Tag: Jay Gould

Pandemic Art – Heartfelt Stories from The Catskills

by Simona David

“I have a feeling that in art the need to understand and the need to communicate are one,” remarked Hedda Sterne, revered Surrealist painter. 

Coming out of a 14-month once in a century pandemic, we take a moment to reflect on this monumental experience and make sense of the changes we have witnessed around us thus far.

Artists have extraordinary perceptual abilities, an attribute that Marshall McLuhan referred to as “integral awareness,” something that will guide us through the process of re-gaining meaning in a post-pandemic world. Societal forces play their role as well in influencing the artistic product from idea to execution and reception of the artwork in the field as the artist and his or her social surroundings are interdependent.

The pandemic took a year out of our otherwise normal life – everything was turned upside down. The unexpected circumstance changed our mindset, and forced us to adapt like never before. It also provided the sudden opportunity to slow down and re-think priorities. The post-pandemic world will look a lot different than the pre-pandemic one.

But how exactly does the art world respond to this colossal transformation in our life? In her seminal book “Meaning and Expression: Toward a Sociology of Art,” first published in Germany in 1967, Hanna Levy Deinhard exemplarily illustrated how humans are able to distinguish in a work of art its visual expression from its meaning. While visual expression however remains relatively constant over time, its meaning is subject to change. Deinhard strived to reconcile the everlasting contradiction in art between the artwork as a timeless object and the artwork as an expression of its time. 

With that in mind, we spoke with prominent Catskills artists to learn about their experience during the pandemic and how that might have impacted their creative life.


Brian Tolle (sculptor)

The pandemic and all the chaos that it created gave rise to a different mindset for many of us. On the one hand we were intensively connected to the world, unified in the global effort to control and contain the virus. On the other hand, were in lockdown, limited to our immediate cohabitants guarding ourselves from our families, friends, colleagues and neighbors. My time was spent obsessing over the news and worrying about my loved ones. That said there was little or no time for thinking about art. For the first time in my twenty-five-year career the mere thought of making ART felt gratuitous. However, I greatly respect and appreciate the work that so many artist friends produced during this most difficult time. I alas, did not, could not. What I did do was to reflect on what it meant to be an artist and art educator. My resolve for both pursuits is stronger than ever. Creative thinking is essential for the health and survival of humanity.    

Recently I have begun to focus my energies locally, inspired by the communities that I live among. My work has always been engaged with history and my sights are currently on the history of the Catskills; the place my partner and I call home. More specifically I am studying the history of Roxbury, where I have a studio. Of particular interest are the lives and careers of John Burroughs and Jay Gould, two men who grew up in this place at the same time but pursued very different careers. Burroughs the great naturalist and Gould the capitalist represent very different world views that continue to shape the nation and the world that we inhabit.


Amy Masters (painter)

In a Field, 24”x 24” oil on canvas, 2020

My most recent body of work centers around the idea of home and shelter. I had been exploring the iconic ‘house’ shape for many months, experimenting with its form and how accessible and recognizable it can be. When the pandemic forced so many of us inside and often isolated us, the house paintings took on a new and deeper meaning for me and pushed the work even further. The house became a symbol of safety; a shelter that protects but also isolates.


Gail Freund (painter, illustrator, and embroiderer)  

Catskill Beauty page from fabric Verso-Recto book, fabric paint and embroidery floss on linen, 8″ x 18″, 2020

It has been an unchartered time. Terribly sad, isolating, yet interesting. I was fortunate to have moved to the Catskills from New York City in 2016 and had already been familiar with leading a remote life in this beautiful region. Over the past year I had been missing social interaction and community, however. Pre-pandemic, I was working on a fabric book project called Verso-Recto at The Pine Hill Community Center. A few artists including Hedi Kyle and myself were meeting there regularly to work on our books. The pandemic put a stop to those meetings, but I continued to work independently at home. Because the book is heavily embroidered, I used to jokingly call it my “security blanket”. On the bright side, this was a rare occasion to literally have more time on my hands. Working on the book was meditative and handily portable. For three months last summer I had to take care of my 93-year-old mother in Long Island. It felt great to be able to bring this project with me.  


Lisbeth Firmin (painter)

Waiting, 16″ x 20″ oil on wood panel, 2020

When the pandemic first hit, when we shut down in March 2020, I was stunned and afraid like everybody else. We did not know anything about Covid, and the panic about that combined with the isolation bred fear and anxiety. I was working on a few paintings for my gallery on the Cape, and for a while I continued to do that. But after those paintings were finished, I just did not do that much. I would go to the studio – I was very lucky that I was able to do that. My building was empty, and I was the only one there. So, I would just go there and read the news, and sit and worry. All my workshops and exhibitions were cancelled. My art income was gone. Then in the fall, I started a new series of oils. I have painted through so many tough times. I will continue to do so.  


Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes (textile artist)

Verso-Recto Tapestry, Book Project with Catskilled Crafters, 2019 – 2020

2020-2021 has been a time of great challenge for me. My husband fell critically ill last fall and winter, and I had very little time to spend in the studio and create new work. In the midst of such upheaval, I have been blessed however to be visited by producer Jan Albert and filmmaker Kent Garrett who interviewed me for “Catskilled Crafters” as part of a series hosted by The Pine Hill Community Center called “Getting to Know Your Neighbors.” The presentation is posted on my website at VIDEO: Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes Studio Visit | Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes Studio where people can learn more about my work as a weaver.


Alan Powell (media artist)

Mutation, 3″ x 3″, video graphic 2020

In May of 2020 I was asked by a colleague from Buffalo, NY, Dorothea Braemer, to take part in a global project to document our dream during the Covid pandemic. Many of us were having intense dreams due to the stress of the pandemic and the isolation that we were feeling. There were about twenty initial participants from as far away as Bulgaria and Arizona. These dreams were to be produced as video projects. I put together a team of ten former and current students to work on a 30-minute narrative called “A vacation in Covidville”. The narrative centered on two young women taking a road trip during the Pandemic. One woman was a rock and roller looking for her next gig. The other woman was a revolutionary looking for a home for her revolution. They would stop at homes along the way. Each home housed a dream. In the fall of 2020, I made collages from the dreams and showed them in a popup exhibition that was hung in the store windows in the town of Stamford, NY. The ad-hoc collective included artists such as Nat Thomas, Elaine Mayes, Amy Masters, and others. One such dream is what I titled Corona Diary #15, posted on Vimeo along with other videos that I created in the past year.


Nursing Home Pantoum  
By Sharon Israel 

I call to hear my mother’s voice  
She eats so little, drinks Ensure    
So sorry I can’t visit now 
We say I love you at the end    

She eats so little, drinks Ensure
I keep disaster from my voice
We say I love you at the end
She worries that I’m not all right 

I keep disaster from my voice
I hear fear in every word
She worries that I’m not all right 
Everyone’s so strange here  

I hear fear in every word
I’m in a hospital, she thinks
Everyone’s so strange here
Nursing staff wear bunny suits. 

I’m in a hospital, she thinks
Friends disappear from the dining room 
Nursing staff wear bunny suits
The dead visit her in dreams 

Friends disappear from the dining room
I call to hear my mother’s voice
The dead visit her in dreams 
So sorry I can’t visit now 

This poem first appeared in the May 2020 issue of Chronogram magazine. The pantoum, a form from 15th century Malaysia, consists of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza.  The last line is the same as the first.  Poet Sharon Israel used it in her poem for its repetitive and incantatory qualities. Her mother died on June 28th, 2021 at the age of 99 and a half.  

New Writers’ Residency Opens in Roxbury

Roxbury, an international destination in recent years given its wildly popular attractions The Roxbury Motel and Plattekill Mountain, is now home to a Writers’ Residency, newly opened by writer Annie DeWitt and photographer Jerome Jakubiec. The three-day residency program includes accommodations, meals, workshops and manuscript review by DeWitt, who teaches writing at Columbia University and is the author of White Nights in Split Town City, greatly reviewed by The New York Times.

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© Simona David

The residency, which opened on July 11, hosted an inaugural Editors’ Panel on July 13, featuring Jonny Diamond, editor in chief of LitHub, and Tracy O’Neill, author of the acclaimed novel The Hopeful and editor of the literary journal Epiphany. Diamond and O’Neill talked about the submission process to literary journals.

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Tracy O’Neill and Jonny Diamond © Simona David

Asked about her aspirations with the residency, DeWitt said: “We couldn’t be more delighted with the outcome of this summer’s inaugural residency. It has fueled our creative energies to put so much of ourselves into a project and community that we love. We see Roxbury Writers’ Residency as an ambitious project with a dual focus: providing writers at all stages of their careers with a supportive vibrant atmosphere within which to create, think and question as well as to provide Delaware County with a wellspring into New York City’s creative excellence by offering free programming such as our Editors’ Panel to all Delaware County residents which furthers artistic dialogue. We want to help put Delaware County on the map as the thriving artistic community and rural paradise that it is.”

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Annie DeWitt © Simona David

Roxbury, the birthplace of financier Jay Gould, has long had a literary tradition going back to the days of naturalist writer John Burroughs, Gould’s contemporary, and Walter R. Brooks, who wrote Freddy the Pig series in Roxbury. Writers in the Mountains, a literary non-profit organization serving the Catskills and Hudson Valley area for over a quarter-century, is also headquartered in Roxbury. Writers in the Mountains offers creative writing workshops year-round and hosts a series of literary events throughout the region.

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© Simona David

Roxbury Writers’ Residency program, founded by DeWitt and Jakubiec, gives participants the opportunity to work in a secluded location on a 27-acre farm, and receive feedback from top-notch professionals. Writers can enroll in the three-day standard program, or book a room and design their own schedule. Jakubiec, who is the author of I Actually Wore This: Clothes We Can’t Believe We Bought published by Rizzoli, offers author portrait sessions on sight, thus immortalizing the experience.

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© Simona David

“Our hopes for the future are many,” explains DeWitt. “Short term, we are looking into funding through the MARK Project to be able to build additional artist cabins as well as provide scholarship assistance to residents. Long term, we have our eye on building a barn and studio space. Fashioning it from the existing blue prints for the original dairy barn which was torn down and filling it with artist studios ~ a metal workshop, a digital photography room, a dark room, and a performance space with the hope of expanding the residency to attract artists across various media and disciplines. We’re also horse enthusiasts and we would like to eventually bring that unique angle to our residents,” she adds.

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© Simona David

Roxbury’s charming appeal and bucolic scenery have in fact attracted a wide range of creatives for years – artists, writers, an Oscar winning filmmaker, fashion and theater professionals, and other creatives have made Roxbury their home. How Art Is Made: In the Catskills by this author features some of these creatives, including sculptor Brian Tolle, and painters Adam Cohen and Ellen Wong, whose studios are located in Roxbury. This burgeoning artistic community can only benefit from the newly opened writers’ retreat with the potential expansion into a full arts colony similar perhaps to Byrdcliffe in Woodstock or Sugar Maples in Maplecrest. In recent years Mount Tremper Arts opened to offer performing artists a space to rehearse and explore new ideas.

 

To learn more about Roxbury Writers’ Residency, visit https://www.roxburywritersresidency.com/.

Featured Destination: John Burroughs Estates

Slabsides, West Park 

Naturalist John Burroughs built his log cabin in West Park, Ulster County in 1895, in the Adirondack style. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968, the cabin retains most of its original furnishings, and is open to the public year round. Slabsides is one mile east of Riverby, Burroughs’ main residence. The naturalist wrote some of his most celebrated essays while at Slabsides. He also wrote extensively at Riverby, as well as the Woodchuck Lodge in Roxbury, Delaware County, in the Western Catskill Mountains.

Since 1993 John Burroughs Association has honored authors, illustrators and publishers of nature writing by awarding three annual awards: John Burroughs Medal, John Burroughs Nature Essay Award, and Riverby Awards. The Awards Ceremony takes place every year in April at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Burroughs Drive, West Park, NY 12493

(845) 384-6320

For more information, visit

http://www.johnburroughsassociation.org

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Woodchuck Lodge. © Simona David

Woodchuck Lodge, Roxbury 

Woodchuck Lodge, also known as John Burroughs Memorial State Historic Site, was built in the 1860s in the rustic farmhouse style, in Roxbury, Delaware County. It was Burroughs’ summer residence from 1910 to 1921. Burroughs is best known for his collections of nature essay such Wake Robin (1871), and Signs and Seasons (1886). The naturalist writer was friends with many luminaries including President Theodore Roosevelt, industrialist Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, and poet Walt Whitman. Burroughs went to school with financier Jay Gould.

Born in Roxbury on April 3, 1837, he died in 1921, five days before his 84th birthday. He is buried at Boyhood Rock, where he used to play as a child, right next to the Woodchuck Lodge.

Guided tours are offered the first weekend of the month from May to October. Special events and talks are organized the first Saturday of the month, as part of the Wild Saturday series.

1633 Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury, NY 12474

For more information and current hours of operation, visit

http://woodchucklodge.org

John Burroughs’ Signs & Seasons. © Simona David

Bird Note dedicated an entire program to Burroughs this Sunday, January 21, 2018. Listen to the transcript at:

https://www.birdnote.org/show/john-burroughs

Weekend in the Catskills – 5/29/2015

A fabulous weekend in the Catskills: Headwaters History Days celebrating the history of the Central Catskills are taking place in Roxbury, Andes, Pine Hill, Phoenicia and other places. Award-winning author Jenny Milchman is teaching a memoir workshop at the Phoenicia Library. Friends of Historic Kingston gallery is hosting a James McEntee exhibit – McEntee was a landscape painter of the 19th century affiliated with the Hudson River School, and a good friend of Frederic Church. A ballet performance with music by Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein is taking place at the Bardavon Theater. And the Woodstock Playhouse is presenting the musical Oliver! based on Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name.

Read full article at Upstater.com.

Jay Gould Memorial Church in Roxbury, NY. © Simona David