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Winterthur Digital Collections

About this collection

The Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony in Woodstock, N.Y. was established by Ralph Radcliffe-Whitehead in 1901, having been influenced by the teachings of John Ruskin from the time he attended college at Oxford. The construction of workshops, studios, and residences began in the winter of 1902 and by the summer of 1903 Byrdcliffe had a fully equipped metalworking shop, a pottery, a woodworking shop, a large studio for art classes taught by Bolton Brown, a dairy, a library, a guest house, and the Whitehead's own house, called White Pines. The colony soon attracted a number of individuals interested in handcrafting a variety of objects, including furniture, rugs, fabric, metalwork, pottery, and paintings. Two graduates of the Pratt School of Design, Zulma Steele and Edna Walker, eventually became responsible for designing most of the decoration found on Byrdcliffe furniture. Although cabinetmaking was intended to be the major craft of the colony, weaving, pottery, and photography continued to be practiced long after 1905 when the woodworking shops were closed. Whitehead's wife, Jane Byrd McCall, took particular interest in pottery and spent time in California taking lessons from Frederick Hurten Rhead. Whitehead's interest in photography encouraged other photographers, including Jessie Tarbox Beals, to spend time at Byrdcliffe. By 1909, Byrdcliffe was more of a private estate maintained by Whitehead to raise his sons, Ralph Jr. and Peter, than an art colony, although the guest cottages continued to be rented out. Both Ralph Whiteheads died in 1929; Jane died in 1955, and the younger son Peter in 1975. Today, the Woodstock Guild and private individuals own different portions of the property that once made up Byrdcliffe.

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The Byrdcliffe archives includes family correspondence; photographs; more than 600 original drawings and paintings; approximately 575 issues of magazines; scrapbooks; over 700 study prints taken from large 19th century portfolios depicting ornaments from Medieval, Renaissance, and pre-Raphaelite sources; manuscript records of expenditures and income from items produced at the colony; Byrdcliffe's library card catalog, including both the cards and the physical square-shaped catalog; the Byrdcliffe Guest Register;trade catalogues of products used at Byrdcliffe; about 80 monographs, as well as publications written by Jane and Ralph Whitehead; land surveys; and legal documents.  In addition, there are drawings of furniture available from the English firm of Morris and Company, and many unsigned drawings and paintings, mostly landscapes, probably mostly executed by Jane Whitehead.

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The online collection features over 400 photographs of the family, buildings, and interiors at Byrdcliffe and the Whiteheads' California homes Arcady and Neroli, and over 300 designs for furniture, metal-work, pottery and decorative elements.

 
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