Clarence Schmidt’s House of Mirrors

Clarence Schmid’s House of Mirrors
Woodstock, NY (Destroyed)

Clarence Schmidt (1897-1978) moved to Woodstock in the 1940s and found work as a handyman, having trained as a mason and a plasterer. Journey’s End, the first home he built for himself, was a log cabin built of railroad ties, tarred and covered in cracked glass. He soon acquired another log cabin, eventually creating an expansive labyrinth around that nearly seven stories high, consisting of wooden walkways, balconies, and grottoes.

Schmidt used a wide variety of castoff materials in his work such as aluminum foil, mirror, plastic flowers, and rubber body parts. Unfortunately, his reliance on tar to hold these materials in place ended up fueling a fire that destroyed the house in 1968. Shortly thereafter Schmidt began work on another structure known as Mark II, which was again destroyed by fire in 1971.

Isaiah was on a trajectory to become a fairly traditional artist, making two-dimensional work that is displayed in museums and galleries, until he met one of his first artistic heroes, Clarence Schmidt. Isaiah was 19 and studying painting and graphics at Pratt Institute in New York, when a friend took him to Woodstock to see Clarence Schmidt’s art environments.

Isaiah’s experience of walking through Clarence Schmidt’s art environments was overwhelming. Isaiah says that he didn’t even have a vocabulary for this type of art. It changed his mind about what art could be and was the first time he started to think about art as something different from fine art. He befriended Clarence and wanted to make his own art take on the same full body, sensory experience. 

The origins of many of the elements included at PMG can be traced back to Isaiah’s inspirations from the House of Mirrors. This was also the catalyst for Isaiah’s interest in art environments. He began to study them, visit them, and meet the artists who created them. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is unique not only as an art environment but because it also pays tribute to art environments from around the world and their creators.

Biography and photos
Video by Beryl Sokoloff (14 minutes, 1963)

Button & Top Photo Credit: Beryl Sokoloff