The Artistic and Social Heart of Byrdcliffe
Although now a theater, this was the site of the Byrdcliffe Studio and Library in the early twentieth century. As the purpose of Byrdcliffe was to encourage artistry and handcraftsmanship, it was one of the first buildings erected as a workspace, exhibition space, and social space. Designed by Bolton Brown, it included a large (approximately 30x40 foot) general studio room, which doubled as a dance floor with a piano and big fireplace. It also featured large windows to capitalize on northern sunlight and smaller southern ones, which opened onto a porch. This structure also housed individual studios for more established artists, a shop for art supplies, the offices of the Byrdcliffe Art School, a library, and a balcony for students to relax and enjoy the scenery.
The Studio was inhabited by a number of talented artists. Bertha Thompson remembers in 1904 there were painters, printers, framers, and woodblock carvers. When the artists could not go outside to paint landscapes due to inclement weather, they could paint a model in front of a roaring fire inside on The Studio's main floor. On weekends this area was transformed into an exhibition space for weekly critiques and shows. Bolton Brown remembers one student who “was so impressed with himself that he would only paint behind a screen, lest anyone should see how he did it.” Another of “Whitehead’s young geniuses declared that he was ‘painting for posterity’” and “used to make cannon-like echoes by slamming the side of the building with a board and yelling. He achieved a berth in the lunatic asylum, ultimately.”
Bertha Thompson recalls that during her residency “days were mostly sacred to work,- we did not intrude upon each other, but when late afternoon and evening came our exuberant spirits broke loose!!” In that fashion, The Studio was also a place of socialization and the site of regular dances where Whitehead and residents of Byrdcliffe could assemble and break loose. However, the biggest event of the year was the season ending “fancy dress ball” where the residents, dressed in clothing meant for The Studio models, celebrated the end of the community’s season in a party that spread far beyond The Studio dance floor. Observer Poultney Bigelow wrote of this event: “It’s all a beautiful dream to me, that final dance of last autumn, the exquisite taste, the simplicity, the absence of money-display, and then the refreshments were not at a long bar, but each bungalow spread a carpet under the trees, hung Chinese lanterns in the branches, and there they entertained the guests who reclined like the gods of Homer and forgot the hours in the joy of festive relaxation.”