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“Charles Rosen as a ballerina, ca. 1924”

The Maverick Festival
at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art

August 2005
(Photos Courtesy the Samuel Dorsky Museum, T Gaede/Striebel Archive, and Center for Photography at Woodstock Permanent Print Collection).

FIFTY YEARS BEFORE the famous Woodstock Music Festival of 1969, Hervey White had put the town of Woodstock on the musical cultural map with his Sunday Maverick Concerts started in 1916 — a full eleven years after he had already helped to put the town on the artistic cultural map with his bohemian utopia nestled just outside of the village boundaries in the neighboring village of West Hurley.


The current exhibit* acknowledges that 100-year centennial and celebrates its ensuing musical heritage with a treasure trove of vintage photographs taken during the heady days of White’s famous festivals and Woodstock’s early days as a burgeoning art colony.Woodstock’s longtime status as an art colony, started by Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead with his founding of the Byrdcliffe Colony in 1902, expanded by Hervey White’s Maverick Colony in 1905, and then cemented by the Art Students League of New York’s establishing their summer sessions in the center of town a few years later, made an impact felt around America and across the Atlantic in the art centers of Europe. In its heydays, Woodstock was considered on a par with New York City, White’s festivals, the League instructors’ exhibits at the Woodstock Artists Association (founded in 19), and Byrdcliffe’s artistic clique regularly being written about and reviewed by such leading New York City publications as The New York Times.

Not a little of this attention was due to White’s magnetic and zany character (he was a writer, reformer, sometime musician, and full time luftmensch) which attracted a living potpourri of artists, actors, writers, dancers, intellectuals, socialist reformers, musicians, assorted bohemian wannabes, and finally, the shadier types of outcasts in the form of bootleggers to his ever-growing retreat hastily put together in slapdash fashion with rustic cabins (sans running water and, at times, even four walls) as accommodations for his guests.

Herminie Kleinert in an Arabian Nights Costume, 1928

To the great many who endured a summer at Maverick — or even a riotous weekend — the experience was exhilaratingly unforgettable, with memories long savored in their declining years. It all finally petered out in the ‘30s — due in large part to the bootleggers who brought in the State Patrol and, ultimately, too much exposure and public censure. Thanks to the labors of love by such devoted historians as Jean Gaede and Fritzi Striebel, many of the photographs chronicling those days has been collected, preserved, archived, and now mounted as an exhibition through the auspices of the Center for Photography at Woodstock and the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art.

Some forty photographs and other memorabilia comprise this exhibit and, in addition to being a valuable contribution to the history of American culture, the show is just plain delightful to behold. Though all in black and white, one cannot fail to see and feel the color and excitement that must have infused the crowds as they filled the woods with laughter, music, and song. The carefree Maverick Days were surely momentous ones, and not even their sometimes-licentious antics come close to the horrors we so handily manage to perpetrate on one another today. We are indeed the poorer for the long silence that envelops those woodlands nowadays — thank heavens for those who have at least kept alive the summer season of Sunday Maverick Concerts for lo these eighty-nine years.

*“The Maverick Festival: An Exhibition on the Centennial of the Maverick Art Colony” (thru Aug 7): Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY at New Paltz, New Paltz, NY (845) 257-3844

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