Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted November 2, 2004 in Resource Library with permission of the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. The essay is contained in a brochure which was published in connection with an exhibit of the same name being held at the Georgia Museum of Art October 9-December 5, 2004. We express appreciation to Bonnie Ramsey of the Georgia Museum of Art for bringing the essay to our attention. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to purchase a copy of the brochure please contact the Georgia Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Jane Byrd McCall Whitehead's (1861-1955) Idealized Visions About Simple Living and Arts and Crafts

by Heidi Nasstrom Evans


Yes, dear, a simple life is the best worth living. So few people understand even the idea of it. I am so glad we feel it in common. No matter how often I strayed off to get new experiences I have always come back to it as the mean. The center where dwells harmony. We are all groping. [What] do we ever find? All one wants to be armed with is a little love, a little health, a little philosophy, and a good deal of nature out of doors.
Jane Byrd McCall to Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, 1891 [1]


Jane Byrd McCall Whitehead was an American artist who worked in different media throughout her life. She co-founded two schools of arts and crafts: one at Arcady in Montecito, California, which featured a Sloyd school for manual art (active 1898-1902), and another named Byrdcliffe (active 1903-present) in Woodstock, New York. [2] Byrdcliffe, which celebrated its centennial in 2003, was the catalyst for a century of experimentation in the arts in Woodstock. Whitehead and her British husband, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead developed these artistic environments to provide an oasis for themselves and their two sons. A privileged woman, Whitehead's wealth, along with her husband's, made possible the realization of self-contained and self-consciously stylized worlds. At Byrdcliffe, they invited like-minded people, including some of the most notable artists, musicians, and intellectuals of their time, to live the "simple life" associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Intellectually spearheaded by their mentor John Ruskin, social critic and Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, the Arts and Crafts Movement in England was started by William Morris, with whom the Whiteheads were acquainted (see figure 1). From London to Woodstock, many people inspired by Arts and Crafts philosophies shared Jane Whitehead's belief in the benefits of "enlightened material restraint," working with their hands and surrounding themselves with handcrafted arts in settings removed from the city and located close to the natural world. [3] They believed these tenets were morally and ethically uplifting and, ultimately, possessed the power to change society for the better.

Documentary photographs by some of America's early and most celebrated women photographers, including Photo-Secessionist Eva Watson-Schütze (see figure 2). This should be the Eva Watson-Schütze photo) and photojournalist Jessie Tarbox Beals, works of art by Whitehead and her circle, and related documents provide a point of entry into Whitehead's idealized vision of the world. From her early days as a Victorian socialite to her mature years as an earthy bohemian, Whitehead referred to the simple life in artistic settings as her ideal. This exhibition and essay are arranged chronologically with the latter focusing on illustrated pivotal "Art-efacts" from four phases of her life: Whitehead's childhood in Philadelphia; her young adult life in England and on the Continent; her life at Arcady in Montecito, California; and the artist's colony at Byrdcliffe in Woodstock, New York. Reviewing these phases of her life, the showcased artworks and documentary evidence reveal the visual, aesthetic and philosophical evolution of artistic living and the simple life in Whitehead's long lifetime (1861-1955). More broadly, her example helps us better understand the lives and actions of her peers involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement.


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Editor's note: Some corrections were made during the production of the brochure that are not reflected in this edition of the essay.

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