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Friday, May 25, 2018

Elegy for a house


I have no idea what the next chapter in this house’s history will be, but for many years it was a haven for New York plein air painters.
Kaaterskill Falls, by Carol L. Douglas
If the legal system creaks along as it should, an important property will pass out of the plein air world today. This is Jamie Williams Grossman’s home in Palenville, NY. Jamie is married to New York State Supreme Court Justice Victor G. Grossman. Vic is required to live in his district, which covers Westchester and four other counties. When it came time for them to downsize, it was the Catskill house that had to go.

The house is a long, open structure, originally built as a barn for the farm across the road. Its conversion was top notch—steel stairs, a large open kitchen, and pleasant, airy rooms. The foundation rested on bedrock which intruded poetically into the basement. Along one side of this lower level, Jamie built a long, sunny studio. When she was in residence, so too were her birds.

Clouds over the Catskills, by Carol L. Douglas
To get there, you turned off a local road and dropped sharply down a gravel lane that seemed to peter out in scrub. Even when you knew where you were going, it was easy to miss.

The property is dotted with waterfalls. Some are seasonal. If you felt so inclined, you could hike to one of the more remote ones. The most beautiful passed right under the driveway. Dropping rapidly down from the road, it broke and crashed on huge granite boulders before burbling away in a small stream. I once dropped a palette knife into the water. A year later, Jamie found and returned it, after inscribing it with my name so I wouldn’t lose it again.

Kaaterskill Creek, by Carol L. Douglas
A meadow sits below the house, surrounded on all sides by woods. A venerable old tree crabs Wyeth-like to the sky, skirted by an old stone wall. There was never a shortage of material, but the property itself wasn’t the reason most painters came to stay with Jamie. Her house was minutes away from some of the most storied sites of Hudson River School painting: Platte Clove, Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, and the Pine Orchard, where the Catskill Mountain House once stood. Drive a few minutes more and you were at Cedar Grove, the home and studio of painter Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School. Cross over the river and you were at Olana, the estate of Frederic Edwin Church.

I had the good fortune to be invited back many times. I was not alone. There are always fine artists around when I visited. Sometimes we spent as much time tweaking our gear as painting. It was on a hike up Kaaterskill Falls that Johanne Morin showed me her super-lightweight aluminum easel, which I then copied and have used ever since.

Olana overlook, by Carol L. Douglas
There were men among the painters who gathered there, of course. But the group always seemed weighted toward women. This was the first true sorority of serious, professional women painters I ever knew. I met lifelong friends in Jamie’s creek, and cemented relationships over her table.

I’ll still paint in that area, and I’ll still stop and see Jamie no matter where she is, but it’s the end of an important era in the New York plein air community. Jamie and Vic, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your years and years of hospitality and support.

1 comment:

Vivian Haberfeld said...

Beautifully written Carol.