Last year while perusing the extensive collection at the Historical Society of Woodstock for our show Seldom Seen, we made an unexpected discovery. What was striking was the quality and the number of works by relatively unknown Woodstock women artists.
The seed was planted. Overlooked: Woodstock Women Artists seemed an apt title for a show that would rediscover these women and explore why they were subsequently forgotten or overlooked.
Many women artists of Woodstock were noted for their talents, and their work was shown both locally and nationally. Their familiar names are woven into the art history of Woodstock: Lucile Blanch, Marion Greenwood, Doris Lee, Jenne Magafan, Ethel Magafan and Zulma Steele, to name a few.
We wanted to concentrate on the artists who were acknowledged during their time, but have since become obscure, as well as some who, for various reasons, were never known. These women are long overdue for the recognition they deserve.
Marianne Appel, 1913-1988
Born in New York in 1913, Appel took her first painting classes while attending Sarah Lawrence College from 1932-34.
In the summers of 1934 and 1935 she studied with Judson Smith at the Woodstock School of Painting, where she met Austin (Meck) Mecklem, an established landscape painter. They married in 1936 and for ten years lived in Meck’s cabin at The Maverick Colony.
Meck had been assigned to the WPA-sponsored Alaska Art Project, so in 1937 the couple traveled to Alaska, where Appel continued her own landscape painting, working in ink and in gouache. In 1939 the Art Institute of Chicago included her in its 18th International Water Color Exhibition.
A daughter, Margaret Merrill (Pixie) Mecklem, was born in 1942; two years later a second daughter, Sarah Greer Mecklem, arrived. The young growing family moved from the Maverick cabin to a larger house in Woodstock. As the children grew, Appel continued her painting and explored other artistic endeavors. Her design was chosen for the War Memorial on Woodstock’s village green, which was dedicated on July 4, 1949.
Meck’s death in 1951 necessitated her move to New York to find work to support the family. She did freelance design work and assisted mural painters Refregier, LaLiberte and Shimin. Her work for Bil and Cora Baird’s marionette company led to a later job with Jim Henson Associates. She married actor and puppeteer Carl Harms in 1960.
Appel died after a long illness in 1988 and is buried in the Artists Cemetery in Woodstock.
Jane Dow Bromberg, 1913-2008
Born in Detroit, Bromberg studied at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Crafts and at the Detroit School of Arts. In New York she took classes at the Art Students League and received a full scholarship to the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While studying there in 1940 with Boardman Robinson, Ernest Fiene, Henry Varnum Poor and Frank Mechau, she met the young artist Manuel (Manny) Bromberg.
In 1941 the couple moved to Woodstock and married. While Manny served in the U.S. Army as Official War Artist for the ETO during WW II, Jane lived in Woodstock, raising their two young daughters, while still drawing and painting. After the war, the family moved to North Carolina, where Manny held teaching positions. Jane was hired as Instructor of Drawing at the North Carolina State College of Design—one of only two women on the faculty.
While living in the South in the 1950’s Jane increasingly turned her attention and energy to supporting the civil rights movement. After the family moved back to Woodstock, Jane got involved in local political activism, which remained her primary focus for many years, during which time she made no artwork of her own.
In 1975, Jane returned to her own art-making: traveling alone to the south of France, she lived for one year in a small cottage, drawing, painting and filmmaking. Upon her return home, she resumed her extensive community involvements, including being a founding sponsor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill in Hyde Park, NY.
After her death in 2008, her daughters discovered a large cache of her artwork beneath her bed.
Margaret Goddard Carlson, 1882-1964
In 1903 Margaret Goddard discovered Byrdcliffe, where she studied with Birge Harrison. She was attracted to the work of John Carlson, with whom she later studied. After a long courtship, the two married in 1913 and settled in Woodstock.
Known for her landscapes, she produced most of her work between 1910 and 1920. After this period of painting, she focused on raising three sons and managing her husband’s career.
In addition to being an artist, the quiet and gentle Carlson was a skilled athlete. In Woodstock, she found a progressive intellectual environment in which to thrive. Remembered by most for being the wife of a famous landscape painter, she was an accomplished painter in her own right. After her death, her paintings were discovered by her family in a storage warehouse in Kingston, where they had been safely stored since 1945.
Sarah Cashdollar, 1871-1952
Born on Overlook Mountain, Sarah Cashdollar belonged to an old Woodstock famiy. Following a move to town, she and her daughters operated Woodstock’s first telephone switchboard. In 1922, she opened a year-round boarding house called “The Homestead.”
Her son-in-law, Clarence Bolton, an accomplished artist, gave her paints and other art supplies for a birthday present, and at age 79, she began painting and selling charming Woodstock scenes. Her style was primitive, and Cashdollar painted her recollections of growing up in the Woodstock area.
Sarah Cashdollar was very much a part of Woodstock’s social fabric during her lifetime.
Mary Earley, 1900-1992
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, as a young girl Mary moved with her family to Chicago. After two years of college in the East, she went to New York City and attended the Art Students League, where she studied with painters Kenneth Hays Miller and Kimon Nicolaides and mural painter William Palmer.
Earley traveled to Italy to study frescoes by the Italian masters and mosaics in Pompeii; she also visited Mexico, touring Mayan ruins and seeing the work of Orozco and Rivera. She made several trips to Cuba.
In 1934 she and her husband built a house in Woodstock. She joined the Sawkill Group, and she had a one-woman show there in 1937.
In 1939, she won a 48-states mural painting competition sponsored by the Federal Works Agency. She was commissioned to install her mural, Down-Rent-War, around 1845, in the Delhi, NY post office, where it can still be viewed.
She was a member of WAA, serving on its Executive Committee in 1940.
Included in Directions of American Painting at the Carnegie Institute in 1941, her work was also shown in other museums around the United States. Her mural designs were exhibited at the Whitney Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Cecile Forman, 1905-1995
Forman grew up in Mt. Vernon, NY and attended college at NYU. She studied at the Art Students League with Arnold Blanch and Yasuo Kuniyoshi and came to Woodstock in 1938. She married Kingston attorney Joseph H. Forman.
Forman made her New York City debut in 1946 at the Levitt Gallery. She was given several one-woman shows: one at the Albany Institute of Art, one at Long Island University and four at other New York galleries. In Woodstock, she served on the Board of WAA and helped organize Artists Equity.
Examples of her work are included in the permanent collection of the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM), as well as the Corcoran Gallery and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Agnes Hart, 1912-1979
Hart was born in Meriden, Connecticut. Family demands delayed her formal art training until 1931. She became a student of Lucile Blanch at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida. Later she studied at Iowa State University with Josef Presser and Paul Burlin and printmaking with Reginald Neal.
In New York City, she studied with Joseph Presser again and eventually married him. Both were involved with the WPA in the late 1930’s.
Hart had many one-woman shows, including several in Woodstock. She was also in many group exhibitions, most notably at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Hart taught at both the Art Students League and the Dalton School.
Hart and Presser bought property in Woodstock, where she spent her summers for the rest of her life.
Ruth Heppner, 1925-2006
Born in Athens, New York, Heppner was a longtime Woodstock resident and watercolor artist. She studied painting with John Pike for a number of years.
Heppner exhibited her work widely and received numerous awards. Her landscapes reflected her love of Woodstock, Overlook Mountain and the Maine coast.
Rebecca Kosakowsky, 1909-1984
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kosakowsky studied at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, with Gregorio Prestopino, and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in the late 1940’s. In 1950 she received the Brooklyn Museum School’s Special Award for Painting. She attended the University of Colorado in 1954.
Known as an educator as well as an artist, Kosakowsky taught elementary school art for many years in the New York City public school system.
She and her husband moved permanently to Woodstock in 1959, where she showed work at the Ann Leonard Gallery, Spirea Gallery and Polari Gallery. In New York City she exhibited at Theatre East Gallery, the Argent Gallery and the National Academy of Design.
Althea Odell, 1921-2001
Born in Canada, Odell was a graduate of Pratt Institute and Columbia University, where she obtained a master’s degree in fine arts.
She became well known as an educator at Kingston High School, where she eventually became head of the art department. An influential and gifted teacher, Odell developed and instituted one of the finest high school art programs in the area. Her influence led many of her students to pursue successful art careers and become art teachers themselves.
Today the “Althea S. Odell Art Scholarship” is awarded annually to a deserving senior who plans to continue art education at the college level.
Odell exhibited her own work at the Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen and the Ann Leonard Gallery. She was a well-respected artist, craftsperson, and published writer, yet her work is seldom seen today.
Augusta Blessmann Pirrung, 1907-1985
Born in Essen, Germany, Pirrung studied at the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan, Connecticut and in Woodstock at the Art Students League in the late 1930’s.
A prolific and versatile painter, she signed her work, “Dutav,” a family nickname. Pirrung had a home in Bearsville and taught and painted in the area throughout her life.
Mildred Rothe, 1902-1983
Rothe, born in Newark, New Jersey, studied at the Newark School of Fine Arts, the Art Students League in New York City and at the Académie de la Grand Chaumière in Paris. She came to Woodstock to study textile design with William Arlt.
Rothe and fellow painter Hanno Schrader married and lived in Newark, where they ran a silkscreen business. They were part-time Woodstockers from 1952 until 1968, when they made Woodstock their full-time home.
In 1969 they designed, built and operated the Bearsville Gallery, where they exhibited their own work. Rothe concentrated on portraiture; Schrader, on landscape painting. Rothe died in Monterrey, Tennessee in 1983.
Anita M. Smith, 1893-1968
Born into a prominent Philadelphia Pennsylvania family, Smith arrived in Woodstock the summer of 1912. She had financed her trip with money intended to purchase her debutante gown, but she enrolled in art classes instead. She studied with John Carlson in 1913 and remained in Woodstock until her death.
An impressionist and regionalist painter, she was first interested in the history of Woodstock before painting it. Smith did not see how one could paint the Catskills without knowing something about the people who lived there.
Due to a family crisis, she stopped painting in the late 1920’s. Smith went on to become an herbalist and author. She built her home, Stonecrop, at the base of Overlook Mountain. In World War II, her house was used as an observation post. In her later years, Smith authored Woodstock History and Hearsay, the first history of Woodstock.
Jehudith Sobel, 1924-2012
Born in Lwow, Poland, Sobel was educated at Lodz Academy, where she studied with famous Abstract Constructionists Wladyslaw Strzeminski and Stefan Wegner. From Poland she emigrated to the newly-founded state of Israel, where she lived for five years. Sobel then resided briefly in Paris before coming to the United States in 1956 on a scholarship. That year the Jewish Museum in New York City gave her a solo show.
Sobel was a colorist whose style is a blend of the major movements of early modernist art. A prolific artist, she primarily painted landscapes and still lifes.
When she and her architect husband bought a summer home in Woodstock in 1979, Sobel began exhibiting at WAAM. She is represented in galleries and collections throughout the world.
Dorothy Varian, 1895-1985
Born in Riverdale, New York, Varian was admitted to Cooper Union at age 14, where she studied for three years. Later she studied at the Art Students League with John Sloan, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Andrew Dasburg.
Varian traveled to Paris, where she studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1922 she was given her first one-person show at the prestigious Durand-Ruel Gallery. In 1931 she moved to Bearsville, where she became very good friends with Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason. A Life Member of WAA, she was awarded the Kuniyoshi Prize in 1975. Spending warm months in Woodstock, she wintered in New York at her Carnegie Hall studo. Varian died in 1985