1969 Woodstock Music Festival: Two Posters on View at Museum at Bethel Woods in Bethel, NY
The Museum at Bethel Woods’ latest exhibit features artwork used — and rejected — by organizers of Woodstock ’69
A tale of two posters: David Edward Byrd’s image (above) came close to representing one of the most iconic festivals of all time
Photographs courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
Woodstock. Mention that word to a group of people, and most think of the town; for others, it calls to mind hippies, music, mud, and the famous image of a white dove perched on the neck of a guitar. While this icon is synonymous with the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, it was not the only artwork proposed to represent the festival. “Byrd/Skolnick: A Tale of Two Posters,” the current exhibit at the Museum at Bethel Woods, showcases two distinct images created for the Woodstock festival, the artists who produced them, and those artists’ subsequent careers.
Arnold Skolnick and David Edward Byrd were both graphic artists commissioned to design a commemorative poster for the fair. Byrd created a bold souvenir poster: a picture of a nude “Aquarius” pouring water from an urn, surrounded by colorful patterns reminiscent of stained glass. Skolnick — who came up with the dove-and-guitar design — approached the topic in a more “mod” fashion. Eventually, Skolnick’s poster was chosen; while Byrd’s design — which was relatively unknown to the public — was forgotten. But there seems to be more to the story than simple aesthetics. “The town council in Wallkill was not happy with Byrd’s poster,” says Museum Director Wade Lawrence. “They thought it was obscene.” (A little known fact: the Woodstock festival was originally scheduled to take place in Wallkill. It was moved to Bethel when organizers and town officials had difficulty seeing eye-to-eye.) Skolnick’s poster went on to define the Woodstock identity, becoming an immediately recognizable logo. “Rock concerts did not have a brand identity before this,” says Lawrence. “I always talk about the dove and guitar as akin to the Nike ‘swoosh.’ ”
The winning design by Arnold Skolnick
Researched and curated by the museum’s staff, this retrospective focuses the spotlight on Byrd and Skolnick’s contributions to both the festival and to the art world in general. “I’ve always wanted to see some exploration of these two artists,” says Lawrence. “We noticed that when we dug below the surface, both have had really long and interesting careers.” Another motivating influence was an intriguing e-mail Lawrence received. “Someone had seen a poster in Memphis for a barbecue competition. It was a knock-off of Skolnick’s poster; in place of the guitar there was a fork, and instead of the dove there was a pig.” This generated the idea to include works inspired by or that parody each of the Woodstock posters.
This special exhibit displays 160 art pieces, representing the broad spectrum of each artists’ oeuvre. Byrd has created myriad works, including rock art and Broadway show posters for Follies, Godspell, and Little Shop of Horrors, among others; Skolnick currently devotes his talents to oil painting. “I am really excited about this exhibition,” says Lawrence. “Not only because it brings David Edward Byrd and Arnold Skolnick together for the first time, but because it will introduce their work to a broader audience and give them the recognition they both deserve.”