Students of the Hudson Valley art scene have noticed the slow rise of Catskill, a sleepy multicultural rivertown in Greene County. Though Thomas Cole germinated the Hudson River School in Catskill during the 1820s, only in the last decade has visual art begun to flourish there. The third annual Artist Studio Tour will take place on the weekend of September 11-12. It is free of charge.
The tour includes 15 artist studios plus 10 galleries and museums. The Thomas Cole House will present “Remember the Ladies,” the first exhibit of female Hudson River School painters ever assembled. Delicate nature drawings by B.B.G. Stone, a 19th-century Catskill artist, will be shown at Beattie Powers House, a 171-year-old mansion included in the National Register of Historic Places.
A more recent museum was built by artist-architect Matt Bua—the People’s Museum of Catskill. It’s a massive replica of a cat, one paw raised, made of scavenged wood. Inside, anyone may donate artifacts of Catskill lore past, present and future. Currently, Bua is investigating the history of boxing in Catskill. (Mike Tyson and Floyd Patterson trained there.) The cat-shaped museum opens September 4.
Bua’s home is also included on the tour. Each room is a separate structure: kitchen, bedroom, shower, bathroom, sauna, library. The buildings are made of found wood, combined in a semi-improvised manner. Bua is supported by a grant from the Harpo Foundation, Oprah Winfrey’s organization.
How does geography affect art? Catskill is a woodsy town of 64.2 square miles, where wild freshets cascade from the mountains. It appeals to strong, eccentric artists with environmental politics. “There are a lot of people attracted to living here because they have access to some raw landscape,” notes Fawn Potash, gallery director of the Greene County Council on the Arts and an artist herself. Photographer-inventor Jared Handelsman has constructed a giant camera obscura in the form of a tree house. Visitors may enter the structure and watch the scene outside projected, upside down, on the rear wall. Handelsman’s wife, Portia Munson, will show her flower-mandala photographs, and work from her upcoming show at MASS MoCA.
“There’s no Sunday painters on this tour,” explains Potash. Each of the studios harbors a serious artist.
A drawing by prominent sculptor Kiki Smith appears in the “Cowgirls of the Hudson Valley 3” show at the BRIK Gallery. Smith has been a weekender for two years in Catskill (though she prefers to call herself a “two-timer”). Nature is a theme in her work, and she says: “It’s wonderful to see animals in their own domain. That’s the most exciting thing, for me, is to see turkeys, fox.”
Catskill throws a good party, and Potash advises visiting outlying studios during the day, then hitting the village at night, for the celebrations (which run from 5 to 8 pm on Saturday, September 11). I suggest that you don’t eat brie a full 10 days before the tour.
“There’s no ‘A-list’ in Catskill,” avers Potash. “Everybody hangs out with everybody.” How many villages would allow an artist to construct a giant cat on a main street? Catskill is a town that bears investigation.
Catskill’s Third Annual Artist Studio Tour will take place Saturday, September 11, and Sunday, September 12. All participants must sign up either at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, or at The Greene County Council on the Arts, 398 Main Street, to receive a map of tour sites. (518) 943-3400; www.catskillgalleryassociation.com.