Friday, December 16, 2016

Color pass

Every day my commute to work takes me twice through the South Street underpass in Newburgh. A spot that would otherwise be nothing special to write about, the arch received a colorful makeover in 2012. A stunning 7,500 square foot mural by Chilean-born painter Francisco “Dasic” Fernandez covers not just the walls, but also the ceiling and outsides of the structure. Transformation depicts how the human spirit is both shaped and shapes the environment. The piece is part of the Newburgh Mural Project, a public art and education program to develop murals within Newburgh and incorporate young artists into city revitalization. Other works by Fernandez in the Life on Colors series are Transcendence on the South Wall of the Ritz Theater, Roots on Chambers Street, and Legacy on Colden Street near the Hudson River.  

Fernandez has completed murals worldwide from Chicago to Rio de Janeiro. His work largely appears in blighted urban areas and focuses on renewal and incorporates historical details of the area.  

Newburgh Mural Project:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Himalayan details

Ever since I walked across a prayer flag-covered suspension bridge in Bhutan (through Google StreetView of course) I’ve wanted to visit Tibet and Nepal. This region in the Himalayan mountains is famous for its richly detailed golden temples, prayer flags fluttering in the wind on a snow-covered mountain, massive Tibetan mastiffs, and yaks loaded with colorful blankets and supplies. One of the places in the Hudson Valley that pays homage to the region is Tsechen Kunchab Ling in Walden. When I found out the center was offering a two-day workshop on thangkas, called Himalayan-Tibetan Thangka Art with Sonam Rinzin, I knew I wouldn’t miss it.

A thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting that typically depicts deities, natural scenes, mandala patterns, or cultural tales. This free opportunity about the ancient art form was part of the center’s Tibetan/Himalayan Aspirational Arts Weekend. Saturday featured a lecture by teacher Sonam Rinzin with an overview of materials, techniques, iconography and narratives. The following day, the group offered a hands-on painting class. The event was presented by the Brooklyn-based Ethan Pettit Gallery where Sonam and his students study. Nepalese art has been a focus of the gallery since it opened two years ago.

Thangkas in various stages of completion and representing a range of subjects were on display throughout the weekend. One showed the life of a pond, another depicted a story of friendship. Many of the same elements appeared continuously: dieties, landscapes, nature, animals, clouds.

Students took turns explain their work’s story. Student Eva Schicker explained year one of the class is dedicated to drawing elements such as flowers and clouds, with a focus on blending and inking techniques. In her Two Goldfish in Lotus Pond she shows goldfish, lotus flowers, waves and clouds. She was inspired by lotus flowers in botanic gardens and spent 2-3 weeks sketching in the beginning. She explained the process of applying charcoal to the back of sketch, then drawing over it to leave an imprint on the canvas.

Student Mari Oshima was drawn to landscapes while creating Spring Island and later incorporated Buddhist iconography in her work. Susan Morningstar’s depiction in Four Harmonious Friends shows a bird, hare, monkey and elephant balancing one on top of the other. The image is drawn from a popular story, about friendship and cooperation, and revolves around a seed: the bird plants, the hare waters, the monkey fertilizes, and the elephant protects.

Seigan Glassing’s Stupa in the Clouds is a window into a pure land. Similar to how icons are depicted in detail in Russian and Christian icons, Seigan included a stupa in the sky to represent the Buddha mind. Student Audrey Mazur is a teacher at the Rubin museum in New York City. The museum focuses on Himalayan arts and she observed paintings there for inspiration to create Sublime Sky, Swirling Sea. She included a moon, waves and cliffs, as well as a stupa with proportions that are significant and can represent pilgrimage destinations.

Like other students, before starting his Shakyamuni Buddha student Sonam Lama practiced elements. He was the first in the class to depict Buddha image. Buddha sits calmly on a throne and before him on the ground are offerings including elephant tusks.

Sonam and his students answered questions from the audience about paint types and color sources. Pigments are drawn from environmental elements like shells, rocks, and plants. Their works were done on a muslin canvas stretched onto a frame. Dowels and string hold the piece tight like a drum. He explained the grids used to proportionally map out an image. On hand were the study books of students, filled with images with lines and numbers on the sides. A common element in thangkas is the presence of offerings like incense, fruit, candy, and candles, which usually appear at bottom of painting, just as in temples.

The images are meant to be transportable. Traditionally they are rolled up and brought to the next village for teachings. Stitch marks along the edge of thangkas indicate rolling and remounting. In Nepal, Sonam has no artists in his own family. Some of his family’s thangkas are over 400 years old and in the process of protecting the heirloom works, he began painting.

Tsechen Kunchab Ling:
Ethan Pettit Gallery:
Rubin Museum:

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Costume change

Ophra Wolf used a thin white veil as the jumping off point for her Dress Project performance. She entered her space, on a red rug positioned between the audience and a row of dresses displayed on hangers, covered by a veil and holding a candle. She removed the veil and welcomed her audience but kept the fabric in hand as a tool to, literally, help project her story.

The Dress Project performance, a full sensory multi-dimensional creation by Newburgh-based movement artist Ophra Wolf, features a collection of dresses contributed by local women and the artist's fusion of their stories with dance. Ophra is the face of Force & Flow Integrated Bodywork where she offers a dynamic approach to therapeutic mind-body training and integrated wellness. The project was funded by an Individual Artist Commission Grant from the New York State Council on the Arts and administered by Arts Mid-Hudson.

Her project's varied dresses, reflecting women of all walks of life and the diverse city they represent, is displayed at Space Create on Broadway in Newburgh. The October 26 evening performance featured Craig Chin, a frequent collaborator with Ophra, who set the tone with ambient music. A card displayed next to each dress summarized its owner’s story with her work, age, background, connection to the community, and the memories behind the garment. Like their owners, the dresses crossed continents, worked varied occupations, witnessed changes in society, carried their own deep-rooted cultures, and made breaks with tradition.

As part of the performance Ophra used the veil as an ephemeral surface on which to project video of interviews with the dress women. The recorded narration and Craig’s guitar sounds chronicled Ophra’s dance during the hour long performance. The dress display along the wall acted as her own public closet, letting the audience see her process of choosing what to wear and changing her clothes for the next dance. The featured women sat in the audience and were invited on stage after the performance. Ophra bowed as part of her gratitude for her subjects because, when it’s all said and done, these were their stories.  

Force & Flow Integrated Bodywork:
Space Create:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Vegetables dockside

The Beacon Farmers Market is my Sunday ritual. This bustling hub of good food has helped me bring lunch to work almost every day since I moved to Newburgh in July.

One of our board members at work occasionally gives me vegetables from her CSA package, so a few months ago I ended up with a bag of shishito peppers. Why not experiment with free food, right? I cooked the peppers with nothing but olive oil and served with salt and pepper. I made them again this past weekend, sided with slices of mozzarella. I was happy to see them at the farmers market during my past few trips and make sure to pick some up along with dark leafy greens like kale and Swiss chard.

Flipping through a nutrition chart a few months ago I discovered olives are a great source of iron. I make sure to stop by a vendor called Picklelicious who sells olives, pickles, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and other marinated varieties.

The farmers market is a great place to try samples, especially of things you’ve never had. Seitan is a vegan meat substitute derived from the protein portion of wheat. It has been so successful as a meat replacement that some vegetarians actually avoid it because of the meaty texture. Beacon-based seitan maker Mindful Kitchens regularly appears at the Beacon Farmers Market with samples of which my favorite is Chorizo Verde marinated.

Some vendors are there every Sunday, while others only certain days. You can see the full vendors list on their website. The market is open Sundays 9-3 at the parking lot of the waterfront Beacon Train Station.

Beacon Farmers Market:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

September walk

The Newburgh Open Studios tour once again brought a colorful backdrop to the Hudson Valley’s largest historic district. This annual event in Newburgh, on the last Saturday in September, is a walking tour of Newburgh’s creative spaces. Almost 100 artists participated this year, opening their spaces with art on display, in process, and for sale to the public. 2016 was the tour’s 6th year and my third time doing the walk.

This year we made it to the cavernous space in the former Regal Bag Factory on the waterfront for Julie Lindell’s How Form Occupies Space, a variety of space-specific pieces made of wood. An evening performance at Space Create by movement artist Ophra Wolf featuring her Dress Project of dresses belonging to local Newburgh women and their stories narrated during the performance. 

Sunday afternoon we stopped in YouThere studios on Liberty Street for a demonstration by Sarah Beckham Hooff and Aaron Latos who use refurbished equipment to help musicians make single take recordings in their Liberty Street studio. Any sound was welcome: from metal to violin to hip hop. In place of records, the pair etched the surface of plastic dinner plates with 2-minute recordings of the visitor's sound of choice. 

Newburgh Open Studios:
Julie Lindell:
Ophra Wolf:

Monday, September 19, 2016

Urban soils

The upcoming Field Day at Downing Park Urban Farm in Newburgh will focus on urban soils and a partnership between the farm and the New York City Urban Soils Institute (USI). The farm is open during the regularly-scheduled Field Day on Saturday, September 24 from 10am-noon and the community is welcome to tour the site and learn about its features and history. Tatiana Morin, Director of the USI, will be on site offering free examination of soil samples brought by residents. Her agency’s goal is to advance the scientific understanding of urban soils and promote conservation and sustainable use.

Downing Park Urban Farm, on the corner of South Street and Carpenter Avenue in Newburgh, was formerly a space for replacement stock used to maintain the gardens of the adjacent Downing Park. The facility was maintained by the City and employed about 30 workers. Until the middle of the century, varieties including irises, tulips, serviceberry, American hazelnut, and coffee trees were grown and stored here. “It was a highly choreographed horticultural operation—and also expensive” said farm manager Marcel Barrick who oversees the site and is involved in its restoration. “Workers would take the bulbs out in fall, winter them up here, and replace them in spring. Trees and shrubs were grown and stored here, too.”

The site of the farm has features that are not uncommon in other urban soils. Some of the elevated sections of the property rest on a hardpan, a hardened and impermeable layer that impedes root growth as well as the movement of water and gasses. Hardpans can be a natural feature but are not desirable on land intended for farming. Barrick explained the hardpan was discovered early in the renovation when after rain storms he noticed water squishing out of the hill along South Street. He said a coal-fueled glass greenhouse sat near the center of the property until it was dismantled. The site has varying levels of coal ash piles, known as slag, from the greenhouse’s furnace. Tests on this site revealed heavy metals such as zinc, lead and arsenic. “It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “The main contamination is at the greenhouse site.” 

In the past, cement sidewalks helped workers move carts around the property but these were removed during renovation, exposing heavily compacted ground. In parts of the hardpan Barrick planted tillage radish, also known as daikon radish, a breed developed to produce a large taproot that penetrates compacted soil. As this variety grows it pushes large thick roots down into ground then dies in winter creating a void, giving the roots of crops planted in later seasons a head start. The large taproot also helps with nutrient retention. The thick roots absorb and retain nutrients that would otherwise be lost when the field is unused in winter.  

At the southwest corner of the farm is a debris pile on a steep slope which Barrick suspects is an old dump site for construction and roadwork projects. He cleaned much of the human-transported material including concrete, asphalt chunks, and construction debris. Glass from the old greenhouse turns up periodically on site. “This is the reality of urban soils and the issues faced by agriculture in modern cities,” said Barrick.

Adjacent to the farm’s demonstration garden is one of two storm water management ponds. A berm system directs water from the road away from the sewer and into the 2’ by 2’ pit. Barrick planted tillage radishes in the pit to experiment with getting water down into the soil.

An unusual element found during renovation is a large smooth rock found underground near the South Street entrance.  It took Barrick weeks to extract the rock with a hydraulic jack and hand tools. It hid only about a foot underneath the soil, but its size and texture make it an unusual find at this site. Barrick also found a round glass fragment during his work.

While urban soils present their own unique issues when it comes to farming and food production, researchers worldwide are discovering what works in terms of remediation and conservation. Barrick encourages residents to take advantage of the free opportunity to meet with the Urban Soils Institute during the Field Day event. The USI is a partnership of Brooklyn College, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Science, and the NYC Soil Water Conservation District. Samples are examined with a handheld XRF spectrometer that supplies energy in x-ray form. Elements will fluoresce in a frequency that indicates lead, cadmium, arsenic or other heavy metals.

“We want people to be confident that their soil is sound and that they can grow healthy vegetables,” said Barrick. “If soil is contaminated, we’ll talk about how to get around these issues.”

Downing Park Urban Farm:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Beacon finds

Have you seen that reality show Flea Market Flip? Teams receive $500 to spend at flea markets on items they’ll later fix up and sell at popular hip markets where they compete for customers. Some of the featured flea markets are in the Hudson Valley and nearby Connecticut. Flea markets of all kinds are something I can’t resist. Some of my top finds are a book about the Hindu goddess Kali and an exhibit poster from the Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design.

One of my favorite Hudson Valley flea markets is the Beacon Flea. The presence of both regular vendors and also sellers there for one-time garage sales mix up the offerings of vintage, handmade, creative, and household items. I saw succulents there on my last trip. I’ve seen military articles, blankets, modern pottery and ceramics, and furniture. The Beacon Flea is open every fair weather Sunday until November and I’m looking forward to a visit during the fall.   

Beacon Flea:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ginkgo in rubber

What common being lives in the parking lot of Mexicali Blue in Wappingers Falls, near the house on my uncle’s farm in Kentucky, and rooted next to the sidewalk on Liberty Street in Newburgh? A ginkgo tree. Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species on earth as well as a wildly popular herbal supplement. It’s commonly referred to as the “brain herb” and is used in remedies for memory, veins and eyes. A single tree can live up to 1,000 years.

Last week I paid a first-time visit to Chime In, a popup shop on Liberty Street in Newburgh selling used items and crafts from local designers. A few hours later I found myself seated at the store’s paper-covered craft table immersed in a rubber stamp making workshop. Surrounded by sheets of pink rubber, knives, and inkpads, I tried to decide what image to create. It had to be small and not too detailed. Sipping ginger lemon tea in a bout of option paralysis, I decided to make a ginkgo leaf. I’ve seen them in drawings, paintings, and in jewelry pieces. I brought up an image of the triangular leaf on my phone, and other attendees decided on initials, a logo and a face. We each penciled our small images on paper, then rubbed them onto a pink rubber pad and started cutting. Flavia Bacarella, a local artist whose focus is on woodcuts, uses a similar method to carve wood. I like the frame she often includes as part of her images, so I etched one around my leaf.  

Chime In’s other activities include music, spoken word, movies and art exhibits. 

Chime In:
Flavia Bacarella:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Chime In

Chime In is a place where the new and old overlap. A project of Newburgh residents Alysia Mazzella and Stella Lee Prowse, this shop in Newburgh features items by Newburgh designers as well as thrifted wares. The bright storefront at 188 Liberty Street opened its doors August 5th and remains so for 3 months into October. Alysia and Stella created a bright haven for new, resale, creative, and functional items including clothing, hats, shoes, belts, bags, wallets, poetry books, magnets, coasters, and art. Featured local artisans include Stuart Sachs, Outlast Goods, Supply+Demand, Raghaus, Sixfold, Mrs. Max Boutique, ColorCube, Soodopegnine, Fonsomething, Shari Diamond, Barry Simpson, Arielle Lindstrom, Prayer+Hustle, and more. A list of designers is on Chime In's website.

The space hosts crafts and cultural events including Queer Night, Movie Night, a rubber stamp making workshop, music and spoken word shows, and art exhibits. Chime In's Reading Performance series begins on Saturday, August 27 with writer Leslieann E. Santiago. The event includes readings, storytelling, drinks and snacks, and falls on Newburgh Last Saturdays, a monthly celebration of the City's downtown art, food, performances, and shops.  

The creative proprietors came up with the idea for a storefront with all-inclusive activities for the community by taking a look around.  “It’s about responding to the void, and taking that risk,” said Alysia. A calendar of Chime In's upcoming events can be found on their website.

Chime In:
Leslieann E. Santiago:
Newburgh Last Saturdays:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

City farm


The second Saturday of the month is a busy day for Downing Park Urban Farm in Newburgh. On regularly scheduled "Field Days" visitors are welcome to tour the developing farm in the heart of the city which includes a demonstration garden and according to their website, is “a place for the residents of Newburgh to learn more about urban farming and provide a pathway to self-sufficient methods of food production and sustainability within the city.” Urban farm centers are an incredibly useful tool to familiarize people with food production, especially for populations living in cities where a simple trip to the weekend farmers market can be an eye-opening cultural experience.  

The farm's Field Day experience is a series of demonstrations and workshops on farming and environmental topics. I started the day with a demonstration by master beekeeper Rodney Dow of the Glynwood Center in nearby Cold Spring. A series of beehives sit on the corner of the farm near Carpenter Avenue and Rodney used sage smoke to prepare a hive, opened it, and removed a portion while explaining the honey-making process. He passed around pieces of propolis, a resinous mixture that bees create and use as a sealant within their hive. Also known as “bee glue,” propolis is known for its anti-cancer properties and its varied uses including dental remedies and wart removal. Rodney uses it to create tinctures.

The next demonstration came from Bryan Quinn of Beacon-based One Nature, a landscape and environmental company that focuses on regenerative design, scientific consulting, landscape construction and also operates a native plants nursery.  As a restoration ecologist, Brian spreads the message that humans can take an interest in the restoration of our planet. He explained to the audience the environmental impact of what we know as the typical “American lawn” and how making the change to native grasses and plants can create a sustainable landscape that increases biodiversity while at the same time requiring less watering and maintenance. He pointed out the farm’s buckwheat section behind us and explained that the roots from these grasses reach deep into the ground and can help fix the carbon below. A discussion followed about how familiar landscapes that we typically consider to be attractive and increase or maintain the value of our homes may not be environmentally sound.

Farm Manager Marcel Barrick wrapped up the Field Day experience with a tour of the farm. A portion of the landscape was covered in pieces of cardboard, a method explained earlier by Brian to kill grass, without chemicals or digging, before turning it into a low-maintenance plot. In progress is remediation of the former greenhouse site using native, deep-rooted wildflowers to loosen the soil. A tank was filled with rainwater and the farm’s demonstration garden containing buckwheat and beans was situated on a slope at the rear of the property. The farm is a work in progress and it's exciting to see the development of this big project up close.
Downing Park Urban Farm:
Glynwood Center:
One Nature:

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Spectacular temples make neat day trips. Recently we took our cameras and drove to Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel. The site is the home of the Buddhist Association of the United States and sits on 225 acres. Visitors have access to the magnificent Great Buddha Hall (pictured above), Kuan Yin Hall, the gift ship, Thousand Lotus Terrace, library, Seven Jewel Lakes, and a garden.

Saturday visitors can take a regularly-scheduled tour at 12:45 and enjoy a vegetarian lunch. An event calendar can be found online and  recent happenings include interfaith prayer, Buddha’s birthday celebration, Mother’s Day garden party, Buddhist summer camp, 8 Precepts, and lots more events.

Buddhist Association of the United States:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Poop story

What makes pooping at the Omega Center unique? The Eco Machine. During a recent trip to Omega for work, I was able to tour the Eco Machine, a state-of-the-art water reclamation facility. Not just for cycling the retreat center’s water, the building is part of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) and is open to the public. Also an education center, the project is a pristine example of sustainable architecture.  

One hundred percent of the facility’s waste water, including what flows down from toilets and the cafeteria, is reclaimed using no chemicals and with net zero energy. It's filtered in a process that mimics what happens in nature and returned to the underground aquifer, part of the Wappinger Creek watershed.  The solar-powered building is crafted from local or reused materials and is certified LEED Platinum and was one of the first projects to be Living Building Challenge-certified, a certification and philosophy outlining sustainable construction practices regarding water, energy, sourcing of construction materials, waste, and more. The planning process was careful to omit building materials that contain toxic chemicals, and work around the fact that most are not made in the U.S. To accommodate tours and the education center, the building plans demanded the project be much larger than if it were just a water treatment center.

The OCSL incorporated reclaimed materials from a local church, and footprints on the plywood wall of the electrical room are evidence of the material’s first use as part of President Obama’s inaugural stage. The center is open for tours and the number of people who take the opportunity, more than 4,500 last year, increases annually.

The Omega Institute is a 250-acre retreat center and attracts 23,000 people annually workshops on topics like health and wellness, spirituality, community building, science, creative expression and more. The center is open seasonally, from May to October, and remains open and used by staff in the off-season because the Eco Machine is a living system that needs food…aka poop.

Omega Center for Sustainable Living:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Garden rabbits

Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.
-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Judith Kepner Rose’s rabbits are not the hiding type. They’re more like the inquisitive rabbits in petting zoos or Disney movies. The sculptured subjects of her Gathering of Rabbits exhibit spent time earlier this year in the garden welcoming spring at Gallery 66 NY in Cold Spring. The hefty pieces lined the perimeter of the gallery’s garden, eagerly greeting visitors who are equally curious.

Gallery 66 NY:
Judith Kepner Rose: