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Woodstock Peacefence: A Legacy Of Brotherly Love
The Alexy family takes the green-era term "reduce, reuse, recycle" to a new level in fashion with their authentic line of PeaceFence.com peace signs
Published on August 04, 2009
by Beth Ann Hilton
PeaceFence.com - Peace Signs Cut from the original Woodstock Fence
The very fence that couldn’t keep the love out of Woodstock ‘69 now binds the Bethel, NY-based Alexy family together in spirit, as their unique line of accessories formed from the original Woodstock chain link fence continues the legacy of PeaceFence.com founder James Alexy.
In 1969, the organizers of Woodstock realized the fences they had constructed around the Woodstock concert site on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, NY, couldn’t possibly control the exuberant crowds they had attracted. They made the radical decision to make Woodstock a free concert. The announcement was made, the gates opened wide, and the fence became unnecessary.
When the 400,000-plus concert goers dispersed after three days of peace, love and music, lengths of fencing were left behind. Soon after, a thrifty local farmer picked it up to contain livestock on his property, blind to its historical significance. In the 1980s, that farmer and the fence were both still intact when young James Alexy crossed their paths. James—enamored with the era even though he was born in 1969—had begun collecting Woodstock photos from local folks. He eventually met the farmer and a vision emerged: to share bits of the fence with others as collectible art and jewelry. He acquired the fence and two of the gates, and PeaceFence.com was founded as a family project. After James’ untimely death in 1999, the family of artisans decided to keep the project going in his honor. Sadly, James’ younger brother Jeremiah never fully recovered from grieving the loss of his brother, and also died in 2008.
Cornelius Alexy—father of James, Jeremiah, Joseph and Elizabeth—lives just a mile or so from the original concert site with his wife, Sharon. Explaining the process James created, he says “We cut a bit of the fence, bend it, then shape and weld it into the desired shape, which is followed by a finishing process. To us, each one is a work of art. We don’t make a living at it; this is just our own way of honoring our sons’ memories.”
Amidst the mass merchandising of Woodstock, the peace sign, and The Summer of Love (see Target’s massive storewide promotion), PeaceFence.com accessories truly stand out as one of the only authentic tokens of the original concert. Each comes with a notarized certificate of authenticity, and both everyday fans and celebrities are collecting the items. Alexy says sales of the necklaces and key chains jumped during the hullabaloo surrounding the 25th and 30th anniversaries, and orders are on the rise in anticipation of 40th Anniversary tours and tribute concerts around the world starting in August 2009 and continuing through the rest of the year. Alexy says that while he has a “good bit of fence” left, the supply is definitely limited.
Owners of PeaceFence.com items say they make for interesting conversation pieces, as it is unique to wear authentic memorabilia to the events. Several recent New York governors are proud owners of the peace signs, as are numerous authors, musicians and artists.
“My Peace Sign Pendant was given to me as a gift and is one of my most prized possessions,” says Joanne Hague, co-author of Woodstock Peace, Music & Memories: Three History-Making Days in '69, which was recently featured on Good Morning America.
“Today it's usual to buy some remembrance of the concerts we've attended, but merchandising for Woodstock '69 was virtually non-existent. There are the posters, programs and tickets available from that 40 year old event, most just copies, and originals are very high priced IF you are lucky enough to find one, but to own a piece of the fence... a piece of history... something you can wear or carry with you... something that has its own ‘story’... is truly a remarkable, unique piece of ‘Woodstock’ for anyone's collection.”
As many who have made the pilgrimage to Bethel, NY already know, the concert site is now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the Museum at Bethel Woods, which opened in June 2008. In an interesting twist, the museum accepted the Alexy family’s 10-year loan of an original Woodstock gate to show in its exhibits, but declined to sell PeaceFence.com items in their gift shop, reasoning that the necklaces are original artifacts that a museum store should not sell.
While that underscores PeaceFence.com’s authenticity, Alexy’s customers clearly disagree, as witnessed by their enthusiastic feedback sent to the PeaceFence.com website, which sells directly to consumers. In fact, the “Mother of Woodstock” Lisa Law-- author of “Flashing on the Sixties” and “Interviews with Icons” – says she proudly wears her PeaceFence.com peace sign. In her own words, “The peace sign that Roger gifted me is quite the conversation piece. Every time I wear it people tell me how they like it and when I tell them that it was made from the fence around the original Woodstock in 1969 they are even more intrigued. Then the conversation turns to the fact that I helped feed 200,000 people at Woodstock with the Hog Farmers and Wavy Gravy…The most recent time I proudly wore it was at the Rainbow Gathering in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. It is a great and most appropriate symbol of the times.”
Law’s sentiments were seconded by another happy customer from Dallas, TX, who wrote, “The Peace Sign is one of the most enduring symbols of the 1960s. The pendants—made from the fencing that surrounded the Woodstock Music and Art Fair—embody the spirit of an extraordinary generation. Each is a one-of-a-kind keepsake…a sacred artifact that transports us back in time to those three memorable days of peace and music some 40 years ago on Yasgur’s Farm. Woodstock was a happening…a piece of Americana that never will be duplicated. Carry a magical piece of history and share the vibe of the Woodstock generation.”
The Alexy family has enjoyed supporting the memory of Woodstock throughout the years, but nothing is as meaningful as knowing that their son and brother James’ art and vision will live on with every PeaceFence.com item sold. Today, the fence truly serves us the way James envisioned: it brings people together instead of keeping them apart. (www.PeaceFence.com)