Every so often, you find yourself seated beside a great storyteller at a dinner party. When Rick Pantell heard that I was writing The Pocket Guide to Woodstock, he launched into a tale of a Woodstock artist from the generation of World War Two veterans who revived the Arts Colony in the 1940s and 1950s. This man had actually been a refugee from a Jewish orphanage in Germany—in 1938, he’d escaped out the back door as storm troopers came in the front—and he’d returned with the United States army to help liberate his home town in 1945. After the war he settled in Woodstock, and though he never had quite the success of some of his peers like Robert Angeloch, whose work is now on exhibit at the Woodstock School of Art, he was a true artist who lived to paint. Once a year he had a show at the Parnassus Square gallery in an old barn and made $2,000, which was enough for him to live on for the next year. One day friends stopped by his upstairs apartment and found him looking content in his chair. It happened be his birthday. “I’m the first person in my family ever to turn sixty,” he announced with some wonderment. Later that same day he died.
“Somebody should write the Cannery Row of Tinker Street,” Rick added, referring to John Steinbeck’s beloved fictional portrait of the philosophical drifters found among the Monterey sardine fisheries during the depression. When Rick arrived in Woodstock in 1977 as a young painter and illustrator, he got to know this earlier generation of Woodstock artists not just through their paintings, as we now know them, but through their colorful, sometimes cantankerous lives. To me, Rick is a living embodiment of this Woodstock tradition. In 1906 the Art Students League of New York started its summer school in Woodstock, one of the triumvirate of events, along with the founding of the Byrdcliffe and Maverick colonies, that established the town that we know of today as the Colony of the Arts. Rick has been an instructor at the Art Students League since 1996. His own work hearkens back to an earlier era when paintings gave us evocative scenes that revealed the private moments of people’s lives. Not for nothing does Rick think of Steinbeck. His paintings could be distant cousins to Edward Hopper’s.
I’m half-tempted to write the Cannery Row of Tinker Street. But only if Rick will share his stories. He’ll be our guest on our Village History Walk on Saturday, July 28th at 10 am at the Golden Notebook at 29 Tinker Street in Woodstock. With his wife, Karen Whitman, a marvelous printmaker, he runs Bearsville Graphics on Tinker Street. Come hear about those earlier Woodstock artists. Learn what it’s like to be a Woodstock artist today.
* * * *
The Mother Grouse Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges available on-line.