Woodstock Musings

• Celebrating New York’s Centennial for Women’s Suffrage
• Illusion of the "Garden"
• Woodstock Celebrates Earth Day
• Woodstock/Earth
• Re- Consider to Re-Commit and Re-Cycle
• Woodstock and its Artists
• In Memory of Sam Spainer
• Jane Van de Bogart
• Woodstock and Art
• The Blue Dome Fraternity – A Niche in Creation
• In memory of Andree Ruellan
• A Spirit of Woodstock
• Woodstock Library: 100 Years of Books & Democracy


Celebrating New York’s Centennial for Women’s Suffrage

When they won the vote a century ago our great, great-grandmothers began to change the world and the way society operated. Whether they were artists, washerwomen or women with private means, working side by side in studios, factories, shops or schools, they posed a brand new threat to the male elite.
Many of the women joined the fight for suffrage in 1917 yet coming of age during the early 20th century and identifying themselves as artists was in fact an act of establishing or striving for equality in itself.
Peggy Bacon (b. 1895), Lucile Blanch (b. 1895), Doris Lee (b. 1905), Hannah Small (b. 1903), Georgina Klitgaard (b. 1893), Christine Martin (b.1895), Sally Michel (b. 1902), and Andree Ruellan (b. 1905) were all born within ten years of each other and all achieved a certain national notoriety in the mostly male art world during their lifetimes. Working in small or makeshift studios during the hot summers and extremely cold winters, these women worked hard to become successful in their own careers. The suffrage movement and the liberation from nineteenth century morals and values must have empowered each to reach the position of ‘artist’, typically a man’s domain.
Peggy Bacon was born in 1895 in Connecticut and studied painting with John Sloan, George Bellows and others at the Art Students League. Her circle of friends included Katherine Schmidt (Kuniyoshi), Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Dorothy Varian and Andrew Dasburg. "The years at the Art Students League were a very important chunk of life to me and very exhilarating. It was the first time in my life, of course, that I had met and gotten to know familiarly a group of young people who were all headed the same way with the same interests. In fact it was practically parochial." In 1917, she exhibited two works in the First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.
In the summer of 1919 Bacon studied with Andrew Dasburg in Woodstock and married American painter Alexander Brook a year later 1920. They lived in Greenwich Village and Woodstock.
Bacon was a very prolific artist, illustrating over 60 books, 19 of which she also wrote. Her drawings appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker, New Republic, Fortune, and Vanity Fair and she exhibited in galleries and museums frequently, including Alfred Stieglitz's Intimate Gallery, and the Downtown Gallery.  In 1934 Bacon was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 1942 she was granted an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1947, Bacon was elected into the National Academy of Design.
Lucile Blanch was born in  Minnesota in 1895 and studied at the Minneapolis School of Art during World War I with her future husband Arnold Blanch, and other notable artists like Harry Gottlieb and Adolf Dehn. Winning a grant from the Art Students League of New York, she traveled to France and later moved to Woodstock, New York where she and Arnold helped build the Woodstock Art colony.
Blanch received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1933, and from that point on her art was collected and was shown in a number of important galleries, notably the Whitney Museum.  She was one of 162 women artists commissioned to paint murals for the WPA. In 1938 Lucile Blanch painted an oil on canvas titled ''Osceola Holding Informal Court with His Chiefs” for the United States post office in Fort Pierce, Florida, that is currently on display at the Fort Pierce City Hall. Numerous other murals followed as Blanch was one of the few artists who actually painted WPA murals in the same town for which the work was commissioned and accepted input from local residents prior to the painting process.
Doris Lee, born in Illinois and studied with the American Impressionist Ernest Lawson. She attended the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Her career took off in 1935 when her painting Thanksgiving won the Logan Prize in the annual show at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her bustling scene of women preparing a Thanksgiving feast became the object of national headlines when it was first exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute and won the prestigious Logan Purchase Prize. The themes of Thanksgiving, rural customs, and family life, which Lee painted in a deliberately folksy manner, would have had great appeal to a country still in the midst of the Depression. Yet Josephine Logan, the donor of the prize, condemned the work’s broad, exaggerated style and founded the conservative Society for Sanity in Art movement in response. This controversy only brought Lee fame, and Thanksgiving has been recognized as one of the most popular nostalgic views of this American ritual.
Lee was married to photographer Russell Lee from 1927 to 1939. In 1939 she married the artist and teacher Arnold Blanch, (who had divorced Lucile in 1935) and for many years they lived and worked in Woodstock, NY.

Andree Ruellan was born to French parents in 1905 in New York and her first published work appeared in The Masses. Ruellan first exhibited work in St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery where Robert Henri and George Bellows also showed. She attended the Art Students League in 1920 before moving to Rome on an art scholarship, then Paris. Over the next five years she and her mother remained in Paris where Ruellan continued to work and study. During that time she obtained her first solo exhibition at the Sacre du Printemps Gallerie and in 1928 she was given her second one-woman show at the Weyhe Gallery in New York.  While in Paris she met and fell in love with the American artist John W.Taylor, ‘Jack’. They married three months later and moved to Shady (Woodstock, NY) in 1929 with Ruellan's mother, Lucette, where she lived for over seventy five years, surviving her mother’s and husband’s deaths, until after her hundredth birthday.
Exhibiting in numerous galleries (Kraushaar Galleries for several decades) and Museums, Ruellan won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1950 and Woodstock’s top prizes, the Sally Jacobs-Phoebe Towbin Award in 1981 and Yasuo Kuniyoshi Award in 1994.
History says little about the personal thoughts or struggles of these women who mostly came from outside New York, having received grants to the Art Students League or following other artists east to the center of the art world in the U.S. If ‘Her’ story were written, it might include themselves or their friends marching in corsets covered by long heavy dresses, being ridiculed, spat on, beaten, and mocked and spending days, weeks, and even months in jail, tortured and force-fed before their struggle culminated in winning the long generational war for the vote.
All of us owe a debt to these women of every class who risked so much for us decades ago, making art not only for fame or money but simply for the pleasure of bringing beauty into a world desperately needing a feminine perspective.
We celebrate the Woodstock women artists who longed for independence, adventure and strength along with the Suffragettes who boldly and courageously fought for our freedom, a fight still alive and active today.

~ Pat Horner


Illusion of the "Garden"

     It was no coincidence that the illusion of the "Garden" in the songs of the "Flower Children" of the 1969 Woodstock Festival evolved into movements that produced green consciousness, "Gaia" Earth Day, The Whole Earth Catalog and more.  

The green peace symbol survives today in Woodstock... with its strict (some say overly) zoning laws, and the restrictions of a natural setting that lends itself to preserving land and not exploiting it. The current campaign to accomplish a carbon free footprint is also a testament to the Woodstock Ideal of living in partnership with the earth. 

This concern is also evidenced by the actions of the Woodstock Land conservancy, the new town farm market, the "ecological Model" of the Ashokan Project. the influx of new solar industries in the area, and the "Our Town" committee's search for affordable, sustainable housing, and the town's environmental committee for the elimination of plastic bags to reduce, reuse & recycle.

A Major aspect of this trend is the eco-tourism that the chamber and the town promote... hiking the comeau property, maintaining the other "jewels" of Woodstock's natural necklace of open space, as well as the Overlook Fire Tower, Byrdcliffe Art Walk, sledding for kids, and cross country skiing for adults we are trying to get back to the garden.

 ~ Barry Samuels


Woodstock Celebrates Earth Day

The Woodstock area has a long history of caring for its natural resources. The U.S. environmental movement was actually launched in this region in the early 1800s with the paintings of Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School. Through their paintings these artists drew attention to the idyllic beauty of the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains. They fostered a growing appreciation of the landscape painting as a genre, and they depicted an idealized theme of humans peacefully coexisting with nature. As a result, what had been a laissez-fare attitude in the U.S. toward nature and the environment gradually began to change. In 1885 the New York State Legislature set aside land in the counties of Ulster, Greene, Delaware and Sullivan for the Catskill Forest Preserve. This legislation was intended to protect the area from logging. In 1904 the Catskill Park was established here, consisting of public and private lands. It has been called a “grand experiment,” challenging humans to live equitably with the wilderness.

Drawn to Woodstock by the area’s natural beauty, an Englishman named Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead founded the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony here in 1902. He sought to establish a protective enclave where artists and artisans could create beautiful objects in an atmosphere healthful to mind and body. The Colony served to further focus attention on nature and the environment throughout the first half of the 20th century.

During the 1960s the grassroots organization Scenic Hudson mobilized its forces to fight the construction of a gigantic hydroelectric plant near Storm King Mountain. Also around this time Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published. In 1969 Pete Seeger launched his Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which inspired a series of well-publicized environmental initiatives over the years that followed.

In 2003 the Woodstock Environmental Commission procured a New York State Energy Research Development Agency (NYSERDA) grant covering eighty percent of the project cost of a photo-voltaic panel array for the municipal building at 76 Tinker Street in Woodstock. This system presently produces more electricity than the building needs, so the excess is sold back to the local utility. In March 2007 Woodstock made headlines around the world when, as a community, it committed to a zero-carbon footprint by the year 2017.

 ~ Weston Blelock and Julia Blelock



As Woodstock led a generation to peace and love through art and music forty years ago, now she leads a new generation to power over the depletion of natural resources and destruction of bio diversity. We struggle not for today but for our future and a cleaner more sustainable planet. We must change our tactics or lose the battle.

With a small window in which to turn things around, Woodstock passed a zero carbon initiative a few years ago and several municipal and private buildings and homes are adding solar power, geothermal heating and cooling. Many are buying hybrid cars, gardening, composting, eating less meat and/or using less electricity or oil to heat our homes. We recycle, reduce, repair, restore or re-use what we have while giving up plastic bags, other packaging and incandescent bulbs. We shop locally and visit our own farm markets.

We smoke less or quit, then plant a tree. We clean with natural products and purchase less chemicals or drugs. We use re-cycled paper and turn our heat down while putting another sweater on.

The ideals and sensibilities of the Woodstock Generation are desperately needed today. Join us through our many acts of Green in making Woodstock and the Earth a better place for the next generation.

 ~ Pat Horner


Re- Consider to Re-Commit and Re-Cycle

Environmentalism was truly a grass-roots movement in which public outcry spurred politicians to act. On April 22, 1970, twenty million people participated in massive rallies on the first Earth Day, giving birth to the modern environmental movement. Over the past forty years, the world has made enormous strides in energy efficiency; some of the problems were fixed, laws were passed, activist organizations were formed and improvements were made. However, our fragile relationship with nature continues.

Perhaps not radically altering the world energy picture, some of us are doing our best to accelerate the pace of improvement by resolving to use energy more wisely. A few easy pain-free methods of becoming less reliant on nonrenewable, greenhouse-gas-emitting sources of energy are:

Turn off the lights when leaving a room.
Turn off the hot water heater when out of town.
Avoid plastic containers.
Carry your own bags to the grocery store.
Attend as many chores as possible in one car trip.
Don’t drive unnecessarily.
Bank, shop and do business locally. For every $100 spent locally, $45 remains in the local economy and gasoline is saved.
Recycle as much as possible.
Start a compost pile for the earth.
Don’t use chemical fertilizers.

Celebrate with us the power of human energy.

 ~ Pat Horner


Woodstock and its Artists
Woodstock is one of perhaps a dozen small towns in America where the percentage of artists is wildly disproportionate to the size of the general population. Poets, prose writers, playwrights, painters, potters, political pundits, photographers, portraitists, piano players, pilgrims of every artistic stripe march like an army of P’s into the shops in mid-winter, leaving their breath on the inside of the windows. Intellectual conversations in the aisle of the health food supermarket vie with similar encounters in bohemian sections of a big city. Coming unexpectedly among the stacks in the book store on a friend or
acquaintance who has an innovative perspective on a way out of the war, or how to establish the Comeau property, say, as a land forever wild; or the plight of a fellow citizen who’s lost the use of her legs, and needs a benefit to help her along — the exchange peps up your day. But if the people are the currency of Woodstock, the gold coins of the realm are the natural surroundings; they remind you at every turn that the earth is a spectacular, serene, protective and demanding home. The mountains up above the town will tell you. Veer off your course for an afternoon, explore the forests and come back renewed. Or dunk your bones into a creek or swimming hole on a sweltering day and come out revived. As a town inside the Catskill Park we have the tremendous generosity of nature at our front and back doors. I live on the side of a mountain and can get to the top of it without getting in a car or seeing another human being.

Being aware again and again of one’s insignificance in front of such wild beauty works the same as confronting the blank page: it is not you the subject but the truth coming though that you hope to serve — a practice this
environment helps along.

 ~ Janine Pommy Vega


In Memory of Sam Spanier
Sam Spanier exemplified the art that is life. Often wearing a beret with a tie under a blue French working man’s jacket, he would walk into a room with open arms and a playful heart, greeting one of his many friends with enthusiasm and joy. Living in Paris in the early 50’s, Sam found both his art career and spiritual inspiration. He started a yoga practice in Greenwich Village in the 60’s and soon bought property with his partner Eric Hughes in Mt.
Tremper, NY. Matagiri (Sanskrit for “Mother’s Mountain”) is named after Mira Alfassa, who collaborated with Indian political activist and sage, Sri Aurobindo. “The Mother” founded the international community of Auroville (City of Dawn) which celebrates its 40th anniversary (along with Matagiri) this year. Sam believed we are all one and that the “face tells everything…” Being an artist and seeker of truth, he found the child inside himself and in others. He loved people and could hold an audience for several hours telling stories of Paris, the Village, his teacher Hans Hoffman or any other subject.

After meditation, Sam painted many happy encounters with human faces--from his past, his future or his imagination --that burst with color. His works have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art, the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, the Carnegie Institute and numerous private collections. Sam was honored
in 2007 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum. His creativity fostered a new spirit and he touched our souls through his art and his friendship. We experienced a grace in his presence. Sam rejoined The Mother in January 2008. He was 82.

Art existed in happiness and the joy of living for Spanier. His charming, gentle soul continues to teach us an artful life through the works he left and our memory of him.

 ~ Pat Horner


Jane Van de Bogart
Woodstock has a history of fighting for peace and justice and Jane Van de Bogart was at the front of the battle, holding a protest sign every week with
the other Women in Black activists on the Village Green. She told me she hadn’t missed a Sunday in 385 weeks! Every day, Jane lived Margaret Meade’s words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Sadly Jane passed away on Feb. 16 after a long struggle with cancer. She was a quilter who participated in the Aids Quilt Project, the Peace Ribbon surrounding the Pentagon and many other peace quilts. Traveling to Cuba and other Latin American countries, she supported medical and revolutionary causes.

Whether serving Woodstock on the Planning Board or Council, writing letters to the editors of numerous papers or organizing and marching to Washington, Jane stayed true to the highest principles with a positive force full of energy and love. She will be remembered, always smiling and doing for others while bringing her beliefs to life and teaching us to do meaningful work. Her inspiring example will continue to enrich our town and our hearts.

 ~ Pat Horner


Woodstock and Art
When you hear the name "Woodstock," the first thing that many people think of is the famous music festival. But did you know that it was originally billed as the Woodstock Music and Art Fair? Yes, a lot of the famous rock musicians lived and wrote here, but the town was an artists’ haven long before those musicians came, and had already built a reputation as a place that tolerates nonconformity.

When Ralph Whitehead founded the Byrdcliffe Artists' Colony here in 1903 with a school for painting and the decorative crafts, the Arts and Crafts Movement was in full swing. It was a backlash against the Industrial Revolution, and his colony attracted people who wanted the joy of creating things by hand. The idea was to make everyday useful things unique and beautiful. Intellect and writing and exchanging ideas were held as vital.

But Ralph, wealthy and aloof, was a bit too authoritarian for some people's tastes. Prime among them was Hervey White. Hervey broke away from Byrdcliffe and built the Maverick concert hall in the forest and a theater in a stone quarry, forming his own community in the process whose intent was more on revelry. Sexual freedom and women's equality were part of it. With his bearded good looks and charisma, Hervey White--no hat, long hair, tight pants, and long red necktie--was the original hippie. (He was also a novelist whose second novel, Quicksand, Theodore Dreiser called one of the six great novels of the world.) The Art Students League from New York City also had a school in town from about 1905 to 1920 and again from the '40s to the late '70s.

The land itself was another reason artists settled here over the years. This rocky soil made land cheaper here than the rich farmlands the Dutch settled on the other side of the Hudson River. And the trees covering the mountains attract the moisture that sometimes gives the light that ethereal, otherworldly quality. The mountains drew artists here as much as the other way around.

With the creative spirit came a regard for people who think way outside the box. The wildest thinkers of their day felt right at home here and today some say you’re not allowed to live in Woodstock unless you have a conspiracy theory. Now that we finally elected a president who represents all of the people and at a time when the Hudson Valley is burgeoning with new endeavors reflecting our ecological conscience, we can hold a sense of rejuvenation even when the economy is bleak. 

Great dancers and singers and actors have performed here and still do. Writers, composers, painters, poets, potters, sculptors, and performers; jewelry makers, woodworkers, filmmakers, people who create with metal and fiber and any other conceivable medium live here. Byrdcliffe was founded with the ideal that art should be a part of daily life for everyone, not just the well to do. In a town where even the banks and real estate offices double as art galleries, you can feel the original vibe: the philosophy that of all the arts, that of living is the greatest.

For the full story, read Alf Evers’ Woodstock: History of an American Town

 ~ Carol Cadmus


The Blue Dome Fraternity – A Niche in Creation
Lesbians sought to cultivate the treasures of their experiences.
In a time when Anthony Comstock was raiding post offices for publications with nudity in them, Two lesbian artists in Woodstock, NY bravely formed a ‘club’ for artists to paint the nude in the landscape. The term ‘fraternity’ is usually referred to a group of men joined together by common interests yet in the early days of the 20th century, these women started ‘The Blue Dome Fraternity’ (referring to the sky) for the purpose of painting the nude outdoors. En plein air was common in France, where Dewing Woodward had lived and studied art for 10 years. In 1907, Woodward and her ‘companion’ Louise Johnson, moved to Shady, just west of Woodstock and the Brydcliffe Art Colony, where women with close personal relationships to each other worked on their art and crafts. Several chose same-sex living partners, experimenting with gender identities; no subservient ‘wife’ roles for them. Reading of these relationships, I came across words like ‘close friend’, ‘associate’ or ‘spinster’ to describe them. Zulma Steele and Edna Walker, well known Brydcliffe artists lived together in Angelus (the house is still there) for many years.
Woodward was a painter, writer, illustrator and art educator born and schooled in Pennsylvania. After attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts she went to Europe to attend the Academie Julian, studying with many accomplished artists including Bouguereau. In 1894 she received the Grand Prix award. Woodward lived in several French art colonies where plein air painting was practiced. Her gregarious sociability made her popular.
Brydcliffe was a magnet for independent women artists who were encouraged by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, frequent visitor to Brydcliffe and author of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Women and Economics” (1898), early books on feminism. The suffragist movement was strong in NY and helped lead women getting the vote in 1918. Change was in the air.
Red Roofs was the name Woodward and Johnson gave to the “…imposing house known from the tiles which covered its roof…Miss Woodward was rich; Cornelius Vanderbilt was said to have been a cousin of her father’s.” Alf Evers writes in Woodstock, History of an American Town. “They lived in a manner that suggested a kind of Continental ease and elegance unknown in Woodstock.”
The Art Students League had set up a summer school in Woodstock and many students demanded to paint the fashionable outdoor nude. The conservative painter, John Carlson, was head of the school and resigned because of the ‘scandalous’ idea of offering students without an examination to paint the nude outdoors.
Kenneth Clark wrote “Nakedness is natural and ‘bad’. Nudity is ideal and ‘good’.” In a day of widely available nudity on television, films, magazines and billboards, our society still questions, some scorning this fact. A few feminists cringe at pornography; the religious right often frowns on nakedness and certain magazines fear stepping over the boundaries, yet one of the ultimate aesthetic objects in Western art is the female nude. “But when told to appear naked in a drawing-room might be considered somewhat odd…she had argued that our bodies were very unimportant, only there so that people might perceive us.” Radcliffe Hall wrote in a 1930 A Saturday Life. Owing much to the stylistic experimentation of the Impressionists, the plein air works of the late 19th and early 20th century artists were simply a continuation of centuries of painted nudes in art history. Nothing new, yet American society reinvented mores. Sound familiar?
In 1916 the New York Tribune devoted an entire page to ‘Miss Woodward and the Blue Dome Fellowship’. One picture showed a band of skittish nudes engaged in a harvest dance. Another showed several models against a tree whose spirit they seemed to symbolize. Located to discourage voyeurs, the Tribune stated, in a remote part of the Catskills which could be reached only “on foot or by stage.” Alf Evers writes, “A piece of blue-tinted gauze was sometimes stretched above to modify the light, following a French innovation…The students who worked under Dewing and Johnson’s direction in the fields and beside the streams of Shady were mostly women. When the Blue Dome students exhibited in New York the work of men who had been Blue Dome students was included…The predilection of Woodward and Johnson for their own sex did not prevent them from being on friendly terms with men. Hervey White (founder of the Maverick art colony nearby) for a while avoided Red Roofs and its mistresses because, as he put it, ‘the place smelt of wealth.’
Yet he soon detected ‘a deeper, wider fragrance’ there. He discovered that the kind of wide-ranging conversation familiar to Continental intellectuals with literary and artistic interests flourished at Red Roofs in complete freedom from the petty conventions dear to the hearts of American hostesses. There White enjoyed meeting people who were not shackled by the arts and crafts limitations which sometimes made Byrdcliffe seem a dreamy little island cut off from the rest of the world.” This sounds similar to a Gertrude Stein salon and the wonderful dialogue between like-minded creative artists interested in furthering culture and thought.
Jean Lasher Gaede wrote in the 1967 Woodstock Recollection, “Still, up the private drives and shaded lanes of this town, across the streams and valleys, borne on the breezes or the winds, beaten into the very earth of this place is the urge to express, to create. Somehow, to be a part of Woodstock bestows a heritage of courage to stand apart and be oneself.” And now, almost 100 years after the women of Red Roofs Blue Dome Fraternity brought nudity out of doors, some are still shocked and suspicious, but this is Woodstock afterall.

  ~ Pat Horner


In memory of Andree Ruellan
Andree Ruellan came to Woodstock from Paris in 1929 with her new husband, John Taylor and her mother, Lucette. They settled in Shady, a few miles up curved roads from the center of town.

An artist since childhood, Andree painted nature and people. Many of her works from the 1930’s through the 50’s include circus performers, the downtrodden, and murals. A realist, often imbuing her subjects with dignity, character, joy and life, Ruellan touched the heart through poetic translations of color and light. "My work can be no better than I am myself as a person and no deeper than my understanding of life as a whole."
Her interest in Surrealism and abstract expressionism led to later experiments in modernism and all that she did had memorable quality.

Ruellan's fundamental sense of art and honest technique won her much acclaim, many grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Numerous museums have exhibited and collected her work including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney, Vassar College, Philadelphia and Columbus museums.

The Woodstock Artists Association and surrounding art colony was home to Andree for more than 75 years. She enriched the lives of those who knew her by her kindness, grace, beauty and spirit and by fostering art and the simple pleasures of life, she set an example for the way to a higher standard of living. Woodstock was made better by her presence.

~ Pat Horner


A Spirit of Woodstock:

What makes a place spiritual? Woodstock is known for its music, art, literature, and spirituality. Yes it is the mountains, the unstoppable waters of life, the monasteries, ashrams, churches, shuls, meditation centers, the friendliness and its history too. That means people. Let me tell you about one spiritual person.  

Janine Pommy Vega grew up in New Jersey, after high school she went to Greenwich Village and became a poet and the young confidante and lover of major Beat poets. She lost her husband, the painter FernandoVega at twenty three. City Lights published her first book, Poems for Fernando.

She traveled to Israel, Europe, the Himalayas, and South America filling journals composing verse. In the late sixties she went to the west coast and later was a hermit on the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca for two years. She came back East and rented places in Woodstock.

In 1977 with her savings and a small inheritance she bought a fixer-upper modest country home with a couple acres of mostly forested land in nearby Willow and Woodstock became her town. She started working, teaching poetry in prisons and schools for over thirty years. She brightened the minds of kindergarteners, high schoolers, reform school kids, any grade in NYC, and all over the state.

She loved the people of her town; she avoided no one, and was socially fearless. She loved the artists, the carpenters, plumbers, librarians, firemen, spiritual practitioners, musicians, mail men, moms, kids, the disenfranchised, nearly everybody. No one ever justly accused her of snobbery; she knew all sentient beings deserve respect.

Freedom was no myth to Janine, she was one of those women born during the war who came into adult hood thinking “I can do what men do”. She fought for freedom & justice for women all her adult life. She fought for the rights of children, their right to love the natural world. She lamented and condemned the many failures of the Beat generation as parents. She fought with glorious mind and determined heart, putting her body on the line. She respected all religious practices if they led to peace & understanding.

Once you were her friend, you really had to do something horrid to lose her friendship. She immersed herself in religious practice, yoga, meditation, gardening, and all her literary work.

She had health problems and got hit with Rheumatoid Arthritis which started attacking all parts of her body. It just made her work harder. She planted flowers, bushes, little trees and basil, plenty of basil for a year’s supply of pesto. She saw the Mother in everything that grows and yes, she saw the Divine in the night sky. She knew the constellations and wrote about a magical place astronomers call M-38. She fought racism, misogyny and violence and managed to travel by herself to Rome, Naples, Sweden, Northrumbia, Austria.With her body wasting and distorting she kept right on with beautiful verse and hard worked lesson plans. With a grey sky thirty degrees and windy, she’d exclaim, “O what a beautiful day,” looking at me for agreement. She worked on her friend’s problems like they were her grandkid’s problems.

Going to the store was a social experience Face Book could never duplicate and she followed the words of her Teacher, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

When Janine died she needed at least five operations, her hands and feet were becoming more painful and malfunctioning every day. She was going to nine doctors and kept a whirlwind schedule of appointments. She kept writing poems.

It was not just the poems dedicated to the Mother of us All, the yoga, the kirtans, the mantras, that made her spiritual, it was even more her conviction to do the right thing, right action, right word, right thought in this world. She began by loving & serving her town. She saw the Divine in us and believed hardship was a learning tool.

Vega wrote many outstanding books, including Mad Dogs of Trieste, The Green Piano, and Tracking the Serpent.

In Home Town, she wrote

I dreamt of a place, a home town
where you planted your feet in the earth
instead of waving them in the air in surrender
In the dream I recited a poem with a drum:
if you can’t get up and march,
at least stand firm
you owe it to the place you come from.


  ~ Andy Clausen


The Woodstock Library: 100 Years of Books & Democracy

This year Woodstock is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of its library. In 1913, Ralph Whitehead , Walter Weyl & Dr. Mortimer Downer formed the Woodstock Club to establish a fund for a nurse (made necessary after the flu epidemic) & to create a library.

Walter Weyl was a political philosopher who co-founded The New Republic magazine. He was a protégé of John Mitchell of the United Mine Workers and follower of the Populist Robert La Follette. He opposed the “robber barons” in his book The New Democracy, asserting that the “engine of taxation [which was newly enacted] . . . will be used to accomplish great social ends among which will be the more equal distribution of wealth & income.” He expressed the hope that progressivism would spark the evolution of democracy to socialism. It is no wonder that Paul Krugman, New York Times economist, recently called Weyl his intellectual great-grandfather.

Weyl met Bertha Poole (labor organizer/socialite), whom Whitehead brought to Brydcliffe from Hull House in Chicago. They married and settled on a farm in Woodstock & began transforming this community into a unique place where ideas are as important as food & water, which led to their work to establish a library. By 1917, 20 volumes were taken out in a day.

In 1919 on his death Weyl bequeathed to the Club money to purchase a permanent home for the library which was completed in 1927. The land & building that it is occupying today was later deeded from the Club to the library in 1934. In the librarian’s office a brass plaque hangs to attest to his generosity. Mrs. Walter Weyl continued to be at the library & helped make it an egalitarian enterprise, offering residents access to books they could not afford.

In the 1940s the first addition to the building was completed & in 1955 the “Book Barn” was erected. In the 1980s further renovations created the space we see today.

In this centenary year the library will be moving to the next phase with its acquisition of the old laundromat building across the street. This will be a building for the 21st century mind with adequate space for programs & forums & access to technology with classes & a mobile computing lab & more.

Walter Weyl’s forward thinking in forming the Woodstock Club helped nurture the democratic spirit of Woodstock. His railing against the “plutocrats” of the early 20th century echoes in the acts of the Occupy Wall Street Movement today & its opposition to the wealthy 1% in America. We have a special heritage in Woodstock & on this 100th anniversary year we stand with our intellectual ancestors to exclaim proudly our belief in access to knowledge & information.

~ Barry Samuels


©Woodstock Guide