There are many early signs of spring that tug at my heart strings: the first robin scrounging for worms in the warming soil, the forsythia blooming with sunshine-yellow buds, even the overturned trash cans that waking bears rummaged through during the night. I scan the woods surrounding my home at this time of year and quietly celebrate each of these tiny triumphs, just before the Museum at Bethel Woods opens it’s doors for the season, welcoming locals and visitors to experience the rich history of the land on which it resides—the world-famous Woodstock Music Festival that took place on the now hallowed grounds, back in 1969.
Having received an invitation for a pre-opening “sneak peek” and walking tour with museum curator Wade Lawrence, I joined some fellow journalists on a blustery day last week, prepared to see a few posters, maybe an artifact or two and scribble some notes for this column before rushing out to something more interesting. Wrong.
Fascinating, stunning and stimulating are but three of the superlatives that spring forth as I review the experience in my mind. I was peripherally aware of artist David Edward Byrds’ early poster contribution to the “Aquarian Exposition,” slated for Wallkill, NY, and his ornate, intricately detailed Grecian water-pouring nude was familiar, but not the image that one immediately thinks of when pondering the three-day concert that shaped a generation.
Instead, it’s Arnold Skolnicks’ bold red-and-white paper-cut graphic proclaiming “Three Days of Peace & Music” (by then moved to White Lake, NY), adorned with a white dove perched on it’s “olive branch” guitar neck, that is (IMHO) arguably the most recognizable concert poster in the world. The story of these two artists, and the subsequent legend that surrounds the iconic festival that still reverberates today, is at the heart of this exhibit; and curator Lawrence’s excitement, conveyed while explaining how the show came to life, was contagious.
Just prior to strolling through the gallery, Lawrence took a few moments to invite us to explore the center’s web site (www.bethelwoodscenter.org ), which is chock-full of info, including the concert schedule for 2012, Event Gallery functions and the organization’s ever-growing community outreach program. As we neared our destination, he drew our attention to the new “Corridor Gallery,” which showcases original photographic images, contributed by Woodstock Festival attendees.
The moment one steps in to the main exhibit, “Byrd/Skolnick: A Tale of Two Posters,” the atmosphere is transformed. Instantly transported to the ‘60s, memories flooded my (once-a-hippie’s) mind as I began to soak up the visuals around every corner of the museum. The video walls boasting interviews with both artists are an important part of the experience, as they go into vivid detail on how the two vastly different posters were commissioned and created. Having been informed that neither Byrd nor Skolnick had ever met, I made a note to return on April 28, since the two will appear for the “Rock Art Poster Fair” and publicly take part in “A Conversation with Stephanie Plunkett.”
More than a year of preparation went into this exhibit, and Lawrence explained that this show is “the first scholarly installation that we’ve done from scratch,” peppering our tour with anecdotal references to the project’s roots, as we paused to examine the timeline of artwork that the original posters spawned. From images advertising “Livestock” (one day of music and comedy) to “Piestock” to Snoopy’s little feathered friend created by Charles Schultz (www.schulzmuseum.org ), the seemingly endless array of Woodstock-inspired sketches, paintings, postcards and books unfolds before the visitors, dizzying in scope, rich in history.
Slightly overwhelmed, I collected myself and picked up some written materials on my way out, still tingling with excitement over the many surprises that this exhibit holds in store for those who visit. The press release reads, in part: “This special exhibit brings together over 150 items that show the broad range of Byrd’s and Skolnick’s artwork: Broadway shows, television, movies, impressionistic oil paintings, fine art compilations and sensitive photographs of erotic nudes.” Who knew? True to their word, “this exhibition is a must-see for every Woodstock fan, collector, art historian or teacher,” and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
On display from April 1 through July 22, the retrospective is sure to capture the hearts of those who revisit the ‘60s experience, as well as a new generation of art lovers and pop culture enthusiasts who are just discovering the deeply layered history that San Francisco’s 1967 “summer of love” ignited throughout our nation and around the globe. For more information, visit the Bethel Woods website or call 866/781-2922.