Saturday, July 30, 2005

Saugerties Art Tour Preview

Windows on Main Street in Saugerties are starting to bloom with work by artists from Saugerties Artists' Studio Tour. I am featured in the window of Smith Hardware, on the corner of Main and Partition Streets. An honor to be in the company of Barbara Bravo, Diana Bryan and Ellen Perantoni. An honor to be in the window of one of the great locally owned hardware stores anywhere...the sort of place that could well have inspired the Hudson Valley's Nancy Willard to write her poem, "A Hardware Store as Proof of the Existence of God."

I praise the brightness of hammers pointing east
like the steel woodpeckers of the future,
and dozens of hinges opening brass wings,
and six new rakes shyly fanning their toes,
and bins of hooks glittering into bees,

and a rack of wrenches like the bones of horses,
and mailboxes sowing rows of silver chapels,
and a company of plungers waiting for God
to claim their thin legs in their big shoes
and put them on and walk away laughing.

In a world not perfect but not bad either
let there be glue, glaze, gum, and grabs,
caulk also, and hooks, shackles, cables, and slips,
and signs so spare a child may read them,
Men, Women, In, Out, No Parking, Beware the Dog.

In the right hands, they can work wonders.

Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Another worthwhile thing about our hometown of Saugerties is a place Arick and I visited this week: the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, located on Old Stage Road between Kingston and Saugerties. These people
provide a safe and loving haven for abused and abandoned horses and farm animals—animals who have never known warm shelter, spacious pastures, good food, or the touch of a kind hand. Since 2001, CAS has provided refuge for close to 400 such animals, including horses, ponies, cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, rabbits, and a variety of birds.
We were there on Friday, which turned out to be a mistake...they're actually open only on Saturday and Sunday. I know from out experience at Opus 40 that it can be maddening to have people show up on the wrong day, just to look around, but the people at the farm could not have been nicer...all of them. They welcomed us, let us look around, even let Arick feed tomatoes to the pigs, including their newest one, Ozzie, a 4 month old Vietnamese potbellied pig.

Now, people who love animals -- especially animals that have been abuse by people -- don't always love people, and there's no reason why they should, necessarily. But the complete and genuine warmth of everyone there, and their graciousness to two people who showed up when they weren't supposed to be there, won our gratitude. Now, I don't recommend testing their patience by showing up on an off day. I know what that's like for us at Opus 40. But I do recommend going, and seeing the wonderful work they've done, and are doing, with abused animals.

We'll be going back (on a weekend), and we'll be supporting them with a membership. I think Arick is going to want to go back every weekend. I wonder if they can use a 5-year-old volunteer?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

RIP John Herald

One of Woodstock's great musical voices, John Herald, dead at 65, apparently by his own hand. His group, the Greenbriar Boys, was one of the finest of the New Traditionalist bluegrass groups of the 60s. They memorably backed up Joan Baez on "Banks of the Ohio," and their own debut album on Vanguard spent a lot of time on my turntable. I particularly loved their rendition of "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight" and "We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock and Roll)." John also wrote "Stewball," based on a classic Leadbelly folk song, which was a big hit for Peter, Paul and Mary.

Here's his obit from the New York Times, and here is his page and the Greenbriar Boys page at AllMusic Guide.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Forty Years of Work

So often the first reaction to Opus 40 is could one man have done it, even over forty years?

And I understand the reaction. It is mind-boggling to imagine one man doing it, even over forty years. And Lord knows it makes a lot more sense than my all-time favorite comment, which was dumb enough that only an art critic could have made it:

"I see such anger there!"

Well, OK. It's forty years of a man's life, and every emotion he ever felt has to have found its way there to some degree. You want to see anger, you can probably find it. But it's not going to be the first thing that leaps to everyone's mind.

And as immense as the undertaking seems, it's even more so when you consider how much of it was worked and reworked.

If you walk around to the south side of Opus 40 (marked with the arrow in the picture) you'll see an area where the stonework is more rough-hewn, without the lapidary precision that marks most of Opus 40. So you'd assume that represents early work, while he was still learning his craft, and you would of course be correct.

But why start there? Why not with the front ramp, or the central circles? And the answer, of course, is that he did start with the front ramp and the central circles. And as he developed his technique, he tore down those walls and rebuilt them.

Also, since his work was organic, not conceptual -- it grew from the work itself, not from a preconceived plan or architectural renderings -- he would sometimes find that the curve of a line, or the placement of a wall, was not quite right. So he'd tear it down, and rebuild it. The painter Peter Jones, who, like me, grew up hanging out at Opus 40, described it as: "In a way, Harvey was like a painter, and Opus 40 was his canvas. But where a painter will look at his work for a while, then take a palette knife and scrape off a little bit of paint from here and move it to there, Harvey would do the same thing with ten tons of stone."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Rachel Loden

A note from my friend Bob Berner.

Dear Tad,

Shame on you for not telling me years ago about Rachel Loden. I "discovered" her today at Poetry Daily, and I followed that up by checking out the Wild Honey Press website, then an interview of Rachel from Jacket magazine in Feb., 2003, in which she mentions working with you. Wow. All this time and you hipped me to her stuff. Shame on you. I like her stuff
a lot, as you might expect, and wish I'd known about her earlier. So it goes. In any case, it's nice to see that stuff like hers CAN get published and it's for damn sure livelier and more fun to read than most of the stuff that gets posted on P D or Verse Daily, or in most littery mags for that matter.

So yeah, for anyone else I haven't told, Rachel Loden is very much worth checking out, and here's a link to the poem Bob saw on Poetry Dailly, "Miss October."

There's not a powerful tradition of political poetry in America, and the kinds of political poetry that can be so vivid in other cultures -- Yevtushenko, Szymborska, Neruda -- don't seem to work when translated into ours. They almost inevitably get soggy, and turn into cliche. Loden has found a distinctive approach which is the American voice we didn't know we had.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Penning Show

We went up today to see the Tomas Penning show at the James Cox Gallery. Here are some pictures, but they don't do the work justice, of course. Sculpture, especially that of a great sculptor like Penning, is so physical, as much about the stone as about the images made from it or cut into it. Penning was a master of textures, and his understanding of the relationship between stone and image passes understanding. I've been starting to work just a little with stone, and it does not encourage dabbling.

Cox saved these pieces from destruction, and posterity owes him a debt. If you live in the Woodstock area, see this show.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Memories of Opus 40

I remember a story my mother told, about when she first arrived in Woodstock some 60-odd years ago, a recent divorcee with two small boys, a baby and a toddler. We lived in a rented house in the village, behind Twin Gables; Woodstock was cheaper in those days. Barbara Fairbanks had been born, if not with a silver spoon in her mouth, at least to a life of urbane and material comfort. Now she was trying to make a new life for herself in unfamiliar surroundings.

She met a handsome young sculptor at a party, their paths crossed at another one, and one night he suggested that they go and see his place in the moonlight. This would have been around 1943.

As incredible as is Harvey Fite's accomplishment of forty years, it's equally staggering to consider how much had been done in the first five years. The center ramp and the central pedestals finished. "Flame" and "Tomorrow" carved and in place.

And all of it in the center of this 6-acre expanse of rubble, this huge abandoned quarry.

Did Harvey plan Opus 40 in advance? No, it grew organically from pedestals rising out of rubble, to a network of ramps and terraces, to a vast sculpture. But the sea of stone was there, surrounding this new work of nascent majesty, and Barbara could sense the mission of the young sculptor beside her. As she was to relate years later, the only thing she could think as she stood on that balcony, in that moonlight, was There'll never be room in this man's life for me.

And I've always imagined Harvey standing next to her, thinking, I'll never be able to get this beautiful, elegant woman to come and share my rough and ready life.

They were married not long after, and Barbara and her two boys moved into the house with rudimentary electricity and no indoor plumbing, and they began a life together.