Casa Carniola

Bolton Brown's Byrdcliffe Home

Mountaineer, Artist, Explorer: Byrdcliffe's Renaissance Man

In the winter of 1902-1903 Bolton Coit Brown stepped into his home, Casa Carnola, which was at that point a construction site. As he descended into the cellar Brown spied a catamount: “I saw its round head, back beyond a beam,” Brown recalled, “its two eyes glaring from the light I held.” The carpenters working on the home immediately gathered to plot the animal’s death. Although harrowing to some, Brown was unimpressed, remembering, “I was less hungry for blood than I was to get my house built so I sent them back to their saw and nails and I suppose the catamount crept out that night and ran away.”

Although destroyed by fire in 1964, Carniola was one of the grandest homes at Byrdcliffe. Brown himself designed the home and personally built the stone fireplace, however, much of the work was completed by local builders and carpenters. One of the first homes built at Byrdcliffe in 1903, Casa Carniola was a thirteen-room home named after an Austrian Slavic province located in the Jurian Alps. Entered through an eight-foot wide door, the home was built around a central courtyard with a large oak tree and included spacious living rooms, dining room, and bedrooms for Brown, his wife Lucy, and their three children.

Brown was a native of Upstate, New York who studied art at Syracuse University where he also ran track. After graduating with a Masters he went on to teach at Cornell, Toronto, and Stanford before meeting Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead and Hervey White. He was also an avid outdoorsman who took cold baths, mountaineered, and was a charter member of the Sierra Club. Far from a jock, Brown was an intellectual who could talk about art, philosophy, and anything in between for hours on end. Hervey White remembers Brown’s difficult personality: “With friends he was irascible, or seemed so, but it was motivated by a desire to be witty. To every remark he had a quip that put one in the wrong; made one feel himself a fool at Wisdom’s mercy…To his death he was the most disliked artist in all Woodstock.” Brown was in stark contrast to his wife, Lucy Fletcher Brown, a woman with a “beautiful face which revealed a keen mind as well as compassion.” At Byrdcliffe, she dabbled in weaving however abandoned it for a lack of results and encouragement from Jane Whitehead.

Bolton Brown was the third member of the triumvirate to found Byrdcliffe and is responsible for finding this location in 1902. When he discovered it, Brown remembers, “just at this moment and from this place that I, like Balboa from his ‘peak in Darien,’ first saw my South Sea. South indeed it was and wide and almost as blue as the sea, that extraordinarily beautiful view, amazing in extent, the silver Hudson losing itself in remote haze, those farthest and faintest humps along the horizon being the Shawangunk Mountains.” Whitehead employed Brown to secure land from local farmers, design the structures, and head up construction on White Pines, Carniola, a Studio, a farm house, and the Villetta. Although he stayed only a year, Brown was a busy artist who designed furniture, lampshades, trays, and other objects in addition to painting. Tensions between the cantankerous Brown and the aristocratic Whitehead bubbled from the start as Whitehead was dismayed at Brown’s sluggish pace on drawing plans and the animosity was only exacerbated when Whitehead passed Brown over for director of the Byrdcliffe Art School. Brown eventually had enough of Whitehead’s lackadaisical management of art students and likewise Whitehead tired of Brown’s brash and abrasive attitude towards his patron; and so Brown left the colony. However, Brown did not go far; Whitehead paid him a considerable severance and he ended up building a studio and residence on Mead’s Mountain Road.

Images

Casa Carniola

Casa Carniola

Bolton Brown's Home at Byrdcliffe | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Casa Carniola

Casa Carniola

Bolton Brown's Residence, Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Community | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Children Exercising on the Grounds at Byrdcliffe

Children Exercising on the Grounds at Byrdcliffe

Children excercising at Byrdcliffe, Carniola can be seen in the background. | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Jesse Tarbox Beals View File Details Page

"Bolton Brown with His Daughter Eleanor"

"Bolton Brown with His Daughter Eleanor"

Source: The Byrdcliffe Woodstock Guild | Creator: Eva Watson-Schutze View File Details Page

Sketch of Carniola

Sketch of Carniola

Sketch of Bolton Brown's Home | Source: Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Bolton Brown's Gravestone

Bolton Brown's Gravestone

In stark contrast to the elaborate stone of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, the simple stone with "Bolton Brown" scrawled on it is a simple monument to the mountaineer-artist in the Woodstock Artists' Cemetery. | Creator: Photo by Thomas A. Guiler View File Details Page

Audio

"Early Days at Woodstock"

Bolton Brown describes the building of Byrdcliffe. | Source: Bolton Brown, "Early Days at Woodstock," Publications of the Woodstock Historical Society, Volume XIII (1937). | Creator: Read by Glenn Wright View File Details Page

"Early Days at Woodstock"

Bolton Brown shares more from the building of Byrdcliffe | Source: Bolton Brown, "Early Days at Woodstock," Publications of the Woodstock Historical Society, XIII (1937). | Creator: Read by Glenn Wright View File Details Page

"The First Summer in Byrdcliffe, 1902-3"

Lucy Fletcher Brown discusses her first summer at Byrdcliffe, | Source: Lucy Brown, "The First Summer in Byrdcliffe, 1902-3," Publications of the Woodstock Historical Society, Volume II (1930). | Creator: Read by Lisa A. Baker View File Details Page

Access Information:

This home was destroyed by fire in 1964, all that remains are ruins, notably Brown's hand built fire place..

Cite this Page:

Thomas A. Guiler, “Casa Carniola,” UpstateHistorical, accessed October 21, 2017, http://upstatehistorical.org/items/show/1.

Subjects

comments powered by Disqus

Share this Story