Reviews

“We see how these artists, building on our region’s strong cultural history, enrich us for generations to come. As America’s first wilderness, and birthplace of the Hudson River School of Art, the Catskills have taught America how to value and appreciate the nature that is part of the fiber of our nation.” – Jeff Senterman, Executive Director, The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development

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“By embedding herself in the studios and workshops where artists create in the Catskills, Simona David lends us rare insight into how their original perspectives are re-shaping our rural neighborhoods for the better.” – Bradley Diuguid, Executive Director, Catskill Art Society 

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“This book is a treasure. Simply put—Simona David guides the reader through an intimate immersion into one of America’s most stunning, and creative regions. I felt transported from my living room chair via her in-depth discussions with a constellation of innovative minds. An inspiring read for not only New York residents, but also certainly creative types, or anyone who appreciates authentic, refined self-expression. Just for starters, this book is a must for any budding artist to gain a sense of what it means to live and generate a creative life in the professional sense. Each chapter provides the ultimate eavesdrop to each individual; their medium, what inspires them, and a peek into their background as it leads to the present. These elements blend together to illuminate the vibrant, and historical legacy of the celebrated New York Catskill creative landscape.  No doubt, this book is destined to inspire extended vacation visits from anyone who settles into its pages. Bottom line: the reader will absorb fascinating details of what it’s like to live an artistic life in a bucolic environment– and feel deeply inspired themselves–simultaneously. Thank you, Simona David, for engaging the visions of these Catskill  New York luminaries. Each story generates a unique beauty and life force thanks to a talented author driven by her own gifts of writing, communication, and research.” – Bonnie Lykes, Program Host, WIOX Roxbury

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“The role of place in the life of an artist is one of vital importance. While it’s true that an artist can create art anywhere and under a multitude of conditions—consider, for instance, that John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was written from jail—it remains that some of the most effective works of art make grand statements about the time and place in which they were written. Would Georgia O’Keefe have become as iconic of an artist if she had never left New York to spend time in New Mexico? How would we remember Henry David Thoreau if it were not for Walden Pond in Massachusetts? If Jack Kerouac hadn’t criss-crossed America and written “On the Road,” would he still have inspired a generation? Continuing the grand tradition of exploring the connection between place and art, Simona David’s “How Art Is Made in the Catskills” uncovers the artistic history of the Catskills and delves into the lives and work of ten contemporary artists of different persuasions—one writer, one sculptor, one weaver, two ceramicists and printmakers, and five painters and illustrators—working in the beautiful mountains of New York.

David opens “How Art Is Made in the Catskills” by contextualizing contemporary art in the region through a brief history of the Catskills’ renowned artists, art movements, and events. The history spans the incredible paintings of the Hudson River School, founded by Thomas Cole in 1825, to that infamous music festival Woodstock in 1969—and beyond. She shows how the New York area shaped and was shaped by its inhabitant and those who flocked to the region. As David writes, “There is a tradition in the Catskill Mountains for artists to work together to tackle new approaches in style and composition, or to simply be inspired by the same majestic views.”

Here, readers can discover that what David refers to as “one of the most prominent edifices as you come into town going north” in Roxbury—a town in the Catskills—is the studio of sculptor Brian Tolle, best-known for “The Irish Hunger Memorial” in Battery Park City. In the chapter featuring Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen, we learn that the artists met in a Boston airport, married three years later, and lived in New York City, where they worked as printmakers—until they moved to the Catskills after 9/11 and became ceramicists. Weaver Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes, who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and the Center for Tapestry Arts in New York City, talks about how being part of the Catskill Mountains Artisan Guild is important to her life as an artist. Throughout the book, the reader gains a sense of the unique artistic spirit thriving in the Catskills.

A radio host on WIOX Roxbury, NY, David has championed the arts, producing interviews with visual artists and writers (caveat: she has interviewed me several times for her program). She brings her thoughtful interview approach to the literary page in “How Art Is Made in the Catskills,” allowing the reader into the minds and worlds of painter Margaret Leveson; painter Adam Cohen; sculptor Brian Tolle; painter Lisbeth Firmin; ceramicists and printmakers Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen; illustrator Didier Crémieux; painter Molly Rausch; weaver Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes; and writer Leslie T. Sharpe.

David is the type of interviewer who does her homework. She arms herself with a clear understanding of the artist and what critics have reported, which leads to deeper questions. For instance, when Adam Cohen mentions critic Carter Ratcliff’s appraisal of his work, David rejoins with a quote: “You mentioned Carter Ratcliff before. He wrote a beautiful essay about your work. ‘A painting by Adam Cohen is like a sudden burst of light,’ he said.” The result is that Cohen reveals: “It felt like he was right there in the room with me, but he’s never been there. He interviewed me, but he was never there.” While David mainly acts as a removed interviewer, letting the artists shine in the interview, she occasionally offers up gems of her own, such as: “The artist starts with a blank canvas, and keeps adding on it. The viewer sees the final product, and strives to understand the artistic process that had led to that kind of accomplishment.”

Simona David’s “How Art Is Made in the Catskills” is essential reading for art lovers of the Catskills and artists seeking inspiration for community.” – Stephanie Nikolopoulos, writer

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“The Catskills, America’s first great wilderness, has also been a place where nature has inspired artists and writers to create. In the early 1800s, Thomas Cole, and the Hudson River school of painting, celebrated the Catskills’ rugged heights and steep cloves, which astounded early European settlers. Washington Irving, that singer of Catskill tales and chronicler of local legends, portrayed the magic and mystery of these hills in his fiction, which featured the companionable ghosts of Henry Hudson’s lost crew. John Burroughs, later in the nineteenth century, essentially invented the nature-writing genre, with his close observations of Catskill wildlife. And in more recent times, the village of Woodstock became synonymous with innovative art and counterculture celebrations. In the twenty-first century, Catskills’ cultural life sparkles with the Woodstock Film Festival, the Woodstock Writers Festival, and the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice.

Today, the Catskills are perhaps at the apex of its long-standing creative life. Writer and local cultural historian Simona David, who knows the art and artists of the Catskills better than anyone living there today, has captured, in her new book, HOW ART IS MADE IN THE CATSKILLS, this extraordinary creativity and the connection between art and place.

First, Ms. David is incredibly knowledgeable about art in all of its forms, from weaving to writing. The artists profiled in these interviews are diverse, and each world class, all of whom live and work in the Catskill region. These include five painters and illustrators, two ceramicists and printmakers, one sculptor, one weaver and one writer. Ms. David is also world class, as an interviewer. She displays a rare knowledge of each of these genres and her questions penetrate to the individual artists’ inspiration and passion for their work, as well as their process and techniques. In short, she asks the questions that YOU would want to ask these artists yourself. At the same time, Ms. David manages to reveal these working Catskill creators as eminently human, and gives us insights into their individual and unique relationship with the Catskill Mountains. When Simona interviews you—as she has me, for this volume, as well as for the estimable Catskills culture radio show she formerly hosted on WIOX, Roxbury, NY—she makes you go below the surface, with the result that you often learn something about your own process, as an artist, that you didn’t know before.

HOW ART IS MADE IN THE CATSKILLS is as much a treasure of these mountains as the artists profiled here. Ms. David has an extraordinary commitment to the Catskill region. As President of Writers in the Mountains (WIM), she has helped create a community for artists to gather, while drawing in new writers of every sort through WIM’s offerings of outstanding writing courses. Simona David herself is a true treasure of the Catskill Mountains.” – Leslie T. Sharpe, writer

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“I was lucky enough to read this on a beach on beautiful Sanibel Island in Florida. When I’m away from the Catskills I miss it deeply and this book transported me deep into my beloved mountains. For those of us with untrained artistic sensibility understanding the artistic process and our relationships to these themes is very life affirming. A sense of “I should try that” sweeps over you. This book brought that out for me. The author wisely chose her artisans and asked keen questions. I would have liked to hear more from them on why the Catskills, but when you put the book down, feeling energized and deeply ready to tackle something creative, you deeply understand why the old-souls have flocked there since the beginning of time. For people anywhere who treasure a sense of place a great little book – perfect for artisans and art lovers alike.” – Frank Carbone, writer and trader

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“I read your book and loved it! I especially liked the way your introduction put the art scene in the Catskills in context and led so naturally to the artists you profiled. I wasn’t familiar with most of your choices so it was a pleasure to ‘meet’ them. I’m hoping I can see some of their works in person soon.” – Donald Dales, entrepreneur

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“How Art Is Made In The Catskills” tackles the mystery of the creative process, through striking portraits of ten talented and determined artists, including painters, sculptors, a weaver, a ceramicist, an illustrator and a writer, some with international reputations, who live and work in the Catskill Mountains. The author, Simona David, an ardent researcher and skillful interviewer, zooms in on each artist with respect, sensitivity and intelligence, eliciting unique and fascinating observations on making art. David elucidates, through her own genuine curiosity about how art gets made, the spark behind each artist’s plunge into his or her work. A vibrant read and a worthy tribute to a region teeming with creative vitality. – Sharon Israel, poet

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“If you want to know what makes the Catskills such a cauldron of creation, read this book. The author opens with an overview of the Catskills rich tradition of arts then, through a series of in-depth interviews, immerses the reader in the lives of imminent artists fueling the local cultural scene. The explorative dialogue in Q/A format delves deeply into the influences that drew each artist to the Catskills and what drives their creative process.” – Anne Hersh