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Monday, January 11, 2021

Beacon Bits -- Photo Op

First "Second Saturday" of 2021, unlike those of the past ten years when the streets were filled with people bundled up and rushing into every gallery and cultural center that was hosting an opening.....but the good news is that there are still 'openings', with masks, physical distancing and a chance to socialize with neighbors, friends and visitors to Beacon. And now that shows are open every weekend, there is more time to visit or return again to see the same show.

One such opening on January 9th was the Beacon Photography Group's show, "Assorted Visions', with 26 members showing a total of 90 pieces, at the spacious and inviting Howland Cultural Center. The show is ongoing on weekends through the end of January from 1-5pm.

The Beacon Photography Group with 462 members mostly meets up in a virtual space with posting on its Facebook page. Seeing the exhibit with the members' photographs mounted, framed and hung within the historic building is a visual feast for those who believe a picture is worth a thousand words and belong on the wall as well as on a screen.

I was mostly struck by the unique expression and variety across all the images. The diversity of subjects: nature, shapes, objects, humans. The varieties of perspective: up close and personal, distant and remote. The use of creative energies: innovative design and experimental execution. And above all, the acceptance for the work from amateurs to enthusiasts to serious artists using a camera.

Food for thought: In this day and age, where differences are notable and disagreements arise when opposing points of view are voiced, it is certainly refreshing to see that with images, you can explore the differences of how individuals portray reality in so many different ways. You can ask the photographer -- 'how did you arrive at that image, what prompted you to do it that way, tell me more about your way of seeing.' You can walk away with more understanding and without having to defend your own point of view. Given how each person can see the same things in the world so differently, one image alone is insufficient; we can get closer to reality when each point of view is seen through a collective. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Beacon Bits -- A Touch of Hope

When I returned to Mountain Laurel Florist at 15 Tioranda Avenue for the second time this week, a memory of walking around in Kopervik, Norway during Christmas in 1986 came to my mind. The building has a quaint European flair. I had just walked down from the Howland Cultural Center's "Holiday Crafts" show. That simple act of walking to engage in last minute shopping for something handcrafted or living like a poinsettia, wreath or seasonal flowers, triggered the happy memory. 

But it was also the warm conversation and easy exchange between the customer and the proprietor that struck a chord of familiarity. That reminded me of how I felt when I moved to Beacon over 10 years ago when most of the shopkeepers knew your name and a connection was established whether you were purchasing, browsing or asking about a special item to order.

Laura, the proprietor of Mountain Laurel Florist, is an experienced florist who is homegrown as a lifelong Beaconite. She previously had a shop located on Route 52 (2004-2010). She has re-established herself in this new venue down from Main Street after independently contracting as a florist in the ensuing years. While shops off of Main Street may not always get the peripatetic sightseeing crowd who have been frequenting the area since the pandemic and updated featured NYT article, those who are residents and want to establish an ongoing relationship with a florist will not be deterred because it's off the beaten path. In fact, the location may be part of the lure for those who are familiar with the many side streets and shortcuts that are helpful when looking for parking.

The possibilities of new growth is a sign of hope, which is still needed at this dark time of the year, even though we've just turned the corner with the days getting longer. Since Laura is so close to her roots, my wish is that she may bloom where she is planted.

Food for thought:  What gives you hope this holiday season? What memory have you had from your earlier years that evokes an enduring sense of peace and joy found in the simple things? What do you hope takes root and begins to grow in 2021?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Boscobel - Still Sparkling

For the last five years, I volunteered at the holiday event known as "Sparkle" at Boscobel. When "Friends" were called on to lend a hand to the staff hosting the event, I never turned it down. It was a way to become part of a gathering of families and friends who came to celebrate the holiday and revel in the lights, the music, the festivities, the gingerbread treats and to lay claim to it as part of their annual traditional celebration. 

Through the years, I stood guard at the entrance checking for admission stickers, assisted at the Santa workshop for crowd control, helped with photo opportunities, led people safely down the sweeping staircase after a docent-led tour with flashlights directed at their feet in the dimly lit and historically-appropriate decorated house, and greeted people as they entered and exited the reserved seating for the Putnam Chorale Society concert.

This year, no volunteers were called. As a member, however, I took myself to the grounds at twilight on the eve of the Army-Navy game across the river, with lights ablaze and cannons firing. The lights were bright at Michie Stadium, the evening was particularly warm and the sky was clear. I could almost imagine Saturn aligning with Jupiter in the south-southwest sky after sunset to be observed on December 21 and not again until the year 2086. Or the Geminid meteor shower peaking the night of December 13 to 14.

The quiet and twinkle of the purposefully placed lights amidst the few guests on the grounds was a testament to the name for this year's event, 'Silent Night'. Santa was going to make a visit the next day. But for now, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.....I think they were all scattered by the flock of geese that flapped their wings in unison as they took off across the lawn to herald the coming of the winter season at Boscobel. An arousing ovation for the season that was during a time that has never been.

Food for thought: How grateful and humbled to have such beauty right down the road and to be able to be spontaneous and still have an adventure, despite it all, during these dark times. 

Be ready for the Light to Come in the Spring 2021
Support Boscobel

Monday, October 12, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Turning Point

I love the autumn. Always did. Even before living in the Hudson River Valley. And in some way, I think I have unofficially adopted this date, October 12, the day Columbus was celebrated and now indigenous peoples, as well as what was my father's birthday, as the true end of summer.

This summer was unique. Limited choices of things to do and places to go. Life on hold in so many ways. But one of the activities that focused my attention and energy on what is good and what is enduring was having my farm plot at Stony Kill Farm. I did not know how important it would be when I submitted my application this time last year and then was assigned my 20'x20' plot by the beginning of April. I realized I needed help to get the soil ready for planting and turned to my friend Eric of The Green Thumb Collective. And then because it was a hot summer and I got a late start planting the limited seedlings I could find across several different nurseries in early June, I visited my farm plot almost daily from June through September.

Everyone I saw throughout the summer spoke about how well things looked in my garden, how few weeds I had (thanks to Eric's precise preparation) and sometimes they gave advice about pruning and watering. Especially my neighbors who are the unofficial 'master gardeners' , three brothers originally from Bangladesh. They educated me about the Malabar spinach I was growing--the only spinach I could find--and spotted the hot peppers budding on the branches of what I thought was just a variety of red pepper. Had I turned over the label I would have seen that the 'Carolina Reaper'  was described as 'holding the record for hottest chili, these red fruits pack a spicy punch.' Turns out, they became gifts for my East Asian friends. My pleasure was from the tomatoes, zucchini and squash, and fresh herbs -- basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, summer savory, rosemary and hyssop -- enough for me and to share with friends -- as well as the zinnias attracting bees, swallowtails and monarch butterflies.

Food for thought:  Things grow when you tend to them. Each person works with the soil in a plot in his or her own way. Each individual 'farmer' brings home to the table that which they reap from what they sow. Everyone is connected to the same land despite the ad hoc fences that have been constructed to demarcate each individual's garden. Every time I visited my garden, I felt grounded. Grounded in my sense of being, as well as my doing. Grounded in Mother Earth. Grounded in Tillich's Ground of Being. The source of all being. The end of this season comes full circle to the beginning of the season. And the harvest has been one of abundant grace and joy.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Inner and Outer Beauty

Last week, I had the chance for yet another summer day's exploration in the Hudson Valley by scheduling an outing that has been on hold for a while, long before this ongoing pause in our lives --  a tour of Manitoga, the home and property of the designer Russel Wright, in Garrison. Tailored to a small group with all the safety precautions of masks and distance, it was the perfect day to invite a friend to join this docent-led, up-close and personal look-see around the exquisite grounds designed and nurtured by Russel Wright. Walking up the path to his home, a most unique hideaway overlooking the forest and the pond that replaced the quarry that once existed in this locale, proved that commitment, passion and the capacity to have your visiting friends help out with moving the boulders around with you, could indeed get the job done over time. It is a loving investment in what is now, an idyllic piece of property and an historic homestead that continues to nurture artists-in-residence with music and art, which melds with the setting, and feels that its legacy has a unique niche into the future. This place truly has a timeless feel to it.

We know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than write several thousand words that have already been written elsewhere about the designer and his home, I will just share some spontaenous snapshots that captured the mid-day amble through the woods, house, and  design studio, something that I would hope to return to again and again, so long as I stay nimble on my feet to navigate the stone steps and passages that are part of this serene landscape. There is a reason the website carries several caveats about the terrain; take good care.

Food for thought:  It always feels like 'a beautiful day in the neighborhood' when you can venture into the past that has been preserved for the present. The simplicity of the dinnerware design that Wright brought to his creative work was prescient as was his conservancy of the land he purchased and developed as home. The utilitarian nature of the functional liviing space and the inspired setting of his design studio is something to take with you as you leave the sanctuary known as Manitoga, from the Algonquin meaning the "place of great spirit". It has left me with the motivation to continue to create inner space that is mirrored in the simple form of the outer space, a good reminder during this time as we move towards the shortening days and lengthening nights; we all need a good place to hunker down and be still. Russel Wright was a role model in our midst for these trying times of quarantine. May we find our Manitoga at home.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Wide Open

It is time to celebrate the opening of some of the cultural institutions in the Hudson Valley. It is a good reason to support the nonprofit venues with a membership, whether it is a new one or an early renewal, for the mutual benefits of showing appreciation for the arts along with the perks that are being offered to the member. One such benefit of membership is early entry before opening day for the public, as well as continued offerings for appointment times that may not be otherwise available to the public.

I had the foresight to make an appointment to go to Dia Beacon on a members-only day prior to its scheduled opening. The appreciation of the familiar exhibits, as well as a few new ones that were installed since my last visit, was the backdrop to have conversation with the staff who were back to work after four months away from their on-site schedule, and to take in the open space and light and what I found myself calling, the 'sights of silence.'

There was a contrast between a slight sense of agoraphobia when walking in the cavernous building where some exhibits had been taken down and claustrophobia if one decided to traverse the ship-like structures of Richard Serra that contain a labyrinthine like path to a center that feels narrow and deep. The both/and of the open sense of the space as well as the movement into the contained spaces felt like a metaphor for what is being endured during this pandemic: an open-ended sense of uncertainty along with a sense of being closed down and restricted. However, they are in justaposition with each other, almost in an accordion-like fashion, so that there is both an expansive movement into the unknown with the anxiety of uncertainty followed by a limited and finite movement into the here and now.

Food for thought:  An outing, an adventure, an excursion is necessary for an outlet from the ordinary day-to-day activities during this prolonged shutdown. There are benefits to making some plans to regain a sense of control, albeit an illusion, and only within a limited context, but it is exercising choice and free will. It is good to remember that freedom comes from exercising options that are diverse and close at hand, without choosing to be unsafe or reckless, and that the arts can influence our experience in extraordinary ways during these rare times.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Transformation

Time has gone quickly. Time has slowed down. Time has come to a screeching halt. Time repeats itself. We have had all of these impressions of time as we have continued to live through this coronavirus pandemic and while witnessing the immediate and dramatic response to the obvious and persistent racial inequity in our society.

To say that these have been times to ponder life is an understatement. I thought I would continue writing and musing on this blog throughout the 'pause' imposed by our prescient governor in NYS, but I was caught up in other projects and tasks that I would prioritize daily in order to structure my time in this life transition and sense of being betwixt and between.

One such project was collecting a chair from a basement in Brooklyn to have it reupholstered and restored so that I could incorporate it into my home. I am not sure how old it is, but I think it may be at least early 19th century and possibly from the Philadelphia area where there were connections through a family member's partner. Reclaiming the chair was not as easy as I thought because of its size and awkwardness. But the serendipity was having a place of business in Beacon that remained open and could accept the work order in mid-June, so my motivation became stronger to retrieve it and haul it home.

My first visit to Denise Gianna Designs LLC at 480 Main Street while taking a stroll on Main Street in the autumn of 2019. After entering the shop filled with groupings of furniture, decorative art, and unique collectibles, I took notice that they offered upholstery services with New Life Upholestery by Amy and took some business cards after having a brief discussion to verify that this was something I could follow up on since I had this chair on my mind since the spring of 2018. I had familiarity with reupholstering some of my older furniture when living in Rockland County at S Tillim's Fabric Store and recalled the time my mother had slipcovers made for her Chippendale style living room furniture when I was growing up; I still regret not taking her wingback chair in the 1970s when offered to me. 

After finding the business cards and making contact with Amy to drop off the chair, I was pleased that I had previously ordered some Sam Moore fabric to match a piece of furniture I already had in my living space since it would not have been possible to do so in the late spring with the store closings. Luckily, my guess of how much fabric was needed was just enough to complete the chair.

Sam Moore Fabric
The workmanship of the finished chair was impeccable. Amy's work is filled with loving care and her cordiality and respect for timeless pieces was underscored by her saving the original needlework covering from the chair for me with the hope that I would appreciate the handiwork. I always appreciate tapestry needlepoint and can frequently find myself in awe of the patience and commitment that women had to complete the works of art that can withstand the test of time, another reminder that there were makers long before the maker movement. It was an unexpected and welcome gift that she thought to save it since I had not remembered to ask her to do that initially.

After some discussion about the possibility of using the preserved pieces of the needlepoint tapestry for some accent pillows, and taking the two large pieces for a thorough dry cleaning, Amy put her talents to work so that another part of the past was reclaimed and made into new life. The pillows are uniquely shaped because they were carefully placed around where wear and tear on the chair had created damage and ripped stitching. 
Amy Baker
I have visited the design studio and shop several times and love being in the workspace in the lower level where Amy is mentoring girls in her family to appreciate the work she has been called to do. I also like to be in the midst of the color and inspiration and find the lively discussions with Denise, the owner of the business, to be uplifting and a reminder for me to stay connected with the community during these times of caution and self-care. I have already recommended the business to some local friends who appreciate knowing they can support this quality business so close to home. I know I will return with some ideas for new projects and perhaps request Amy to make a pillow from my own needlepoint project that will be started as we hunker down in place this winter while awaiting safe vaccines.
Denise Gianna

Food for thought: Bringing the past into the present and feeling connected to the timelessness in objects is part of the beauty of restoration. It is a metaphor for personal transformation as well. Reclaiming. Restoring. Refurbishing. Remaking. It is an important part of this pause when we can deepen our connections to what was and what can be.