Published: June 28, 2011
In cooperation with the Roosevelt National Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service, the Woodstock School of Art will host “A New Deal for Youth: Eleanor Roosevelt, Val-kill Industries and the Woodstock Resident Work Center,” on view July 9⁎ovember 5. An opening reception will be Saturday, July 9, 3 to 5 pm.
The native bluestone and timber buildings that house the Woodstock School of Art had their auspicious beginnings in 1939 when they were commissioned to be constructed as a school for arts and crafts under FDR’s New Deal program.
From 1939 to 1942, at the Woodstock Resident Work Center (also known as the Woodstock Resident Craft Center), modeled after Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Industries, young men and women aged 16 to 24 received training in wood- and metalworking, wool production and weaving, blacksmithing, stone carving and pottery making.
In this historical exhibit, the Woodstock School of Art (WSA) will display examples of furniture, pewter and weavings from the Roosevelt site’s collection of Val-Kill Industries pieces; photographs and historical documents from the WSA’s and Woodstock Historical Society’s collection, and video recordings of the recollections of living descendants of some of the young people who attended the crafts center at Woodstock.
In 1926, Roosevelt and her friends Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman built a larger building near Stone Cottage at Hyde Park and the following year Val-Kill Industries began selling colonial-style furniture reproductions produced by Hyde Park workers and designed by Cook. Later, they would expand the business to include pewter (Val-Kill Forge) and weavings.
Roosevelt’s interest in handicraft and the ideology behind Val-Kill Industries developed into a political model that served as a prototype for the New Deal. Val-Kill Industries was created as an experiment dedicated to labor reform, social justice, and above all, promoting the economic and social welfare of American youth.
While only a small number of artifacts actually produced at the Woodstock center can be located, the buildings themselves are the major attraction. Designed by local craftsmen, they were built in part by the young students themselves. Original iron hinges, made in the school’s forge and metalworking shop (today’s graphic and printmaking studio) grace cabinets in the office.
The buildings’ rustic styles were consciously designed in accordance with the local vernacular Arts and Crafts influence. The buildings housing the offices and gallery, studios 1 and 2, and studios 3 and 4, are listed on New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Woodstock Resident Craft Center had a short life span. World War II intervened and its doors were closed in 1942. In 1980, the buildings were leased by the fledging group of artist-instructors who had incorporated themselves as the not-for-profit Woodstock School of Art.
The school is at 2470 Route 212. For general information, www.woodstockschoolofart.org or 845-679-2388.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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