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Thursday, June 22, 2017
 
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The Rural We: Phyllis Feder

At 81 years young, Phyllis Feder is the only woman of her age operating a winery and vineyard in the United States. Clinton Vineyards, a 100-acre farm winery in Clinton Corners, New York, was started in 1977 by her late husband, Ben Feder. After his death, in 2009, Phyllis decided to continue Ben’s legacy and this year the vineyard will celebrate its 40th vintage with anniversary festivities on Saturday, June 24 from 2–6 p.m. There will be live jazz; a pop-up farmers market of local vendors; and tastings of what many people have agreed is the winery’s best Seyval Blanc yet.

I’m a first generation American; my mother was from Russia and my father from Austria. While they were very interested in seeing that I was educated, their own education was cut short by where they were raised and other circumstances. But I was raised in the Bronx, and there was never any question that I was going to go to college. My choice of study was based on whether I could get a job in that field. Back then, most women were led to believe they would be a secretary or a teacher, then they’d get married and have kids. That wasn’t for me; I always wanted to travel. I remember crying in the piazza in Venice because I was remembering listening to the New York Philharmonic performing from there when I was younger… and there I was… in Venice!

After attending Antioch, I came back to New York for grad school and started working in public relations in the nonprofit sector. I became head of a PR group for those in the nonprofit world. After taking over I realized we needed to think about how we were presenting ourselves, and I enlisted the help of Milton Glaser who headed Pushpin Studios. After living near him and often seeing him on the subway, he invited me to see the studio. Then their PR person left and I was hired for the job. That was the beginning of a marvelous 24-year career.

In the world of graphic design I met a lot of wonderful people. Through some friends, at the age of 50 I was fixed up on a blind date with a book designer named Ben Feder. I’m very tall and I knew he was intimidated by my height, so at the end of the evening I stood in the gutter so we were eye to eye. According to the rules of etiquette at the time, it was okay for a woman to give a man her business card, so that’s what I did. 

He brought me up to the farm at Clinton Corners and I called my brother and told him I’d just seen the sexiest thing – Ben on his tractor. Ben was truly a renaissance man; he trained as an artist and he loved cooking, the only thing Ben Feder didn’t do was the tango. He had an amazing smile and sparkling blue eyes. There’s a photo of him in the tasting room and he still is very present here.

When he envisioned a vineyard, he learned about viticulture and chose Seyval Blanc. It’s very versatile, so you can make several types of wine using one grape. He first planted them in 1974, and the first release was in 1977. He only made about 300 cases, and it won all the awards in the Northeastern competitions. Now we’re celebrating our 40th release of Seyval Blanc, and I’ve heard it’s the best we’ve ever made. The growing conditions last year were really ideal.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/13/17 at 01:42 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Shaun O’Boyle

In 2015, Berkshires-based photographer Shaun O’Boyle spent two months in Antarctica, where he took a series of pictures that now comprise his project, “Portraits of Place in Antarctica.” Some of the pictures, which tell the story of historic huts built over 100 years ago by early explorers and their present-day successors — modern-day science stations and field camps — are on display in the Berkshire Now gallery space at the Berkshire Museum. O’Boyle received a BFA in architecture and industrial design from Parsons School of Design and, in his day job, provides architectural photography for Hill Engineers in Dalton, Mass., his home town. But he’ll not only be returning to Antarctica; he also has plans to explore the Arctic Circle.

I was selected by the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program to join a seven-week project, which I’ve named “Portraits of Place in Antarctica.” I spent weeks with scientists and other people who were working on astronomy, biology, ocean and glacier studies. The purpose of the Foundation’s program was to bring artists to the ice, to share information about what’s going on down there.

I’ve been interested in architecture my whole life, so I wanted to document the huts of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott, the early explorers, and photograph the present-day science station, to show parallels between the two. A lot of the science they were studying back then, they’re studying today, so it’s a continuation of the early work. They use a lot of high-tech stuff now, and astronomy is probably the newest work going on in Antarctica right now.

It was really cold when I got there. We made a trip out to Cape Evans on snowmobiles when it was about –35 degrees. But by the time I left in December, it was in the teens and 20s, so it felt a lot warmer. It’s a big, sprawling place, with about 1,000 people. There are dorm buildings, a huge galley that employs truck and bus drivers, buses and taxis, people maintaining the roads, mechanics and carpenters. I was the first artist to arrive. I shot over 10,000 photographs. At the Museum I’m showing 36 prints — that was the hardest editing job I’ve ever done.

I was named a Guggenheim Fellow in Photography and will be going to the Arctic for three weeks in July, to Spitsbergen, an island that’s part of Norway. My daughter, who is 14, is coming as my photo assistant. Spitsbergen has a longer history than Antarctica; it started with the whaling industry. They found coal there, so there’s coal mining, and a lot of Russian influence. I plan to photograph the buildings, landscape and wildlife. The weather will be pretty mild, in the 30s and 40s, and the sun will be up 24 hours a day.

In November I’m going back to Antarctica via ice breaker from Chile, across the Drake Passage, to Palmer Station on the peninsula. I’m prepared now — I’ve got a stock of long johns and wool socks.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/05/17 at 01:20 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Jonathan Lerner

Writer Jonathan Lerner became a full-time activist at the age of 19, joining the staff of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In 1969, the militant Weatherman faction took over SDS. Lerner was one of its founders, the editor of its newspaper, and a member of the group until its demise in 1976. He’s now a contributing editor to Landscape Architecture Magazine and a writing and communications consultant for design professionals. His articles on architecture, art and design, environment, food and travel have appeared in Metropolis, National Geographic Traveler, The WSJ, Town & Country, Travel+Leisure, The Washington Post and many other publications. He’s the author of the novels “Caught in a Still Place” and “Alex Underground.” A Columbia Land Conservancy supporter and the Chair of the Hudson Conservation Advisory Council, Lerner lives with his husband, Peter Frank, in Hudson. He’ll read from and discuss his new memoir about his time with the SDS and The Weathermen, “Swords in the Hands of Children,” on Sunday, June 11 at 5 p.m. at Hudson Hall.

I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. My grandparents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and my parents lived the “American dream.” For a while, we lived in Taiwan because my dad was in the State Department, which was rare for Jew at that time. In the early ‘60s, after we had moved back to the States, where people were just coming to consciousness about the “American dream,” civil rights and the Vietnam War. Maybe because of having traveled, I was a kid who was aware of those contradictions. I think that has a lot to do with why I ended up as a radical, although millions of others did the same thing. We grew up in a time of affluence and the promise wasn’t being matched by what we saw on TV – black people being teargassed and firehosed for trying to vote, villages in Vietnam being torched.

I went off to college at Antioch in 1965. I wasn’t particularly political, but Antioch had a long political history, and I was involved in guerilla theater that was meant to encourage people to go off to demonstrations. I dropped out after two years and went to New York City, thinking I’d do theater. Within a couple of months, things were heating up, demonstrations were turning violent. War was making us crazy and the demonstrations weren’t making a difference. I joined the staff of SDS, and that was an odd thing because I’d never even been to a meeting, but I was asked and I was 19 and in New York City, and this was a chance to be a part of something. A couple of years later, out of that the Weathermen emerged.

What I’ll be reading at Hudson Hall is a section about SDS and what it felt like living that every day. The reason I want to read that is because there’s so much newly aroused activism, which is partly why I wrote the book. I want to give people a sense that this has happened before, there are lessons to be drawn, and there are dimensions of the ‘60s that they don’t know about. The book is going to give me a sort of platform. Most people are surprised to discover this about me because I haven’t been much of an activist recently. They say, “Really? You?

I hadn’t been thinking about writing this book, but a publisher I know asked me to write it and to write it fast because people were craving a way to figure out how to act and what to do. At first I thought I’d said everything I had to say, but this is an important piece of history that’s not very well understood. I had a really, really fun time writing it. It’s been so long that I have no axes to grind. Others have written books — some are apologists for us, some are more critical — but I just tell it and it’s not ideological or political. Hopefully, that will make it accessible for people.

I have no idea what to tell people to do, but there are things I want to say about attitudes. Be careful, think about conserving your energy for the long haul, and think critically even though you feel swept up.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/30/17 at 04:06 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Lauren Letellier

Playwright, public relations consultant, voiceover artist and Hillsdale, New York resident Lauren Letellier will perform her one-woman show, “The Fiery Sword of Justice,” on Saturday, June 3 at 3 p.m. at the historic Ancram Opera House. Her critically acclaimed comedy about how one businesswoman’s compulsive truth-telling torpedoed her career, will be staged to benefit the Roeliff Jansen Community Library, and will be followed by a reception with Letellier and the show’s director, Martha Wollner. 

I born in Springfield, Mass. and lived there until I was 13, when my family moved to southern New Hampshire. Then I spent the rest of my teenage years trying to get out of New Hampshire. My husband, Chris, and I moved to Hillsdale full time on Dec. 29, 2014. I remember the date because it was the beginning of an epically snowy winter. After 34 years in Manhattan, we plunged into the polar darkness.

The Fiery Sword of Justice is a story about telling truth to power. I’d never written a play before, and I was looking to do something more along the lines of storytelling at the Moth, but my workshop teacher, Matt Hoverman, convinced me the story had a universal message. I worked in pharmaceutical PR, and thought it was so great, that they were the noblest form of capitalism in that they were helping people and curing diseases. But, over time, that changed and they started advertising directly to consumers and hiring celebrity spokespeople, and they became devoted to shareholders first. Basically, I got fired from a big PR agency for telling the truth.

With absolutely no experience, I submitted the play to The New York International Fringe Festival and they accepted it. It got some great reviews, it sold out and I’ve been performing it ever since. It’s a comedy. But it’s also about how I realized that I’d spent my life growing up with a mother addicted to alcohol, and then my last three years working for a woman who was a raging alcoholic. I had sort of recreated my family in the workplace and wound up being ejected from it in the same way. Recently, I read that 49 percent of people have a first-degree relationship with an alcoholic, usually parents or a spouse. No wonder work life is so crazy!

Photo by Michael Blase

I’ll be doing a Q&A after the performance with Martha Wollner. During the Q&A session, people will often say things like “That just happened to me at my job” or “I never put two and two together.” They’ve actually been recreating trauma in the workplace. What’s been so interesting is that I’ve watched people realize that they’re not alone; we just haven’t heard much, in the theater world, from people in corporate jobs. When I was going through it, I thought I was the only person who’d ever had this kind of failure.

I still do communication consulting, and I’ll be the world’s oldest intern at the Ancram Opera House this summer. Chris and I were recently named the town’s historians. Chris is chair of the Roe-Jan Library gala this year, which is on June 17, and I’m his deputy. There are some amazing auction items this year. Two of the live auction items are a lunch with Andy Borowitz and a lunch with Ruth Reichl.

The new play that I’m working on is about a woman with an urban soul who moves upstate. It’s a comedy, a fish-out-of-water story. It’s been a journey — from being a big-time PR person to finding ourselves in a town of 1,900 people. It actually requires tremendous energy from the townspeople to keep the town board, schools and other entities going. These issues are a lot more important than what I used to think was important in NYC. It requires people to read up a lot on so many things, and to cooperate with their neighbors.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/24/17 at 10:05 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Derek Delaney

Long Island native and Juilliard and Yale graduate Derek Delaney began his musical career as a horn player. But he has spent the bulk of his time as an arts administrator in the northeast, working at the Marlboro Music Festival, as development director at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and executive director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. In 2012, he became the artistic director of the Union College Concert Series in Schenectady, New York, and has lived in Old Chatham since 2015.

The Union College concert series had been going on for about 40 years before I took over. It had been run on a volunteer basis. The former director approached me about taking over the series. At the time I was running a music festival in the Hamptons and living in Manhattan. I decided to take it on, but worked remotely from New York. It was clear that they needed somebody here to raise money and promote the series, so the college created a position for me.

Our series presents about 14 to 17 concerts a year from October through April. We attract almost 10,000 people from all over, people as far away as Montreal and Rochester, and now we’re building up a Chatham contingent. What makes our series different is that it’s often used as a warmup venue for musicians who will be making appearances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

Delaney turning pages for pianist Mitsuko Uchida.

I had moved up to Schenectady but was looking for a more artistic community, and fell in love with Columbia County. I bought a house built in 1780 where Amos Eaton, the founder of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), was born. It’s a large property and I love working on it. Last summer I built a patio. I’m taking advantage of being a country boy and joined my first farm share.

I go to New York quite a lot, so the proximity to New York and the Berkshires is a draw for me, as is Tanglewood, of course. But really, it’s the people that make this place — the community has been wonderful. I love meeting the artists, writers and musicians here.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/12/17 at 09:38 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Caroline Crehan Becker

Photo: Lisa Vollmer Photography Inc.

Owner of Mulberry Hair Company in Great Barrington, Mass., Caroline Crehan Becker has created a warm and welcoming studio in her new location on Rosseter Street. Originally from Birmingham, England, she met her husband, an Old Chatham, New York, native, in Boston. They moved to Great Barrington in 1998, and Becker worked in an Egremont salon that was a “shoebox space.” But now that her elegant new shop has space to spare, Becker is able to branch out and have events for the benefit the community. On Thursday, May 18 from 5-8 p.m., she is hosting a Mulberry Market to support the Railroad Street Youth Project. The public is invited to attend this free event, which will have vendors and artisans selling their wares and donating a portion of the proceeds to Becker’s favorite nonprofit.

I’m involved with the Railroad Street Youth Project — on Monday afternoons I close the shop and work with six students, showing them how we run the hair salon. The girls learn about cutting, blow drying, updos, hair color and shampooing, often working on each others’ hair. I donate my time, space, dye and shampoo, but other things, like scissors and mannequin heads are very expensive, and I really want to keep the program running.

The Mulberry Market will be like a popup shop. People have been great about participating as vendors; in fact, they’re still coming forward and asking to be part of this and what they can do to help. It’s a beautiful thing. Some of the participants we have so far include Dan Bellow Pottery, Traditions Linen, Aveda Haircare, Julia Baier Knits and Route 7 Jewelry. They’ll all be donating 20 percent of their profits to the RSYP.

My idea is to have regular Mulberry Markets to support local artists and worthy organizations. When my husband and I built this new salon, I really wanted to create a community spirit. The old shop in Egremont was so tiny that I would have people sitting on the stairs waiting for their appointments, but now we have space to spread out. There is an upstairs, and a bar where people can sit and talk. I love the feeling of a barber shop, a place people come and share and hang out. And now that we can have events, it’s also a way to get artisans together. It’s really fun for us.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/09/17 at 09:37 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Lisa Vollmer

Fine art photographer Lisa Vollmer’s work has taken her around the world, from India and Cambodia to Costa Rica and Colombia. Born in Berlin, Germany, Vollmer now resides in Great Barrington, Mass. where she runs the Lisa Vollmer Studio + Gallery with her mother, the photographer Sabine Vollmer von Falken. The gallery, housed in a small contemporary barn in White House Square (325 Stockbridge Road/Rt.7) celebrated its one-year anniversary on April 30. The current exhibit features the work of mother and daughter, as well as photographs by nationally recognized artist Tom Zetterstrom and mixed media art by jeweler Carolina Palermo Schulze. Gallery hours are Thursday through Monday from Noon to 6 p.m. and by appointment.

I’m originally from Germany; I was born in Berlin and my family immigrated to U.S. in the late ‘70s. I attended Great Barrington’s Rudolf Steiner School, and then went to The Art Institute of Chicago for a fine art degree in photography. That’s when I began my self-portrait series, which I’m still working on.

For the current show, I’m exhibiting some of those images, from 1998 until now, including a few from my trip to Cuba in 2012. The color treatment is a reference to 1960’s color film; I’m trying to give the feeling of what it was like to be in Cuba at that time. I tried to print the images in the way that I experienced them. The outfit I’m wearing in the photos is an original German dress from 1960; I’ve taken the dress and photographed myself in various countries. The dress is from the same time period that Cuba is still in, a kind of a time capsule. During the Cold War, there were Eastern Germans who were able to travel to Cuba, and they’re still living there. Historically, everything came together for me.

Lisa Vollmer, A Self-Portrait in Old Havana Cuba, 2012

After college, I decided to move to New York City and work for a photo lab, printing for artists such as Irving Penn, Cindy Sherman and Louise Lawler — artists I admired. Then I moved back to Berlin and decided to go into a masters program, studying art in context and learning about curation and art education. I moved back to the Berkshires and spent almost a decade as an assignment photographer and consultant, managing inventory and archives.

I’d worked for my mother as a teen and during summers in college, and always dreamed of us having a gallery together. I like being able to talk about our work and be in a public dialogue with the local community. Rather than finding gallery representation, we represent ourselves; we’re artists and owners so that we can interact with the public.

The majority of the work in the gallery is mine and my mother’s, but right now we also have large vintage silver gelatin prints by Tom Zetterstrom and the mixed media work of jeweler Carolina Palermo Schulze.

I chose to come back to this area because I’ve seen quite a number of places in the world and I really think this is one of the most beautiful places to live. You’re connected to people from around the world, and there are so many artists and other interesting people living here. For me, it’s where I’m able to have this gallery and do what I’ve always dreamed of doing. It would be much more difficult for me to do this in the city. The gallery will take time to establish, but I feel very positive about it. There have been many people coming in — art collectors, artists and those interested in talking about art — and I get to know these people. It’s an incredible education for me to be in the public this way and doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/01/17 at 04:53 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Michael Costerisan

Michael Costerisan is a master woodworker in West Stockbridge, Mass. who makes custom cabinets and furniture on a commission basis. In his more than 40 years of woodworking, he’s built almost every conceivable type of furniture, cabinetry and architectural fixture. Just a little over three years ago, he began making folk harps. Now Costerisan, who is originally from Janesville, Wisc., can add harpmaker to his list of skills, and has a business, October Mountain Folk Harps, which are “hand crafted from the heart of the Berkshires.“

After college, I moved away from Wisconsin to do custom woodworking, which was more prevalent on the East Coast than the Midwest. I landed in West Virginia for about 12 years and attended craft shows up and down the East Coast. I was involved with Kripalu when it was still in Pennsylvania, and when it moved up to the Berkshires in 1983, I did, too.

I’ve been in custom work forever, and I still am. But around three years ago, I got interested in harp making. My wife, Karen Andrews (an artist) and I met a woman who was playing sea shanties on a folk harp with a large group of people. I mentioned to her that I did woodworking, and she asked if I could repair her harp. That never happened — she lived too far away — but it got me interested. I thought it was a cool thing, this instrument. I went online and looked up sources for harp making and bought a set of plans, full-size paper templates. I made two harps based on those plans. After that I changed some things, enlarging the harp from 30 to 34 strings, and came up with my own style and design.

I had the advantage of having done so much woodworking that the materials and advice from the guy who made the plans was enough. And from the first, the harps sounded pretty good. It takes me about 40 to 50 hours to make a harp, and I’ve sold over a dozen of them so far. To get the word out, I go to folk festivals and harp shows, and reach out to harp teachers and harp circles.

My goal is for my harp making to become a full-time thing. Cabinet making involves such heavy materials, while the harp is similar to furniture; you need one board for the pillar and the neck, and the body is hollow. Working on a harp is just a lot less stress on the body.

I’ve played guitar since I was in school, and now I’m taking harp lessons, learning how to play it by ear. Karen also plays guitar and sings. I’m trying to get good enough on the harp so I can play it along with her.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/21/17 at 04:07 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Roxana Robinson

Photo by David Ignaszewski

Although born in Kentucky and raised in Pennsylvania, writer Roxana Robinson has a connection to her current home of Cornwall, Conn. that dates back two centuries. The critically acclaimed author of five novels, three short story collections and the definitive biography of Georgia O’Keeffe has had her work published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, Best American Short Stories and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA Program at Hunter College, CUNY, and only recently stepped down as President of the Authors Guild. Also an art scholar, Robinson’s articles have appeared in numerous magazines and in exhibition catalogs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She reviews books for The New York Times and the Washington Post, and has written essays on gardening for House and Garden, House Beautiful and others. Her own garden has been included in even greater number of publications and is often on The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tours. On Sunday, April 23 at 3 p.m., at the Cornwall Town Hall, Robinson will give the Norman Dorsen endowed lecture, presented by the Cornwall Historical Society. Her talk is titled “What Are Women Doing in Politics?”

My family has been in Cornwall for 200 years, in a house that my grandparents built, so I’ve been coming here all my life. It was owned by my mother and her two brothers, who shared it, when my husband and I took it over about 10 years ago. We like this area because it’s so quiet; we basically live in the woods, and there’s an astonishing wild natural presence: bears, bobcats, wild turkeys. We always enjoy being in the middle of the natural world. It also has a wonderfully diverse community of writers and artists, which is a big part of the family tradition and is important to us. We love the Falls Village Inn, too, and we go there a lot.

The Historical Society asked if I would give this lecture, and I was very honored. The woman in charge of it knows I’ve been involved in political activism – I was at the Women’s March; I went to Congress with veterans and wrote about that; and I went to Pennsylvania during the campaign to volunteer. The talk will be about what role woman play in politics, which is different now from what it was 100, 50, or even 10 years ago. I’ve been watching to see what effect women are having on the political process. The march was billed as a “women’s march” (although men were there), and it was very powerful on that account, but some countered that the word “women” doesn’t necessarily mean any certain social movement. But women are taking steps and being challenged, and sometimes fiercely challenged, by people who think they shouldn’t have a voice. This election revealed a current of misogyny that is relevant.

I’ve always written about broad social issues in my work – divorce, the environment, and then heroin addiction and the war in Iraq – but through the context of the families in my novels. I’m drawn more and more to social topics that are very powerfully present in our culture. It’s the task of a novelist to address issues that are most important to her, to make them real and important inside the life we all lead. Instead of setting down numbers about climate change, you write a novel where characters are watching the lake and show what they feel about what’s happening to it.

Right now I’m working on my next book, and I have an essay in a collection coming out soon called Radical Hope, which is about this past election and what it means to people. This summer I’m teaching two writing workshops – The Writers Hotel in New York in June, and at a Southampton, NY writers conference in July.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/17/17 at 07:20 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Jesse Freidin

Photo by Sarah Deragon

Published this month, the book Finding Shelter presents 100 black and white portraits of shelter dogs and volunteers from across the country, along with their personal stories. The eye behind the camera, Jesse Freidin, is one of America’s leading fine art dog photographers, having been awarded “Best Dog Photographer” in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as in Los Angeles, every year from 2010 through 2015. The Boston-born Freidin is also the creator of three viral photography series: The Doggie Gaga Project, When Dogs Heal, and Finding Shelter. His work has been featured in Vogue, The Huffington Post, Live! with Regis and Kelly, MTV and many other places. Although he works with private clients across the country, Freidin is now based in North Adams, Mass., where he lives with Pancake, a Boston terrier. He’ll host signings this spring to benefit area shelters featured in his book, including ones for The Little Guild of St. Francis and the Berkshire Humane Society in May, and at Water Street Books in Williamstown, Mass. on Wednesday, April 19 at 4 p.m.

I fell in love with photography in college and taught myself, using Polaroid cameras. I got my first digital camera only two years ago. When I moved to San Francisco, I started working with dogs and noticed how powerful it was and the joy people had when they were with dogs. I apprenticed at a portrait studio for a year, photographing families. Then I took my Hasselblad and photographed a friend’s dog, and it was an eye-opening experience. I thought, I can do this in a different, fine-art way and I started building up a business. I have wonderful clients that I cherish and we build relationships together. A lot of it is word of mouth, but also social media, the website, and work of mine that appears in magazines. To be a working artist, you have to hustle hard. I’ve been lucky in that I have a unique style and approach.

I love New England, and when I was in California for 10 years, I missed it a lot. I’d always dreamed of having a studio with big windows and a loft, but all of the ones where I lived were so expensive that I was priced out. I’m a country person, and I really wanted a space with other artists in a small town. The price was really good at Eclipse Mill and I moved here without knowing anyone.

I got the idea for Finding Shelter after photographing dogs for 10 years and being involved with animal rescues. Through working with lots of dogs that came from shelters, I saw that people still, in 2017, don’t want a shelter dog because they think they have issues. There’s a reputation of sadness that deters people from adopting and volunteering at shelters. I wanted to show what is beautiful about that world. It’s been proven that a good, professional photo of a dog will get them adopted. But I don’t like silly photographing; I prefer something with depth and feeling that shows the relationship between people and dogs. Shelters are full of beautiful stories — it’s not just the dogs, but the volunteers that get healed.

I started the project three years ago, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. With funding from a Kickstarter, I then selected groups from coast to coast, choosing an even amount of underfunded groups with a high-kill rate and some that were no-kill because they were located in wealthy neighborhoods.

Photos taken in Pittsfield and West Cornwall

In every shelter, the ratio is about 25 percent paid staff and 75 percent volunteers. Without volunteers, they wouldn’t be able to run or even exist. Humans overbreed pets and they don’t know enough about the importance of spaying and neutering, so many animals get abandoned in one way or another. The shelters aren’t so big that they can hold every animal, and there’s not enough money to pay that many people The only way to keep it functioning is to have volunteers. Volunteers walk, feed and clean for zero money. Once they start, they often do it every day for years.

For every shelter I photographed, they received high-res digital files that they’re allowed to use on their website, in the shelters themselves and for other marketing purposes. They can set up book signings, and I’ll go there to raise money for them directly. The shelters also can purchase the books at a discount and sell them to raise money or auction them off at fundraisers.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/03/17 at 10:22 AM • Permalink