MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. ― While many may know him first and foremost as a Dust Bowl balladeer and hero of the working man, an exhibit opening Saturday at the Mount Kisco Public Library shows that American folk singer Woody Guthrie was a prolific visual artist as well.
"He was an artist first and then he decided to use words to paint a picture, and so he became a songwriter,” said exhibit curator Anna Canoni, who is Guthrie’s granddaughter and works as head of programs and events and finance for Woody Guthrie Publications, part of the Mount Kisco-based Woody Guthrie Foundation.
Canoni said the library exhibit is an excerpt from a 60-piece exhibit culled from the foundation’s archives called “Strokes of Electricity,” which in is turn based on the 2005 book “Woody Guthrie: Artworks,” a glossy anthology containing 400 of Guthrie’s drawings, paintings and political cartoons.
Set up as a tribute to Guthrie’s centennial this year, the exhibit showcases the vastness of his art, Canoni said. It focuses in large part on Guthrie’s life as father to his eight children, a time that Canoni describes as “a very nice cycle in his life, creatively.”
Canoni said Guthrie did a lot of colorful artwork with his daughter Cathy when she was growing up in the early 1940s, making crayon and watercolor drawings together that he later expanded upon on his own.
The exhibit, which was created with the children and families who visit the library in mind, includes some of Guthrie’s works from Los Angeles in the 1930s, when he was doing political cartoons to accompany his articles in the Communist newspaper, “The Daily Worker.”
Canoni said the exhibit also includes lyrics Guthrie wrote on all different types of paper, since he would write all the time using materials wherever he went, from paper towels to napkins to wrapping paper.
Guthrie also made pen-and-ink drawings, such as the illustrations he did for his autobiography “Bound for Glory,” and sometimes used watercolors to illustrate his own song lyrics.
The foundation is donating a copy of the “Artworks” book to the library, along with a number of other Guthrie books. The exhibit will be open throughout July starting Saturday.
Friday, Canoni will teach a “Woody Guthrie Music and Movement Class” at the library for preschoolers and their families, incorporating Guthrie’s work as a children’s songwriter.