The Winterthur Library

 The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera

Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum

5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE  19735

302-888-4600 or 800-448-3883





Creator:         Byrdcliffe (Art colony)                                              

Title:               Records

Dates:             ca. 1869-2000

Call No.:         Col. 209

Acc. No.:        92x39, 98x4, 00x162, 01x81, 02x170, 06x54-56, 06x1; 06x66, 06x67, 07x88; 10x3; 10x63, 11x13

Quantity:        ca. 170 cu. ft.

Location:        41-42 A-E, map case A, drawers 1 and 10, and map case C, dr. 3-5





In 1901, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead purchased about 1,000 acres of land near Woodstock, New York, in order to establish an artists' colony.  He named it “Byrdcliffe,” combining his wife's middle name, Byrd, with a portion of his own middle name, -cliffe.  During the winter of 1902, Whitehead initiated the construction of buildings, including housing for residents and studios and workshops for their use.  One year later, Byrdcliffe had facilities for metalsmithing, woodworking, and pottery production, as well as an art studio, dairy, and library; over time, about thirty buildings were erected.  The Whitehead residence, the main house on the property, was called “White Pines.”


Born in 1854 to Francis Frederick and Isabella Dalglish Whitehead, Ralph grew up in Saddleworth, Yorkshire, England.  His father was partner in a financially rewarding business that manufactured felt used for dampers in pianos.  The business still exists today, though not as a Whitehead family enterprise.  Young Ralph received his early education at Harrow.  He then attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied under John Ruskin, acknowledged to be “the philosophical fountainhead of the arts and crafts movement,” and also traveled to Italy with him.  On this trip, Whitehead chose a Florentine lily to be his personal emblem.  This motif later appeared in designs at Byrdcliffe.  Whitehead finished his education at Oxford in 1880 with a Master of Arts degree.  Little is known about his activities during the 1880s, although there is some evidence that he tried to start utopian communities in Italy and Austria.  He married a German -- some accounts say Polish -- woman, but the marriage lasted only a short time.


In 1892, Whitehead married Jane Byrd McCall of Philadelphia.  She had been born on September 22, 1858, and was the daughter of Jane Byrd Mercer and Peter McCall, an attorney and former mayor of Philadelphia.  (Through her mother, Jane was related to Henry Chapman Mercer, the founder of the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works.)  Jane and Ralph had met some time earlier in Europe, where she was traveling with her mother and sister Gertrude.  As a socialite in Europe, Jane had taken instruction in drawing from Ruskin, studied art at the Academie Julian in Paris, and was presented to Queen Victoria in 1886.  After their marriage, the Whiteheads settled in Santa Barbara, California, building a home there that they called “Arcady,” and buying some of their furniture from the English firm Morris and Company.  Both were active in arts and crafts pursuits in Santa Barbara.  By the time Byrdcliffe had been established in 1903, Whitehead had become a citizen of the United States, and he and his wife had had two children, Ralph, Jr., born in 1899, and Geoffrey Jocelyn, born in 1901 (he was called Peter beginning in 1912).


Names synonymous with the arts and crafts movement peopled Byrdcliffe during its early years, and they produced furniture, pottery, textiles, paintings, and artistic photographs. Jane Whitehead took particular interest in pottery and spent time in California taking lessons from Frederick Hurten Rhead.  Whitehead’s interest in photography encouraged other photographers, including Jessie Tarbox Beals, to spend time at Byrdcliffe.  However, by choice, furniture making was the predominant craft.  In 1904, the busiest year for furniture production, about 50 pieces were made, including tables, chairs, lamp stands, shelves, bookcases, sideboards, and chiffonniers.  Craftspeople mostly used local poplar and oak; some few pieces were of cherry or mahogany.  Observers have remarked about the simplicity of Byrdcliffe furniture and its lack of refined proportions.  Zulma Steele and Edna Walker, graduates of the Pratt School of Design, produced many of the furniture designs, ornaments, and decorations.  Furniture making lasted only a couple of years.  Afterwards, the community concentrated on pottery, weaving, and frame making.  Ralph joined his wife in making pottery; he was particularly interested in glazes, and he also wove textiles.


Ultimately, Byrdcliffe failed as a community of artists.  Its founder, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, experienced difficulty relating to his residents, and after a time they left, never to return to his colony.  In addition, it was hard to transport the furniture produced there to market.  As time passed, Byrdcliffe simply became a place for the Whiteheads to raise their two children and to entertain family and friends, although the cottages built for craftspeople continued to be rented during the summers.  In 1917, Jane wrote to her son, Ralph, Jr., “now let us realize that it has had its day--its raison d'etre has passed by.”  Even so, because Byrdcliffe had acted as a magnet for arts and crafts practitioners, Woodstock, New York, lost its identity as a rural farming village and became a haven for artists.


Byrdcliffe remained in family hands for about seventy-five years.  Ralph Whitehead died in 1929, only 25 years after Byrdcliffe had experienced its busiest times and just a few months after his eldest son had died in a shipwreck.  Jane died on June 19, 1955, at a nursing home in Kingston, New York.  She had survived the years between her husband’s death and her own by selling real estate holdings in California, including their homes “Arcady” and “Neroli,” both in Santa Barbara, as well as parts of the original Byrdcliffe tract.  The youngest son, Peter, died at “White Pines,” the Whiteheads’ home at Byrdcliffe, in 1975.  Today, the Woodstock Guild and private individuals own different portions of the property that once made up Byrdcliffe.






The Byrdcliffe archives includes family correspondence, featuring letters to and from Jane and Ralph Whitehead beginning in the 1890s; photographs, many of which are dated and the people in them identified (twenty of which were taken by Jesse Tarbox Beals);  more than 600 original drawings and paintings, including furniture designs by Edna Walker and Zulma Steele, and colored designs for rugs created by Marie Little; approximately 575 issues of magazines; scrapbooks; over 700 study prints taken from large 19th century portfolios depicting ornaments from Medieval, Renaissance, and pre-Raphaelite sources; manuscript records of expenditures and income from items produced at the colony; Byrdcliffe’s library card catalog, including both the cards and the physical square-shaped catalog; the Byrdcliffe Guest Register; trade catalogues of products used at Byrdcliffe; about 80 monographs, as well as publications written by Jane and Ralph Whitehead; land surveys; and legal documents.  In addition, there are drawings of furniture available from the English firm of Morris and Company, and many unsigned drawings and paintings, mostly landscapes, probably mostly executed by Jane Whitehead.


The collection also includes letters from the sons Peter and Ralph, Jr.; some genealogical information about the Whitehead and McCall families; information about Woodstock, New York; a few poems, including one written about Peter; Ralph Whitehead’s leather trunk; and a collection of newspaper articles about the sinking of the ship Vestris, in which tragedy Ralph, Jr. lost his life.  Other items of interest is a volume bound by Cobden Sanderson and the guest register from the wedding of Jane McCall and Ralph Whitehead, which is on a sheet of birch bark.





I. Designs, Drawings, and Paintings
II. Reproductions and Prints
III. Design Books
IV. Periodicals
V. Monographs and Trade Catalogs
VI. Business and Real Estate Records, Printed Ephemera
VII. Photographs, Glass Plate Negatives, Photo Albums, and Post Cards
VIII. Letters
IX. Calendars
X. Maps
XI. Newspapers and Miscellaneous





I.    Designs, Drawings, and Paintings



The items that are in this series are housed in thirteen boxes and four map case drawers, with one framed item hanging on the wire wall.  Included are furniture designs from the woodworking shop at Byrdcliffe, many credited to Zulma Steele, Edna M. Walker, Bolton C. Brown, and Dawson Watson; drawings of furniture hardware, pottery, glassware, along with other odds and ends of design work; architectural plans for buildings at Byrdcliffe and homes of the Whiteheads; rug designs by Marie Little; and unsigned paintings and drawings, most of which are assumed to have been done by Jane Whitehead.  Since materials were first arranged by size, not all the designs depicting an item, a piece of furniture for example, are housed together; however, notes are included to refer the researcher to locations of related materials.   



II.   Reproductions and Prints



Although a few colored items are included, this series consists mostly of black and white photographic reproductions of art work, the vast majority of which depict Italian Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings.  They were collected by the Whiteheads because of their interest in these periods of art, and they may have inspired some of the work at Byrdcliffe.  Some of the reproductions are labeled, and others were identified from books about art history.  For the rest, often the subject is obvious (Madonna and Child for example), but if it is not, there is a full description.  Also included in this group are photographs of landscapes, people, furniture, and buildings, mostly taken in Italy, as well as some prints, wallpaper samples, and posters advertising museums throughout Europe.  These posters were probably collected because of their artwork.  Finally, Series II contains a copy of the book Pictures and Poems, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 



III.  Design Books



These design books are mostly from France or Germany and chiefly deal with Medieval or Renaissance art and architecture, although ancient Greece, Egypt, and the 17th and 18th centuries are also represented.  Many of them contain a Byrdcliffe bookplate.



IV.   Periodicals



Series IV contains issues of periodicals collected by the Whiteheads.  Most relate to art or ceramics, but other interests are also represented.



V.    Monographs and Trade Catalogs



Ralph Whitehead’s interests in ceramics and in weaving are clearly indicated by the quantity of works on these topics.  Of special note are the sample books of dyes.  Also included are works by John Ruskin, Whitehead’s professor at Oxford, and works by both Ralph and Jane Whitehead.    In the late 1930s, Jane and her son Peter permitted several lecture series to be held at Byrdcliffe, and a publication from one of them, entitled Byrdcliffe Afternoons, is here.  Another publication, The Overlook, dating from after 1932, contains pictures from Woodstock and Lake Hill, New York.



VI.   Business and Real Estate Records; Printed Ephemera



This series is comprised mostly of miscellaneous manuscripts.  Included are inventories of libraries at Byrdcliffe, lists of contents of several buildings at the colony, pottery production notes, and observations about dyeing and weaving.  Of particular interest is a scrapbook with samples of fabric and thread, all probably hand-dyed, and attendant notes about dyeing.  As well, there is a book related to the Ambrose Choral Society of Woodstock, a collection of writings by Ralph Whitehead, and a scrapbook that Jane Whitehead kept when she was in Europe, 1883-1890, before she was married.  In addition there are records involving the estate that Ralph, Sr., left his wife Jane and son Peter, upon his death in 1929; ledgers and advertisements from “Villetta,” the inn at Byrdcliffe;  a library register detailing book circulation; materials about Woodstock, New York, and organizations and activities in the town; a book reputed to have been bound by Cobden Sanderson in 1891; information about real estate in England; and deeds and correspondence concerning real estate in New York, California, and Oregon.  Some miscellaneous pieces of Byrdcliffe stationery are also in this series.



VII.  Photographs, Glass Plate Negatives, Photo Albums, and Post Cards



Photographs are mostly family pictures, including some of Jane and Ralph as children and young adults.  In addition, there are photographs taken at Byrdcliffe in 1908 by Jesse Tarbox Beals, a couple of photos taken by Eva Watson Schutze,  photographs of the Whiteheads’ various homes, and modern prints developed from glass plate negatives.  The same image may be found in more than one location because, for example, one copy is in a photo album, and another copy is loose, or because different copies of the same image are separated because of size.  Post cards are from various family trips and from Ralph, Jr.’s World War I service in England and France.  One album contains photos taken by Ralph, Jr., while he was working in South America.



VIII. Letters



Series VIII contains correspondence, mostly from Ralph to Jane, but also letters to and from other members of the Whitehead family and family friends.  Letters from Ralph, Jr., and Peter are also found.  These include letters written by Ralph, Jr., while he was stationed in England and France during World War I and from various places in South America, where he worked in the 1920s.  (Letters about business concerns or the settling of estates are filed in Series VI.)



IX.   Calendars



The calendars in this series belonged to Jane Whitehead.   The entries are brief and record her schedule on various days.



X.    Maps, Surveys and Plans



The maps in this series mostly relate to real estate owned by the Whiteheads in California and New York.  Also, there are some commercially printed maps and a few architectural drawings in the form of professionally made blueprints.  Some plans drawn up for the Woodstock Guild are also in this series.



XI.   Newspapers and Miscellaneous



Miscellaneous materials, mostly oversized, and newspapers are in Series XI.  There are only a few newspapers; of especial note are copies of the Woodstock, New York, newspaper The Overlook, most of which have articles about Byrdcliffe.  Newspaper clippings recounting the sinking of the ship Vestris are also found.  Ralph, Jr., died in this accident.  (These clippings have been photocopied.)  Also in this series is a song with lyrics by Ralph Whitehead, his leather trunk, and the library card catalog from Byrdcliffe, including not only the cards from the catalog, but also the actual piece of furniture itself, decorated with Florentine lilies.  The catalog may have been made at Byrdcliffe. 





Almost all the papers were a gift to the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera beginning in 1991 from Mark Willcox, the nephew of Ralph and Jane Whitehead.


Accession 06x1 gift of Robert Edwards.

Accession 07x88 gift of James J. Kopp.





Most of the materials are in English.  Some are in German, French, or Italian.





Collection is open to the public.  Copyright restrictions may apply.


Many of the items, including photographs and drawings, have been microfilmed on 2 reels (M3002 and M3015).  Researchers are asked to use the microfilm when possible to preserve original items in the collection.  An index is found at the front of each reel. 


Prints have been made from the glass plate negatives, and the prints must be used.






Whitehead, Ralph Radcliffe, 1854-1929

Whitehead, Jane Byrd McCall, 1861-1955

Whitehead, Ralph, Jr., 1899-1928

Whitehead, Peter, 1901-1975

Beals, Jessie Tarbox

Steele, Zulma, 1881-1979

Walker, Edna M.

Little, Marie

Brown, Bolton, 1864-1936

Moore, Anne Carroll, 1871-1961.



                        Ruskin Co-operative Association.

Arts and crafts movement

Decoration and ornament


Furniture design

Furniture making


Cabinetwork – New York - Woodstock

Artists’ colonies—New YorkWoodstock

World War, 1914-1918.

Marine accidents.

Engineers – South America.






Trade catalogs


Glass plate negatives




Account books










Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony.  Edited by Nancy Green.  Ithaca, N.Y.: Johnson Museum of Art, 2004.


Edwards, Robert. “The Utopias of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead,” The Magazine Antiques, January 1985, pages 260-276.


Lock, Lisa L. The Byrdcliffe Colony and the Politics of Arts and Crafts. M.A.Thesis.  Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, University of Delaware, 1992.