Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New discovery: Woodstock Handmade Houses

I'd never heard of Woodstock Handmade Houses, written by Robert Haney and David Ballantine and photographed by Jonathan Elliott, until I liberated it from the clearance shelf at my local Half Price Books (ha! love that I can still make scores there). It is funny to find a relic from upstate New York here in San Antonio, but it's not like I'm the first New Yorker to relocate to this godforesaken place, and doubtless not the last. Anyway, this book is light on words, heavy on spectacular photos, but here's the first lines from the introduction:
When the American dream still seemed a good trip, about seventy years ago, some nonconformists got together to explore a different lifestyle up in Woodstock, where the Catskill mountains start getting tall. They were mostly artists, craftsmen, tinkerers and thinkers. In those days they got labeled: Bohemians. Today, perhaps they'd be tagged freaks. Their first shelters were sometimes just a hunk of oilcloth or a free flop in a farmer's barn. But when they really started to build they went heavy on imagination, light on money.

Let me say up front that while I admire the houses-yurts-forts-domes-secret hideouts featured in this book, I don't think I'd want to live in one. I'm intimately familiar with New York winters and these singular domiciles don't seem to come equipped with many of the basic amenities. But, holy crap, aren't they incredible? I mean, call it outsider art, hippie homesteads, freecycled, upcycled, the original green design, whatever. Some rose out of the ruins of old schoolhouses, churches or barns; others appear to have sprouted from the trees. 

According to the introduction, both authors had built and resided in their own handmade houses. I wonder if they're still standing? Or if any of these houses remain? The book was published in 1974 so who knows? I'd like to assign some intrepid reporter to go find out, please.

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