Thursday, February 19, 2015

Now Look Here

     To paraphrase Will Rogers, "I never met a river that I didn't like." Rivers have energy, they have purpose, they have life. Rivers come from somewhere and they are going somewhere. They're never the same, always full of surprises. ("No man ever steps in the same river twice." - Heraclitus)
     The Battenkill is just such a river. It comes from Vermont, rising in the mountains on both sides of the marble valley near Dorset and Manchester. It takes a curious turn at Arlington, cutting a scenic slice thru the high Taconic Range and then threads the hills of southern Washington County before joining the Hudson near Schuylerville.
     The river is a unifying presence defining a geographical area and freely sharing its name (Battenkill Appliances - Battenkill Motors - Battenkill Veterinary - etc. - etc.) Yet despite its ubiquity I wonder how many of us actually spend much time with the river, really getting to know it. We're all busy; working, running errands, surfing the web, reading or writing silly blogs.
     Fly fishermen have always had an intimate connection with the Battenkill. They immerse themselves in its rhythm and flow, for a few hours becoming almost a part of it. And then there are the artists, a surprising number of them, who see something here that they want to share. It's a process of distilling a places essence and offering your vision to others. You could call the Battenkill a model river, it has posed for so many sketches, paintings and photographs.
     These works of art make up a big part of an exhibit called Battenkill Inspired which you can see at the Folklife Center in Crandall Public Library, Glens Falls. Shushan resident Todd DeGarmo is the Centers director and he has cast a wide net in pulling the show together. I counted nearly two dozen contributors in a variety of media. Those who browse the area's galleries or attend the annual Landscapes for Landsakes event will find familiar names here: George Van Hook, Harry Orlyk and Leslie Parke for example. But Ian Creitz and Herbert Eriksson's photos were a new discovery for me as was the carvings and decoys of Steven Jay Sanford and C.J. Lyttle.

     You'll see lots of traditional scenes - think covered bridges and fly casting for trout - alongside more personal and whimsical images. Clifford Oliver's photo of girls tubing captures the Battenkill summer rite of showing and enjoying a little skin. There's also mini-photo essays of the Buffum's Bridge Farewell Party (4/28/13) and the 4th of July homemade boat races that were popular in the 1960's (I think they got a little too rowdy and had to be discontinued).
     A Battenkill Conservancy display, topographic maps of the watershed, and memorabilia of the park at Dionondahowa Falls round out the exhibit. Be sure to read some of the artist's statements, it's enlightening to see how creative, thoughtful people view their relationship with place.
     You can check out Battenkill Inspired  anytime the library is open and plan on attending a Gallery Reception on Thursday, March 12 from 5 to 7pm. That'll be a good time to thank Todd for a great exhibit.

More to see...

     While in Glens Falls you can also visit the Hyde Museum where the current exhibit is called
Wild Nature. There's over sixty landscapes from the Adirondack Museum collection that chronicle changing attitudes toward wilderness. With thoughtful layout and interpretation the curators tell a story of an evolving relationship between people and wild places. Notice how artist's response to nature both reflected and shaped societies views. You'll see memorable images by Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington, Asher Durand and Thomas Cole amongst many others.
     What struck me was the darkness of many scenes suggesting what? - fear, intimidation, mystery?
Also, how insignificant human figures appear beneath impenetrable forests and towering mountain walls.
     The many paintings of Lake George left me longing for the days before power boats and commercial development sullied the natural beauty and quiet serenity. In several of these Black Mountain and even little Shelving Rock appear more rugged than real. Either there's been a lot of erosion since the scenes were captured or there's some artistic license and cultural bias at work. And that seems to be the exhibit's point: what we see is often colored by preconceptions and expectations. Both Wild Nature and Battenkill Inspired left me reflecting on how I perceive nature and place.
Hope you get to visit and find them equally rewarding.

A final look...

     Seneca Ray Stoddard's albumen prints are prominent in the Hyde's Wild Nature gallery. If you want to see more of the pioneering Adirondack photographers work the Chapman Museum, also in Glens Falls, has some on display in an exhibit called Winter Views.
     Some helpful links to plan a tour: Crandall Library - Hyde Collection - Chapman Museum

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