cornstalks, c. 1908
In response to Dasburg’s canvas, Goltz painted his own colorful and iridescent landscape of cornstalks. In the years immediately ahead, Goltz intermittently experimented with rendering the luminous light and brilliant color he had witnessed in the work of his confreres in Woodstock, particularly in his outdoor studies. In time he began to more regularly employ the broken color and loose and vigorous brushwork of Impressionism, as witnessed in his exquisite landscape of the Lasher house (later the site of the Woodstock Public Library) dating from 1910.
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
Barn in Landscape, c. 1908-1914
Walter Goltz (1875-1953)
The Lasher House (Woodstock Library), 1910
Woodstock Library District
**********************End of Part 1*****************
For their assistance in researching and writing this piece on Walter Goltz I would like to especially thank the Goltz family and Tom and Catherine Riley. In addition I would like to thank the following people for their assistance: Amanda Breen, Heidi Abbott, Jim Zeeb, Matthew Leaycraft, Tim Leaycraft, Ed Sanders, Mikhail Horowitz, Kim Apolant, JoAnn Margolis, Virginia Pierce, Janine Fallon-Mower, William Lanford, Greg Shea. Andrea Winston, Stephanie Cassidy and Hoang Tran.
(1) Goltz's start at the Cosack and Company is recorded in a notebook documenting Goltz family history, kept by the artist’s younger brother, Alexander,“Notebook of Alexander Goltz,” Goltz Family Archives.
(2) Margaret E. Sangster, “The Little Rift,” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly 57 (November, 1898): 49.
(3) Richard H. Love, Carl W. Peters, American Scene Painter from Rochester to Newport (Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 1999), p. 263.
(4) Bullard is quoted in Richard Heppner, “Woodstock’s Marion Bullard – Artist, Children’s Author, Crusader,“ https://woodstocknyhistory.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_3.html-\http://www.historicalsocietyofwoodstock.org/marion-bullard-by-richard-heppner-1.
(5) Margaret Ruff, “Zulma Parker Combines Painting and Geneology,” Catskill Mountain Star, February 19, 1954, p. 30.
(6) John F. Carlson, "The Art Students League," in Publications of the Woodstock Historical Society, no. 9 (September 1932): 14-15.
(7) “January Exhibits Drawing to Close,” The Indianapolis Star, January 31, 1912, p. 12. Henry Pfeiffer (1874-1960) went by various names including Heinrich Pfeiffer, Justus Pfeiffer, and Henry R. Pfeiffer. In later life he worked mostly in the state of Florida and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
(8) “The Woodstock Group,” The Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1916, p. 36.
(9) “Prizes for Buffalo Students,” Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, September 30, 1907, p. 5. The name of the winner of the top honor is not known.
(10) J. Nilsen Laurvik, “The Art Students’ League Summer School,” International Studio 53 (May 1911): lxiv.
(11) Brinley is quoted in “Edited Papers of Daniel Putnam Brinley, New York Scene 1908 and 1918,” Elizabeth M. Lunder, cap., p. 319, https://mail.google.com/mail/u/O/#.search/emily/1513646f0eed651c?projector=1).
(12) Ibid., p. 321.
(13) Ibid. p. 325.
(14) Anita M. Smith, Woodstock History and Hearsay (Woodstock, New York: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 129. Smith’s book was first published in 1959 by the Catskill Mountain Corporaton in Saugerties, New York.
(15) Andrew Dasburg, "Notes," in Andrew Dasburg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1957), n.p.
(16) Paul Cummings, “Oral History Interview with Andrew Dasburg,” Archives of American Art, March 26, 1974, See https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-andrew-dasburg-13243#transcript.