Art is at home in the Catskill Mountains. A tradition started by Thomas Cole and his disciples in the early 1800s has transformed the area into a place for pilgrimage where artists from all over the world come to create and be inspired. An influx of creatives moving out of Brooklyn in recent years has infused the area with energy and spearheaded the emergence of new projects and initiatives to create and show new works by artists at various levels in their careers and working in all disciplines.
AMR Artists, a newly formed artist coalition affiliated with the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour, which takes place every year the last weekend in July, has stepped up to the plate to offer new opportunities for artists. According to its mission statement, “The AMR Artists Coalition supports a vibrant cultural life for our community by promoting and advocating on behalf of the area’s artists and cultural institutions. The Coalition recognizes that a creative environment is an essential component of energetic civic life and sustained economic growth in the community.” The group’s motto is a quote by Albert Einstein: “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”
Launched in 2012, AMR Open Art Studios Tour has grown into a major cultural attraction, as art tours have become more and more common all over the country. Studio visits trigger questions that aren’t often asked in formal settings such as galleries and museums, and allow for a more intimate interaction with the art work. As art historian George Philip LeBourdais eloquently articulated in a piece for Artsy magazine, “The studio is where strange magic happens, as much for the artist’s imagination as for the public’s. It’s the conjuring place of new concepts, styles, or forms. Sometimes it even comes to be seen as sacred, a place where visitors become pilgrims to the altar of art.”
AMR (Andes – Margaretville – Roxbury) Open Studios Tour 2019 will take place Saturday and Sunday, July 27 – 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with close to thirty participating artists and artisans working in all disciplines – painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, ceramicists, furniture designers and textile artists. Located in a bucolic scenery, all studios will provide unique experiences for visitors to explore the area and learn directly from the artists.
Participating artists this year include: Lisbeth Firmin, Ellen Wong, Gail Freund, Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes, Gerda Van Leeuwen, Peter Yamaoka, Margaret Leveson, Helene Manzo, Frank Manzo, Gary Mayer, Gary Mead, Rosamond Welchman, and others.
Gail Freund, a new artist affiliated with the group, moved to the area in 2016 after having worked in New York City for over forty years in the fields of illustration, theater and jewelry. Formally trained at the Parsons School of Design, Freund has always drawn and painted. However, after moving to the Catskills, she became fully immersed into studying and depicting trees the likes of which she hadn’t quite seen while living in Manhattan. Her life in the Catskills allows far more time for studying and drawing nature scenes, she explains. Her approach is simple and direct.
The artist works in three disciplines: ink on paper, embroidery, and book art. Asked about her drawings, Freund explains: “I had to start somewhere, and ink on paper seemed simple and an easy way to get back into drawing.” The landscapes, all in black and white, are an invitation for the viewer to imagine a larger context than the one strictly depicted by the artist. Some of these are currently part of a show at the Catskill Watershed Corporation in Margaretville paradoxically called “Local Color: In Black and White.” The show will remain on view through July 5.
In 2017 Freund joined a group called Catskilled Crafters led by Wendy Brackman to create a project called The Ties That Bind, cutting and sewing together pieces of old ties donated by the community. The group created a piece called Big Daddy, currently on display at the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore in the Father Room as part of an exhibit called Parenting: An Art without a Manual, which will remain on view through September 1. NPR recently did a story on this, which ran on Father’s Day. The group sewed 1,462 hexagons into a nine-foot striped tie made out of hundreds of men’s ties and one wool suit. Brackman, who spearheaded the project, explains: “My dad was a bit of a dandy. He shaved every day, he looked good, he put himself together with his collar and wide ties.” Brackman is known as a performance artist (“Wacky Wendy”), as well as paper milliner (“Wacky Hat”).
Freund’s embroidery has gained attention due to its quirkiness and bold colors, but also extreme precision. Fascinated by road signs, the artist managed to capture some of the more vivid ones in a series shown recently at various locations throughout the area. One of these embroideries has received an award at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM) Spring Show, marking WAAM’s centennial. Asked about her interest in embroidery, the artist explains that she was looking for the perfect excuse to slow down and meditate, and that came in the form of making embroidery.
This year Freund is also working with a group of book artists led by Hedi Kyle to create fabric books, a multi-disciplinary project that will be shown in 2020. All artists are being given the same theme and size of the project, but each approach will be different. Kyle, who is coordinating the project, is a book conservator and educator, and co-founder of the Book Preservation Center at the New York Botanical Garden. As head conservator at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and as an adjunct professor in the Graduate Program for Book Arts and Printmaking at the University of the Arts, Kyle had trained and mentored a generation of conservators and book artists. The oldest artist in this group is Polly Vos, who is 94.
Freund will be showing her works during the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour, sharing studio space with painter Deborah Ruggerio. Ruggerio’s studio is located at 54096 State Highway 30 in Roxbury.
Landscape painter Ellen Wong has participated in the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour every year since it launched in 2012; she describes the experience as a positive one, and a great opportunity to show and talk about the setting where her art comes to life. Wong has been painting the Catskills since the 1970s, when she opened her studio in Roxbury. Initially trained as an abstract painter, she discovered that what she really wanted to do was landscape: “I noticed that every time I went somewhere I always brought with me my watercolors, and I always sketched where I was; somehow that’s how I got to understand, absorb or take in a new environment – I felt very sensitive to place,” she explains. “Does the world need another landscape?” she muses, but then she adds: “I can’t help it.”
The recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Wong studied in the Art Department at Brooklyn College with Philip Pearlstein, known for reviving realist figurative painting in the 1960s. Pearlstein’s departure from Abstract Expressionism back then made him a renegade in the art world. It’s that kind of artistic sensibility and daring attitude that Wong had learned from Pearlstein.
Capturing the beauty of the environment but also the ordinary and the banal turns her experiences into markers for posterity. “I want to have a signature,” Wong explains. I want people to say “Oh, that’s Ellen Wong,” whenever they see my paintings. I like to ask deep questions, not necessarily seeking answers, but just asking questions that lead me to a path of my own. “I’d like to go deeper. Does painting the environment, water, for instance, which is life in my paintings, lead one to think of Flint, Michigan, for instance?”
Wong follows a dictum by Lois Dodd: “paint where you are.” That leads the artist to creating a space uniquely hers. She now reads Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art, a book by Mary Gabriel that chronicles the lives of these women not as muses but as artists themselves. Ninth Street is a block away from where Wong herself lives in New York City. She reflects on how abstract expressionism was a revolt against portraiture and landscape. But changes in society always call for a different language.
Wong’s studio, which will be open during the AMR Open Art Studios Tour, is located at 121 Shephard Lane in Roxbury.
New this year, the AMR Art Tour is partnering with Studio 190 in Walton to show works by artists affiliated with this group as part of the two-day event. Studio 190 is a collaborative art program within The Arc of Delaware County, encouraging self-expression, exploration, creativity and teamwork, and providing support for artists to work in a professional studio, equipped with all the necessary tools and guidance from visiting artists.
Leah Schmidt, the program coordinator, explains that up to 35 artists have been taking part in this program so far. They work in different disciplines, although painting is the predominant activity. Some of the artists attend the program every day, while others participate in only one block per week, depending on their skills and dedication, although the most important achievement is to maintain a level of enjoyment so that all the participants have a meaningful experience.
Since 2017 the program has continued to grow under the guidance of art consultants and accomplished artists and educators such as Alan Powell, who have been working with Studio 190 to help branch out more into the community and ensure recognition for the art created in the studio. Under Powell’s guidance the group created the “Selfie” project inviting each participant’s creativity into portraying their own vision of how they see themselves and making personalized works that then can be shared with the community. The project is documented through the group’s Instagram feed as well as its website.
The “Selfie” project as well as other works will be shown during the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour on Saturday and Sunday, July 27 – 28 at the Community Church located at 904 Main Street in Fleischmanns.
The AMR – Andes, Margaretville, Roxbury – Open Studios Tour 2019 is funded by the Delaware County Department of Economic Development – Tourism Advisory Board, and the A. Lindsay and Olive B. O’Connor Foundation, and by 28 participating artists and 44 community business sponsors. Additional community support comes from the Longyear Gallery (Margaretville) and the MARK Project (Arkville).
© 2019 Simona David
Look for Catskill Tri-County Historical Views’ latest issue (June 2019) to read about Art in the Catskills and other cultural projects as well as the history of the region.
Learn about “How Art Is Made: In The Catskills,” reviewed by Leslie T. Sharpe, “Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art,” reviewed by Elizabeth B. Jacks, “Mohonk and the Smileys: A National Historic Landmark and the Family That Created It,” reviewed by Chris Pryslopski, and other topics of interest.
You may find the magazine at Roxbury General Store, Delaware County Historical Association, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and other places.
Liberal Arts Roxbury (LAR), a newly opened art gallery downtown Roxbury, is hosting Cy Wagner: Black Lines & Quadrants, a solo art show dedicated to local painter Cy Wagner (1926 – 2016), who spent the last two decades of his life exploring various artistic subjects and styles, ranging from still life to Pop art and geometric abstraction. Wagner, an architect and urban planner, drew inspiration from the works of Rauschenberg and other abstract painters, and produced a significant number of acrylics and drawings which he grouped in thematic series, like the two currently on view at LAR. These are works produced in the late 1980s – early 1990s, after Wagner retired from the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington D.C., and began commuting between New York City and Roxbury, in the Catskill Mountains.
Cy Wagner: Black Lines & Quadrants is the first gallery exhibition of Wagner’s work. The show, which includes around two dozen large acrylic paintings as well as drawings (some of whom already sold), will remain on view through mid-June. Liberal Arts Roxbury is open Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm, and by appointment. The gallery is located at 53525 State Hwy 30 in Roxbury, NY, the site of the former Orphic Gallery.
To learn more about the show, visit https://www.liberalartsroxbury.com/.
To learn more about the artist, visit https://www.cyrushenrywagner.com/.
The Commons Building has become an important art hub for the communities in and around Middletown in Delaware County. Founded in 2007 as an artist-run cooperative, Longyear Gallery has hosted numerous solo and group shows in a 1,275 sq ft space located on the second floor. In the summer of 2016, the gallery took over a larger and better illuminated 1,425 sq ft space located on the first floor, divided into two separate rooms. Close to a hundred pieces by eighty artists were recently shown in a multi-media art exhibition titled “Artists Choose Artists,” which included works by landscape painters Ellen Wong and Kevin David Palfreyman, both influenced by the Hudson River School of Painting, poet and abstract painter Andrew Tully, ceramicist Peter Yamaoka, and photographers Frank Manzo and Helene Levine-Keating.
In the space left vacant by Longyear Gallery on the second floor, another gallery opened in recent months simply called Upstairs at the Commons. The space is available for rent to individual artists and groups in search of new possibilities to show their works. The space is currently rented by AMR Artists, an artist coalition affiliated with the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studio Tour, which takes place every year the last weekend in July. The group uses as its motto a quote by Albert Einstein: “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”
The Spring Show hosted by the AMR Artists, which opens on April 19 and remains on view through May 13, will include works by twenty participants working in different disciplines: painting, monotypes, photography, tapestry, installation, and even jewelry.
Urban realist painter and printmaker Lisbeth Firmin, an artist whose studio is in fact located in the Commons Building, will be showing new monotypes produced under the influence of Scuola Internationale di Grafica in Venice where Firmin was a resident in 2017. For over four decades Firmin’s work has been in hundreds of solo and group shows across the country and internationally, and finds itself in numerous private art collections. “My urban landscapes follow in the tradition of earlier realists such as John Sloan and Edward Hopper, depicting today’s modern life in the streets, while reflecting modern themes of isolation and disconnection,” she explains. Firmin, who was the cover artist for the 2008 spring issue of Epoch, Cornell University’s literary magazine, and was the featured artist in the 2008 summer issue of the Gettysburg Review, often shows her work throughout New York State and North Carolina, as well as at Rice Polak Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Hedi Kyle is a book conservator and educator, and co-founder of the Book Preservation Center at the New York Botanical Garden. She is also co-author of Library Materials Preservation Manual, one of the first books on library preservation techniques. As head conservator at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and as an adjunct professor in the Graduate Program for Book Arts and Printmaking at the University of the Arts, Kyle had trained and mentored a generation of conservators and book artists. Since moving to the Catskill Mountains, she continued to experiment with materials and seek beauty in the form of book installations. “My work is usually based on paper which I transform by folding it into book structures and three-dimensional objects. Since my retirement as a book conservator and teacher my move to the Catskills has overwhelmed me with new impressions and motivated me to experiment with other materials such as clay and fabrics,” she says. During the AMR Spring Show, Kyle will be showing a ceramic piece called Fragilo I, as part of a series that she is working on under the guidance of Michael Boyer at the Pine Hill Community Center. She continues to work on drawings and prints as well – these will be exhibited during the monthly member shows at Longyear Gallery.
Deborah Ruggerio, a new artist affiliated with the group, has been in the area for about three years. In 2018 she built her studio in Roxbury’s Historic District, and opened it to the public for the first time as part of the AMR Open Art Studio Tour last summer. Ruggerio, who also serves on the Planning Committee for the tour and had taught art in New Jersey for decades, has painted all her life, but has been particularly moved by the Catskill Mountains’ scenery and the ephemerality of all things in nature ever since she moved to the area. As a landscape painter, she often sketches in nature, but finishes the work in the studio. “Color creates emotions,” Ruggerio says, as she always tries to select a color palette that she believes captures the essence of the environment in the moment, whether be a fall or a winter scenery. In the Spring Show, Ruggerio will exhibit two recent pieces: “Rock Bridge on Lower Meeker” (oil on canvas, 18” x 24”, 2018), and “View from the Johansson’s Bridge” (watercolor, 9” x 12”, 2018); the second one was part of the Greene County Council on the Arts Holiday Show this past winter.
Another new artist affiliated with the group, Charlene McLaughlin, has moved to the area full-time four years ago, after being a second homeowner for decades. McLaughlin is an accomplished still life and nature photographer and designer who has exhibited in numerous group shows and has done event photography. Her favorite subject matter are tulips, which she says are extremely evocative. She likes to capture them either in nature or in compositions re-created in the studio.
McLaughlin bought her first camera, a Nikon EM, when she was 18-year-old, and never stopped photographing. She first learned to work on film, mastering the exposure and the demands of high-quality printing. Later on, she transitioned to digital, which she says offers instant gratification but can also lead to overshooting, conducive to spending more time to discern what is worth keeping. Although for the most part she is self-taught, McLaughlin did take classes at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Her favorite photographers are Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson; Adams is known for his spectacular nature photographs, particularly taken at the Yosemite National Park, while Cartier-Bresson is known for pioneering street photography, and has been labeled a humanist photographer.
In the Spring Show, McLaughlin will be showing two landscape photographs: “Road to Windham” and “Spring Snow”, both 13” x 19”, taken with a Nikon D700 camera.
Textile artist and artisan Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes is a founding member of the AMR Art Tour, and has served as a tour coordinator until recently. Trained at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and the Center for Tapestry Arts in New York City, Gilmore-Barnes designs both functional and aesthetic products using traditional American patterns. Her work can be seen in museums and gallery exhibits, and at various arts and crafts fairs throughout the region. “Weaving is one of the oldest forms of a blend of art and function. The techniques of twisting fibers to make them stronger and durable started out probably in the earliest times of mankind history. From those twisted fibers men and women learned to do basketry, learned to create fabric, and also to use it for decoration.” In the Spring Show, she will exhibit four pieces which include “Maple Tree & Stone Wall” (a/k/a The Catskills), a woodblock print done at SUNY New Platz’s Printmaking Design Class, and “Snow Scene,” a tapestry that won the Fence Art Show Award from the Brooklyn Museum in 1980.
An opening reception will be hosted on April 27 from 3 to 6 pm. The Commons Building is located at 785 Main Street, Margaretville, NY.
© Simona David
A lot has been written about the role of museums in the 21st century when collections can be seen and learned about in virtual galleries rather than taking the trip.
Traditionally, museums have played the role of research and educational institutions, not just as mere collectors and guardians of cultural artifacts. They have also been economic engines, strengthening local business climates through cultural tourism. The museum giftshops are amongst the most meaningful and artful shopping experiences that can capture wider and wider audiences. In recent years museums have begun playing a social and community function as well by offering services otherwise outside the scope of their mission, such as hosting training programs and other events. By visiting MoMA nowadays you can enjoy not just modern art, but also culinary art at its finest: the museum’s restaurant The Modern, which overlooks The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, has gotten a great review in The New York Times, Art on the Walls and on the Plates, as well as in the New York Magazine, Modern Love. At the Corning Museum of Glass you will not only explore thousands of years of glass history, but you will also learn to make glass yourself. At the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, upstate New York, you will be taught to print holiday cards, make lavender and rose water, and other 19th century activities, not just be told about them. Actors enacting different periods of time may also be on site, making it a “living” history experience to remember. In recent years holograms have emerged as a new way of experiencing a visit to a museum, understanding its artifacts, and be part of something you will never forget, as exemplified in an article for Gizmodo magazine.
Museums are community assets, and an integral part of the social fabric of our communities. According to Ford W. Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums from 2007 to 2015, as quoted in a 2013 interview with CNN, “Museums hold more than 1 billion objects, and together these constitute our shared heritages cultural, historic, scientific, natural. As the keepers, protectors, interpreters and exhibitors of these heritages, museums play an essential role. In recent years, museums are playing perhaps an even more essential role, but one that is less tangible. In an increasingly virtual world, museums are among the last bastions of authenticity.”
How do museums remain relevant in the 21st century? In 2013 Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale, two scholars and museum professionals, published a book titled Creativity in Museum Practice, replete with creativity exercises and stories from the field as a guide to developing an internal culture of creative learning in museums, and delivering an increased value to museum visitors. Creative leaders are looking for interactive programs, love to improvise, engage the community in conversations, and take risks.
There is a project underway called #FutureMuseum Project which explores this very question: how will museums of the future look like? According to Oliver Vicars-Harris, director at Connecting Culture, a museum consultancy based in London, “Museum curatorship will have evolved beyond preoccupation with preserving and presenting collections, to propensity for encouraging connections. A genuine two-way relationship will exist, with the audience given agency to drive the agenda. The distance between past and present will be reduced, with history providing meaning. The division between high and low art will be dissolved, with heritage providing contrast to popular culture.” The museums of the future will provide context to contemporary events. This is just one point of view. You can add your voice to the conversation by submitting your opinion to email@example.com.
Some of the best museum experiences are the ones we go to not just to learn, but also to socialize and converse. A visit to a museum will not only satisfy our curiosity, but it will also benefit our social life. It is by far more stimulating to gaze at a work of art with a friend, and muse over its meaning or aesthetic value, rather than doing it alone (although that has its own merit, especially for researchers and critics). Younger generations are increasingly driven by experiences rather than purchasing tangible goods: they prefer “collecting” memorable moments to physical objects. Museums, large and small, can benefit from this trend by offering “instagrammable” experiences to engage millennials, and making it part of their brand.
Among innovators, one can certainly name Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which has recently introduced a program called The Art Hive that brings together art and well-being. The aim of the project is to form “a creative studio supervised by an art therapist, with art materials provided free of charge.” This will be a space “where participants can meet to discuss, participate or exhibit.” As a step further, as outlined in an article for Quartz magazine, doctors in Montreal will prescribe visits to the art museum.
You may be accustomed to visiting art, history and science museums, but in recent years museology has expanded to include for instance a National Language Museum, which opened in Washington DC in 2008, and currently operates only as a virtual museum, although some of its exhibits are available for loans; or the National Museum of Mathematics, which opened in New York City in 2012, and whose exhibits include seeing math as everyday experiences, news from the world of mathematics, but also more fun and playful activities such as using math symbols to create quirky logos, and other math inspired games.
It will be fascinating to see what the future brings in museum practice, and how the makers, collectors, curators, preservationists, and educators will transform visitor experience in the years to come.
© Simona David
“How Art Is Made: In the Catskills” is on sale throughout the holiday season. Shop by Dec. 31 and save a little over 10% (pay $16.99 instead of $18.99).