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Review: Byrdcliffe Traveling Exhibit

ByrdcliffelogoOur friend Keith Wiesinger, founder of the Wilson Crafts Guild, had the opportunity to visit the Byrdcliffe traveling exhibit recently and was kind of enough to forward us a short review:

The Byrdcliffe Colony is a very unique tidbit in American arts and crafts history. It started in 1902 and exists in an altered form even today. I think that the colony was in some ways the most direct transfer of William Morris's ideals and designs into the American marketplace at the turn of the century. The colony started largely by imitating Morris spirit and design queues. The traveling exhibit is excellent but I recommend some prep before you travel to see it.

The exhibit can be viewed online, and the website gives a good basic overview and images of objects included in the display. There is an exhibit catalog available and it has some very good information on all aspects of the colony, everything from artwork, to history, to furniture, to bio list of all involved. There were only 3200 copies printed and I recommend the volume for your reference library it was about $30 and can be ordered through CUP Services @ 607-277-2211. The volume has good info and many wonderful color plates. The only fault is in the editing; several scholars wrote sections for the book independently and the text overlaps/repeats, even a few pictures are seen twice ... but still very much worth the price.

I saw the exhibit at Cornell University in Ithaca last week. It is open there until Dec 5th. Then travels to Albany, NY Dec. 28 - Feb 28. Then to NYC March 15 - May 15 th. The travels end where some of the items are home at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware June 11 - Sept 5 2005. The website will give you full info on locations and hours.

The objects in the show are most impressive. Seeing something close to 1/3 of the colony's total furniture production in an hour was overwhelming. The design work studies and paintings were amazing. We were on our way to Thanksgiving at my folks in the adirondacks so a 5 and 8 year old were in tow. The guards in the hall were a bit uneasy but it all worked out great.  I have been researching the young woman artist Zulma Steele, her work at Byrdcliffe and at this exhibit stole the show. It is something I continue to dig into. She went to Pratt, came to the Colony the first year at age 22 and with her friend from Pratt, Edna Walker, designed almost all the furniture panel decoration (carved pieces) . White pines, the main house at Byrdcliffe was intact and in the same family until 1976, the drawings and designs in the house/attic, etc., were gathered up and put into a collection at Winterthur. The collection contains actual design sketches, patterns and some dimensioned drawings, it is an awesome time capsule available to the public.

The display at Cornell seemed a bit crowded for the venue, there was some exceptional artwork hung in the stairwells, better lighting perhaps would have helped these. The main display room was well organized and well lit. The best moment ... getting my 8 year old to understand Zulma Steele's impressionist style painting "Autumn Landscape." I had him first view it close up, then step back about 20 feet, It's about a 3' square canvas ... lets see how should it go ... 2 tanks of gas $80, lunch in Ithaca $22.50, Your 8 year old son "getting" one of you obsessions.... Priceless.

This little review is just a scratch of the information available on the colony, the exhibit is very much worth traveling to see and the companion book contains items published no where else, a very worthy investment of your time and a few $. I have been looking for the right panel decoration to use on a vice cabinet I've been wanting to build, there is a watercolor on tissue paper plant study of grapes and vines in the exhibit that will be the basis for a paneled door on a cellarette for our home ... It's all good ... all my best to you all and happy holidays!