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William Emile Schumacher: The Avant Garde Spirit of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

By Bruce Weber

From October 8th through November 20th, 2022 the exhibition Arriving at Byrdcliffe will be on view at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts in Woodstock. Co-curated by Henry T. Ford and myself, with the assistance of gallery director Ursula Morgan and Maria Yeye, the exhibition includes William Emile Schumacher’s The Woodchopper. In honor of the occasion I’ve written the following account of the artist’s life and career. I will be part of a panel discussion relating to the exhibition to be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday October 8th, followed by the opening at the Kleinert/James from 4-6.

Mary Lawrence Webster (1872-1944)

Willliam Emile Schumacher at Byrdcliffe,

c. 1925

Alf Evers Papers.

Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Lendall Pitts in his Paris Studio, 1898

Detroit Institute of Arts

William Emile Schumacher revitalized the painting department at the Byrdcliffe art colony in Woodstock, and brought an avant garde spirit to this bastion of the Arts and Crafts movement. Born in Belgium in 1870, Schumacher was the son of a German-born fabric designer. He came to America as an infant and was brought up and educated in Boston, where his only known sibling, his sister Belle, was born in 1885.

Schumacher studied at the Dresden Academy in Germany in 1888, and at the Academie Julian in Paris from 1890-1896. Following the completion of his studies he was active in France as an illustrator, poster designer, and painter of portraits, figurative works, and landscapes. Dating from 1898 is his large portrait of the little known Detroit-born portrait and landscape painter Lendall Pitts in his studio in Paris, which stylistically reflects Schumacher's lingering academic training.

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

New Books, 1896

Lithographic poster

Lothrop Publishing Company, Boston

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Untitled (Folk Dancing), c. 1900

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Trees with Stream and Boat, c. 1905-1910

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

The Kiss (Family Life), 1911

Maurice Denis (1870-1943)

Seotember Evening, 1891

Musée d’Orsay

In the late 1890s and early years of the 20th century, Schumacher came under the influence of Art Nouveau (as reflected in his advertising poster of 1896), as well as the work of the Nabi painters Edouard Vuilliard and Maurice Denis. Under the latter’s influence the artist would begin to break his compositions into prismatic patterns, ermploy dot and dash-like strokes, and ocassionally emphasize vivid hues of blue and red. Art historian William H. Gerdts noted that Schumacher worked in an Impressionist style before embracing a more modern aesthetic.(1) Over the course of the period 1900-1912 his work gradually became more inventive and experimental,

Schumacher's canvas Building the City, picturing a group of French workmen pushing huge blocks of stone along a quay, was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1900. The picture was commended in the American press, where a critic for the Boston Evening Transcript remarked that the artist warranted watching and encouragment,(2) Schumacher later showed at the Champ de Mars and Autumn salons. An art critic considered his paintings Le Reveil and Le Bain, shown in Paris in 1911, as "veritable gems of sentiment and color."(3) The critic also indicated that it was in around 1913 that Schumacher began to experiment with a Pointillist technique, influenced by the paintings of Post Impressionist Georges Seurat.(4)

Schumacher lived at 59 Avenue de Saxe in Paris. In the early 20th century the building was home to numerous artists, including Albert Dakin Gihon, Clara Josephine, Ludovic Guillard and Tony Robert Fleury. Fleury was Byrdcliffe co-founder Jane Byrd McCall Whitehead’s former teacher at the Academie Julian. Whitehead was a close friend of Fleury’s sister. It may have been through Fleury that Schumacher initially met the Whiteheads, and eventually was hired to teach in Woodstock. The connection may also have been linked to Schumacher's roots in Boston, where he showed in the early 1900s at Doll & Richards Galleries, alongside Byrdcliffe instructors Birge Harrison and Dawson Dawson-Watson.(5)

Clara Davidge at Conventry Studios, New York, n.d.

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Cooper Lake, c. 1913-15

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Woodstock Landscape, c. 1914

Schumacher returned to America in the summer of 1912. During his first year back he lived at the boarding house of Clara Davidge at 62 Washington Square South in New York City. Davidge ran the Madison Art Gallery as part of her interior decorating business Coventry Studios, where the organization of the Armory Show was initiated. She also was the principal fund raiser for this landmark exhibition. The association likely helped lead to Schumacher’s exhibition there of his paintings Her Blue Skirt and The Lady, Maid and Child. The exhibition spurred Schumacher’s enthusiasm for the Fauvist paintings of Henri Matisse and Othon Friesz, and spurred a new boldness and brightness in his handling of color. Schumacher later established a studio in the city at 138 West 53rd Street.

In 1913, Schumacher lived briefly in Chicago before making his way to Byrdcliffe, where he taught painting in the summers unil a few weeks before his death in 1931. Painting classes had been a vital part of Byrdcliffe's first years, but had not been held on a regular basis since 1905. During his first summers in Woodstock classes were held at Hans and Lotte Stoehrs' Byrdcliffe house HiLoHa, and then at The Meadows, which was rented at the time by Martin and Eva Watson-Schutze, located at the lower end of Byrdciffe along the Glasco Turnpike.

Willam Emile Schumacher's

Former Home at 2420 Glasco Turnpike, Woodstock, New York

Historical Society of Woodstock

Details of Map of the Estate of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead with Home of

William Emile Schumacher and Surrounding Artists on Glasco Turnpike,

c. 1930-1931

Historical Society of Woodstock

In 1925, Schumacher purchased land and constructed a house opposite The Meadows, which was now owned by the potter Harriet Goddard and her sister Elizabeth (sisters of artist Margaret Goddard Carlson, wife of landscape painter and teacher John F. Carlson, who lived down the road), and next door to potters Elizabeth Hardenburg and Edith Penman, at 2420 Glasco Turnpike, west of Upper Byrdcliffe Road. To the immediate east of the house were the homes of artists Frank Swift Chase, Henry Billings, and John Carroll, and illustrators Miska and Maud Petersham, part of the amazing concentration of artists who for decades were a major part of the artistic and cultural fabric of the area. Schumacher lived at his house on the Glasco Turnpike year round, and continued teaching painting during the summers.

Eva Watson-Schutze (1867-1935)

Drusilla Baldorf, 1920s

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museun

Eva Watson-Schutze (1867-1935)

Martin Schutze, c. 1915

Historical Society of Woodstock

Eva Watson-Schutze

Yellow Callas, 1929

New York State Museum,

Historic Woodstock Art Collection, Collection of Arthur A. Anderson

Unknown Photographer

William Emile Schumacher

with Figure Painting

at Woodstock, New York, c. 1917

Lazzell Family Collection

After studying with Schumacher at Byrdcliffe, photographer Eva Watson-Schutze decided to take up painting, and became a great supporter of the artist. She authored an appreciation of his work for the catalog of Schumacher’s solo exhibition in 1922 at the Arts Club of Chicago, where she briefly discussed his color theories, and related that he had “too strong a personality to follow any school.”(6) Following Schumacher's death in 1931, she wrote a short article on his life and career for the Woodstock periodical The Overlook.(7) Under Schumacher’s influence, Watson-Schutze painted extensively from the mid teens through the late 1920s, mostly portraits and floral still lifes. She credited Schumacher for reawakening her “desire to find expression through form, color and design based on a visible and living world.”(8)

Blanche Lazzell (1878-1958)

Landscape, Woodstock, 1917

Blanche Lazzell (1878-1958)

The Monongahela, 1919

Color woodcut on paper

Among Schumacher’s other students at Byrdliffe was the painter, printmaker and designer Blanche Lazzell, who learned color theory under his aegis in the summer of 1917, and under his impact incorporated small dashes and dots of bright decorative color, and mosaic-like patches of pattern in her work. Lazzell and Schumacher originally met in Paris when he recommended she study at the Academie Moderne. Lazzell is best known today for the Cubist-inspired white-line color woodcuts she created in Provincetown.

Norman T. Boggs Jr. (1910-2005)

Untitled, c. 1933

Collection of

Christine Isabelle Oaklander, Ph.D. Photograph by Charles Daniels

Zulma Steele (1881-1979)

Autumn Landscape . 1914

Collection of Jean Young

Among Schumacher’s other Byrdcliffe students was Norman T. Boggs, Jr., whose family settled in about 1918 outside the village of Woodstock in the area known today as Boggs Hill Road. Boggs appears to have studied with Schumacher in about 1930, and to have set up a studio in a dairy barn on the family property.(9) Elsie Viola Moll Stevens, wife of poet Wallace Steven, also studied with Schumacher at Byrdcliffe. Durng the course of the summers of 1915-1917, Wallace Stevens visited his wife at Byrdcliffe on a number of ocassions, and while there authored the long poem “Lettres d’un Soldat.” Zulma Steele probably studied with Schumacher at Byrdcliffe; her paintings of 1913-1917 reflect his stylistic influence, and new embrace of a Post Impressionist aesthetic.

Following his first summer teaching at Byrdcliffe, Schumacher joined the staff of the Modern Art School, located on Washingston Square in Greenwich Village, which offered classes in painting, drawing and sculpture.(10) Among the school's other teachers were sculptors Myra Musselman-Carr and Florence Lucius, and fabric designer and print maker Ilonka Karasz, all of whom were also active in Woodstock in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1916, Musselmann-Carr opened a summer branch of the Modern Art School in nearby Bearsville, where she taught sculpture, painting and drawing. The Modern Art School in Manhattan advertised that it was for artists "who seek the freedom of working without the handicap of dogmaticsm or the deadening influence of academicism.”(11) Also teaching painting at the school were Charles Demuth, B. J. O. Nordtfelt and Hugo Robus. Students were given individual attention, and the “leading idea in all instruction is to get the student to a realization of pure art rather than mere facility in copying or coloring.”(12)

William Emile Schumcher (1870-1931)

Formal Arrangement, 1913-1914

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Farm Abstraction, c. 1914-1920

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Floral Landscape, 1916

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Tabletop Still Life with Lamp, 1916

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Flowers, 1916

The Horseman Foundation

In January 1913, Schumacher had a solo exhibition of his paintings at the Cosmopolitan Club in New York. This was followed by solo exhibitions from later that year through 1916 at the Daniel Gallery, one of the city’s leading spaces for showing modern American art. Critics of his 1914 showing commented on his distinctive application of mosaic-like patches in his works.(13) From late November to mid December 1916, Schumacher was part of a three-person show at the St. Botolph's Club in Boston, which included the artists William Glackens and Maurice Prenderdgast.

From 1913-1916, Schumacher concentrated mostly on painting whimsical, imaginative and boldly colored and patterned landscapes and still lifes, which are marked by an increasingly abstract handling of form. Their intersecting colored planes were impacted by his study of the chromatic musical scale - a non diatonic scale consisting entirely of half-step intervals - a subject of interest to a number of American modernists in the second decade of the 20th century. Art historian Christine Isabelle Oaklander has noted that following the Armory Show the color-music analogy was a popular topic of discussion among American artists.(14) Many modernist painters emulated musical analogies in their work in search for a new visual language -- making correlations between the musical scale and the color spectrum in quest of approximating musicality in their art.(15) Watson-Schutze explained that Schumacher’s goal was to create a central area of light and color that played a radiating influence on surrounding parts, that gradually expanded in the picture, and intensified the thought or idea underlying the subject.(16)

Dewing Woodward

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Listening for the Footstep of Autumn,

c. 1915

Between 1913 and 1917, Schumacher was friendly with the artist Dewing Woodward, who resided near Woodstock in the hamlet of Shady, and may have influenced her experiments with color, light, form and brushwork. Woodward’s home was a popular meeting spot for artists of the area, including Schumacher, Birge Harrison, Heny Lee McFee, Eugene Speicher, Marion Bullard and Andrew Dasburg. Woodward was the founder and president of the Blue Dome Fellowship, which thrived in Shady from 1913-1917, an association of artists and art students who joined together for the mutual benefit of studying the problems identified with painting the nude figure in light and color under the open sky.(17)

Louis E. Jones (?-?)

Hervey White Outside the Maverick Concert Hall with Log Buttresses, 1919

Unknown Photographer

Anita M. Smith Exhibition,

Maverick Concert Hall, August 6th, 1917

Anita M. Smith Collection

In September of 1918, Schumacher had a solo exhibition at the Maverick Concert Hall in nearby West Hurley, which was regarded as "one of the chief attractions of the season."(18) The general plan for the hall's exhibitions was devised by Andrew Dasburg and Henry Lee McFee. Individual artists, or occasionally groups of artists, arranged the showings. The still active and popular concert hall was erected in 1916 by Maverick founder Hervey White, who enlisted musicians, writers and artists to play a prominent part in his art colony. In addition to Schumacher, among the other artists to have solo showings there were Carl Eric Lindin, Catherine A. Watkins, Alfred Hutty, Marion Bullard, B. J. O. Nordfeldt and Anita M. Smith. In the summer of 1919, Schumacher had a solo exhibition of oil paintings and watercolors at his private studio in Byrdcliffe.(19)

Cover Design

by William Emile Schumacher,

The Plowshare, September 1918

Woodstock Library District

Over the course of the years 1917-1920, Schumacher created five cover designs and one frontispiece for Hervey White's magazine The Plowshare. The publication was principally devoted to creative artists and writers of the Woodstock and Maverick art colonies.

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

The Woodchopper, 1920

New York State Museum,

Historic Woodstock Art Colony,

Collection of Arthur A. Anderson

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Settlement Worker in the Subway, 1920

In the early 1920s, Schumacher concentrated on creating genre paintings such as The Woodchopper and Settlement Worker in the Subway, which evolved stylistically out of his growing interest in the art of the so-called Italian primitives painters of the 14th and 15th centuries, whose art he closely studied on a trip to Italy in the winter of 1921-1922.

Upon returning to America, Schumacher received a commission from Frances Crane Lillie to paint two large panels for the newly constructed Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Chicago. Lillie widely supported religious art, and felt that “our religious ideals are the greatest gift we can offer the artist, after his daily bread. In return he will give us religious art, individual to him and to us, and perhaps fundamental to most simple communities.”(20) Among the other painters Lillie commissioned to create religious work were the Frenchman André Derain and the Japanese artist Foujita.

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Mary as Sorrowful Mother, 1925

Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Chicago

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

Joseph on the Flight to Egypt, 1925

Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Chicago

Interior, Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Chicago, 1924

Alfeo Faggi (1885-1966)

Stations of the Cross, 1924

Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Church

The Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle was completed in 1924. It was designed by Francis Barry Byrne, whose architectural career began in 1902 when as a 19 years old he saw a photograph of a building by Frank Lloyd Wright in a magazine and marched into Wright’s studio – without any experience, or even a high school education – and talked his way into a job.

The exterior façade of the church is adorned with terra cotta by Alfonso Iannelli, and the interior features stained glass windows designed by Valentine d’Ogries. The church also features the Woodstock sculptor Alfeo Faggi’s bronze bas relief Stations of the Cross, as well as a monumental pieta by the artist. In addition to Faggi, Schumacher was friends with Woodstock sculptor Bruno Zimm, who created a posthumous bust of the artist.

Schumacher’s paintings of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph are installed at the rear of the nave. An art critic of the period remarked that his later paintings present "a curious blend of the mystic and cubistic, with their passages of soft, vaporous colors that cross and recross the picture plane until the whole scene goes up in an irised glow.”(21)

Bruno Zimm (1867-1943)

Portrait of William Emile Schumacher, 1931


Schumacher died in Woodstock in 1931. The foreword to the catalog for the memorial exhibition held at the Woodstock Art Association noted that Schumacher’s art witnessed “a number of interesting phases, in which he never separated color and form, and held to the importance of the unity of each composition, and the significance of the imaginative mind.”(22) Among the major supporters of this exhibition was artist Henry Mattson’s wife Daphne.

Watson-Schutze's article on Schumacher that appeared in The Overlook following the artist's death, commented on the passing of “another of the personalities who have contributed so much to the development of Woodstock during the last thirty years, and given new color and character to the life of the community.”(23) At the memorial service held at Schumacher’s home, Eva Watson-Schutze read Carl Eric’s Lindin's tribute to the painter (Lindin had to be away).

William Emile Schumacher (1870-1931)

The Three Flowers, c. 1925

A second memorial exhibition of Schumacher's work was held in 1932 at the Ferargil Gallery in New York City. A reviewer for The New York Times noted that in the artist's later pictures he often made use of a rainbow palette in "some . . . the colors are much bolder, matching designs that, while still more or less abstract, confess comradeship with an inclination closer in esssence to the naturalistic."(24)

In his later years Schumacher appears to have made a conscious link between the six notes of the Western musical scale and the six colors of a rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The essay in the catalog of the memorial exhibition at Ferargil touched on both the mystical side of Schumacher's work, and its color analogy with the rainbow, remarking that at the time of Schumacher's death a double rainbow appeared in the Woodstock heavens.(25)

(1) William H. Gerdts, "The American Fauves: 1907-1918," essay in The Color of Modernism: The American Fauves (New York: Hollis Taggert Galleries, 1997), p. 41

(2) "At the Paris Salon," Boston Evening Transcript, May 12, 1900, p 20.

(3) "More Americans of Mark," Boston Evening Transcript, December 17, 1913, p. 20.

(4) Ibid., p. 20. For four related articles highlighting Schumacher's comments on Neo-Impressionsm and Post Impressionism see "Mr. William Emile Schumacher, An American Post Impressionist," The Times Democrat, New Orleans, February 23, 1913, p. 32; "W. E. Schumacher, Post-Impressionist, Arrives in Indianapolis for a Visit," The Indianapolis Star, April 13, 1913, p. 29; Lill E. Morehouse, ""Oh What a-ah; O What a What: The Above Being a Futurist Epitome of That Which Comes Below,"

The Indianapolis Star, April 26, 1913,

p. 30; "Jess Laffed' About The Modernists' Art," The Indianapolis News, April 18, 1913, p. 31.

(5) See "The Fine Arts: Paintings at Doll & Richards," Boston Evening Transcript, July 8, 1904, p. 10.

(6) Watson-Schutze is cited in “At the Arts Club,” Chicago Evening Post, otherwise unidentified newspaper article, William Emile Schumacher File (the author's), source unknown.

(7) Eve Schuetze [Eva Watson-Schutze], “[Death of William E. Schumacher],” The Overlook, September 5, 1931, p. 5.

(8) Watson-Schutze is quoted in Jean F. Block, Eva Watson Schütze: Photo-Secessionist (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1985), p. 14.

(9) There are contradictory accounts of the period when Boggs studied with Schumacher. It modt likely occurred around 1930. An account offering a date of about 1923, as well as mention of the barn studio, is found in Christine Isabelle Oaklander. Notes with Virginia Gunn in Kennet Square on 3/22/08. I would like to thank Christine Isabelle Oaklander for sharing her notes pertaining to her conversation with Virginia Gunn about the life and activities of Norman Towar Boggs, Jr.

(10) “School Notes,” Arts and Decoration 5 (October 1915): 452. I would also like to thank Christine Isabelle Oaklander for sharing this reference, and for her emails relating to general interest in color theories among American artists around the time of the Armory Show in 1913.

(11) Ibid., p. 452.

(12) Ibid., p. 452.

(13) This was noted in Gerdts, p. 41. See "Art Notes," The New York Times, Janary 26, 1914, p. 6, and [James Huneker"], "What is Happening in the World of Art," New York Sun, January 25, 1914, section 7, p. 2.

(14) Christine I. Oaklander, "Arthur B. Davies, William Fraetas, and 'Color Law,'" American Art, vol. 18, no. 2 (Summer 2004); 18.

(15) For a major study on the subject see Kerry Brougher; Jeremy Strick; Ari Wiseman; Judith Zilczer, Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900 (New York: Thames & Hudson, Inc. 2005).

(16) "At the Arts Club."

(17) See my essay on Dewing Woodweard and the Blue Dome Fellowship in Learning Woodstock Art Colony.

(18) "Maverick Concert," Kingston Daily Freeman, August 30, 1918, p. 12.

(19) "[Advertisement for Solo Exhibition at Private Studio, Byrdcliffe,] The Plowshare 6-7 (May-June 1919): n.p.

(20) Frances Crane Lillie, Examples of Religious Art (Chicago: Privately Printed, 1936), n.p.

(21) “William Emile Schumacher Leo Hershfield - Ferargil Galleries,” Art News 31 (October 29, 1932): 8.

(22) The remark in the foreword of the Woodstock Artists Association’ memorial catalog is quoted in a short biography of Schumacher prepared by Hollis Taggart Galleries. The author has yet to personally view this publication. A copy is not found in the Woodstock Artists Association archives.

(23) Eve Schuetze [Eva Watson-Schutze], p. 5.

(24) The review in The New York Times is quoted in "Schumacher Memorial Show," The Art Digest 7 (November 1, 1932): 14.

(25) Noted in “William Emile Schumacher Leo Hershfield - Ferargil Galleries,”p. 8.

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Excellent article!

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