Colorful Poughkeepsie

Poughkeepsie's historic Main Street district. The building on the right houses the Mid Hudson Heritage Center, where I'll be doing a talk and book signing on Thursday October 24.

Poughkeepsie’s historic Main Street district. The building on the right houses the Mid Hudson Heritage Center, where I’ll be doing a talk and book signing on Thursday October 24.

Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County has been an underexplored territory in my photographic repertoire, and yesterday I set out to put that right, especially since I’ve been invited to give a talk there at the Mid Hudson Heritage Center later this week, in conjunction with a book signing for our Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour.

The “Queen City of the Hudson,” as Poughkeepsie is known, is home to many sites of historical significance, including the Bardavon Theater. It also contains the eastern terminus of the 1.28-mile-long Walkway over the Hudson State Historic Park, the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. The result of a determined community effort to transform an abandoned railroad bridge into something that people can enjoy, the Walkway stands 212 feet above the Hudson River and offers superb views.

Poughkeepsie boasts a number of historic districts. Here are some photos I’ve taken of the Main Street district. One of the buildings houses the Mid Hudson Heritage Center, one of the city’s leading cultural institutions.  My lecture and book signing (I’ll be talking about the Hudson River Artists and showing slides of some of their work and mine) is Thursday October 24 at 7.30 pm.  Join us if you can!

This amazing sculpture stands along Main Street. Can you find me in the picture?

This amazing sculpture stands along Main Street. Can you find me in the picture?

A mural about the Hudson's own "Loch Ness Monster." I once encountered him and dubbed him "Hudson Henry."

A mural about the Hudson’s own “Loch Ness Monster.” I once encountered him and dubbed him “Hudson Henry.”

Another view of Main Street

Another view of Main Street




Hudson River Painters: The Truth of Asher B. Durand

Opposites attract, so they say. That could well apply to the two foremost painters of the 19th-century Hudson River School, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and Asher B. Durand (1796-1886). Of course, they had much in common, most notably their incredible artistic gifts and their love for being outdoors in the open, away from the noise and bustle of the city. (If they complained about the noise and bustle then, can you imagine their reaction if they were to visit it today?)

But when it came to the details — to each man’s individual approach to their work — Cole and Durand were quite different. As a photographer, I like to put it this way: If they were landscape photographers working today, Cole would have been one of the first to own a digital camera and to take full advantage of all that Photoshop has to offer in the way of processing the photos. Durand, on the other hand, would still be using a film camera — one of those large-format ones, no doubt — and would make only the most minimal use, if at all, of photo processing software.

Durand painted what he saw. It’s as simple as that. He was one of the first in America to use the plein air technique, meaning that he actually painted outdoors, painted immediately what he saw. Some of his paintings are so exact that it’s possible even today to identify the spot from which he painted a particular scene.

Durand, Beacon Hills

Durand, Beacon Hills

One such painting is Beacon Hills on the Hudson River, Opposite Newburgh. Durand’s business was such that he had to live in New York City, but he took every opportunity, especially in the nice weather, to get out and travel, not only to paint but also to walk and fish (he was an avid sportsman). For a few years (roughly late 1840s–early 1850s) he owned a vacation home in or near Newburgh, in Orange County, from which one can look right across the Hudson River to Beacon, and it was there that he painted this picture (above).

DSC0117 Nik s

Since I don’t live far from Newburgh, I decided to test it out. Armed with my camera and my intuition, I drove up Route 9W and parked along Water Street. On the side of the street opposite the riverfront a hill rises up, leading to some homes as well as to the city’s historic district. Since Durand painted his picture from a height, I walked up the hill with my camera and tripod. It was easy, instantaneously to see what Durand had painted. Compare the contours of the mountain peaks to see what I mean.

I didn’t aim either to replicate exactly the contents of Durand’s painting (impossible anyway–there’s now a railroad running through the scene, apparently one reason why he gave up the house after three years or so) or to process my photo to resemble the painting. Interestingly, Durand loved clouds–he was of one mind with the English painter John Constable in that–and may well have envied the sky I had that day.

Durand, Dover Plains

Durand, Dover Plains

Another scene Durand painted that is claimed to be so exact that the spot can still be located is Dover Plains, Dutchess County, New York. Dover Plains is near the Connecticut border and is, as I discovered, a challenging drive. I probably shouldn’t have trusted directions that say “When you pass the last house…” (last house where?), but I drove around and around and never found the spot. If anyone reading this can help me out, I’d be very grateful. Otherwise, one day I’ll conscript a volunteer into driving me there so I can watch out for the view.

This photograph isn’t in our new book, Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour, but plenty of other good photos are! Check it out here.

Burger Hill Park offers great “prospects”

In 18th-century (and early 19th-century) England the word “prospect” was often used to mean “view,” and people enjoyed going out walking and hiking to find nice prospects. They would ascend high hills to enjoy the prospect; apparently, this is how one accessed the best view–oops, I mean prospect–of the university town of Oxford. Poets often waxed eloquent in praise of prospects (the well-known phrase “Distance lends enchantment” comes from one of these poems).

Those searching for an interesting “prospect” in the Hudson Valley might well consider a trip to Burger Hill Park near Rhinebeck. Burger Hill offers stunning views of the Hudson Valley and Catskills and of the surrounding, bucolic farmland, and is especially attractive during the foliage season, as you’ll see from my photos. I understand that it’s a great place for sledding during the winter, and during the spring and summer birdwatchers have plenty of opportunities for their favorite activity. In fact I noticed several nesting boxes built at various places and wondered what species they attract–possibly meadowlarks?

Burger Hill has an interesting history. In the early 18th century a man named Burkhardt, a Palatine German who settled in this region, became a tenant farmer of Henry Beekman (maybe you’re familiar with the fine Beekman Arms restaurant in Rhinebeck), who acquired the land in 1679. Ownership eventually passed to the original tenant’s descendants, whose name over the years evolved to Burger. The property passed on to a series of different owners until it was sold to Scenic Hudson in 1997. Currently it is managed by the Winnakee Land Trust.

To enjoy the views you need to climb the 550-foot-high hill. There are three ways to do so, two gradual ascents (of which the one to the right is the more scenic) and one direct, unrelentingly steep path, which I don’t recommend unless you are quite certain you’re in the best of shape. You’ll find benches here and there and, at the top, stones into which are carved the shapes and names of the mountains visible on the opposite side of the river to help you identify them.

Burger Hill is reached by driving south from Route 199. The turn-off, which is on the right, isn’t too far after the junction with Route 9G which leads into Rhinebeck. After you’ve scaled the hill and enjoyed the view, you might want to treat yourself to something at one of the nice cafes in town.

These and other photos of the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and my other favorite places can be viewed and purchased on my website.

Beacon Bounces Back

Once an important strategic point in the Revolutionary War—both town and mountain got its name from the signals lit atop the mountain to warn the Continental Army of approaching British troops—the city of Beacon now thrives as a center for the arts.

The city’s fortunes haven’t always been so upbeat.  “Urban renewal” caused the demolition of important historic buildings in the 1960s. During the following decade, the closing of many factories due to economic decline precipitated an economic downturn that lasted until the late 1990s.

Enter the artists and their visions.  The arrival of Dia:Beacon, the largest museum of contemporary art in the country, in what had been a Nabisco cracker box factory generated both an artistic and a commercial renaissance in this Dutchess County city. Residents of artistic enclaves downstate began relocating to Beacon. A variety of art galleries followed in Dia:Beacon’s wake, including Fovea, the Van Brunt Gallery, and Hudson Beach Glass. Hudson Beach Glass, founded by well-known glass artist John Gilvey with three partners, is located in a renovated former firehouse, itself a work of art. Just as the city of Hudson, some sixty miles north, arose from the doldrums to refashion itself as a destination for antiques aficionados, so Beacon has been transformed into a mecca for the arts.

Friendly cafés and restaurants cater to visitors and residents alike. Those interested in history and hiking have their choices of historic homesteads and hiking trails, including hikes up Mt. Beacon itself.

On the opposite side of the river in Newburgh, a statue of General Washington looks across and surveys Beacon and its mountain. Could he ever have envisioned the future history of this amazing city?

For my recent photograph uploads to my Hudson Valley Gallery, please visit my website. Thank you!