Bolton Brown's Byrdcliffe Home
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.