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Bolton Town Historian Ted Caldwell and Clint Weber at Golden Heart Farm, where the Furlongs lived from the 1921 until 1952.

Bolton Town Historian Ted Caldwell and Clint Weber at Golden Heart Farm, where the Furlongs lived from the 1921 until 1952.

Tales from Golden Heart, Part Three: Documenting the Life and Times of Bolton Artist Weber Furlong

By Anthony F. Hall

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

For much of his life, Clint Weber has lived with a mystery: the source of an extraordinary collection of art he found himself the guardian of.

“Even as a nine-year-old, I would take these portfolios from underneath my bed and gaze at these wonderful things,” said Weber, a former Navy submariner now managing information systems for health care centers in Texas.

Those “wonderful things” included paintings and drawings by artists such as John Graham, David Smith, Dorothy Dehner, Max Weber and two remote relatives: Thomas and Weber Furlong.

The collection had passed from Thomas and Weber Furlong to their nephew, Clint’s father, and then to him.

“Fortunately, my family’s the kind that never throws anything out,” said Clint.

A few years ago, he met Mona Blocker Garcia, a world traveler who had settled in Marfa, Texas, which is frequently described as the emerging arts capital of the southwest. There, she bought a building on what had once been the campus of Fort D.A. Russell and turned it into the headquarters for her International Women’s Foundation, which she describes as “a training center for the artistic development and healthful aging of mature women artists.”

(Garcia’s building, Building 98, was once the officers’ club. It contains murals painted by German Prisoners of War during World War II, which she is restoring.)

“As soon as Clint told me about the collection, I had to see it,” said Garcia. “And as soon as I saw it, I knew he had to do something with it. It’s too important to be kept hidden.”

“Mona is the driving force. Without her, these things might still be under my bed,” said Clint.

This fall, Garcia and Weber will exhibit the collection at the International Women’s Foundation in Marfa.

The centerpiece of the exhibition will consist of Weber Furlong’s own paintings and will constitute the first major retrospective of the work of the artist, who Weber claims is “America’s first woman modern artist.”

As Weber and Garcia began to appreciate the depth and the extent of the collection, they felt compelled to learn more about the woman behind it.

What sort of woman could hold the respect and friendship of so many great artists, or create such astonishing work herself?

“I had found my life’s mission – to preserve the legacy of Weber Furlong and to create a record of her life,” said Weber.

That mission led Weber and Garcia to Bolton Landing, where Thomas and Weber Furlong lived from 1921 to 1952 at Golden Heart Farm, in the hills above Bolton Landing.

The house was built in the 1860s by  Rufus Randall, a returning veteran of the Civil War. He  cleared and farmed the land and raised his family there before selling the property to another Bolton man, Edson Persons.

The farm was reputed to have “one of the most magnificent views of the lake in the vicinity,” according to a newspaper clipping from 1961.

“Although my father had visited the farm when he was a child, I didn’t know much about it – where it was, whether the house even still existed,” said Weber.

He finally reached Bolton Town Clerk Pat Steele, who put him in touch with Ted Caldwell, the town’s historian.

Caldwell told him all there was to know about Golden Heart, and invited Weber to come see the farm himself.

In early May, Weber and Garcia flew in from Texas to begin documenting Furlong’s life in Bolton Landing and in Glens Falls, where the artist lived and worked from 1952 until her death in 1962.

“This is hallowed ground; this is where it all happened,” Weber said as he and Garcia arrived at Golden Heart Farm, where a reception was held in their honor.

According to Weber, Thomas and Weber Furlong were drawn to Bolton Landing by another artist, opera singer Louise Homer.

“Louise Homer’s daughters were attending a boarding school here in Bolton, and she recruited Weber Furlong to design some sets for a theater program,” said Weber.

(The school, Bremestead, closed in 1924. It was located near Braley Point.)

Clint Weber and Mona Blocker Garcia

The Furlongs moved to the farm in 1921. Although Weber Furlong was an administrator at the Arts Students League rather than a teacher, like her husband, she is generally regarded as the better artist.

Weber Furlong was born in St. Louis in 1878. She studied with William Merritt Chase and Max Weber and Furlong himself, whom she called “the best and most important” of her teachers. After the two were married, they moved to a building on Washington Square where John Graham, Alexander Calder, Thomas Hart Benton and Rockwell Kent also rented studios.

Weber Furlong refused to call herself a teacher. Rather, she saw herself as an enabler of other artists, distributing advice and encouragement.

After Thomas Furlong’s death in 1952, Weber Furlong moved to Glens Falls, where she continued to teach and paint until her death in 1962. James Kettlewell, a curator at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, organized an exhibition of Furlong’s work at The Hyde in 1966, and he is largely responsible for the belated recognition she received from critics, collectors and museums as a serious, mid-century artist.

“Weber Furlong emerged as an artist only after Thomas Furlong’s death in 1952. And at that time the only art that could make it in America had to be very large and abstract. Nevertheless the art she produced was entirely of her time,” Kettlewell wrote in a catalogue for the exhibition.

Although she painted almost nothing but still-lifes, Furlong’s work was influenced by the abstract expresssionists, said Kettlewell.

“If she finds the place she deserves in the art historical record,” Kettlewell wrote, “she will be classified with the Abstract Expressionists, as was her friend, the greatest sculptor of the American modern movement, David Smith.”

(The Furlongs are credited with introducing David Smith to Bolton Landing, having invited him to stay at the farm in 1929. Shortly thereafter, he bought the farm on Edgecomb Pond Road.)

Kettlewell was among those interviewed by Weber during his visit to Warren County.

He also met some of Furlong’s former students, such as Loren Blackburn, visited The Hyde, which owns several Furlong works, and examined private collections containing pieces by both Furlongs.

“This was an amazing visit; I was able to fill in so many gaps in my knowledge of Weber and Thomas Furlong and their careers,” said Weber.

Weber is at work on a documentary film and book about the Furlongs, both of which he hopes will be completed before the exhibition of pieces by Furlong and her friends opens in Marfa in September.

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McKendree Spring

McKendree Spring

Tales from Golden Heart, Part Two: In the 1960s, McKendree Spring was Bolton Landing’s Rock Band in Residence

By Anthony F. Hall

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Golden Heart farm, the Bolton Landing artists’ colony established by Thomas and Weber Furlong in the 1920s, was not only a retreat for painters and sculptors.

In the 1960s and 70s, the farm was headquarters for a band which Billboard magazine called “one of the best unknown groups in the world,” McKendree Spring.

Last summer, the Lake George Mirror published a brief history of the farm, recounting the lives of the Furlongs, two New York artists who painted along side John Graham, Alexander Calder, Thomas Hart Benton and Rockwell Kent, and who were responsible for introducing sculptor David Smith to Bolton Landing.

Affiliated with the Art Students League, the Furlongs purchased the house, fields, barns and outbuildings in 1921 and renamed the old farm “Golden Heart.”

The farm was reputed to have “one of the most magnificent views of the lake in the vicinity,” according to a newspaper clipping from 1961.

The house was built in the 1860s by Rufus Randall, a returning veteran of the Civil War. He cleared and farmed the land and raised his family there before selling the property to another Bolton man, Edson Persons.

For three decades, from the 20s through the 50s, artists came to the farm every summer to work and study with the Furlongs.

After Thomas Furlong’s death in 1952, Weber Furlong moved to Glens Falls, where she continued to teach and paint until her death in 1962.

That, more or less, was where our story ended.  But at least one chapter of the tale was missing, because we were unable to answer this question: what became of Golden Heart after Weber Furlong sold it?

Ted Caldwell, Bolton’s Town Historian, suggested we contact Michael “Doc” Dreyfuss.

“There’s a reason why Dreyfuss is known as ‘Doc.’ He holds degrees in physics and medicine. And he was a founding member of a band called McKendree Spring. He’ll fill you in,” said Caldwell.

We reached Dreyfuss at his home in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1947, Dreyfuss began visiting Golden Heart with his parents, Dr. William Dreyfuss and Lily Dreyfuss, a painter.

“The Furlongs and my parents became fast friends, and we would visit every summer for two weeks or so. My mother painted. My father and I hung out,” says Dreyfuss

“Several years later, Weber was offered a modest amount for Golden Heart. We offered her more, because she was such a good friend. Next thing you know, we owned land, a barn, a house that was quaint, without water or electricity, but with an astonishing view of Lake George.  Olaf Ronning rehabbed the house and put it into beautiful shape,” recalled Dreyfuss.

Seeking a quiet place where he could complete his first novel, Dreyfuss and his wife, Elizabeth Travis Dreyfuss, moved to the farm in 1965.

“Elisabeth taught American history at Adirondack Community College, while I stayed home, being a daddy to our first child and writing,” said Dreyfuss.

Having played the violin since he was five and the viola since high school, Dreyfuss also taught music at Skidmore.

“I also played chamber music with local musicians, mostly from Saratoga Springs. I remember one summer in particular. A friend of mine, a cellist named Christopher von Baeyer, happened to be performing with the Lake George Opera Festival, and he stayed with us.  After the performances, he would bring home a bevy of extraordinary musicians. We had three cabins, and the musicians would spend the night. Our chamber music evenings usually began around 1 am and ended at 4 am, by which time Chris and I were inevitably incoherent, mentally and musically,” said Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss’s wife Elizabeth introduced him to another extraordinary musician, Fran McKendree.

“Elisabeth mentioned that she had seen a student in an ACC talent show who sang beautifully. ‘Would you like to meet him?’ she asked. His name was Fran Mckendree. Elisabeth brought Fran to Golden Heart one day and we hit it off immediately, very much enjoying improvising and playing tunes together. We invited guitarist Marty Slutsky and bass player Larry Tucker to join us, and we rehearsed with the intention of forming a band. That was the beginning of McKendree Spring,” said Dreyfuss.

“We knew we had something right away. Our first official gig was a benefit for the NAACP in Glens Falls. We had heard that the organization was under duress, and we volunteered to play. All the instruments, including my violin, went through a small Fender Reverb amp which I had purchased at a gift shop in Glens Falls,” said Dreyfuss.

The band, which drew initially upon the traditions of American folk music that also inspired groups like the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and Quicksilver Messenger Service, began playing the coffee house circuit from Boston to New York. The band’s rise was a quick one.

“Sometime in 1968, we decided to drive to New York in our Dodge Dart with our instruments and gear and audition for the Bitter End’s Hootenanny Tuesdays, where we knew bands got discovered by agents, managers, and other record people. We made it through the audition and were scheduled to play the Hootenanny late – 2 am.  The place was nearly empty. They invited us back and as a result of that show we were offered recording, publication, and management contracts,” said Dreyfuss.

Within the next few years, the band traveled through Europe and the United States, performing at places such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, and at the Washington Monument, where the group played before a million Vietnam War protesters.

McKendreee Spring opened for bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and the Velvet Underground, groups that shared Dreyfuss’s interest in experimenting with electric violins and feedback.

“Between tours, we would come home to Bolton Landing to crash,” said Dreyfuss.

Michael and Elisabeth Dreyfuss sold Golden Heart in 1972, and the members of Mckendree Spring went on to pursue new careers.

Mckendree, Slutsky and Dreyfuss, however, still re-unite on occasion, and in 2010 the band released its first studio recording in 35 years, “Recording Number 9.” The Progressive Rock Hall of Fame named it the best progressive rock album of the year in 2011.

Dreyfuss’ days in Bolton Landing, though, are indelibly printed in his memory.

“I’ll never forget that view across Lake George from Gold Heart, or rehearsing in the barn,” said Dreyfuss. “Bolton Landing was essentially dead in the winter, but it was a fun, relaxed place, especially in the summer. I was always struck by the camaraderie and the good will of the community. Good people.”

Of Golden Heart, Dreyfuss says,  “Writing all day and playing tunes all night. It was music heaven.”

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Tales from Golden Heart, Part One: Sketches from a Bolton Landing Artists’ Colony of the 1930s

By Anthony F. Hall

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Once there was an artists’ colony in Bolton Landing, on the slope of Federal Hill overlooking Lake George.

The drawings of the colony that appear on this page  were made by one of the students, whose  identity is unknown.

The property has been subdivided and the house altered radically, but both are  still recognizable from the drawings.

The colony’s instructors, and the property’s owners, were Thomas and Weber Furlong, New York City artists affiliated with the Art Students League. They purchased the house, fields, barns and outbuildings in the 1920s and renamed the old farm “Golden Heart.”

The house was built in the 1860s by  Rufus Randall, a returning veteran of the Civil War. He  cleared and farmed the land and raised his family there before selling the property to another Bolton man, Edson Persons.

The farm was reputed to have “one of the most magnificent views of the lake in the vicinity,” according to a newspaper clipping from 1961. The lake is still visible from the porch, but barely.

The Furlongs moved to the farm in 1921. Although Weber Furlong was an administrator at the Arts Students League rather than a teacher, like her husband, she is generally regarded as the better artist.

Weber Furlong was born in St Louis in 1878. She studied with William Merritt Chase and Max Weber and Furlong himself, whom she called “the best and most important” of her teachers. After the two were married, they moved to a building on Washington Square where John Graham, Alexander Calder, Thomas Hart Benton and Rockwell Kent also rented studios.

Weber Furlong refused to call herself a teacher. Rather, she saw herself as an enabler of other artists, distributing advice and encouragement.

After Thomas Furlong’s death in 1952, Weber Furlong moved to Glens Falls, where she continued to teach and paint until her death in 1962.

James Kettlewell, a curator at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, organized an exhibition of Furlong’s work at The Hyde in 1966, and he is largely responsible for the belated recognition she received from critics, collectors and museums as a serious, mid-century artist.

“Weber Furlong emerged as an artist only after Thomas Furlong’s death in 1952. And at that time the only art that could make it in America had to be very large and abstract. Nevertheless the art she produced was entirely of her time,” Kettlewell wrote in a catalogue for the exhibition.

Although she painted almost nothing but still-lifes, Furlong’s work was influenced by the abstract expresssionists, said Kettlewell.

“If she finds the place she deserves in the art historical record,” Kettlewell wrote, “she will be classified with the Abstract Expressionists, as was her friend, the greatest sculptor of the American modern movement, David Smith.”

(The Furlongs are credited with introducing David Smith to Bolton Landing, having invited him to stay at the farm in 1929. Shortly thereafter, he bought the farm on Edgecomb Pond Road.)

In 1961, the farm was bought by Michael “Doc” Dreyfuss, an avante-garde, electronic violinist who achieved some popular success in the 1970s as a member of a middle-of-the-road country rock band called McKendree Spring.

Today the house is owned by Ike Wolgin.

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