Lots to Celebrate on the Mountain Top

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Counting up money for the 50/50 at MTHS

Counting up money for the 50/50 at MTHS

Sunday saw two anniversary celebrations among the arts community on the Mountain Top. In Haines Falls, the Mountain Top Historical Society threw a party for its fortieth anniversary.  Ice cream, cake, lemonade, and ice tea were offered for our enjoyment, and top-notch music from the fifties performed by the Rhythm and Blues Band ensured that it was great fun to “twist gain, like we did last summer” — or perhaps more summers ago than I care to count…. Earlier in the day, Larry Tompkins gave a presentation on historic Windham. Alas, other commitments meant I had to miss this, but MTHS President Cyndi LaPierre assured me that it was well attended.

The Rhythm and Blues Band does their thing

The Rhythm and Blues Band does their thing

The MTHS has the friendliest, most dedicated, and most knowledgeable people you can imagine. Stop into their colorful headquarters the next time you’re driving along Route 23A — you can find details on their website — and while you’re there, check out my photography exhibition “Natural and Historic Landscapes,” open through Labor Day weekend!

Enjoying the festivities at the TAAC

Enjoying the festivities at the TAAC

The other celebration was taking place in Tannersville, where the Tannersville Antique and Artisan Center was celebrating the first anniversary of being in business. The place was alive with well-wishers, and I also met some of the regulars whose work is for sale there, including photographer Francis Driscoll and local historian/author John Ham. Rick Thomas has done a superb job of bringing together gifted regional artists and collectors to a bright, friendly venue where you’re sure to find something you’ll want to buy, for yourself or for a gift.

In Hunter I stopped into the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery for a preview of a truly

A glimpse of the new show in Hunter

A glimpse of the new show in Hunter

eye-opening photography show that’s opening this weekend. Carolyn Bennett is always on the lookout for interesting artists to showcase, and this time she has managed to find three photographers whose work really pushes the envelope as to what can be done in the medium. Palenville’s Dan Burkholder I’ve been familiar with from Facebook and his website and was glad for this opportunity to see some of his fine work “in person.” While I was there I met Vincent Bilotta, also from Palenville, who was busy hanging his portion of the exhibit. The third photographer is Fawn Potash from Catskill and I look forward to being able to study her work more closely.

The opening reception for “Light Sensitive” is this Saturday August 16, 2 to 4 pm at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery, Route 23A in Hunter. Hope to see you there!

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Happy Birthday Mountain Top Historical Society

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First, something about the Mountain Top Historical Society in their own words: “The Mountain Top Historical Society is dedicated to discovering , preserving, interpreting and sharing the unique and rich history of the Mountain Top region in Greene County, NY. The Society is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1974 and engages in activities and programs that enrich understanding and foster appreciation of the Catskill High peaks.  We encourage the study and preservation of the Mountain Top’s art, literature, history, culture, folklore, legends in a variety of ways.”

Local historian and author John M. Ham poses with his latest book. The quality of the B&W photos in this one is amazing.

Local historian and author John M. Ham poses with one of his books.

Now, the great news is that they’ve been doing this since 1974! This year the MTHS celebrates forty years of serving the northern Catskills. They’ve supported the work of historians such as John Ham, whose books are an invaluable and indispensable resource for the region’s history; sponsored the premiers of such filmmakers as Tobe Carey, whose visual documentaries are historical tours de force on such topics as the Ashokan Reservoir and the Catskill railroads; invited lecturers to share their knowledge of the history and culture of the region; provided entertainment steeped in the Catskills’ popular culture; and currently, for which I’m very grateful, are hosting my photography exhibition

"Ashokan Dreams"

“Ashokan Dreams”

“Natural and Historical Landscapes.”  This is the first time the MTHS has ever hosted a photo exhibition and I’m privileged that they’ve decided to “take a chance” on me and am especially thankful to current MTHS President Cyndi LaPierre for her faith in my work.

On Sunday August 10 the MTHS invites us all to their official celebration of their fortieth birthday.  Come and join in the fun if you can! On Route 23a in Haines Falls — you can’t miss the sign and the colorful headquarters. At 1 pm Larry Tompkins will present a lecture about beautiful, historic Windham.  From 3 pm to 4.30 pm the Rhythm and Blues Band will entertain, and there will be free ice cream and cake for everyone. And while you’re at it, please stop into the Visitor Center to enjoy my photographs–you might find a print or some fine-art cards you’ll want to take home.

 

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.

Happy Birthday, General Washington

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The New Windsor Cantonment has been one of my favorite places to photograph, but last Monday, Presidents’ Day, was actually the first time I had been there in a while. Of course, there was lots of snow, and this challenged me to look at the place with a new eye.

ed cream tone-0357 sIf you’re not familiar with the New Windsor Cantonment, it’s well worth a visit if you’re traveling through Orange County. It’s also known as “the last encampment,” because it was indeed the last encampment of General George Washington’s Continental Army before the end of the Revolutionary War. Today you can walk the grounds and see the (mostly reconstructed) buildings, and on special days, such as on Presidents’ and Memorial Day Weekends, reenactors offer demonstrations of military and camp life. Also on the site is the Purple Heart Hall of Honor. For further information on this historic site (including opening times), visit the website for NY State Parks.

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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).

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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.

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.

St. Mary’s of the Mountain Church, a Historical-Cultural Landmark

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I enjoy photographing historic buildings and have lately gone in search of the ones in and near the Mountaintop region of the Greene County Catskills. Some I’ve discovered simply by wandering around, some from the classic book Picturesque Catskills, and some have been suggested by Carolyn Bennett of the Catskill Mountain Foundation in Hunter. I’m particularly grateful to Carolyn for having put me on to Saint Mary’s of the Mountain Church, right down the road on Route 23A in Hunter. Built in 1839, Saint Mary’s of the Mountain is the oldest Catholic church in the Catskills. It served the Irish and German immigrants who settled in the Catskills to work in the tanning, cotton, and lumber industries.

DSC0025 sThe Diocese of Albany, in which Hunter is located, closed the church in 2002 and planned to demolish it. Fortunately, a group of local citizens banded together to save the church, and in 2011 the diocese transferred the title to the Village of Hunter.  Saint Mary’s of the Mountain is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The unforgiving Catskill weather hasn’t been kind to this historic church and it is sorely in need of repair and restoration. The committee is actively raising funds to ensure that this beautiful historic landmark can be restored and preserved. I will be adding my own efforts to this project, but meanwhile I wanted to share with you a few of the photos I took during a recent visit. It was toward the end of May and fresh snow had been falling on the top of Hunter Mountain–real snow, not fabricated ski snow–a glorious day!

Please consider making a contribution, even a small one, to the church restoration project. Check out their Facebook page or send checks made out to “Village of Hunter St. Mary’s Fund” to PO Box 934, Hunter NY 12442. Every little amount adds up. Every little amount brings this historic church closer to the day of its former glory.

Also — great news! — our book Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour is now available!

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