Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony "" Online Exhibition
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The Byrdcliffe Colony

Zulma Steele
Byrdcliffe in Snow, ca. 1910
Oil on canvas
12x14 inches
Private collection


Byrdcliffe was an artists' colony founded in Woodstock, NY, in 1902-1903 by Jane and Ralph Whitehead (both were inspired by Ruskin and Morris and funded the entire colony), Hervey White (a writer, poet, musician who came from Hull House in Chicago) and Bolton Brown (a painter from upstate New York who went to Syracuse University and taught at Cornell University before establishing the art department at Stanford University).

Woodstock is surrounded by the Catskill Mountains. It provided the rustic landscape meant to inspire and elevate this art community. Artists, writers, musicians, social reformers, and intellectuals came from across the country to stay at Byrdcliffe and gain inspiration from the setting and people with shared artistic goals.

Byrdcliffe failed to fulfill its goals of a self-sufficient arts community. It became too expensive and Whitehead’s dominating personality became a confining force. Byrdcliffe survived for almost 30 years under Whitehead’s vision until his death in 1929.

Today, under the management and restoration efforts of the Woodstock Guild, Byrdcliffe continues as a place for artists to gain inspiration, live, and work.




Byrdcliffe was founded with a threefold mission:

  1. To produce beautiful handmade objects that when sold would finance the colony.
  2. To offer classes in all the crafts so that the colony’s success would go forward for future generations.
  3. To lead a healthful life on a working farm that would help support the inhabitants and provide the best of beauty and simplicity of lifestyle.

What set Byrdcliffe apart as an artists' colony?

  • Artists lived there, some year-round
  • Goal of being self-sufficient
  • Educated children of those who lived there
  • Offered classes in the summer - both a school and artists’ retreat
  • Did not have a humanitarian mission of social reform
  • Art, writing, and music all expressed at Byrdcliffe
  • Attempted to live out the aesthetic philosophies of the Arts and Crafts movement

Forms of artistic expression at Byrdcliffe

  • Architecture
  • Furniture - fewer than one hundred pieces were made
  • Fine Arts - painting, printmaking and drawing – Byrdcliffe was different from other artists' colonies because it included fine arts as a "central part of its identity."
  • Pottery – hand-built and molded pots, no use of potters wheel
  • Weaving
  • Writing
  • Jewelry
  • Metalwork
  • Bookbinding
  • Photography
  • Glass