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Sunday, January 21, 2018
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The Rural We: Marlow Shami

Photographer, artist and writer Marlow Shami, who lives in Goshen, Conn., conducts Nature as Healer workshops and talks. She specializes in the healing connection between humans and the natural world. Earlier in her career, she was the first female videographer at Channel 3, Hartford’s CBS affiliate, where she and Gayle King were nominated for a New England Emmy for a series they created together. She also co-produced an award-winning (and the first) documentary on battered women. Shami later began focusing on inner health and after studying yoga at an ashram, went back to school to get a master’s degree in ecopsychology. She will be leading a Mindful Eating Meditation and Nature Ramble at the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield on Feb. 10.

I’ve been presenting nature and healing workshops for about 20 years. This upcoming presentation will focus on mindful eating, because that seems to be on the mind of lots of folks this time of year. It’s a great way to think about our eating habits and integrate meditation and nature, and what better place to do it than the White Memorial Conservation Center?

All of the presentations I give, no matter what kind, mix meditation along with experiential activities in nature. I’ve found that mindful stress reduction, ecopsychology and the science of energy medicine form the foundation of all of my workshops. I structure these talks to help people pull off the layers we acquire that sort of numb us to our life, the environment and our own inner wisdom. We are such a head-dominant culture. The brain is a blessing and a curse when it comes to memory. I like to say that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature. We can tap into its restorative power, but it is a challenge to do it intentionally.

Guided meditation helps to quiet the mind. What I ask people to do is go outside and follow their positive attraction. That might be a pool of light, a stream, a tree — anything in nature — and ask the entity for counseling on some issue in their lives. Then notice what comes up. Often it’s a metaphor that comes to us. There is such power in connecting with nature. But unless we’re really present, we miss so many opportunities to follow our path.

My original degree was a BFA from the University of Hartford, with a focus on video and photography. I’m now fusing those skills along with my ecopsychology and meditative background into art. I have two bodies of work: the Restoration series and Visual Memoir series. When I’m out in nature I take photos and during the cold months I work on them digitally, which is in itself a meditative process.

My partner and I live in a log cabin with a wraparound porch, on five acres of land. When we were looking for a home, we wanted something that gave us the feeling we’re on vacation, and that’s what we have. I can just walk down my driveway and hike right from here.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/15/18 at 03:46 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Oskar Hallig

Oskar Hallig [left] and his husband, Michael Zippel [right], are the creative team behind Only In My Dreams Events. Hallig, a Mount Washington, Mass. native met the German Zippel while working in Berlin and the two moved to the Berkshires in 2001 to run The Hilltop House Bed & Breakfast. In 2013, after more than a decade at Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, Hallig thought it was time to revisit his teenage dream of running his own event company. Only In My Dreams specializes in non-profit fundraising events, and throws the annual gay pride dance party and cabaret held each June at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. On Friday, Jan. 19, OIMD will bring the region something new and fabulous: The “Miss Nogood” Drag Pageant at The Barn at the Egremont Village Inn.

Recently I was looking through old papers, and back when I was in high school I’d started writing up plans for a business called Only In Your Dreams. I thought that name was a little too sassy, so I changed it to Only In My Dreams. I’ve always been an entertainer, and was always on non-profit boards and planning galas; that was my comfort zone. I grew up in a family in the television world — my dad was a TV producer — and I spent a lot of time at Tanglewood as a kid.

This June will be our third year hosting the big dance party/cabaret at the Colonial for gay pride month, and we always have a big drag component to it. To lead up to that, and to celebrate local queen Nancy Nogood’s dragiversary, we’re throwing the “Miss Nogood” Drag Pageant. Nancy and another local drag queen, Boxxa Vine, are hosting. Whomever wins will be entered into the “Miss Colonial” pageant at this year’s cabaret party on June 9.

The judges include Broadway star Alison Fraser, actor and comedian Shawn Hollenbach and Heather A. Thomson from The Real Housewives of New York City, as well as renowned New York City drag queens Gilda Wabbit and Gina Tonic. I reached out to some people I know to come in as judges, and Nancy found the participants. This is much more of a real show featuring drag queens, than it is just a night out at a bar with drag performers there in the background. The Barn is such an intimate space, and we’ve worked hard with them to bring you a truly fabulous evening.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 01/09/18 at 12:04 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Val Shaff

Germantown, New York resident Val Shaff calls herself the “quintessential valley girl” — the Hudson Valley, that is. She grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson and went to Bard College before moving to New York City to start her career. Shaff specializes in photographing animals, capturing the “soul to soul” contact with every species from mouse to lion. She’s produced four books with humorist Roy Blount, Jr. (another RI-region resident), and has photographed animals for advertising accounts, fine art exhibitions and private commissions. Her compelling photographs are available at Hammertown stores as well as Canyon Ranch and online at her website. For Shaff, it’s all about connection with the animals. “Interspecies love is divine,” she says.

After college, I did whatever I could to make a living for quite a few years. I worked in the nightclub world, where I learned about shooting interiors, portraits and band pictures, and I did some projects in Italy. I fell into shooting children’s fashion, which gave me the income to buy my first house, in Greene County (New York). There I lived down the street from a classic, old-timey dairy farm. I started spending time photographing the animals, shooting with my Hasselblad and making large-format photos. I had so much fun doing it and got so into the zone, completely engrossed in watching the interaction of the animals. I started investigating other barns, too. At the time I was riding horses in the Rhinebeck area, and riders there wanted me to photograph their dogs. The dog portraits snowballed.

My collaboration with Roy Blount, Jr. happened because a literary agent had seen my portraits at the former Café Pongo in Tivoli. She wanted to publish them but needed the right writer to pair me with, and that was Roy. We did four books together, which Amazon picked as readers’ choice their first year in business. From that came a lot of work in advertising, celebrity work, book covers, even some photojournalism. I feel very blessed to have had a career in so many different worlds.

For me one thing has often lead to another. Jivamukti , the yoga school that I’d long been associated with asked me to photograph a celebrity cast of devoted animal lovers. I photographed Sting and Russell Simmons,  Mike Dee, Donna Karan and others all with the same sweet chihuahua available for adoption. It’s such a pleasure to meet all kinds of fascinating people in a moment of authenticity driven by our mutual love of the subjects at hand.

What I share with my patrons and my subjects is an appreciative moment of species-to-species, open-hearted recognition. I believe that my work in its intimacy and monumentalization of all creatures brings warmth and some recollection of the normalcy of living with animals.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 12/30/17 at 11:14 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Tambra Dillon

On New Year’s Day, Tambra Dillon takes the helm as Hudson Hall’s new executive director, having served as co-director for the past four years. Replacing the retiring Gary Schiro, who’s been leading the historic opera house’s revitalization for more than 20 years, is no small feat — but neither is shepherding the Hall’s major renovation project and reopening the fully restored performance hall, as she did earlier this year, with Schiro and their small, passionate staff.

Dillon has a long track record with esteemed nonprofit arts organizations. She worked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Harvey Lichtenstein and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and was the executive director of the Bard Fisher Center. She says through her career she’s been focused on the idea that the arts can transform communities.

I had started volunteering for Gary when I was finishing my work with the dance company and he asked me to come on to work with him about four years ago. Since then it’s been just one amazing whirlwind. It’s been incredible.

It was time to talk about completing the vision for the building. Gary had secured two large grants that were going to expire so the question became: do we phase the project over time or do we just push really hard to raise the remainder to get to open? We decided to push. I wrote the ESD grant that got $1.3 million and we found out about the USDA financing. It was a fairly risky proposition. We were managing the risk but we were incurring a lot of debt over the long haul. But we knew it was a risk worth taking. Thankfully it ended up turning out really wonderfully.

Since reopening we’ve just been going from one thing to another. The building got bigger, the programming got bigger, but the staff hasn’t gotten any bigger. It’s a small enough staff that everyone does everything. It’s been a labor of love on everybody’s part to be able to accomplish so much.

This has always been the city’s town hall and we are interested to see what it means to continue to be the town hall. We are doing local community workshops and working with local artists to create things like “The Mother of Us All.” It’s about the people and the artists living in the community and responding to what’s happening in the region. This whole idea of local food, local art, local people, everything combines together to create a sense of place.

When I started working here I was really blown away by the community. Hudson is its own universe. It’s the most engaged community I’ve ever been in. People are vocal and have personalities. What’s great about Hudson is there’s room to be yourself and be a personality and be a little quirky. It’s like a family and I think the arts are a great equalizer when it comes to bringing people together.

As for what’s next, we are announcing the inaugural Hudson Jazz Festival. It’s a three-day festival in February that we intentionally scheduled over the Presidents’ Day weekend to try and address the off-season market. Armen Donelian is curating. We are really excited to share this with everyone. It’s going to be great.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 12/12/17 at 07:41 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Jeni Wrightson

Jeni Wrightson is the new owner of Nourish Juice Bar in Red Hook, New York (formerly Get Juiced). Through her practice, Glorious Morning Wellness, she’s also a certified holistic health coach, specializing in confidence and self-love, which she says has a lot to do with food. But Wrightson is making more than organic cold-pressed juice — there are grain bowls, unique toast dishes and healthy lunch specials, all made with ingredients sourced from local farms including Gatherwild, where she lives with her fiancé Everett Kramer, a farmer. With her coaching and now her storefront, Wrightson is trying to empower women through healthy eating and positive self image. Her own positivity is infectious.

I was born in Niverville in Columbia County, one of five children. My family owned a health food store in Kinderhook, so the idea of food being medicine was always a part of my life. But in my teens and 20s, I struggled with disordered eating and had a really negative relationship with my body and the way I took care of myself. So food was totally the enemy for a really long time. Then I met my fiancé and he was the first person I really shared my struggles with. I realized I wanted to be truly healthy, so I changed my relationship to food. Once I did that, I knew I wanted to do that for others.

So the way I coach is really helping women reclaim their lives. And the first way you do that is by being the healthiest version of yourself you can be. You can eat all the kale in the world but if you’re in a career you hate or an abusive relationship no amount of kale is going to help you. You have to realize that you’re a whole person and there are all these different facets of life that aid your well being.

When I was studying at the Institute for Integrated Nutrition in 2014, we studied over 100 different dietary theories. They encourage you to try new things and one of them was juice. I ended up loving it and I juiced every single day, and if I didn’t juice I became really lethargic. I felt on top of the world when I was drinking juice consistently.

One of my personal mottos is that “self-love is a rebellious act.” There is so much in this world trying to get us to dislike ourselves so we can buy a product to feel good enough. I knew I wanted my business to be a place where women could come in and say, “I feel safe. I am myself. No one is pushing anything on me. No one is going to tell me I’m not good enough.”

As soon as I bought this place I knew that, as much as I love when men come in and drink juice and eat quinoa bowls, the truth is this is really for women. I’m doing this to say, this is a sisterhood. Whether I know you or not, if you come in here you are safe and this is about you making a rebellious act to love yourself, treat yourself and give yourself something that is really good for you. If you want to go out and eat a cheeseburger later, no judgment, I love cheeseburgers. Come in here, sit, meet other women. I want you to nourish your whole self and feel community, support and understanding — just show up as you.”

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 12/04/17 at 08:49 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Barbara Zanetti

As executive director of the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce, Barbara Zanetti is responsible for organizing many events, but Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, where Main Street is magically transformed as Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of the same name, may be the most popular. A Great Barrington native and Sheffield resident, Zanetti is in her 20th year as executive director, but was the chamber’s treasurer for several years before that. Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas activities run December 1-3, with the Main Street recreation on Sunday from noon-2 p.m. Buttons offering admittance to Sunday’s Main St. activities are $5.00 per person (children under 12 free) and are available online, or at the event (cash only).

This is the 28th year for Main Street Christmas. The weekend started off to attract visitors to town after Thanksgiving. It was first organized by the Nejaime sisters, and the events were just on Main Street. But it became necessary to have fundraisers for the chamber, so the event was expanded to include the holiday house tour, caroling and other activities.

We have to finalize the program of events by April every year, but it’s gotten easier to produce over the years. It’s not an exact replication of the painting. We solicit antique car owners, the entertainment and volunteer support. We have a lot of repeats. About eight years ago we introduced the Londontown Carolers, a quartet of Victorian costumed carolers from Pittsfield. The main car — the red one with the Christmas tree on top — is owned by Tony Carlotto from Sheffield. A lot of antique car owners don’t like people touching their cars, but Tony’s great. He allows everybody to get in the car. Last year we had a wedding proposal in it!

The whole effect gives you the feeling of what Rockwell painted and of a hometown at Christmas. The weekend is great for our local businesses. We get around 3,000 people just on Sunday alone. The Red Lion Inn is booked a year in advance, and the merchants are all very busy. They consider it their Black Friday.

Everyone always asks me what my favorite events of the weekend are. I would say it’s the children holiday story time at the library [on Saturday, Dec. 2] and the caroling in front of the Red Lion Inn.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/27/17 at 11:15 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Lincoln Mayorga

Diners at the Blue Plate Restaurant in Chatham, New York may have seen and heard pianist Lincoln Mayorga perform there with bassist Otto Gardner on certain Wednesdays of the month. But they may not have realized that Mayorga is a world-renowned arranger, recording artist, producer, composer, and documentary filmmaker.  One of the leading studio pianists in Hollywood, the Los Angeles native was the staff pianist at Walt Disney Studios, performing on many soundtracks, and has toured extensively around the globe. A highlight of his career was being invited by the Moscow Philharmonic to perform both Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm.” Mayorga moved to our part of the world in 1989.

I lived most of my life in LA, but moved here in 1989, when I was in my mid 50s. It was a desire for a life change. Things were changing in LA. There was less studio work employment, especially for pianists. Synthesizers were monopolizing the scene. I hated — and still hate — synthesizers. My close friend Arnold Steinhardt, who was principal violinist for the Guarneri Quartet — and a friend since seventh grade — had built a country house in East Chatham. I visited him for his housewarming and fell in love with the area. He said, “Lincoln, if you like this area, I believe the parcel next door is for sale.” I ended up buying the acreage, an emotional purchase. I built a small house on the 32 acres, then moved to it full time a few years later.

Getting involved with Community Concerts, an offshoot of Columbia Artists Management, enabled me to leave LA. Community Concerts organized audiences in close to a thousand towns all over the country. I played under their auspices for about 10 years, as many as 50 to 60 concerts a season. It kept me in shape, and gave me the independence to stop worrying about when I was going to get the next call.

Since I’ve been here I’ve done a lot of solo work as well as quite a bit of accompanying. I have some more recordings planned, including a piece called “Ragtime Fantasy” by jazz composer Dick Hyman. I’ve also written a mini piano concerto, “Angel’s Flight,” an homage to the motion picture idiom of film composing. It’s named for the funicular train in LA I used to ride with my dad. It’s dedicated to Los Angeles and those memories.

My film, “A Suitcase Full of Chocolate,” is about the life of Sofia Cosma, a prize-winning Jewish pianist, who, despite being sent to a Soviet prisoner of war camp for seven years during World War II, and losing her entire family in the Holocaust, went on to become one of the most celebrated pianists of Eastern Europe. After I heard about her story, I contacted her and she became one of my best friends. I got a team of film students to start working on a documentary about her. It was made over a period of 30 years, which actually strengthened the artistic quality — you see everyone age. There was a flurry of recognition early on, at FilmColumbia in Chatham, the New York State Performing Arts Center and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. I’d like to see it get more showings.

Recently I’ve put on a show of the music of Cole Porter, which we did at Proctors and the Spencertown Academy. And just last week I played for the opening of the new building at PS21.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/20/17 at 10:07 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Ellen Lynch

After working as a graphic artist in New York City, Ellen Lynch made a 180-degree turn and moved to Southeast Idaho to establish a cattle ranch in the Grand Teton Mountains. Since 2011, Lynch has lived in the Hudson Valley, eventually settling in Stuyvesant and opening a pop-up gallery of her photography in Chatham last month. As an artist usually working in solitude, Lynch loves the communal aspect of a brick and mortar space, where the community is invited to view art, hear live music, and participate in discussions with authors. Lynch’s next exhibit, “Touched by Light,” will open with a reception on Saturday, Nov. 18 from 4-7 p.m.

I was born and raised in a rural farming community in Western New York, where I spent most of my time outside. My first job, at age 7, was milking the neighborhood cows. I’m from a family of craftspeople — my father was a woodworker and my mother was always making stuff. We didn’t watch TV. I think because of that, I went to art school at SUNY Purchase. I was going to be a sculptor but quickly realized I didn’t want to teach or wait tables, so I switched to the graphic design department. I moved to New York City and pursued a career for 10 years or so. At the very beginning of the internet, I realized I didn’t have to live in the city anymore.

I’d always wanted to live in the Grand Teton Mountains, so I moved to Southeast Idaho and I had the great cowgirl adventure. I was always fascinated by the mountains. I thought I would go for a couple of years, get it out of my system, and them go back to New York. But I established a cattle ranch and lived in the national forest, where I had to ski part of the way to my house.

My folks were getting older and I decided my adventure might be over. I’d been taking photos of nature and animals the whole time I was out there. Then a couple of years ago, I was aiming my phone at a cloud to take a photo and I thought “Oh, this makes me happy.” So I’ve been focusing more and more on photography. I like to use natural light, especially late-afternoon sun which I find to be a gift. The next exhibit will feature dramatically lit horses and landscapes. I’ve always had a fascination with horses. When I was younger, I’d save my money and rent one to ride for $3 an hour, but I wasn’t able to have one until I lived in Idaho.

My work had been in some group shows, but I’d never had my own space. I love Chatham and it’s hard to see empty spaces on the main street, so I thought ‘why not?’ I’m subletting the gallery space until the end of the year, but people are trying to convince me to keep going. Right now I’ve got events planned every Saturday through December.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 11/14/17 at 10:19 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Nancy Opgaard

Nancy Opgaard may not be the only yoga teacher in the northwest corner of Connecticut, but according to one of her students in Cornwall who contacted us, she is the beloved instructor in their town. Along with teaching yoga, Opgaard is a massage therapist and offers meditation classes. It wasn’t her plan to become a yoga instructor, though, as she explains here.

I started practicing yoga in New York in 1982, and after being introduced to it in a martial arts class, I decided yoga was my first love. I had to choose between martial arts and yoga, because I couldn’t serve two masters. I never intended to become a teacher. I felt I was too shy and withdrawn, and didn’t like being in front of people, but my teacher insisted that I had to teach, so I started teaching in 1984.

Now I teach three courses a week at the Cornwall Library, and at High Watch Recovery Center in Kent five days a week. I lead all the yoga and meditation classes there, and it’s one of my favorite things. The population at High Watch is unique because of their struggles, and also because of the ages I work with. There are a lot of young people there, particularly a lot of young men. Most yoga classes are dominated by women, but there are more men at the retreat center, and the classes are male/female segregated. So guys will try yoga for the first time, and end up loving it.

I love my students in Cornall; they’re all great. I have some private clients once in a while, usually when people have an illness or injury and don’t fit into a regular class. I have run healing circles in the past, and hope to do it again. People are really hurting right now.

My husband and I moved to Cornwall eight years ago. We were living in Fairfield County, and my husband said, “Do you want to live here the rest of your life?” Gulp — no! But I had to think about where I really wanted to live. I decided inland, to the northwest corner of Connecticut. I liked the sound of Goshen. We started working with a realtor, who wasn’t coming up with the right place. So I Googled the image I had in my mind. Up popped this piece of land for sale in Cornwall that had the exact view that was in my mind. There wasn’t much information on it and we had to drive around to find it. We bought it and it took almost two years before we started building. My husband was a contractor, so he built our house.

I didn’t know anybody here. It took five years or so before I started to become part of the community. I began teaching a class here and there, and the classes have grown from 3 or 4 students to 15 to 20.

I’ve turned into a real yoga nerd. I went out last Friday night for the first time in years, and where did I go? To a restorative yoga class. I take one vacation a year — to see my yoga teacher. I’m an artist, but I don’t paint anymore; I don’t have the space or time for it. But it gives me great satisfaction if I can make a difference in someone’s life. I’ve been working with a private client who has MS. After a few weeks the change and progress has been remarkable and surprising even to me. When that happens, I think, “This is good.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/06/17 at 11:00 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Sally Van Doren

Photo by Nancy Crampton

Sally Van Doren is an award-winning poet who lives part-time in Cornwall, Conn. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said her third collection of poetry, published this year, “features smart poems that bring a cheeky edge to the theme of domestic bliss.” Just last month two of her poems were selected and read by Garrison Keillor on “The Writer’s Almanac,” a program on American Public Media. Author of two other books of poetry, she also is an artist and has recently been creating artwork in tandem with her poetry. On Saturday, Nov. 11 at 5 p.m., Van Doren will be presenting her work, which will be followed by a reception, at the Cornwall Library.

I have 12,000 pages of abstract writing, and have decided to focus more on combining it with art. The cover of my book “Promise” shows an example of what I do. I call it polysemic drawing. The drawings are like visualized thought and open to multiple meanings. The words are transformed in my mind as I’m writing them. I like the process of transformation into a visual gesture.

My Instagram posts are a separate part of my poetry practice. I have an epic poem, “The Sense Series,” which I’ve been writing since 2006 — one line every day. Now I post daily excerpts from that poem incorporated with my artwork. Some of those drawings are also polysemic. I’ve been doing that for almost two years.

My husband and I divide our time between Cornwall, New York and St. Louis, where we raised our boys, and where I’m from. I taught at the 92nd Street Y for the past three years, but I’ve stopped teaching there so I could allow myself more time to devote to my art. My husband’s family has been in Cornwall since the 1920s, and we live in his grandparents’ house. His grandfather was a famous poet, Mark Van Doren. He’s one of the Cornwall treasures.

We love being in Cornwall in the winter, especially since we’ve discovered snowshoeing. It’s a way to get us into the woods. We also like going around to all the towns and trying out new restaurants, and I love walking and playing tennis.

At the library event, I’ll do a combination poetry reading and art talk. I’ll read some poems from the new book, then intersperse some discussion of artwork on the walls, and end with a reading from “The Sense Series.” It’ll be a collaborative exercise with the audience, and I’m really looking forward to it.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/30/17 at 09:52 PM • Permalink