Situated on the east bank of the Hudson River in Hyde Park, Dutchess County, Vanderbilt Mansion is a classic example of the Gilded Age country estate in America. The Gilded Age spanned from 1870 to 1900, and was an era characterized by rapid economic growth and wealth accumulation.
Frederick William and Louise Vanderbilt bought the estate in 1895, and expanded and re-modeled the property in the Beaux-Arts architectural style. The interiors are lavishly decorated with European antiques and period reproductions. The estate also includes gardens, designed in the Italian style, and overlooks the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains. Guided tours are offered every day, year round.
119 Vanderbilt Park Road, Hyde Park, NY 12538
For more information and current hours of operation, visit
How Art Is Made: In the Catskills is a collection of interviews with some of the world’s most accomplished artists who live and work in the Catskill Mountains, New York. Five painters and illustrators, two ceramicists and printmakers, one sculptor, one weaver, and one writer discuss what inspires and moves them, what draws them to their medium of choice, what materials they use, how they approach a new artistic project, how they deal with setbacks, and how they celebrate success. Nine are formally trained at prestigious art schools; one is self-taught. What they all have in common is a rigorous studio practice, discipline, and the desire and curiosity to learn new things, and share them with the world.
In December last year The New York Times reported that Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn, two replicas of Daniel Chester French’s original sculptures re-created by Brian Tolle, were installed on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn by the Manhattan Bridge.
Read excerpts from my interview with Mr. Tolle, conducted in November 2015 when we discussed this project among others. Mr. Tolle is one of the artists featured in our upcoming book How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.
Brian Tolle has exhibited his work in galleries, museums, and public spaces around the world. His projects include Skid Rows for the Queens Museum (2005), Witch Catcher at City Hall, New York City (2003), The Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City, New York (2002), Waylay for the Whitney Biennale and the Public Art Fund in Central Park (2002), Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe for Crossing the Line, Queens Museum of Art, New York (2001), and Eureka for Over the Edges in Ghent, Belgium (2000), as well as more recent projects such as Outflow in Calgary, Canada (2015), and Origin at the University of Houston in Texas (2015). Brian’s work emphasizes a formal and iconographic dialog with history and context to produce striking and subtle works that engage the public. Using a variety of media, his works draw themes from the scale and experience of their surroundings, provoking a re-reading by cross-wiring reality and fiction. Brian received his MFA from Yale University, BFA from Parsons School of Design, and his BA from SUNY at Albany. He is currently on the graduate faculty at Parsons School of Design, and is the recipient of the Art Commission of the City of New York Award for Excellence in Design in 2008; the Irish American Historical Society, Irish American Heritage Committee – Irishman of the Year in 2003, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, also in 2003. He is represented by CRG Gallery in New York City. Brian has a studio in the Catskills, in the historic town of Roxbury, Delaware County.
Simona David: Let’s talk about the Manhattan Bridge project, which will be completed soon.
Brian Tolle: It’s eight years in the making. If any of you have been on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge, until very recently it was a very chaotic spot. About ten years ago the City decided to create a green belt across Flatbush Avenue, and created more order there. I was the first to be commissioned to make what we hope to be a series of sculptures that will be introduced along the Avenue in future years. As part of my research, I wanted to understand why it was that on the Manhattan side of the very same bridge there is a more elegant entry, while on the Brooklyn side there was this no man’s land. As it turned out, it wasn’t always the case. There once was a very grand entrance, so grand in fact that included two sculptures, two allegories by Daniel Chester French, who some of you may know sculpted Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, among other noteworthy sculptures. Those two sculptures were removed, and brought to the Brooklyn Museum when Robert Moses, the great power broker, was planning the trans-Manhattan expressway, which would have destroyed what we know as the SoHo neighborhood. On the Manhattan side the historical preservationists were far more organized, and they prevented that from happening there, but on the Brooklyn side they weren’t so organized, and Moses went away, and destroyed this grand plaza. And then the project was halted, and we were left with this mess. In the 1960s Moses saw history and art as an obstruction to progress. And here in the 21st century I am being asked to enhance the neighborhood by bringing art there. It made perfect sense to me that we bring the two ladies back. The two sculptures that Chester French sculpted for the bridge are allegories: one represents Miss Brooklyn, and the other one represents Miss Manhattan. They currently sit on the façade of the Brooklyn Museum which cooperated greatly with us to make this project happen. So I’ve re-created the two sculptures, cast in a beautiful translucent, white acrylic. I’ve set them on top of a pedestal that is 26 feet high – the design is inspired by the footing of the Manhattan Bridge. In fact the base is being painted Manhattan Bridge blue, to make the connection back to the bridge. The two sculptures sit on top of this pedestal, very close together. Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn will dance over Flatbush Avenue because the two figures actually rotate, and they can survey their surrounding area, and gaze into each other’s eyes periodically. And they’re lit at night. I have to say, this entire project is made by crafts people in New York City.
SD: Do you ordinarily work with many crafters to help you materialize your ideas? Is it you who decides what materials should be used, and how to be used? Do you have lots of engaging conversations with these crafters to see your work completed the way you envision it? I know you don’t start a new project with preconceived ideas, but how does it work?
BT: I know what I’m looking for when I see it, but I rely on people who are spending a lot of their time doing certain things, like this man Ovidiu at Colbar – he’s the most remarkable craftsperson, and he’s committed his life to making beautiful things. Once I saw the material, I opened up to learning more about the material, what its capabilities are, what the possibilities are. So, it’s part of this fortification process where the craftsperson is actually teaching me something. The biggest mistake an artist can make is to force people to make something they may know it’s not going to be optimal. My position has always been “speak to the people who know better, let them show you what they can do.” Every instance the project is better than if I had gone ahead with what I thought I had wanted.
SD: When we allow ourselves this kind of freedom, we discover things we couldn’t have imagined before.
BT: Precisely. We make changes until the very end, which is a little nerve-racking for the clients.
SD: You’ve created quite a few public art projects as well as museum and gallery pieces. How do you feel about showing in public spaces as opposed to galleries and museums?
BT: It’s very different. I teach a course at Parsons on public art. We go through the different art movements, let’s say from the 1960s onward when artists who have influenced me like Agnes Denes and Robert Smithson were making art in public spaces by choice. These are people who rejected the gallery system, because they understood that it was commercially driven and in some cases limiting. I came out of school after the economy had collapsed in the late 1980s and well into the 1990s, and graduating even from a place as prestigious as Yale in 1994 there wasn’t a whole lot of hope to get gallery representation. There wasn’t something that we expected. I guess the difference is that when you show in a museum or gallery you have a captive audience – you have people who frequent these places, you have a collector base who supports these places. There is no way of controlling, nor would you want to control the audience in a public space, so you never know who is going to come across a project, and how they might respond to it. In the case of The Irish Hunger Memorial, it’s been a privilege that so many important writers of our time have written about, Simon Schama wrote a piece for The New Yorker magazine, Roberta Smith did a wonderful piece for The New York Times, but Verlyn Klinkenborg, who is on the editorial board of the Times, wrote a beautiful piece, and the most resonant thing he said was that the power of The Irish Hunger Memorial is that it trusts the intelligence of its audience.
Read full interview at https://artinthecatskills.com/2015/11/30/featured-artist-brian-tolle/.
© Simona David
The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, Steuben County, has on display some of the world’s most exquisite glass collections, spanning over thousands of years of history. Glass objects and glassmaking techniques from various parts of the world are showcased in several different galleries. A gallery dedicated to Glass in America includes early and rare artistic and decorative pieces. Glassmaking is considered to be the country’s first industry: it started with a glass workshop in Virginia in 1608.
A new wing, dedicated to Contemporary Art and Design, opened at the Corning Museum in 2015 in a newly designed 26,000 square foot modern building shaped like a large white box. A GlassApp, including videos, photographs, and artists’ bios, also launched in 2015 to enhance visitor experience. Demonstrations and workshops as well as lectures and other events are offered from time to time.
Two new exhibitions are on view at the museum this summer: Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Glass Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, which will remain on view through January 8, 2017, and Revealing the Invisible: The History of Glass and the Microscope, on view through March 19, 2017.
Earlier this summer I spoke with Dr. Marvin Bolt, Curator of Science and Technology at the Corning Museum of Glass. Dr. Bolt’s job is to enhance the museum’s science and technology-based collections and exhibits, and to interpret the information for diverse audiences, from schoolchildren to working scientists. Dr. Bolt holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, and is a specialist in telescopes.
Click to hear my interview with Dr. Bolt.
To learn more about the Corning Museum of Glass, visit
© 2016 Simona David
Fenimore Art Museum is located in a monumental Neo-Georgian (also known as Neo-Colonial) mansion built in the 1930s on the shores of the Otsego Lake in Cooperstown. It was built on the site of James Fenimore Cooper’s 19th century farmhouse. The town itself was founded by Cooper’s father, Judge William Cooper. Cooper is best known for the Leatherstocking series, which includes novels such as The Pioneers (1823) and The Last of the Mohicans (1826).
Fenimore Art Museum, operated by the New York State Historical Association, hosts permanent American fine and folk art collections, and includes works by Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, and other American artists. The building and some of its most important collections were donated by Stephen C. Clark, a collector and benefactor, who also founded the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On May 23 this year I spoke with curator Christine Rossi, and talked about two temporary exhibitions on view at Fenimore Art Museum this summer: The Perfection of Harmony: The Art of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (on view through October 2) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris (on view through September 5). Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris is from the collection of Herakleidon Museum in Athens, Greece, and includes an array of sketches, drawings, books, albums, and original posters made by Toulouse-Lautrec in the late 1800s. The exhibition also includes costumes from The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, used in various productions of La Bohème, a story representative of La Belle Époque
Click link below to listen to my conversation with Christine Rossi:
For more information about Fenimore Art Museum, and current hours of operation, visit http://www.fenimoreartmuseum.org.
© 2016 Simona David
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris opens at Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown;
- The Woodstock – New Paltz Memorial Day Arts and Crafts Fair takes place at the Ulster County Fairgrounds;
- And Grammy award-winning musician Jon Cleary and the Monster Gentlemen perform at the West Kortright Centre in East Meredith.
Read more at Upstater.com.