Similar to my posts about the nutty/creative houseboats in Sussex and the floathouse in Idaho, today’s subject is entirely the product of its creator’s imagination and the materials at hand. These structures always seem to defy the laws of physics, and certainly defy building codes.
Today’s crazy-looking structure is the brainchild of Woodstock, NY, resident Clarence Schmidt. Perched on the side of the Ohayo Mountain, Schmidt’s House of Mirrors stood 7 stories high and extended in all directions. Featuring 35 distinct spaces (calling them rooms might be overstating it a bit), the house was Schmidt’s lifelong passion. The artist filled the rooms with found objects and string lights and encouraged plants – vines in particular – to grow throughout the space. There were little nooks which served as shrines, some devoted to a combination of random humanoid objects (masks, dolls, and the like) and some honoring Schmidt’s idols, including John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
Schmidt began his young adult life by following his father’s trades of plastering and stone masonry. At the age of 23, he inherited a 5-acre plot of land in Woodstock. About 10 year later, after marrying his cousin Grace (the marriage didn’t last long), Schmidt moved to the property where he would live for the next 40 years. His first art building project was a small wood cabin which he coated in tar and covered with shattered glass and mirrors. He named this house “Journey’s End” and sold it to a collector upon completion. It was around 1948 that he began his work on his iconic House of Mirrors, described as both an art installation and a hoarder’s paradise.
As word spread about his brokedown palace, visitors began to make the trek up the mountain to see the spectacle. But though he was short on cash for most of his life, rather than charging admission, Schmidt instead asked that visitors bring him an object to be incorporated into the house.
Unfortunately, though perhaps not surprisingly, Schmidt’s creation burned to the ground in 1968, when a dead maple branch fell onto its unsafe wiring, setting fire to the highly-flammable structure.
“Everything shot up in flames, and the fire created an aurora borealis that you could see for miles and miles. The 50 and 100 gallons of tar was a mess. It burned for days and days up there.” *
Undaunted, the 71-year-old artist began work on a new structure, using a donated Studebaker station wagon as the structure’s base. After he’d lived in and worked on that structure for a few years, it, too, burned down. This time, Schmidt didn’t have it in him to bounce back. He finally had to leave his beloved mountain for good. After being found sleeping in a doorway in nearby Kingston, NY, the artist was first taken to a psychiatric hospital in Kingston, then moved from nursing home to nursing home. Schmidt died in 1978.
But though the quirky old man died broke and alone, the legend of the Mountain Wizard of Woodstock lives on. I think he would have liked that very much.