It’s rock poster time at the Museum at Bethel Woods, which opens a retrospective exhibit of the works of original Woodstock festival poster artists Edward Byrd and Arnold Skolnick this Sunday, April 1. The exhibit will peak at the end of April, when a rock-poster art fair, with appraisers and plenty of sales opportunities, a panel discussion with Byrd and Skolnick and film screenings will take place the weekend of April 28 and 29. The show runs through July 22.
Why two poster artists and not just the one who did the epically recognizable dove-on-a-guitar logo reused over the years? It turns out that Woodstock Ventures, who put on the big concerts, actually had a poster printed up before the dove came along. And that one – an Art Nouveau confection with a naked lady at its center, stressing the concept’s “Aquarian Festival elements,” would have been the final if it hadn’t been that the Festival was forced to move weeks before it ran, and the poster’s maker – David Edward Byrd – went on vacation to the Caribbean right when he did.
That meant that organizers Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld and John Roberts had to find an alternate. So they turned to veteran adman and arts publisher Skolnick for a fast-turnaround job instead of the force that had been behind all the Fillmore East’s work for the previous year-and-a-half. “They gave it to me on Thursday, and I brought it by to them on Monday afternoon,” Skolnick said of the freelance design job that made his name – and a $15 royalty fee – in a recent interview. “It was just another job, but it became famous.”
Skolnick went on to note how he had attended the first day of the Festival with his wife and kid and then decided to leave, getting caught in traffic and a local motel for much of the remaining weekend. He was in his 30s at the time and just didn’t connect the way that he wished he could have.
Byrd, meanwhile, notes on his website how he got into rock-poster design from the start: a career that led him to Broadway (the Godspell image), movies and his own art career. “I was living on a multimedia commune outside Manhattan when several of my schoolmates from Carnegie-Mellon were opening the Fillmore East at the old Second Avenue Theatre in the East Village with Bill Graham from San Francisco,” he recalled of a time when he was sharing space and ideas on a former farm down near Port Jervis. “They needed a poster artist and they all thought to call me, as I was the one visual artist amongst a group of theatre graduates. Unlike the San Francisco Fillmore, we did not do a poster every week, but only for major stars like Hendrix.”
The exhibit brings together more than 150 items that show the broad range of Byrd’s and Skolnick’s artwork, from posters to Impressionistic oil paintings drawn from nature, fine-art compilations and photographs, as well as an opening-day-appropriate collection of graphic art inspired by or satirizing the famous Woodstock posters.
In conjunction with “Byrd/Skolnick: A Tale of Two Posters,” Bethel Woods is holding a weekend-long Bethel Woods Rock Art Poster Fair on Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with buying and selling of rare items, poster-design workshops, appraisal consultations and a conversation between Byrd and Skolnick moderated by Stephanie Plunkett, chief curator and deputy director of the Norman Rockwell Museum. A screening of the film American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art will also happen on the evening of Friday, April 27 as part of Bethel Woods’ Spring Film Series.
It all takes place at the major arts center and Museum complex on the site of the first Woodstock Festival, off Route 17B in Bethel, near White Lake in Sullivan County: 40 miles as the crow flies from the town whose name it all shares. For further information, visit https://www.bethelwoodscenter.org or call (866) 781-2922.