Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Clinker and the bad ear

If there’s one portrait that defines the recent art exhibit at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, it’s Clinker and the Bad Ear by Dana Hawk. The large oil on canvas brings visitors face to face, love it or hate it, with an intense puppy dog eyes experience with Clinker, Hawk's adopted pitbull-mix.  

Part of Constant Companions: Contemporary Pet Portraits, the exhibit includes paintings and also quilts, all of which explore the relationship between humans and companion animals.  Carol Wood-Ginder’s series of historical pet portraits bring a funky take on the familiar and usually stark style of formal Medieval-era royalty portraiture. Nestor Madalengoitia’s dreamy German Shepherd pastel is drawn entirely in hearts on blue paper.  

Constant Companions is part of the Orange Regional’s Healing Arts Program which organizes a gallery of changing art exhibits, as well as integrating art into spaces throughout the hospital. Murals and paintings of the Hudson River and other regional sights make for permanent d├ęcor with a local connection.

The program’s mission encourages incorporating the holistic effects of art into ORMC’s services: “Art offers unique opportunities to engage the whole person through restorative moments that provide comfort and inspiration. We present the work of local artists to strengthen community ties and to highlight the creative talent of our region. A consistent theme of Orange Regional’s art collection is the beauty of the natural world and the Hudson Valley.”

Orange Regional Art Program: www.ormc.org/art

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Art in sixes

So “quality over quantity” is the way to live, right? So they say, but you can have the best of both worlds at Art in Sixes. This annual small works group show at the Alliance Gallery in Narrowsburg is in its 11th year and features works in all mediums: fiber, stone, paint, metal, wood, paper, and more.  

The main requirement for submission was that each piece be no larger than 6 inches in any dimension. The gallery’s walls are filled with over 300 pieces, and all are for sale and reasonably priced. The Alliance Gallery is organized by the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. Founded in 1976, DVAAA sponsors programs in the visual, performing, literary, and media arts. Other projects are web-based exhibition space Bgallery, films at the nearby Callicoon Theater, and grants opportunities for groups and individual artists.
Art in Sixes, with its hundreds of pieces, has a lot to look at. Prepare to get up close and personal.

Delaware Valley Arts Alliance: www.delawarevalleyartsalliance.org

Monday, December 7, 2015

Drive-thru history

A uniquely complex bridge crosses the Delaware River from the hamlet of Minisink Ford in Sullivan County. One look at the Roebling Delaware Aqueduct’s wooden superstructure, ironwork, ice dams, and toll house and you know there’s considerable history behind this landmark.

An aqueduct is a structure used to convey water over a long distance, either by a tunnel or by bridge. In this case, where coal-filled canal boats once crossed the Delaware in this water-tight passage, today cars use the same space to drive into Pennsylvania. Construction of the structure was prompted by conflict between the area’s two prominent industries at the time: the canals and timber rafting. Coal-filled canal boats crossed the Delaware River here, but faced oncoming timber that was rafted down the river. In came John A. Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, who created four suspension aqueducts for the Delaware and Hudson Canal system.

By the end of the canal era, all but this one aqueduct were abandoned. The Minisink Ford structure was spared because of its location and conversion to use as a land bridge. Not only a National Historic Landmark, the bridge was designated as a National Civil Engineering Landmark as well.

Visitors can drive through the aqueduct or cross it on foot and enter the toll house, a small museum with displays of canal-era history including a sleeping bunk setup. Though the park is small, it's packed with history about the canal and river and their historical role in industry.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wood glass salt


Open any photography magazine and you’re bombarded by ads for the most modern technology to help you get a great shot. Editing programs, lenses, GPS and astronomy to help you find the exact location Ansel Adams stood in to shoot his famous mountain views. When it comes to art, sometimes technology has it’s limits. Cameras don’t take pictures, photographers do. The right equipment makes your work easier and results come in less time, but it won't guarantee a powerful shot.

Take for example local photographer Francesco Mastalia and his recent exhibit Organic. Mastalia’s almost forgotten method of photography is called wet plate collodion. Also known as “The Black Art,” it dates back to 1851 and involves a large wooden camera, an 1870s brass lens, and portable darkroom. Glass plates are coated with light-sensitive salts and after a complex process, produce specacular and striking images. The method is time consuming and done without the gadgets and light meters many of today’s photographers can’t live without. I saw the exhibit at SUNY Orange in Middletown and it was also featured at BAU Gallery in Beacon, the Moviehouse Studio Gallery in Millerton, and Westchester Community College.

Mastalia’s Organic showcases Hudson Valley farmers and chefs whose common mission is healthy food and responsible stewardship to preserve land for future generations. The project includes quotes from Mastalia’s subjects on their view of the country’s obsession with all things “organic,” a word that supposedly simpllifies our modern lives, but turns out to be multi-layered. Our food, like Mastalia’s work in this old medium, need not be easy, fast or convenient.   

Francesco Mastalia: www.franciescomastalia.com

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Samhaim colors

Last week a card came in the mail wishing me a happy Samhaim. Wiccans celebrate this festival as it marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and is one of four seasonal celebrations throughout the year. It's a festival of darkness, balanced later in the year by the festival of Beltane, a celebration of light and fertility.

This time of year, specifically leaf-peeping season, is one of the most popular in the Hudson Valley. Every year you’ll find local publications recommending the best spots to view changing leaves: clifftop overlooks in the Gunks, winding roads like the Hawk’s Nest, and riverside views of the Hudson. The reds, oranges, and yellows are here for a few weeks and then disappear before winter. Spectacular views do make for great fall foliage photos, but just as interesting can be autumn sunsets, leaves in a puddle, or dying vegetation that isn’t necessarily bright and colorful.

If you don't feel up to partaking in the traditional Samhaim rituals of taking stock of your herds and food supplies, or bonfires and divinations, take the time to step outside and see why Wiccans feel this time of year to be when the divide between the Earth and the afterlife is the thinnest, facilitating communication between beings of this Earth and those who have left before us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Work of fiction


The Japanese term tsundoku means letting unread books pile up on floors and shelves and nightstands. Though not a familiar word in the U.S., a tsundoku is a familiar sight in many a reader’s home. At the top of my reading pile is local author Ashley Mayne’s new novel Tiger (Dr. Cicero Books, 2015).

Mayne appeared at the Golden Notebook in Woodstock last week for a reading of Tiger and also her shorter work Mankiller (Dr. Cicero Books, 2014). In conversation with Carey Harrison, the English novelist and dramatist, the two read excerpts from her books and delved into the inspiration that brought the ideas to the page. Tiger’s characters include a fallen Jesuit priest, a tiger in an Indian village with a taste for humans, and a photographer with a restless past. Mayne said inspiration came from a conversation about tigers living in New York City. Stories abound of city-dwellers sharing their small urban apartments with tigers, perhaps in hopes that the wild animals would be like family dogs, staying small and cuddly forever. 

The Golden Notebook hosts regular literary events, many with local authors. A calendar can be found on their website. The store is one of those dreamy small independent book sellers that seem to be few and far between these days. A good place to grow your tsundoku.     

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fright night in b+w

It’s hard to visit Pierson’s Farm in October without bring drawn to Fright Nights. The Saturdays in October leading up to Halloween are home to this annual fright fest. One of this Otisville farm’s barns and an adjoining cornfield are transformed into a real treat for horror lovers: a haunted farm experience.

Props of monsters, zombies and skeletons decorate the corn maze and barn’s interior, and actors in costume and face paint come face to face with unsuspecting guests as they navigate the dark and twisting route.  

I was invited earlier this month by organizer Mike to take photos of the scene and in the process got a daylight tour of the maze and barn. The project ran for years at his home in Middletown and later expanded into Pierson’s unique space. Fright Nights is also a charity event and regularly donates proceeds to local fire departments, soup kitchens and pantries.

Pierson’s Farm itself is open year-round and throughout the months you’ll find seasonal items like pumpkins, Christmas trees, eggs, farm-raised beef and chickens and baked goods. Settled in 1790, it’s one of the oldest farms in Orange County.

Fright Nights was voted a top 3 haunt in the Hudson Valley in 2014 by the Times Herald-Record’s Readers Choice Awards. For the brave, the show starts at 7pm.

Fright Nights at Pierson’s Farm: www.frightnights.wix.com/frightnights2012
Pierson’s Farm: www.piersonsfarm.com

Friday, October 9, 2015


In Chinese philosophy, autumn is a time for turning inward. A season for paying attention to the self’s inner voices and needs after the abundance and energy of summer and in preparation for winter’s unpredictability. During last month’s Newburgh OPEN studios weekend, a free annual tour of the area’s creative spaces, we were surprised to find the opportunity to take take this usually self-guided walk under the direction of movement expert and crafter Ophra Wolf.  

Ophra is the face behind Force & Flow Integrated Bodywork, in which she strives to help people find wholeness through creating and connecting healthy bodies, and opening minds and hearts. Her methods for increasing self-awareness and replenishing energy go beyond the familiar yoga, Pilates, and meditation to tools like Feldenkrais, Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis, and Contact Improvisation.

Her 2-hour tour, called the Mindfulness Studio Walk, focused not so much on our destination but in the mindfulness of the journey: Looking inward too see what determines your movement and senses, focusing on the ground, surroundings, sounds, and personal space.   

Ophra’s own creative movement was later featured at one of the tour’s stops on Johnes Street, where she performed “Ophra is Pursuing the Pulse” at Sigunik Studio. Her performance was slow and deliberate, making each position mindful and chosen. Performing beside her was Craig Chin, filling the space with a hypnotizing sound, known as ambient music. Craig’s website quotes Brian Eno describing the term ambient music as it “must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Interpretive dance, which translates human emotions into something visual, is an art medium just as painting or sculpting, but not as understood, perhaps because of its fleeting result. Someone gave me a popular and easily understood example of interpretive dance. Watch the music video for singer Sia’s song Elastic Heart. The two characters acting out a rollercoaster of emotions can be interpreted as a man struggling through the comfort and betrayal of addiction.   

Ophra’s performance alongside Craig’s music made for my favorite part of this year’s Newburgh OPEN studio tour. Meeting the artist, having her guide us through a part of her work followed by her performance, made for a unique day filled with art in not one, but many forms. 

Force & Flow Integrated Body Work: www.forceandflow.com 
Craig Chin: errant.space
Newburgh OPEN Studios: www.newburghopenstudios.com

Monday, October 5, 2015

Opened spaces

Imagine, if you will, your favorite artwork. Maybe it’s a VanGough print in the bathroom, a gifted wooden bowl holding keys by the front door, or a house and tree and sun finger painting on the fridge. Have you ever wondered where it was made? Unless it was created by someone you know well, its origin and even the artist may be a mystery.

The last month in September is Newburgh OPEN Studios. Founded and organized by Newburgh Art Supply owners Gerardo Castro and Michael Gabor, this annual weekend-long event connects the City’s creative minds with curious art lovers. It is free and self-guided. Participants pick up a map at Newburgh Art Supply on Grand Street and set out to meet over 50 artists in various studios.

First stop is the art supply store itself which houses the studio of founder Gerardo whose works comprising Drawing Spirits: anointed sorcerer burns appartitions on paper were featured. He explained his process to visitors—using metal and heat to brand marks onto paper, some being life-size outlines of himself adorned with detailed symbols.

This year’s mediums included painting, performance, collage, sculpture, book binding, photography, sound, weaving, assemblage and vellum. One woman worked with encaustic paint, a beeswax-based substance which is heated and applied. Many artists had pieces for sale and I took home one of Gerardo’s smaller prints. He signed the picture and now it sits in my bedroom in a tall floating-style frame.

“Newburgh OPEN Studios, celebrating its 5th year, is a direct manifestation of our mission to foster artistic expression, civic participation and the economic growth of Newburgh’s diverse community by supporting, promoting, and advocating for arts and culture by supporting the livelihoods of working artists in our region. Therefore, NOS will continue the tradition of presenting the Fall tour the last weekend of September.” -Gerardo Castro & Michael Gabor

Newburgh OPEN Studios: www.newburghopenstudios.org

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

History and collage

Elizabeth Cappello says in her artist statement that she seeks inspiration from lost and forgotten images adapted in a personal way. Her current exhibit at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh brings her vision to viewers, combining the old and the overlooked. Some of the exhibited photographs feature pastel blue pottery by 18th century potter Josiah Wedgwood set in the gritty urban outdoors. 

Elizabeth is an adjunct instructor of art at the college and the exhibit is at the Kaplan Family Library and Learning Center in the Dominican Center. It also includes her collage work, with patterns exploring themes of identity and cultural differences.

The potter Josiah Wedgwood was a prominent abolitionist and his legacy incudes the "Am I Not a Man and a Brother" anti-slavery medallion. The popular image, a cameo of the seal for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, was mass produced and appeared in paintings, print and even ladies fashion. Wedgwood pottery is highly valued in today's market, a fitting legacy for an artist who used his talent not only to make art, but to spread a message to society about the wrongs of slavery. 

Elizabeth Cappello: www.elizabethjanedesigns.com

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sponge to the canvas

Thursday evening it was pouring rain, but that didn't bother my cousin and I who had signed up for a class at the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery. Our teacher, artist Nancy Reed Jones, guided us through our own landscape scene using acrylic paint and sea sponges.

Our class was part of the school's Paint & Sip lineup. These 2-hour $30 classes are perfect for beginners and great for groups. Held in the warm and cozy historic Patchett House that houses the school, you're invited to bring your own beverages to sip during your creation. After the class we walked out not only holding a painting of our own, but also having learned some basic art techniques. I was surprised to learn that the first element to go on our canvas was the sky, the furthest away, and ended with the final closeups of white flowers.

The school offers regular Paint & Sip parties, and they're not limited to sea sponges and landscapes. You can register online and even check out the painting the group will be working on before enrolling.

The school is home to an unlimited combination of art activities. There's a changing gallery of artists, regular receptions, and dozens of classes for adults, kids, beginners and advanced artists. Mediums include acrylic, drawing, oil, pastel and watercolor.

Our experience was lovely and we plan to return for another class. What a way to spend an evening, raining or not.

Wallkill River School of Art: www.wallkillriverschool.com

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Winding road

From the bridge over the Rondout Creek to the 5 mile-per-hour hairpin turn as you near New Paltz, the ascent and slope of this section of Route 44/55 makes it clear you're not on flat land. Passing through Kerhonkson and Gardiner, this scenic Ulster County route takes motorists, and bicyclists and hikers, past picturesque views from the Shawangunk Ridge, a preserve that rises more than 2,000 feet above sea level and features waterfalls, dwarf pines, and jagged white cliffs. 

The ridge is formed mostly of Shawangunk Conglomerate, a mix of quartz pebbles and sandstone, that’s resistant to weathering. Formed by glacial movement, the area was once a deep ocean but actually contains few fossils.

The region’s soils is thin and spersed with dwarf varieties of the pitch pine tree (Pinus rigida), which are less than 16 feet tall. These trees are unique in that their cones are serotinous, meaning they require fire to open. According to the New York Natural Heritage Program, unlike other pine cones, which open in the fall and distribute seeds, pitch pine cones are covered by a hard resin coating and stay closed until heat from fire opens them and distributes the seeds. The fire creates an excellent bed of nutrient-rich soil for the seeds to germinate.

Pitch pines are adapted to fire in other ways as well. Even though large branches may die in a fire, their thick trunk survives and produces new branches.

Also known as the “Gunks” the area is a popular hiking destination and is of the most famous rock climbing destinations in the U.S. The hiking school at the mountain’s base offers private guided climbs and classes like rock climbing 101, self rescue, and more. 

Minnewaska State Park Preserve: www.nysparks.com/parks/127/details.aspx

Eastern Mountain Sports New Paltz Climbing School: www.emsoutdoors.com/new-paltz-gunks

Chocolate vulvas

A thank you letter from the Texas Senate, a sliding scale socialist soup special, made in the USA coffee mugs, the purple-covered book Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and the Sexual Politics of Meat, and vulva-shaped bonbons to round it out. Welcome to New Paltz chocolate shop Lagusta’s Luscious.

Founded in 2003 by vegan chef Lagusta Yearwood, the shop sits on quiet North Front Street and is filled with, just to name a few: strawberries and cream chocolate bark, pistachio praline chocolate bars, coconut-rum and absinthe truffles, raspberries de Pizan, and chocolate coconut cream pyramids. Some, like Selma’s peppermint patties and Vandana Shivas, are named after feminist luminaries.  For the indecisive looking to take something home, there’s a 16-piece assortment box.

What makes Lagusta’s different and engaging is the owner’s commitment to social justice, environmentalism, animal rights, and my favorite: women's issues. We're all aware of the stereotypes of women and our "Guilty pleasure" chocolate, but Lagusta sheds new light with her outlook. "I don't want my joyful little chocolates to make anyone feel bad about themselves, or guilty, or naughty (except in a kinky way.)," she writes in her website's blog. "I want my chocolates to be a celebration of life, of diversity, of happiness and wonder at what the earth can produce." Her online shop offers mail order services, and you can check out her personal blog, Resistance is Fertile, on consumption, politics, femininity, and more.

My boyfriend and I were thinking of taking a trip to Florida later this year and I hope to see my doula friend Erica of Wind & Water Birth Services. What better Hudson Valley gift to bring than vulva-shaped chocolates.

"In this vein, I strive to make eating chocolate—so tied in American popular culture with women’s rituals and private pleasures—a revolutionary act through not only the celebration of the pure pleasure of eating this feminine-identified treat, but through the political decisions made at every stage in the process of its manufacture.” –Lagusta Yearwood

Lagusta’s Lusciouus: www.lagustasluscious.com
Resistance is Fertile: www.blog.lagusta.com
Wind & Water Birth Services: https://www.facebook.com/NaturalGoddess610