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1903 Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony, Woodstock, New York

1903 – Dawson-Watson was motivated to leave Québec after learning from the painter, Birge Harrison, about a new arts and crafts colony in Woodstock, New York. Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead (1854-1929) and his wife Jane Byrd McCall (1861-1955), old friends of Harrison’s, established the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony in 1902 and Summer Art School in 1903. Whitehead, who had studied with the English artist and theoretician, John Ruskin, at Oxford University, was a great admirer of the painter and textile designer, William Morris.


Byrdcliffe - Whiteheads Hone White Pines - D-W Family Photo

White Pines, Byrdcliffe Art Colony, Woodstock, New York, July 2007. Whitehead and his family lived in White Pines from 1903-1976.
(Dawson-Watson family photograph)


Before leaving Québec, Dawson-Watson traveled to New York to meet Whitehead and discuss his role as an instructor at the new colony. Following the final sale of his artwork at the Château Frontenac on May 13, 1903, Dawson-Watson and his family moved to Woodstock.

Upon arrival in the Catskills, the Dawson-Watsons were met at the village of West Hurley by a driver and carriage. Since their house was not yet ready for them, they stayed at The Irvington Hotel in Woodstock for a few days.

That evening after supper at The Irvington, Dawson -Watson and his wife, Dot, explored their new surroundings. In his memoir, Dawson-Watson recalled his impressions of the tree-covered mountains overlooking the village of Woodstock.

Dawson-Watson, the painter Hermann Dudley Murphy (1867–1945) and the painter and printmaker Bolton Coit Brown (1864–1936) (founder of the Art Department at Stanford University), were among the first instructors at the new Byrdcliffe Summer Art School. According to his memoir, Dawson-Watson lived and worked in Woodstock from May through the end of the summer of 1903.

Recounting his time at Byrdcliffe, Dawson-Watson stated:

That was a very wonderful summer in a charming spot. There is a library there, an annex to the ‘Villetta’ or central boarding house in which are housed all of Mr. Whitehead’s books, a splendid collection. There are two exquisite pieces of tapestry designed by Burne Jones and executed by William Morris. The furniture, which is carved in certain of its panellings, was designed, carved and colored by your humble servant. Dudley Murphy was one of my fellow teachers, as also was Bolton Coit Brown of the Leland Stanford University of California. Murphy had just started making picture frames and so had I; and a man was engaged to teach a class in surfacing them and laying gold leaf, and I took full advantage of that, and also found out by close observation a good many gilder’s shop tricks, which he thought he was keeping to himself.


Byrdcliffe - Villetta Inn - D-W Family Photo

Villetta Inn, Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony, Woodstock, New York, July 2007. This building still serves as a dormitory for students.
(Dawson-Watson family photograph)


After leaving Woodstock at the end of the summer of 1903, Dawson-Watson moved to Boston to assist Hermann Dudley Murphy with a commission to paint decorative panels for a well-known businessman. Murphy and Dawson-Watson also discussed the idea of establishing a frame shop in the town of Winchester, just north of Boston. However, circumstances did not favor the panel commission or the opening of the frame shop at that time. Dawson-Watson then received a commission from the Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram to paint and draw architectural renderings of West Point Military Academy in New York.

Notable Dawson-Watson works from Byrdcliffe include his painting, Aster, Mullein, Bugloss, Bergamot in a hand-carved frame, an Oak Blanket Chest with carved vines and leaves, and a beautifully hand-carved Tirol Settle and Tirol Library Table.


Tirol Suite designed and hand-carved by Dawson-Watson, ca. 1903-1904 (clockwise from left): Settle, Cabinet, Blanket Chest, Library Table.
(Image courtesy Treadway Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio)


Byrdcliffe Theatre - Photo Courtesy of the D-W Family

Byrdcliffe Theatre, Woodstock, New York, July 2007. The building was once an art studio and library.
(Dawson-Watson family photograph)


Byrdcliffe An American Arts and Crafts Colony, Exh. cat. Ithaca, NY: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art Cornell University, 2004.

Dawson Dawson-Watson, “Things Remembered,” manuscript memoir, Dawson-Watson family archives.



  2014  /  Chronology