Kingston Offers Fine Introduction to Artist Jervis McEntee

Jervis McEntee (1828-1891) was one of the second generation of Hudson River School artists. Born in Rondout (Kingston), he painted many scenes of Kingston itself (which serve as interesting records of how the town was developing) and of the surrounding countryside, areas that will be especially familiar to anyone who knows present-day Ulster County between Routes 28 and just north of Route 212. In particular, it was a painting entitled Mink Hollow that sparked my interest in wanting to see the exhibit currently on display at The Friends of Historic Kingston (FOHK) Gallery on Wall Street, Kingston (just opposite the historic Dutch Church).

A portion of the exhibit space devoted to McEntee

A portion of the exhibit space devoted to McEntee

Although McEntee traveled farther afield, particularly to areas of New England that were starting to increase in popularity among vacationers as well as artists, most of the paintings in the FOHK exhibit depict the general area of Kingston and the Catskills. Not all the paintings, however, are titled with their exact spots, which raised two questions of personal interest to me: (1) Do any of the paintings with, e.g., the word pond in the title in fact depict Cooper Lake?  (2) Did McEntee paint any scenes from the Esopus Valley villages that were later flooded to make way for the Ashokan Reservoir?

The exhibit space provides ample information about McEntee’s life, including photographs, so that the FOHK have arranged a most admirable introduction to this Hudson River School artist who is not one of the best known (he did apprentice briefly with Frederic E. Church), though he did do an excellent job of depicting scenes in this particular area of the Catskills and their foothills.

I have only one quibble — a minor,personal quibble from someone who dearly loves that area of the world: The exhibit ends

These tombstones are in the yard of the historic Old Dutch Church, across the street from the FOHK Gallery.

These tombstones are in the yard of the historic Old Dutch Church, across the street from the FOHK Gallery.

with McEntee’s painting The Doge’s Palace (Venice), and I couldn’t help wonder what was the motivation behind including it. Stylistically it jars with the other work and (to this paranoid observer, anyhow) it almost seemed an apology that the artist had painted so many scenes of woods and streams in this (then) somewhat obscure area of the New World.

Kudos are due to the Black Dome Press for publishing a superb exhibition catalog, Jervis McEntee: Kingston’s Artist of the Hudson River School. The catalog contains not only beautiful reproductions of all the paintings and other visual material in the exhibit, but also two excellent essays by Lowell Thing and William B. Rhoads, respectively, for those who want to deepen their knowledge still further.

Just up the street, Uptown Coffee is a great place to enjoy a snack or lunch after you've seen the exhibit.

Just up the street, Uptown Coffee is a great place to enjoy a snack or lunch after you’ve seen the exhibit.

The FOHK exhibit of McEntee’s work runs through October 31, 2015. For anyone who still can’t get enough of McEntee’s work, a still larger retrospective will run at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in nearby New Paltz from August 26 to December 13, 2015. So if you want to have your own McEntee festival, you can plan to see both exhibits on the same day (the Kingston venue is open on Fridays and Saturdays); they’re separated by just one exit on the Thruway. I’m hoping the Dorsky retrospective will include some of McEntee’s paintings of the New England coast.

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Saving Cooper Lake

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Cooper Lake in Ulster County is the water supply for the City of Kingston. It also happens to be an extraordinarily beautiful spot where locals and visitors enjoy walking. Because it is a water supply, it’s off limits to such activities as swimming, boating, and fishing. This somewhat “untouched” feature adds to its appeal.

But now Cooper Lake is under threat. A water bottling company in California wants to buy some 1.75 million gallons of water a day from this Catskills treasure. That means machinery, possibly a chain link fence — whatever, a complete ruination of the lake as we now know and love it. You can read the details at http://savecooperlake.org.

Locals are up in arms. Walk through Woodstock and you’ll see signs and posters in almost all the shop windows. Meetings are held, petitions are being organized.

My own argument for saving Cooper Lake — aside from loathing any project, anywhere, that prioritizes the almighty dollar over all other considerations — doesn’t need words. A picture, as they say, is worth 1,000 words. I’ve photographed Cooper Lake more times than I can count. These are from Thanksgiving weekend.

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Still in need of a Christmas gift? Looking for something that shows off our beautiful region of the globe? Check out our book Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour.

Bardavon Theater Presents Met Opera Treats

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One year ago I blogged about the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Parsifal, shown live in HD at the UPAC in Kingston (you can read that post here). Last week I attended the Encore HD performance of the Met’s new production of Massanet’s opera Werther, this time at the UPAC’s “sister theater” across the Hudson River, the historic Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie. “Encore” performances are the same as the “live” ones except that they’re not live but may be a day or a week  later; as with the live ones, in the Encore performances you get the same intermission features, including the interviews with the cast that actually took place during the intermissions.

Ed IMG_2202 sThis was my first time ever seeing Werther, which is loosely based on a novel by Goethe, and except for the tenor arias that I have on recordings by the great Nicolai Gedda I was unfamiliar with any of the music. I can’t say I particularly liked the opera — but I did enjoy the performance immensely. Vocally and visually the cast couldn’t have been more perfect. Both onstage and off, tenor Jonas Kaufmann looks the epitome of the handsome, dashing romantic hero, and the title role was as if made for him. Surprising, really, how demanding the role is, and it’s hard to imagine a tenor today who could navigate its challenges more successfully than Kaufmann.

French mezzo soprano Sophie Koch in the role of Charlotte gave a virtuoso performance as the young woman torn between being united with her true love, on the one hand, and, on the other, dutifully fulfilling her mother’s deathbed wish that she marry Albert, to whom she is now engaged. Lisette Oropesa was delightfully sweet as Charlotte’s younger sister Sophie, and David Bižić a steady, solid, if somewhat boring Albert (I’m referring to the character, not to Bižić’s performance) who nonetheless exhibited hints of a hard side when he thought himself crossed.

Veteran singer Jonathan Summers played the Bailiff, Charlotte’s widowed father. Here’s where the beauty of the close-up camera work of the HD rendition really shines: At one point a telling expression of misgiving flashed across his face when Charlotte’s upcoming marriage to Albert was mentioned. which I doubt could have been visible to the audience in the enormous opera house itself.

In the intermission interview Kaufmann spoke of the challenge of interpreting Werther in such a way that the audience doesn’t lose sympathy with him. He certainly did his best, but I think the production was working against him here, and by Act III you wanted to tell him, “Just take some Zoloft and get over it.”

This was my first time seeing a performance in the Bardavon Theater. The Bardavon has an amazing history. It started life as the Collingwood Opera House in 1869, and

If you want to grab a quick and tasty bite to eat before a matinee at the Bardavon, this historic diner is just down the street.

If you want to grab a quick and tasty bite to eat before a matinee at the Bardavon, this historic diner is just down the street.

during its heyday, which lasted into the 20th century, renowned artists such as John Philip Sousa, Edwin Booth, and Ignace Paderewski performed here. Converted in 1923 into a venue for vaudeville and silent movies, the theater eventually fell upon hard times and closed in 1975. It was actually slated for demolition, but a not-for-profit group was formed  that worked for revitalization, the theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the very next season the theater began its new life as the Bardavon.

Whatever kind of entertainment you enjoy, the Bardavon and the Kingston UPAC are guaranteed to have something for you. Why not check out their website and see for yourself?

View my fine art photographs of Historic New York, including one of Poughkeepsie’s Main Street, here.

WKNY, a Good Local Radio Station

Here I am with radio host Warren Lawrence after our interview.

Here I am with radio host Warren Lawrence after our interview.

Last week I drove up to Kingston to do a radio interview promoting our new book, Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour. While it would have been possible to do this by phone from home, I prefer face-to-face contact and getting actually to meet people. In this case, it was well worth the trip. Warren Lawrence, who is the Program Director for WKNY (1490 AM) and who invited me, is also the Morning Show host, and it was energizing to see him in action. It would be hard to find someone more dedicated to this work, and once we got talking, we were on a roll. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did!

Since WKNY is a local AM station whose signal doesn’t reach as far as

When Warren told me the radio station was next to the Big Bubble Laundromat, it proved very easy to find!

When Warren told me the radio station was next to the Big Bubble Laundromat, it proved very easy to find!

where I live, I listened to Warren’s morning program a couple of times streaming online to familiarize myself with the content and dynamics. It is definitely at least a notch or two in quality above some other local stations, including some FM stations whose signals reach much farther. Notably, neither the music nor the talk revolve around the latest celebrities. Another recent guest, for example, was a lady from the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall, Orange County. It’s gratifying to see this lovely museum being publicized as an alternative to water parks as a place to take children on a summer day. And as for the music–well, when Warren played Roberta Flack from 1972 singing “The first time ever I saw your face,” I knew I was far away from being beaten over the head with the Top 40.

If you’re driving north on the Thruway in the Hudson Valley and are looking for quality radio to keep you company, you should be able to pick up WKNY’s signal beginning around Exit 17 (Newburgh). When I left Kingston after this delightful experience, the signal stayed with me all the way to Rhinebeck, my next stop (more about that another time), across the Kingston-Rhinebeck Bridge to the east.

Met Opera’s Parsifal a Treat at Kingston UPAC

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Last Saturday  I had the amazing experience of enjoying the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Parsifal live in HD at the UPAC in Kingston.  The production was not a traditional one but was set in the present–or, perhaps, a future–time. It certainly had a postapocalyptic feel to it. And it worked. The point: This is a timeless story, not something that could only have taken place in a mythical Middle Ages.

The cast was the best that could have been assembled for a Wagner opera in this day and age: it included Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal),  Katarina Dalayman (the sorceress Kundry), Peter Mattei (the wounded Grail Knight Amfortas), and Evgeny Nikitin (the evil magician Klingsor), led by the masterful conducting of Daniele Gatti, but for me the most memorable performance came from the great Wagnerian bass Rene Pape as an unusually youthful, deeply sensitive Gurnemanz.

Although I’ve been a professional opera critic in a precvious life, my purpose in this blog post is not to comment in detail on the performance but, rather, to highlight the venue–the UPAC in Kingston. For me, at least, this historic theater was an undiscovered treasure, since until I went looking for a place to see Parsifal I had never heard of it. Thus as a Wagner lover and a historian, it was a double treat to attend the performance here. Originally known as the Broadway Theater (it’s on Broadway in Kingston, a few minutes from I-587), this combination movie palace and vaudeville house first opened its doors in 1927. Twenty years later it was purchased by the Walter Reade Organization and became a first-run movie theater. In 1953 the theater got not only a major facelift but also a new name, the Community Theater.

Ed IMG_1252 sIn the 1970s Kingston began suffering from an all-too-common malady as businesses and entertainment venues forsook town centers for suburban mall areas, and by 1977 the theater was slated for demolition–until a group of concerned citizens got together, purchased it, and reopened it as the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC). In 1979 the theater went on the National Register of Historic Places, one of the last great show palaces in New York State. The UPAC is now merged into the corporate structure of the Bardavon, another historic theater across the river in Poughkeepsie, both of them premier performing arts venues in the Hudson Valley.

The variety of offerings at the UPAC is quite amazing, as you can see from the photo here.  If you visit their website, you can learn about their performance schedule and also become a Friend, which entitles you to various “perks” depending on the level at which you join. The membership covers being a Friend both of the UPAC and the Bardavon, so you get two for the price of one.

It just goes to show that people living in the Hudson Valley don’t have to schlepp into New York City for top-notch performances. While operagoers watching HD live aren’t seeing the performances in person, the huge screen ensures that they have a better view than they would at the Met, plus–and this is a major bonus as far as I’m concerned–they get to see the live intermission interviews with the artists, something the Met audience misses out on.

Check out the UPAC and the Bardavon today. I guarantee you, there’s something at each of them for every taste–and you’ll be supporting a historic artistic presence in the Hudson Valley.