The September 2021 celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Oakwood Friends School’s relocation to its current site in Poughkeepsie, New York, included the first public viewing of The Oakwood Triptych—Oakwood in the 1960s by artist Jonathan Talbot. Talbot is an Oakwood graduate (class of 1957), a member of Cornwall (N.Y.) Meeting, a past member of Oakwood’s board of managers, and a current member of the board of the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts.
Jonathan Talbot, The Oakwood Triptych—Oakwood in the 1960s, 54″ x 87″, collage/painting on canvas.
The 54- by 87-inch collage/painting was commissioned by Joel Erlitz (Oakwood class of 1968), who tasked Jonathan with creating a work that would commemorate Oakwood in the 1960s.
Not having been at Oakwood in the 1960s, I realized I would need input from folks who had been there at that time. With the assistance of Oakwood’s alumni office, I wrote to about 400 alumni whose addresses were available, asking about their experiences at Oakwood and what they thought should be included in the artwork.
The responses were poignant. . . . Reading them was a heartwarming and profound experience. It was clear that alumni memories of that dynamic decade were as much about what was happening in the wider world as they were about life on campus. The responses provided the direction and energy needed to get started and, fortunately for its creator, continued to help the triptych mature and take on a life of its own.
The work that resulted depicts Oakwood, represented by its Main Building (which still looks much like it did in the 1960s), as a bright, safe, and inviting space nurturing a diverse student body involved in a variety of endeavors while surrounded by images of major events of the era: the multiple assassinations of American leaders; the war in Vietnam; the Civil Rights Movement with its struggles, tragedies, and successes. Joel Erlitz described the final artwork as follows:
[The Oakwood Triptych] artistically juxtaposes the warmth of the 1960s Oakwood community experience with the darkness and tensions of the times. In doing so, it will serve to help future Oakwood generations understand America’s “coming-of-age decade” and how we, at Oakwood, experienced it.
The Oakwood Triptych is a significant artistic contribution to the Oakwood Friends School community by two Oakwood alumni with deep lifetime connections to the school’s Quaker principles and practices. It is permanently installed in the lobby of the newly renovated Spencer Family Theater.
A magnified version may be viewed online at Talbot1.com/oakwood_triptych. Visitors wishing to see the work in person are asked to call the school office in advance, but no appointments are required.
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