A few minutes’ walk from the Woodstock Village Green, a zone often filled with lively music and art, there is a piece of green on a hillside filled with music and art, but in a little different way……..
This is the Woodstock Artists Cemetery, and its name came not from the founding family, who didn’t establish the cemetery with artists in mind, but from local residents who saw the place as a snobbish affront, a cemetery for the summer elite who fancied themselves too highly to rest for eternity among the common folk in the Woodstock cemetery across the street!
Over time, Woodstock’s population renamed and repurposed the burial ground, and some of its most prominent artistic residents rest there still today.
Perhaps most important are theByrdcliffe’s founders, the artists colony that made Woodstock what it is: Jane and Ralph Whitehead, Hervey White, and Bolton Brown, who carved his own birth and death dates, as he felt the end approaching, into a boulder for his grave marker.
At the bottom of that hill there is a memorial to Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead (1854-1924) “who by his building of (the artists’ colony) Byrdcliffe in 1901 led the first group of artists and craftsmen to this valley.”
In addition to major 20th century painters like Philip Guston and Milton Avery, the cemetery is home also to a lot of creative characters, like bluegrass luminary John Herald, or children’s book author Paula Danziger. But also Chevy Chase’s great-uncle Frank Swift Chase, the painter who cofounded the Woodstock Artists Association, and Howard Koch, who co-wrote the movie Casablanca.
If graves could talk, you’d start to hear on this quiet piece of land really lot of stories….
The founder, for example, was an amateur mushroom hunter. At dinner parties he served guests his prized specimens and dimmed the lights for a moment so that they could fully appreciate his wild mushrooms glowing green with bioluminescence on their dinner plates.
Lot of (living) artists of all kinds are also frequently seen at the cemetery, who sometimes trying to find inspiration among the graves of the inspired. Those graves, appropriate to such a cemetery, are often works of art themselves, created by some of Woodstock’s greatest sculptors. They are also mostly flat against the ground, supposedly so as not to obscure the dead’s view of Overlook Mountain….
That rich heritage is why the Woodstock Artists Cemetery often draws creative types to sit on one of the few stone benches, like the hilltop one flanked by the tall gravestone with this inscription:
“Encircled by the everlasting hills, they rest here who added to the beauty of the world, by art, creative thought and by life itself.”
And if people heard of this unusual place, in my opinion, they are just dying to get in! 😀