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Repairing Taurus. Irving Sandler, left, and Isaac Witkin, center, look on.

Repairing Taurus. Irving Sandler, left, and Isaac Witkin, center, look on.

Isaac Witkin and the Prospect Mountain Sculpture Show

By Anthony F. Hall

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sculptor Isaac Witkin (1936-2005) is a Lake George artist by virtue of his participation in the “The Prospect Mountain Sculpture Show – An homage to David Smith,” which the Lake George Arts Project mounted in 1979.
Composed of nearly a score of welded-metal sculptures by artists influenced by Smith, the famed sculptor who lived and worked in nearby Bolton Landing until his death in 1965, the show was organized by Beth Rowe, the Arts Project’s executive director.

“A Sculpture exhibition honoring David Smith was a dream and hope of mine since I first visited Smith’s studio in Bolton Landing,” she wrote in the exhibition catalog. “Prospect Mountain provided space for siting an exhibition of large sculpture within the dramatic Adirondack landscape that had inspired David Smith.”

To select the artists and curate the show, Rowe turned to Irving Sandler, a well-known art critic and one of the first historians of the School of New York painters.

“Prospect Mountain was a perfect venue for a show of sculpture in landscape,” Sandler wrote in his 2003 memoir, A Sweeper Up After Artists. “The work was highly visible and easily accessible to people, who could park their cars at various places, get out, walk around and look.”

At the time, Isaac Witkin was among the most prominent sculptors in the United States, so there was little question that he would be invited to contribute a piece to the exhibition.


The British-born sculptor submitted a 1975 work titled Taurus. John Ashbery, the poet who was New York magazine’s art critic at the time, described it as a “terrra-cotta-painted cluster of drums and broken planes,” whose source of inspiration was “Smith’s baroque side.”

Installing Taurus on Prospect Mountain provided “the most dramatic moment of collaboration” between the artist and the local construction workers who were hired to move the sculptures into place, Sandler wrote.

“Taurus had been mangled in transport to Lake George and Witkin dejectedly told us to remove it from the show. Examining the piece, the foreman said that he saw how it might be fixed. Witkin shook his head but agreed to the foreman’s proposal that we give it a try. We met on the site at day break, hours before the opening. The foreman had his man on the crane lift the piece weighing tons as high as it could go and let it drop. As it hit the ground with a heart stopping crash, two workers wielding sledgehammers banged it into shape while Witkin and his assistant bolted it together. It succeeded. But Isaac’s nerves were so jangled that he left immediately, leaving Beth Rowe to repaint the sculpture as best she could,” wrote Sandler.

Fortunately, the Lake George Arts Project’s archives include photographs of what Dan George, the Lake George native whose work was also shown in the exhibition, referred to recently as “Isaac’s incident.”

Irving Sandler can be seen in one of them, obviously anxious himself, as Witkin, a large bearded man, approaches the sculpture. Beth Rowe stands near the pick up truck, incongruously, inexplicably, laughing.

At the time, Witkin was teaching at Bennington College, another link between himself and Smith, who had taught there before his death.

According to Witkin’s obituary in the New York Times, in the 1960s Bennington College was “a magnet for modernist artists like Anthony Caro, Kenneth Noland, Paul Feeley and Jules Olitski, who, along with the critic Clement Greenberg, collectively came to be known in the art world as ‘the Green Mountain boys.’”

Witkin came to Bennington from London at the invitation of Anthony Caro, with whom he had studied at St. Martin’s School of Art (now Central St. Martins College of Art and Design). After leaving Bennington, Wikin ceased making welded-metal sculptures and began working with bronze. He died at his farm in New Jersey.

In a monograph about Witkin’s work published before his death, the critic Karen Wilkin writes, “If Witkin had continued to make only steel constructions like the ones that evolved after his move to the United States, his place in the history of recent sculpture would be assured, as an artist who expanded the possibilities of the inherited language of Picasso and Gonzalez…Since younger artists constructing in steel in the 1970s and 1980s frequently found themselves overshadowed, in terms of public attention, by sculptors exploring alternative materials and methods, Witkin’s seriousness, deep engagement and substantial reputation served as important examples.”

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A  scale model of Camp Iris, which was installed at the Hyde in May.

A scale model of Camp Iris, which was installed at the Hyde in May.

The Landscape Re-Imagined

By Anthony F. Hall

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Victoria Palermo’s Outdoor Sculpture Will Change How You See Warren Street

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artists responsible for Running Fence in California and The Gates in Central Park, without question the most famous outdoor installations in the United States, “re-articulate the landscape, creating works that both contrast with and complement the landscape. Some find it intrusive; I find it poetic,” says Victoria Palermo, the sculptor who happens to live and work in Warren County.

Palermo was at work in her studio in Glens Falls’ Shirt Factory, discussing a show that opened at The Hyde Collection in May: Christo & Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection. It’s an exhibition of more than 125 drawings, sculptures, collages, and photographs related to the work of the husband and wife collaborative.

According to Erin Coe, The Hyde’s executive director, “The pieces have both aesthetic and documentary value, because for Christo and Jeanne Claude, the process of making and installing a work, including their battles with governmental bureaucracies, was as important as the final product. The process was the product.”

Victoria Palermo in her studio with the model for Camp Iris.

Nevertheless, Coe felt that the show still needed something more galvanizing than sketches and notes to convey the power of the work, which is ephemeral and experiential, much like a performance.

“It’s not as though we can wrap The Hyde in fabric, like they did the Reichstag in Berlin,” quipped Coe.

To create a similar effect in Glens Falls, Coe approached an artist whose own large scale and site specific installations have acquired an international renown of their own – Palermo herself.

To complement the exhibition of work by Christo and Jeanne Claude in the Charles R. Wood gallery, The Hyde unveiled Palermo’s Camp Iris, a set of three, eight foot high triangular structures made from multi-colored plexiglass and native wood.

They will rest on The Hyde’s lawns throughout the summer before being dis-assembled and removed, leaving no trace of their brief existence.

“This summer will be the first time The Hyde has mounted an outdoor exhibition of art since 1964, the year sculptor David Smith created a show of his own work here,” said Coe.

“Outdoor installations are not something The Hyde has embraced, but that’s changing, and Camp Iris is a first step,” Coe continued, adding, “This is also a first step toward a greater engagement with local artists like Victoria Palermo.”

According to Palermo, the invitation to create an outdoor installation at The Hyde emerged after years of conversations with Coe about the possibility of a collaboration of some sort.

“They began when Erin was The Hyde’s curator and they resumed when she returned as its director. She was familiar with my site specific projects and when The Hyde decided to exhibit the Christo material, the timing seemed right,” said Palermo.

Palermo said she meant the shapes of the structures to refer to architecture associated with the Adirondacks, such as tents or A-frames.

“For the framing, I used white cedar, milled near Saranac Lake. I felt it was important to use wood from the Adirondacks for this project, since Adirondack forests served as the financial source that built The Hyde,” said Palermo.

The three structures could also be said to be allusions to the three houses on the Hyde campus, each one built for one of the three daughters of Samuel Pruyn, who co- founded the Finch Pruyn forest products business in 1865, said Erin Coe.

The installation was constructed with help from architect Gary McCoola and art fabricator Nicholas Warner.

“And,” said Coe, “the reference in the piece’s title to Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, is especially appropriate for an installation at The Hyde. Greek mythology, the classical tradition, the history of art – these all inform The Hyde and its collections.”

Coe continued, “the allusions to the region’s recreational architecture, to the culture of the museum, to the three houses, all re-enforce the site specific character of the piece.”

As drivers or pedestrians approach The Hyde, the structures will first appear as colorful abstractions: startling, incongruous erratics in Warren Street’s commercial and industrial terrain.

According to Coe, that’s one reason why Camp Iris is in the spirit of Christo and Jeanne Claude.

“The landscape from the viewers’ perspective, the experience and the expectations of the viewers – that is all now altered,” Coe said.

Victoria Palermo will discuss Camp Iris and other site specific works of hers such as Bus Stand, commissioned by MassMOCA for North Adams and up and down,  which she created for the Albany International Airport, on Thursday,  August 4 at 7pm at The Hyde. Christo & Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection will remain on view at The Hyde through June 26. The Hyde is located at 161 Warren Street in downtown Glens Falls. Call 792-1761 for information.

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Kenyon Simpson at Black Bass Antiques in Bolton Landing

Kenyon Simpson at Black Bass Antiques in Bolton Landing

Eclectic Choice of Topics for This Summer’s Lecture Series

By Mirror Staff

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Every summer, Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute and the Historical Society of Bolton co-host a series of free presentations on the natural and cultural history of Lake George and the Adirondacks.

This year’s series is especially diverse and its presenters are widely recognized for their expertise, said David G. Diehl, the Fresh Water Institute’s site manager and the organizer of the series.

On July 11, Betsy Lowe, the former DEC Region Five director who was a founder of the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, will recount the story of how that museum of natural history came into being.

Jamie Brown, who was appointed the Lake George Land Conservancy’s executive director in late 2014, will speak on July 18 about the cooperative effort of the Conservancy, a landowner, the Town of Bolton, local businesses and individual citizens to preserve the Pinnacle. Prior to leading the Conservancy, Brown was the Director of Land Protection for Ducks Unlimited. He has a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the University of Maine, a law degree from Seton Hall and a Bachelors Degree from Boston University.

Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer

On July 25. Dr. Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer will present “Scientific Research on Lake George: A Retrospective and Opportunities for the Future.” A professor of biology at RPI, Nierzwicki-Bauer was director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute for 23 years. Her team’s 30-Year Study of Lake George was a landmark, documenting a number of changes in the lake’s chemistry and serving as a foundation for the Jefferson Project. She has also led research studies on the lake’s invasive aquatic species, not only to understand them but to keep them from endangering the lake’s ecosystem.

Kenyon Simpson, a master trainer for the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, will offer “A Look at Some Classic Adirondack Deer Guns, circa 1820-1920s.” Simpson is a retired Bolton Central School teacher who has delivered lectures in this series in the past on topics such as the life and work of Wilson A. Bentley, who spent his life studying and photographing snowflakes at his farm near Jericho, Vermont.

Jamie Brown

Tony Hall, the editor of the Lake George Mirror since 1998, will deliver August 8’s talk, this one on “Change and Continuity in Country Journalism: Sixty Years in the Adirondacks.” His father, Rob Hall, brought his family to the Adirondacks in 1956 to publish small weekly papers. Hall will discuss the lessons he has distilled from both his own and his father’s experience.

Dr. Charles Boylen, a past director and associate director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton Landing as well as a professor emeritus at RPI, will present a talk on a non-scientific topic, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, on August 15: “The Penny Postcard and Lake George: What Visitors Sent Home.”

“Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks” will be the topic on August 22. The presenter will be Jeremy Davis, a meteorologist by profession who has written four books on early ski areas in New Hampshire, Vermont, the Lake George area and the northern Adirondacks. In his book, Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks, Davis writes about ski areas in Bolton, Lake George and Warrensburg, in addition to approximately 30 others spread throughout the Adirondack Park.

The series will conclude on August 29 with “On Assignment: A Science Journalist’s Adventures from the Adirondacks to Africa” by Lake George summer resident Cheryl Lyn Dybas. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, BioScience, Canadian Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, and National Wildlife among many other publications. She is also a contributing writer for Oceanography magazine. A featured speaker on science journalism and conservation biology at many institutions, Dybas serves on committees and boards for several scientific societies, among them: the Ecological Society of America and the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography.

All lectures are held in the lodge at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, which is located on Route 9N in Bolton Landing, Lectures start at 7pm and are open to the public. The series is made possible with financial support from the Knapp Fund.

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The Lutoslawski String Quartet

The Lutoslawski String Quartet

Touring With Jazz Festival, Polish Quartet to Play at Sembrich

By Mirror Staff

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Lutosławski String Quartet from Poland, one of the finest ensembles on the international classical music scene today, will conclude its 2016 tour of the United States with its country’s Jazztopad festival on July 1 with a concert in Bolton Landing.

The Quartet will perform at The Sembrich as part of the museum’s 2016 series of performances and programs titled, “Violin Days.”

“Marcella Sembrich rose to the heights of fame in the late nineteenth century as one of the reigning sopranos of her day,” said Sembrich Artistic Director Richard Wargo. “But the young prodigy was first recognized in her native Poland for her skills as a pianist and a concert violinist. It is that first decade and a half of her career, from 1870 to 1884, that we’re marking this summer at The Sembrich with Violin Days.”

The concert series will be complemented by an exhibition of vintage photos and documents that tell the story of Sembrich’s early struggles and the origins of her career.

The Lutosławski String Quartet’s concert will be presented with the cooperation of the Institute for Polish Culture, based in New York City.

The Institute is a sponsor of this year’s Jazztopad Festival, the first large-scale presentation of Polish jazz to take place in the US in twelve years. The festival collaborates with events all over the world, including Korea’s Jarasum International Jazz Festival, Japan’s Tokyo Jazz Festival, Turkey’s Akbank Jazz Festival and, as of last year, New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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Bill Belcher

Bill Belcher

Hyde’s Belcher Combines Day Job With Novelist’s Career

By Anthony F. Hall

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bill Belcher’s Playlist for Lay Down Your Weary Tune

It’s entirely coincidental, but not without interest, that of the several exhibitions William Belcher has been asked to promote since he joined The Hyde Collection in November as its director of external affairs, two relate to the 1960s.

“60 from the 60s: Selections from the George Eastman Museum,” an exhibition of work by ten of the most important photographers of the decade, opens on January 24.

A week earlier, a show organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, “Norman Rockwell in the 1960s,” comes to the Hoopes Gallery.

The coincidence is of interest because Belcher’s first novel, “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” which has just been published to unusual, so-far unanimous acclaim, is rooted in that decade’s folk music revival.

“Belcher brings the folk music scene to life, but best of all is his ability to craft a cast of memorable characters,” writes Publishers Weekly.

Set in a town very much like Greenwich, New York, where Belcher lives with his wife and two children, the novel’s most compelling character is inspired by aspects of the lives and careers of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and The Band’s Levon Helm. It’s narrated by a neo-folkie who, for mysterious reasons, has been selected to ghost write the legendary singer-songwriter’s autobiography and who moves in with him to write the book. Far from being tangential to the novel, the narrator’s obsession with the music of an earlier generation is an integral part of the story.

Peter Max, ‘Untitled (Bob Dylan)’ 1967, offset lithograph. Collections, Museum of Modern Art

“I loved that music; the way it played a role in generational change and the way that its appeal crossed generations,” said Belcher.

Growing up in western Massachusetts, Belcher saw its spirit embodied in near neighbors like Arlo Guthrie and his daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie, who attended his high school, as well as in the musicians attracted by Guthrie’s presence: Dave Van Ronk, Richie Havens and others.

Belcher began writing the novel eight years ago, rising early every morning as he built a dual career in arts administration, most notably at MASS MoCA in North Adams.

Within that period of time, and for reasons inexplicable to all but sociologists, random forces coalesced to rediscover and resurrect the American Folk Music Revival. Martin Scorcese made “No Direction Home,” a documentary about Dylan; the Coen Brothers made “Inside Llewelyn Davies,” a dark comedy about a folksinger who could have been one of the early Dylan’s less successful peers. Suze Rotolo, the girlfriend who appeared with Dylan on the cover of 1963’s The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan, wrote her autobiography and a collective biography of Mimi and Richard Farina, Joan Baez and Dylan was published under the title, “Positively Fourth Street.” The Museum of the City of New York presented a major exhibition, “Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival.” And Dylan published his own autobiography, “Chronicles.”

Lay Down Your Weary Tune

That volume re-enforced Belcher’s own insights about “how lonely that must be to live behind those masks and that personae,” a major theme of the novel.

Far from detracting from the novel’s appeal, the current interest in the folk music revival should enhance it. If nothing else, readers won’t find it implausible that a famous folksinger might move to rural Washington County, knowing that Woody Guthrie moved to Stockbridge, Pete Seeger to Beacon and Dylan and the Band to Woodstock.

“Lay Down Your Weary Tune” (the title, by the way, of an early Dylan tune that was first recorded by the Byrds) was officially launched in Saratoga on January 26 with a reading at Northshire Bookstore and a reception at Caffe Lena, where Belcher serves on the Board of Directors.

Belcher will also read from the novel on February 23 at The Hyde.

“The Hyde’s staff and trustees have been incredibly supportive” of his career as an author, Belcher said.

Erin Coe, The Hyde’s former curator who returned as its director last summer, has said that her mission is to “invigorate The Hyde, connecting to all visitors and inviting greater community engagement.”

Belcher can surely assist in that mission. How many museums, even those much larger than The Hyde, have on staff a writer who’s spent the last decade thinking about how art speaks to the broader public?

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Artists of Lake George: Junius Sloan

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Junius R. Sloan painted this view of Lake George from the ridge above Bolton Landing in 1867. A self-taught, itinerant follower of the Hudson River School landscape artists, Sloan settled in Chicago in 1864. According to his biographers, he came east in 1867 to paint the landscapes that the Hudson River School painters had made famous, hoping to produce commercially successful work. Among those landscapes was that of Lake George. He returned to Chicago in 1873 and continued to paint landscapes until his death in 1900, but his work never attracted the critical and commercial support he sought. -AFH

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Book plate designed for W.K. Bixby by Edwin Davis French

Book plate designed for W.K. Bixby by Edwin Davis French

Artists of Lake George: Edwin Davis French

By Anthony F. Hall

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Edwin Davis French, who died in Saranac Lake in 1906, never painted, sketched or photographed Lake George. He was primarily an engraver, best known for the bookplates he designed and printed. But his rank in that specialized field was so high that he was considered one of America’s most important artists.

As the New York Times noted, “his work is characterized by a nobility of expression and a calm beauty of line in decorative effect; which caused a keen critic to say: ‘he is a classic figure in American art.’ The interest and artistic value of his work was shown by the publication in 1899 of a list of bookplates engraved on copper.”

French created bookplates for 250 clients: among them: Princeton University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, on Lake George, W.K. Bixby and his daughter, Emma.

Bixby, the St. Louis industrialist who built a Greek Revival mansion in Bolton Landing in1902, did not limit his interests to business.

He was, as his grand daughter Sally Bixby Defty wrote in her 2012 biography of the family patriarch, a collector of paintings, manuscripts and rare books.

Defty surmises that Bixby and French met through the Grolier, a New York club for bibliophiles, in the last years of French’s life.

W.K. Bixby and his family at Mohican Point

W.K. Bixby and his family at Mohican Point

French had moved to Saranac Lake in 1897, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1867 while a student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Trained as a silver engraver, his career as a designer of bookplates began almost by accident. “It was not until 1893 that French engraved his first bookplate. His sister-in-law had begun to form a small collection, and as a joke, French engraved a facetious plate and introduced it secretly into her files. When the hoax was discovered, the lady rightly demanded a serious plate in its stead, and the penitent brother-in-law obliged,” one source notes.

Sally Bixby Defty notes that French’s bookplate for W.K. Bixby was, in all likelihood, among the last he made.

According to a memorial volume edited by a relative of French’s and privately printed after his death, it was one of his best.

“Few of Mr. French’s engravings furnish, in their different states, a better study than this of his power and methods,” the memoir states.

The design features an octopus, something suggested by Bixby himself.

“Bixby humorously accepted the generic slang title of ‘octopus’ given to large commercial combinations, one of which he was president of, and applied to the idea of collecting. Mr. French… enjoyed making a design that shows a fierce octopus in the center, reaching its tentacles to every side in pursuit of books and manuscripts,” states the memoir.

According to Sally Bixby Defty, W.K. Bixby retired from business at the age of 48, prepared to spend the rest of his life collecting art, rare books and manuscripts and endowing institutions such as Washington University and the St. Louis Art Museum. “He had more interesting things to do than make money,” said Defty.

Bixby never received a college education. The lack of a degree was something he shared with contemporaries and friends Robert S. Brookings, who founded Brookings Institution in Washington, and Charles Freer, for whom the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian is named, said Defty.

Edwin Davis French

Edwin Davis French

“They were all nouveau riches, but what they did with their money was so imaginative,” said Defty. “There was not a Donald Trump among them.”

Bixby was an autodidact, Defty said. Once he began collecting an author’s manuscripts, “he would read everything by and about him. He would read a book a night,” she said.

Bixby disposed of his manuscript collection in the 1920s.

“None of his sons were interested in his collections; they had absorbed too much of their father’s attention,” she said.

According to Ted Caldwell, W.K. Bixby’s great grandson, Bixby sold most of his collection to Henry E. Huntington, who founded the library, art collection and botanical garden that bears his name, in 1927 in Pasadena, California.

The bookplate reproduced here is from the William Augustus Bewer Bookplate Collection in the University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware.

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Visitor views “Now, if we’re here,” by Ella Davidson.

Visitor views “Now, if we’re here,” by Ella Davidson.

Art Where You Least Expect It

By Anthony F. Hall

Monday, November 2, 2015

The walls of Hudson Headwaters’ new clinic become a gallery of contemporary art

It’s unlikely that any serious artist ever created anything for the sole purpose of treating someone else’s body or soul.

Nevertheless, the art hanging on the walls of the Hudson Headwaters Health Network’s new clinic in Warrensburg may be of at least some therapeutic value to patients, their anxious families and the sometimes harried staff.

“Can art cure disease?  Probably not, but it may transport you,” says   Victoria Palermo, the artist who selected the work and decided where it should hang.

The new, $9.5 million regional health care facility opened in March.

“As the construction neared completion, there was a feeling that the building wasn’t quite done, that it wasn’t finished,” said Palermo, who had been asked by Hudson Headwaters’ chief administrative officer, George Purdue,  to assist with the building’s interior design.

“I had an idea,” Palermo continued. “There are so many great artists working in this area who may have art that isn’t currently being exhibited; I thought I’d ask them to loan us work for a year.”

So, instead of the generic landscapes and still lives that decorate most hospitals and clinics, Hudson Headwaters’ Warrensburg center displays a broad range of contemporary art, all of it, even the abstract,  rooted in the the Adirondacks.

“We live in a beautiful area, full of changing color, light and texture.  It is bound to surface in the art made here,” said Palermo. “Even the non-representational works offer multiple connection points, besides providing pure visual pleasure.”

Palermo chose forty works by nine artists to hang in the lobbies, waiting rooms, offices, stairwells and corridors.

“To avoid producing the effect of a group show, we placed the work of each individual artist in its own, defined space or arena within the building,” said Palermo.  “What comes through, I think, is the authenticity of the individual artist’s voice.”   Among the artists chosen was Laura Von Rosk, the painter who directs the Lake George Arts Project’s  Courthouse Gallery and who lives in Schroon Lake.

“Art doesn’t have to hang in a gallery to have validity,” said Von Rosk. “In fact, what’s great about having  work shown in an environment like the health center is that people who wouldn’t ordinarily come into a gallery  have a chance to see your work.”

Approximately 55,000 people are expected to visit the health center every year, creating new audiences for the art, said Palermo.

“People may actually be more likely to  connect with art on an emotional level when sitting in a  health center or hospital;  maybe because they’re in a vulnerable state of mind, perhaps because they’re just bored. In either case, they may spend more time looking at the work in an unselfconsciously meditative way than they would in a gallery,” said Palermo.

The Main Street entrance to the Health Center is framed by a series of paintings by Bruno LaVerdiere, who has lived and worked in the Adirondacks for more than forty years.

His work was exhibited this past winter in a Lake George Arts Project show with that of his son Julian, the New York based designer and artist.

Victoria Palermo with paintings by Bruno LaVerdiere

That show included sculptures and paintings generated by LaVerdiere’s preoccupation with shelters, whether they be homes, barns,  temples or churches.

The work hanging in the health center explores those same themes, repeating in a series of encaustic paintings the universal, architectural shape of a house.

They may be said to be extending a welcome into another kind of shelter.

In the main waiting room  is a large representational work by a recent graduate of Skidmore, Ella Davidson, titled “Now, if we’re here.”

It portrays a father and a son looking at a map in the woods, obliquely affirming the power of family to  radiate strength,  courage  and direction.

As it happens, the father in the painting is James West Davidson, co-author with Hudson Headwater founder John Rugge of two books, and the work is by Davidson’s daughter, Elsa.

“I suspect my work will resonate strongly with an audience who recognizes the familiar white pine silhouettes and afternoons by the lake,” said Davidson, who now lives in California. “I’ m glad to have my work shown in a place committed to healing and wellness.”

The large upstairs waiting room contains work by two of Palermo’s colleagues at SUNY Adirondack, John Hampshire and Adam Daily.

In the waiting room for Women’s and Specialty Care hang several of Laura Von Rosk’s landscapes, which seem to well up from some deep, hidden crevices of the collective unconscious.

“The paintings are like windows into the  landscape,” said Palermo.

“Because the paintings are small in scale, they work well within the intimacy of that particular space,” said Von Rosk. “Victoria’s eye for hanging a show benefits both the viewer and the art.”

David Francis’s whimsical, naive pastels of antique toys hang, appropriately enough, in the pediatric waiting room.

Other artists selected by Palermo include the fibre artist Charlene Leary and photographer Dan Way.

The art will be replaced by work by other artists next year, said Palermo.

Painting by Adam Daily.

Like the artists she’s chosen to exhibit at the Health Center, Palermo has a reputation that reaches far beyond the confines of Warren County.

And she is, perhaps, even more accustomed than they are to seeing her work displayed in unconventional spaces.

One work, called Bus Stand, was commissioned by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams and functions as a North Adams bus stop.

Another piece, “up and down”  is part of a current exhibit at the Albany International Airport.

Palermo teaches sculpture at SUNY Adirondack and Skidmore College, where she earned an undergraduate degree. She received her MFA from Bennington College. Her work is exhibited widely. She lives in Queensbury with her husband, Dr. John Rugge.

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The Army of the potomac - A Sharp Shooter.

The Army of the potomac - A Sharp Shooter.

Artists of Modern Life

By James H. Miller

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Winslow Homer and Andy Warhol at The Hyde

At first blush, artists Winslow Homer and Andy Warhol could not be more unalike. Homer (1836-1910), whose art aimed for naturalist precision, painted frothing waves pounding the cragged rocks of coastal Maine, or reclusive woodsmen angling in the Adirondacks. Warhol (1928-1987), the prince of Pop, is the artist who emphatically replaced nature with culture in the visual arts, recycling images of Coca-Cola and Campbell’s Soup.

But according to Erin Coe, former curator and current director of The Hyde Collection, where two exhibitions, “Homer’s America” and “The Late Drawings of Andy Warhol,” recently opened, there is plenty that unites these American artists.

“I see a lot of parallels between the two because both began their careers as illustrators, and both became very well known and successful because of their illustrations,” Coe said, referring to both Warhol’s early work as a commercial artist, and Homer’s for illustrated magazines, such as Harper’s Weekly. “Even though you might think Homer and Warhol are on opposite ends of the art historical spectrum, there are actually a lot of affinities between the two,” she said.

“Both,” she added, “are looking at modern life.”


The Late Drawings of Andy Warhol


“The Late Drawings of Andy Warhol” consists of 50 large-scale drawings the artist produced between 1973 and 1987 (the year Warhol died from a heart attack following a routine gallbladder operation). A traveling exhibition that originated at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Coe arranged to have the show visit the Hyde early last summer, and it represents an important first for the museum. “The Hyde Collection has never had a show devoted to Andy Warhol in its 63 year history,” Coe said. Some of the sketches have not been previously displayed before now, and since the Hyde is the first stop for the exhibition, the works are in actual fact debuting in Glens Falls.

For more reasons than one, the Hyde is perhaps a felicitous venue for Warhol. Watching the paper mill directly behind the museum belch out plumes of smoke, you are reminded that Warhol’s childhood was spent in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s steel mills.

Generally, Warhol’s sketches are spare and direct. The artist typically used a curious mishmash of lines: brittle and saw-toothed, wavy and fluid. Those drawings from the late ‘70s and ‘80s in particular refer to an important, if still underemphasized period in Warhol’s career. Racked with doubts at that time, Warhol began to interrogate some fundamental premises of his earlier work. As a result his art became somewhat more personal, abstract and painterly. He returned to drawing with a renewed vigor, a medium that had always been integral for him, but that acquired fresh importance as he allowed his art to become more outwardly expressive.

Jean Cocteau, 1983

Jean Cocteau, 1983

“We think of Warhol as this artist who broke once and for all from the tradition of authorship in art, and establishes the depersonalized mechanical hand of the artist,” Coe said. “But he’s putting his hand back into it.”

As the wild range of subject matter attests, Warhol was a sponge for everyday culture: “The Late Drawings” includes sketches of dollar signs, cats, Beethoven, wig advertisements, a cabbage patch doll, bullets, an Absolut vodka advertisement, and canned tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, some of the most distinctive pieces pertain to Warhol’s most successful late works, such as the “Skulls,” the silkscreens of Chairman Mao, and the hammer and sickle series. In the latter drawing, Warhol very simply, and with a splatter of pink color, transforms the hammer and sickle—the Soviet Union’s official symbol and the one that emblazoned its flag—into a homey agrarian still life.

Several drawings depict celebrities, from Grace Kelley and John Lennon to the painter David Hockney. Warhol produced a hoard of society portraits, so many that the art historian Robert Rosenblum once called Warhol the “Court Painter to the Seventies.” For Coe, it is the economy of these drawings that is particularly commendable, such as Warhol’s sketch of the Rolling Stone’s frontman Mick Jagger.

“When you look at that drawing there’s minimal lines in it, minimal contours, and yet it captures the very essence of Mick Jagger: his attitude, his persona, with just a few lines. It’s really remarkable,” she explained.

Other works in the show are gloriously cheeky. The coke drawing, for example, consists of a brown blotch of high fructose corn syrup on paper—a spoof of the kind of painting gesture associated with Abstract Expressionism (which Pop Art reacted against), such as Jackson Pollock’s drips. Here, that mighty and manly personal gesture becomes a mass-produced sugary drink.


Homer’s America


The Hyde’s in-house summer exhibition, “Homer’s America,” is comprised of some two dozen works—primarily engravings, plus a couple of watercolors and a small oil painting—from its permanent collection, which collectively illustrate Homer’s sharp-eyed record of American life in the 19th Century. Charlotte Hyde, the museum’s founder, collected most of the works in the show in the 1930s, when Homer’s critical reputation was revived. According to Coe, around that time Charlotte Hyde stepped back from the Old Masters to focus on American ones.

The wood engravings point to Homer’s critical work as an illustrator. In 1854, at the age of 18, Homer became an apprentice at a lithographic studio in Boston. He later embarked on a freelance career, submitting drawings to publications, mostly Harper’s Weekly, that became wood engravings. (He produced the final drawing on the woodblock and worked closely with the engraver, but did not personally create the engraving.) Homer mastered the practice. From a French engraver, Charles Damoreau, he learned to draw in a strong linear style that was best suited for the printmaking process.

“Homer is not your garden-variety illustrator. He really wanted to understand the engraver’s art, and the reason he became one of the most successful illustrators of the nineteenth century is because of this understanding,” explained Coe.

The engravings were often produced in tandem with oil paintings, with sometimes slight variations between the two. “Homer’s America” includes the Civil War engraving “The Sharpshooter on Picket Duty” (1863), which ultimately became one of Homer’s first mature oil paintings. According to Coe, Homer communicated with two different audiences, and reserves most of his social commentary for the illustrations. He may have also used the engravings to test the reception of a subject he intended to paint. But Coe stresses that the process was never formulaic (she will deliver a lecture on the topic at the Hyde on July 23).


John Lennon, 1895-1986

John Lennon, 1895-1986

That most penetrating observer of American society in the 19th Century, Alexis de Tocqueville once noted of America’s vanishing wildernesses, “One feels proud to be a man, and yet at the same time one experiences I cannot say what bitter regret at the power God has granted us over nature.” Homer’s Adirondack work shares some of this ambivalence. The artist first visited the North Woods in 1870 and returned periodically until his last visit in 1910. In Keene Valley and Minerva, Homer occasionally recorded man’s disfigurement of the land, but without explicit comment.

“Is he celebrating it or is he critiquing it? Is he embracing it or is he repelled by it? I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer to that,” Coe explained.

Nevertheless, Coe finds less ambivalence in Homer’s Adirondack watercolors, such as the Hyde’s angling scene, “A Good One, Adirondacks” (1889). Homer adopted the medium in 1873. It allowed him to work freely outdoors directly from nature. Coe observes that within Homer’s watercolors, the human figures often recede into the landscape. In “A Good One,” the angler is completely immersed in the wilds, united with the water, the trees, and the mountains, rather than waging battle against them.

“He had to accept that change was coming, hence the need perhaps to capture it on paper, to preserve that sense of oneness with nature,” Coe said of Homer.

Tocqueville registered those same feelings about the vanishing “solitudes of America” when he wrote, “One sees them with a melancholy pleasure; one is in some sort of hurry to admire them.”

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Green Reflections in Brook, Puffer Pond Brook

Green Reflections in Brook, Puffer Pond Brook

The Color of the Adirondacks: Eliot Porter’s ‘Forever Wild’

By James H. Miller

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What set off America’s environmental movement in the ‘60s? We often think of Rachel Carson’s report on pesticides in “Silent Spring” (1962). But others have pointed to a less famous book released that same year by the photographer Eliot Porter (1901-1990). In 1962, the environmental organization the Sierra Club raised thousands of dollars to publish “‘In Wildness is the Preservation of the World,’ Selections and Photographs by Eliot Porter,” a book that set Henry David Thoreau’s rousing words to Porter’s nature photography, which had harnessed Kodak’s latest advances in color film. One reviewer enthused at the time that, with the publication of Porter’s photographs, “conservation ceased to be a boring chapter on agriculture in fifth-grade textbooks, or the province of such as birdwatchers.”

That same year, Harold Hochschild, president of the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, together with his wife, Mary, commissioned some photographs from Porter. The Hochschilds were responding to private developers’ challenges to the New York State constitution’s “forever wild” clause. The two planned to recruit several photographers and publish a book to promote the region’s natural beauty. They had expected no more than a dozen images from Porter, but the photographer had gleefully located “an inexhaustible wealth of subjects,” as he later recalled. He gave them over a hundred. Meeting at the couple’s winter residence in Princeton, New Jersey, the three of them decided to produce a different sort of book—published 50 years ago next year—that became “Forever Wild: The Adirondacks” (1966), which set Porter’s color images to nature writer William Chapman White’s poetry.

Eliot Porter

Eliot Porter

New to the area, Porter found much to admire about the Adirondacks. He delighted in the region’s geological history and the networks of rivers, ponds, and lakes. He was fond of noting that the Adirondacks peaked in the fall, when the “blueberry bushes glow like the coals of burned-out fires in the slanting rays of the sun.” Porter honors that season in his photographs, but also the spring, summer, and winter. His best pictures, which forgo mannered camera angles and create radically foregrounded landscapes, are like flattened tapestries sewn with rock, water, tree, and leaf (they also suggest an interest in Abstract Expressionist and Color Field painting from that time—styles that eliminated illusions of depth and stressed the canvas’ flat surface). Here, Porter later said, was “a land where one can still see what the land once was…where the human spirit can yet be free.”

Porter’s fascination with “the untamed wild world,” as he once called it, was perhaps a reaction to his tame upbringing and unremarkable early career. The son of a Bryn Mawr-educated mother and a biologist-architect father, Porter’s childhood was spent between Winnetka, Illinois, outside Chicago, and the family’s private island off the coast of Maine. From an early age, Porter had the archivist’s impulse, collecting things with a merry relish. Every visit to the sea brought back a sand dollar, starfish, sea cucumber, or limpet. He also used nets and cyanide bottles to capture and preserve butterflies and moths. Enrolling at Harvard in 1920, Porter chose a career in chemistry; and after medical school, he worked as a bacteriologist at a Harvard research lab, but found the work insufferably dry and its rewards elusive—a far cry from the immediate satisfaction of picture taking.

In this period, photographers’ careers either began or ended with a chat with Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer, critic, and gallery-operator who summered at Lake George. Eliot Porter was no exception. Soon after he took up photography in earnest, Porter’s brother, the figurative painter and important critic Fairfield Porter, introduced him to Stieglitz. At first Stieglitz’s remarks were “far from encouraging,” Porter recounted. But some years later, after repeated critiques and dismissals, Stieglitz exhibited 29 black-and-white photographs of Porter’s at his New York gallery, An American Place. “Some of your photographs are the first I have ever seen which made me feel: ‘There is my own spirit,’” Stieglitz wrote to Porter. Until then the gallerist had only offered two other photographers solo exhibitions: Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, two giants of the camera art.

Beaver Meadow Falls, St. Huberts.

The show was a success; Porter even made $400. He resigned from the world of science to concentrate on photography, but his ambitions as a photographer remained rooted in science rather than fine art. With the gusto of a geek, Porter talked about photographing birds—his goal was “to raise the standards by which bird photographs are judged.” Birds needed to be captured in color, so Porter mastered and tweaked Kodak’s difficult dye-transfer development system, bringing to color photography an unprecedented level of control at a time when debates still raged about its artistic merits. Contrary to other photographers, Porter viewed color vision as a biological fact. He wanted to photograph things the way he saw them, the way they actually were, as he did in the Adirondacks.

According to the photographer, Mary Hochschild controlled the direction of the Adirondack book. She had urged Porter to photograph the area’s more obvious attractions: the grandeur of the High Peaks, for instance. But Porter was opposed to that kind of spectacle, which nearly cost him the job. “Underlying and supporting these brilliant displays are slow, quiet processes that pass almost unnoticed,” Porter argued; and he wanted to call attention to them. “Nature,” he said, “should be viewed without distinction.” He was forced to compromise his convictions occasionally, but the enthralling blandness of some of the Adirondack photos is what made them so powerful 50 years ago. In contrast to Ansel Adams’ hyper-cinematic photographs of the West, Porter stages bare encounters with the natural world, forcing viewers to see the intricacy of the mundane. Everything about the work recalls Thoreau’s recommendation: “Simplify, simplify.”

Although he eventually photographed in far-flung locations—Turkey, Antarctica, Iceland, Greece, Egypt, and China—Porter need not have done so. His best photographs are of some rocks, pond vegetation, or a little moss.

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