Pioneer Valley-based artist Arnold Skolnick, whose iconic poster for the 1969 Woodstock concert festival became a pop culture touchstone for graphic design, passed away in June of this year. 

Connecting Point producer Dave Fraser visited Skolnick at his Easthampton studio in 2019, to hear all about the artist’s life and career from the man himself. 

This story originally aired on August 5, 2019.

Read the full transcription:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Pioneer Valley based artist Arnold Skolnick, whose iconic poster for the 1969 Woodstock Concert Festival, became a pop culture touchstone for graphic design, passed away in June of this year.

Connecting Point producer Dave Fraser visited Skolnick at his East Hampton studio in 2019 to hear all about the artist’s life and career from the man himself.

Arnold Skolnick, Woodstock Poster Creator: You’re born with this talent or you don’t have it. You can’t learn how to do it.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Arnold Skolnick has spent his life designing and creating beautiful pieces of art, as well as producing art books, catalogs, and posters.

At age 82, he has received four 50 Best Books of the Year awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts and numerous awards for advertising and graphic design.

But his most famous work is one that received no award at all: the original Woodstock poster, which he created 50 years ago in 1969.

Arnold Skolnick: It’s just a bird, the hand, and the guitar. And this is what we went at, the Woodstock art fair – the – all the names and the driving the printer crazy because each time he had to change the place.

Dave Fraser: The festival attracted nearly half a million people to a farm in upstate New York for three days of peace, love, and music.

Arnold Skolnick: For some reason, the whole country knew about this, and they started coming here from all over the country. If you remember, the thruway was packed. They had closed everything down.

So, it just took off.

Dave Fraser: Skolnick got the job to design the poster because the original poster, designed by David Bird, featured an outline of a naked woman and was too psychedelic. The promoters needed to make a change and approached Skolnick to create a new poster in just three days.

Inspired by the paper cutouts of Henri Matisse, Arnold got to work.

Arnold Skolnick: I mean, I could use photographs, you can do all kinds of solutions to the problem. I decided to do the whole thing with cut paper, thinking about Matisse’s cut out shows I had seen at the Museum of Modern Art.

So, I took a razor blade and I cut those shapes out. I went to the store and bought a big sheet of red paper. I put the bird in the upper left-hand corner, and I put the type on the lower right hand corner so it balances.

I cut it all out with a razor blade. I had all these little pieces and I put it on red paper and that was it.

Dave Fraser: Those simple graphics came together to make one of the most iconic music posters ever. And despite Skolnick’s lack of interest in the music of the sixties and seventies, he is quite proud of his work – but admits it isn’t perfect.

Arnold Skolnick: There’s a mistake in the poster when I put all the colors in for the printer. I didn’t mark the beak to be black. So, the beak is a red, red background. No, nobody’s ever noticed.

Dave Fraser: The Skolnick had a VIP pass for the three day festival but left after the first day.

Arnold Skolnick: I ended up spending a lot of time on the stage in the back of the stage. Janis Joplin, you know, but I was – so much going on, I never saw so many people 450,000 people. It’s the size of small cities in the United States – it’s incredible.

Then I found out that’s going to rain and it’s going to start to rain next day, which it did. I said, “I got to get out of here.” We got into the Volvo, and I must have damaged 20 cars getting out of the parking lot. It was just it was just madness, you know? And the Volvo can push anything, you know?

Dave Fraser: Most of the work that Skolnick has produced comes with a back story, like his series of books on Maine, or how he helped Ralph Nader design the cover of his book about cars while waiting to see his publisher.

Arnold Skolnick: The publisher came out and said, “Arnold, give us five more minutes. While you are waiting, take a look at these ideas for a book we were doing with Ralph Nader.”

And on the table is ideas about what to do with your bad car. That was it, right? And it was one dumb idea and another, a guy fixing the car, the feet coming out from underneath.

I said, “Just put a lemon on wheels.” And the place froze. Nobody said a word.

And he came out, he says, “Can you repeat that?”

“Put a lemon on wheels.”

“Get Ralph Nader on the phone,” they said.

So, I got Ralph Nader on the phone, and I told him about the idea he says do it.

Dave Fraser: Using a toy truck and a lemon he bought at his local fruit market, Skolnick created the image that helped change our modern vernacular about bad cars.

The stories of the famous Woodstock poster have changed over time, and Skolnick has become somewhat of an Internet legend in the poster making world.

But it was just another job for him and if he had to do it all over again…

Arnold Skolnick: You gave me another assignment to do another one, I couldn’t do it better than that, it just happened to click, you know, and the idea of a poster you should be able to ride by and in a second find out what it’s what it’s about.

You don’t need all the psychedelic nonsense, you know?