By Jodi La Marco
Kate McLoughlin has long been a fixture at the Woodstock School of Art. “I came here in 1991 as a student. I took a four-week class,” she says. One four-week class turned into a second and then a third. Within two years of arriving, McLoughlin had quit her day job and was funding her art studies through scholarship and work-exchange. She worked as a maintenance person. She worked as the school’s registrar—earning five dollars an hour. “You name it, I did it,” she says.
In 2009, she became the school’s president, a position she retired from only recently. Despite stepping down, McLoughlin still teaches at the institution, as she has for the past 25 years. Outside of studio six—where she instructs classes such as monotype printing—a sign designates the parking space nearest to the building as “Kate’s Parking,” no surname needed.
The former president is certainly not the first artist to be captured by the school’s charm. “We call it the ‘Hotel California’ because sometimes you go there and you can’t leave,” she says. Situated on 38 acres just beyond Woodstock’s bustling Tinker Street, the beautifully-restored studios of the school were constructed of bluestone and timber in the 1930s. The grounds also hold a sculpture garden created by international artists from countries such as Japan, Ireland, and the Dominican Republic.
The property has long been used as a place of learning for artists, even before the Woodstock School of Art was founded. “The Art Students League of New York has had a presence in Woodstock since 1902 in various forms. The latest iteration was 1947 to 1978,” explains McLoughlin. The league operated only during the warmer months, but in 1968, teachers noticed a growing need for year-round instruction. “My teacher, Robert Angeloch, and four of his colleagues got together and started the Woodstock School of Art in 1968. Those classes picked up when league classes ended for the season.” Once the league left for good in 1979, Angeloch took over the buildings, which were owned by the Kingston Board of Water Supply.
According to McLoughlin, the buildings were first put up as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal for the National Youth Administration. “The buildings were built to train youth in marketable skills. At that time, it was weaving, woodworking, stone carving, and also metalworking. The studio that I work in is actually the old forge. They were training kids in craft industries in these very buildings. If you walk around the campus, you can see little places where they were doing tests. You can see where they learned to do bricklaying, where they learned to lay cement. So, these buildings have been used continuously for this sort of thing: artists or artisans learning their craft from masters.”
Such is still the case. “You find a person you want to work with, an artist-instructor, and that person has complete authority and autonomy in their studio,” McLoughlin says.
The feeling of camaraderie between artists—both students and staff alike—contributes to a feeling of fellowship on campus. Even the school’s employees are artists. “That makes a big difference. It’s not like they’re just sitting in an office somewhere and have no idea what the experience is,” says McLoughlin.
The school offers instruction in sculpture, drawing, printmaking, and painting. “We have everything from watercolor to abstract painting. Our instructors are amazing. They’re really great with beginners, so you can get a full art education, or you can just go and express yourself,” McLoughlin says.
Scholarships for high school and college students are also available. The Thompson Family Foundation Scholarship Program began when a local high school suffered the loss of its art program. “We became their art program,” says McLoughlin. “We have served over 1000 students at this point.”
The institution is also training young people through its printmaking studio manager training program. “It’s funded by the Regional Economic Development Council,” explains executive director of the school, Nina Doyle. “We have four underemployed emerging artists who will be hired to work 350 hours over a 10 month period. They will learn all aspects of what it takes to be a printmaker. We’ll be taking them to various studios from New York City to Albany and helping them develop their job skills so that they can apply for full-time work.”
Certainly, the Woodstock School of Art has racked up plenty of positive karma. Those looking to help continue its good work are invited to participate in its annual Monothon fundraiser on October 26. “We have approximately 60 artists who will each come for a four-hour session, and they will work with a master printer to produce art during that time,” Doyle explains. “They donate one of those pieces to the school, and then we use those prints for an exhibition. It’s all a fundraiser to help with our building fund and to maintain the studios and grounds.”
Or, sign up for a class or workshop to become part of the thriving culture of creativity and community on campus. “There’s an amazing collaborative spirit there. I’ve seen lifetime friendships forged,” McLoughlin says. “Some of these people have been coming for 20 or 25 years. I see them relying on each other and traveling together. It’s a great milieu. It’s what you look for.”
Photo by Dion Ogust