Wood Gaylor (1883 - 1957)
Morningside Park, New York City, 1918
Watercolor on paper
9 1/2 x 12 inches
Signed, titled and dated lower right
Private Collection, Cohoes, New York
Wood Gaylor (1884–1957) was an American artist known for his colorful canvases of festive events painted in a flat, unmodeled style that struck critics as "witty" and "wisely naïve". He also made colored wood carvings in relief as well as colored etchings, aquatints, drypoints, watercolors, and drawings. His work appeared in the 1913 Armory Show and many other exhibitions during the first half of the twentieth century. During most of his long career, he participated in New York arts organizations as founder, officer, or active member. Known as a "fun-loving iconoclast" of the art world, he was also a businessman, who, in a long and successful career, worked his way up from office boy to head of a firm that manufactured sewing patterns.
Critics praised his work throughout his career and after his death. In 1930, for example, a critic for the New York Times wrote that some in the art world had begun to see Gaylor as "an American Bruegel". However, the critic said the comparison did not do justice to Gaylor since he was not an imitator but had his own individuality. In 1979, another Times critic discussed the features that distinguished his work, writing, "Although Mr. Gaylor's paintings appear to be primitive, they are only superficially so. Their simple, charming figures and clean, unshaded colors are organized in meticulously orchestrated compositions that are clearly the work of a sophisticated hand." She added that his style was "an alternative to both academic and abstract art".
He began his art training in 1909 with classes at the National Academy of Design and continued through 1912 by taking individual instruction from Walt Kuhn at the New York School of Art in Fort Lee, New Jersey. During that time he and Kuhn formed a long-lasting friendship. Gaylor had two paintings accepted for exhibition at the 1913 Armory Show which Kuhn had helped to organize. Both were said to be impressionist in style. In 1915, he painted an abstract work and became a member of the short-lived Cooperative Mural Workshop run by Katherine Dreier and her sister Dorothea. When he participated in a group exhibition held by the group that year (and possibly showed that painting), a critic described the works on view as "brilliant and vivid" in color and "simple and direct" in design. The next year, in February, the Thumb Box Gallery gave him a solo exhibition and he participated in a group exhibition at the Montross Galleries. Calling the solo exhibition "exceedingly interesting", a critic for American Art News said the carved and painted wood panels he showed were "exceptionally good in color and design" and noted that Gaylor "utilizes humans for designs in an amazing way".
In 1917, Gaylor joined Kuhn and others in a short-lived group called the Penguin Club which, like the Armory Show, aimed to provide support for artists who rejected the conservative aesthetics of the National Academy.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Gaylor continued participating in the semi-annual exhibitions of Salons of America and many other group shows (including Anderson Galleries: 1921, Wanamaker Gallery: 1922, Modern Artists of America at Brummer Galleries: 1922, People's Art Assembly: 1922, Brooklyn Society of American Artists: 1923, New Playwrights Theatre: 1927, Valentine Dudensing Gallery: 1927, Downtown Gallery: 1930 to 1934 inclusive, Brooklyn Museum: 1930, Pynson Printers gallery: 1931, Reinhardt Galleries: 1933, Public Works of Art Project: 1934, and the Municipal Committee: 1938).
The Spring Salons of America exhibition of 1923 included loans from local museums and collectors. It showed Chinese, ancient Greek, and modern French masters, such as Cézanne, Picasso, and Gauguin, along with works made by its own members. Noting the show's wide disparity of artistic styles, a Times critic said Jules Pascin and Gaylor did not try to out-do the imported works but showed what it was they could do. Using a gastronomic figure of speech, the critic said, "Pascin is the more economical, although he uses more lines because he obtains a more than proportionate increase of flavor, but Mr. Gaylor gets a flavor that is more to American taste, one that is less suggestive of something put up in tin to disguise the toughness of the fowl or its cold-storage associations". In 1932 Gaylor showed portrait studies in watercolor and pencil along with his more familiar oil paintings of festive Greenwich Village scenes in a solo exhibition at the Downtown Galleries.
Gaylor did not exhibit in the late 1930s or throughout the 1940s. He held one show in 1950. No other exhibitions were reported until three years following his death in 1957. As noted below, he had moved out of the city at the beginning of that period and had become the head of a company that made sewing patterns. During the period, he and his wife were occupied with raising their three children and he had become involved in local politics in the suburban community where he lived. The weak market for art sales in many of those years may also have been a factor in his decision to stop offering works for sale.
In 1962 Gaylor's widow showed works of his in a barn adjacent to the house they had shared and where she still lived. The following year, the Zabriskie Gallery mounted a retrospective exhibition of paintings and works on paper. A critic for the New York Times said the works shown were "full of clever anecdotes and witticisms smuggled in under a naïve deadpan" and added that the Greenwich Village Bohemianism which was their subject would be difficult to depict in any other manner. Works by Gaylor appeared in group shows in 1964 and 1978 and then in another retrospective in 1979. The 1979 show, at Gallery Odin, in Port Washington, New York, mixed Gaylor's paintings with paintings by his wife, the artist, Adelaide Lawson, and works the two of them had purchased or been given by artist friends. Two other retrospectives appeared in 2021, one, a traveling exhibition that began at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, New York, and the other at Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts in Manhattan.