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The Rural We: Dawn Breeze

Originally from Martha’s Vineyard, creativity advocate and interdisciplinary artist Dawn Breeze worked in the fashion world in New York City before finding herself in Hudson and now Germantown, New York. The extra physical and mental space of the Hudson Valley has allowed Breeze to grow her own practice and to help others through her Creativity + Courage™ curriculum, as well as through Instar Lodge, the not-for-profit arts project space she founded and currently directs in Germantown. Her new book of poetry, “Breath 40x” was self-published this month and she’ll read from it this Saturday at Spotty Dog during this month’s installment of the Volume Reading & Music Series. Look for her public exhibition project, Wayfinding: Imaging History with (Our)story at Olana Historic Site this summer.

I moved to New York City to study and work in fashion, but I became disenchanted with my future in the city in my 20s. I wanted more creative opportunities and a space to create something on my own. I was working as a fashion editor and stylist, and I only began working as an artist when I moved Upstate. It was the nature surrounding me, the open sky and spaciousness of my time that opened me up to other creative pursuits. After I had my son in 2008, my husband and I had a lot of life-changing moments — my sister died unexpectedly, we moved to Germantown.

I’d been working in abstract or expressionistic landscape, and my focus changed to narrative and to investigating my recent life transformation. I also developed Creativity + Courage™, an experiential learning program at the dual-diagnosis center High Watch Recovery Center in Kent, CT. Until very recently, I’d been doing that once a week for six years, working with all ages. I also offer it to businesses (such as Etsy) for team building, and to private groups. I’ve worked with coaches, therapists, designers, architects, really anyone.

I decided to go back to school and I got my master’s at Goddard in interdisciplinary arts with a focus on art education reform, social practice and creative writing. I discovered creative writing to be an integral part of my process. Instar Lodge is really my thesis project, a culmination of recognizing my values and trying to explore with the community. I’ve been running it for three years with community volunteers. We’re focused on fostering development of creativity and community, and we do that through exhibitions, creative workshops, and learning opportunities with a large emphasis on community conversations.

We support female-identifying artists by offering studio spaces and platforms. We’ve produced really great projects, including a collaborative project, Rally in the Valley, that helped raised $14,000 for our local Planned Parenthood.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 07/09/18 at 05:18 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Francine Hunter McGivern

Francine Hunter McGivern’s body of work and personal history is complex and compelling, scandalous and mercurial, edgy but warm. McGivern’s archive of artistic work, in many forms, will soon be on display as a retrospective at Hudson Hall opening July 14. Her prolific archive spills through the Hall’s galleries, weaving a story about a life lived open and free. Work on display travels through Manhattan’s 1970’s conceptual art and club scenes, the AIDS epidemic, pastoral Italy, and up here to the Hudson Valley where McGivern created opportunities for scores of artists at her five-year CR10 Project. CR10 is now the Frank Institute, a non-profit cultural center in Linlithgo, New York dedicated to fostering interdisciplinary creativity. McGivern holds nothing back in her retrospective… or in life. 

I was exposed to the conceptual cutting-edge progressives in the arts in the mid ‘70s. It was pre-performance art. Performance at the time had an intellectual-philosophical kind of merger. Now, unfortunately, everything has been split into categories.

I started my own company called Jungle Red Studios in 1977. I sort of was a child of Andy [Warhol] and it was art imitating life. In many ways The Factory was everything for me. You get the money from this or that and then you get to do whatever you want with the money. So I started the studio. I knew I needed a license for something (a license to kill) so I got a hair-dressing license. I’d never been to a hairdresser in my entire life. So I had this bordello in the daytime and at night I started producing club shows.

There’s a lot in the archive that you’ll see in the exhibition that relates to Jungle Red and the period and the integration and the collaboration and documentation and all of the kind of dimensions around what that was.

The last time I performed live was in 1988, which you’ll see in the show — it’s a classic burlesque I did in three acts with three male strippers and a magician. Very old school. My husband Daniel Rothbart (who I’ve been with for 21 years) just finished this really good edit of the old footage.

The first person I knew who died of AIDS died in 1980. By 1988 I’d lost so many, many people. It was a changing time for those of us on the cutting edge of underground culture. The loss was immeasurable. So by the end of that year I closed Jungle Red to the public.

I moved to Italy from 1989 to 1997. I had gone on a vacation there just to sort of remember what it was like to have a lot of fun and not be around sick and dying people.

I met an incredible man who had a beach club that was kind of the cool hotspot at the time for Warhol and Italian filmmakers. He was 70, I was 39. I was with him for nine-and-a-half years. It was beautiful there in the foot of Vesuvius. That time was a gift from all of the people above who I lost. They put me over there. All those people are here. You’ll see them in the show.

Because of that my practice changed. I was so inspired by the landscape. And I had always been grounded in metaphysics and I’d spent a lot of my life studying the hermetic and the occult and I became Buddhist when I was 27. So I really focused on that in my work starting in the late ‘80s through today.

One of the cool things about looking back over 40 years of work was trying to find a weave between all I’ve made. Do I see it? Pulling it all out and trying to blend it into this beautiful opportunity that they’ve given me at Hudson Hall has been a wonderful opportunity to try to do and make an experience so the viewer can feel we are all one in the best way.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/03/18 at 10:48 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Rebecca Weiss

For two years, Rebecca Weiss has served as the literary associate at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. Working closely with Julianne Boyd, the theater’s artistic director, she has a strong hand in picking the season’s lineup of shows. Prior to joining BSC, she worked with a cultural center and ran a theater company in New York City. Weiss was an actress, but was drawn to the other side of the stage. At BSC, she is also the producer of the 10x10 short plays as part of Pittsfield’s 10x10 Festival each February.

I started as an actress, then got interested in directing and producing. I had an internship at Ars Nova [an organization that develops and produces work by artists in the early stages of their professional careers]. I fell in love with that side of producing and season planning.

My job as literary associate is to help pick the season’s shows, mixing new plays, world premieres, commissions, and plays that may not have had an East Coast premiere. We try to find interesting playwrights and plays, identifying the right pieces to fit with the Barrington Stage mission and audiences.

I read a lot of scripts! Also, Julie and I split our time between Pittsfield and the city in the fall and spring. We see a lot of shows, meet with potential artists, designers and directors, and attend readings and workshops. I’m producer of the 10x10 at Barrington, and to do 10-minute plays from 10 playwrights, I might have to read 200 scripts.

I’m also involved in other activities that are programmatic with the shows each season, such as the talkbacks and community outreach programs. One of my other responsibilities is to function as the company’s dramaturge, which involves doing research to support the actors and directors on a show. For example, “The Chinese Lady” is a show this season about the first female Chinese immigrant to America who performed in a side show. As dramaturge I would do historical research on women in that culture and practices around foot binding, giving the cast and director information so the characters can be authentically portrayed. Basically, it’s to support the production once it’s out of the playwright’s hands.

For one of our three world premieres this year, “Well Intentioned White People,” the process started because Julie loved the title and asked me to get a copy of the script, which I did. I read and loved it, and gave my thoughts to Julie. Over the past six months, we’ve been working with the playwright in development to get the script ready for production, and now it will premiere on the St. Germain Stage in the middle of August.

I keep an apartment in Brooklyn but I’m in Pittsfield for the summer and in February preparing for 10x10. I love the Berkshires, love being out of the city and experiencing nature. I’m particularly fond of the Clark for its combination of art and nature.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/25/18 at 11:42 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Amanda Hummel

Amanda Hummel is the owner of The Bee’s Knees children’s store at 725 Warren Street in Hudson, New York. She grew up in the area and has seen Hudson change a lot since she opened her doors eight years ago. What hasn’t changed is what her customers love about her shop — that they can find organic clothes, toys and other products for kids. Hummel offers an oasis for children and parents at the top of a business district lined with stores for adults.

I grew up in Stuyvesant in northern Columbia County. I was an elementary school teacher for a decade. I wanted to move on, and I was noticing there weren’t any stores like this locally, ones that were focused on developmentally appropriate toys and environmentally responsible products for children. I wanted to open a store that people could feel good about when shopping for their kids.

We opened in 2010 and I had my daughter, Inez, in 2013. I felt really happy that I had created a resource that was helpful for parents like me. I always carried products like cloth diapers and organic everything because shopping for these quality things online is really difficult. You have to be able to touch it and ask questions from someone who knows. As a mother, like my customers, I only want to put the best stuff on my kid’s skin.

We have a lot of local, handmade items, a lot of them made by moms. People who come in here see that are really responsive. We carry a brand-new, organic clothing line called Nori Bee from Ghent. The designer is a mom, and the products are beautiful, responsible and made in the U.S. We also have SO Handmade out of Woodstock, offering organic mats and toys that are beautifully inspired.

We have a space in the back of the store where kids can play, and for classes and groups to meet, like La Leche League. Hudson doesn’t have a lot of places for families to go where kids can touch things. Our play area is really popular on the weekends. It’s nice to have a store for the little ones, too. I also try to keep up to date on what’s going on in Hudson and Columbia County that’s kid appropriate, so we can be a resource for parents looking for something to do. Hudson can be overwhelming for people visiting with kids when we are the only game in town. There are more and more families coming and I’m really excited for things that are in motion, like the development of the waterfront, and what that can bring.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 06/18/18 at 09:06 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Adrienne Aurichio

Editor Adrienne Aurichio moved to New Milford, Conn. in 2004 with her late husband, the esteemed LIFE magazine photographer Bill Eppridge. Their plan was to settle into a quieter life to collaborate on projects based on Eppridge’s archive of photography accumulated over a lifetime. Aurichio, who studied communications design at Pratt Institute and photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, met the photographer when she was working as a photo editor at Sports Illustrated, where Eppridge landed after LIFE folded. On Saturday, June 24, from 2-4 p.m., Aurichio will be discussing and signing their book, ‘Becoming Barbra,’ at The Grace Mayflower Inn & Spa, hosted by the Hickory Stick Bookshop. ‘Becoming Barbra’ features photos from Eppridge’s two separate photography sessions with Barbra Streisand. The first, in 1963, had her at the edge of stardom. By 1966, when he next photographed her, she had gained full-fledged celebrity status. Tickets can be purchased at the bookshop for $50, which includes a signed copy of the book and light refreshments.

My husband and I were living in Westchester County, transplants from New York City. We came up here, doing the typical thing people do when they’re leaving the NYC area, looking at a 75-mile radius, needing a house to be accessible to the city. We had some friends in the area, and relatives in Stamford, so it seemed like the right place to be.

We moved here to make his work into a business, to figure out how to get his pictures published more widely. We actually started in 1992, and this is the sixth book about his work.

Bill was working for LIFE when he was assigned to photograph Streisand in 1963. She was relatively unknown then. He shot her for about 3 or 4 days, and said she was pleasant enough that time, happy to have an audience. He just photographed what she was doing in her apartment. At first, he said, it was awkward to just start photographing someone you’ve never met before, and he was a shy person. But he was also engaging and personable. He liked to be a fly on the wall, and he’d tell his subjects that, so they’d relax. By the second time he photographed her, in 1966, she was a huge star. She’d been in “Funny Girl” on Broadway, and was about to do the movie version. There are a lot more photos from that time, because it was a three-week shoot.

We started looking at the negatives of the two shoots back in the mid ‘90s. There are thousands of images. Bill liked to find images that told the story of how Streisand went from being virtually unknown to being a huge star in three years. I especially love the picture in the beginning of the book: a man is helping her with a hat in a thrift shop. She has her hand on her cheek, and it’s almost like she’s gazing out at the future — she was probably looking at a mirror — imagining where she was headed. The book is such a look back at a style. Streisand was a trendsetter, and teenage girls wanted to emulate her look.

I still work quite a bit; I have Bill’s archives to manage. There’s still a major retrospective to do, and then I have to find a permanent place for the photos. For me, there’s real joy in doing it. I knew he was going to leave it to me to finish archiving his work. He told me — after we got married — that his photo director at LIFE magazine once said to him, “Find a good picture editor, and marry her.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/11/18 at 03:31 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Lynden B. Miller

Public garden designer and self-described “plant freak” Lynden B. Miller is responsible for rescuing and restoring The Conservatory Garden in Central Park, beginning in l982. Her other work in the city includes garden and park design in all five boroughs, including for Bryant Park, The New York Botanical Garden and Madison Square Park. She is on the Board of Trustees of the Central Park Conservancy, the New York Botanical Garden and, more locally, the Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, N.Y. When not working in the city, she spends time with her family at her Sharon, Connecticut home, the garden of which will be open for tours during the Cornwall Library’s Books & Blooms event on Saturday, June 9. The night before, on Friday, June 8, she will give the talk “40 Years of Gardening: Private and Public” at a reception to kick off the event.

The talk will be taken from my love of plants and gardens, and having been a painter for 18 years, which has always influenced my work. The property we bought in Sharon was a complete dump full of poison ivy and overgrown trees. I told my husband, ‘I can’t do this, why didn’t we buy something where someone had already gotten it started?’ But 40 years later, I’m still there, and except for the crabapple and rock, I put everything there. My garden is meant to be a mid-summer and fall garden, although this year, just in the last week or two, everything has burst into bloom.

I love plants and combinations of plants. That’s how art has influenced my gardening, and what I’ve learned there I’ve taken to New York City in some of my projects. I’ve done more than 40 projects in all 5 boroughs, some big and some small. That’s been my life’s work.

I paint with plants. I look at things with the same eye, there’s only time and weather that are different and that make it more challenging. It’s the same thing, designing with plants is an art form and you produce something that gives people pleasure. I just did a Digger Deeper event for the Garden Conservancy, and I had 30 people come in the rain. It was 55 degrees and we spent two hours in my garden and I loved it. I love sharing my garden with people.

I’m asked to go to help people beautify their cities, and I believe that people have a great need for connection with nature. In the big city they need it more than most places. To share that is what has motivated me all this time. I’m just a part of making New York more beautiful. It’s very rewarding. I wrote my book because I thought, ‘what if I get run over by a bus, no one will know all these things I’ve learned!’

I’ve been at the Botanical Garden for 31 years, working on perennials, and at Columbia working on improvements for 21 years. I’m currently working on saving the Russell Page Garden at the Frick and improving the Trinity Church Garden on Wall Street, where one of my relatives is buried. I advocate to get the city to spend more money for park maintenance. I’ve done all these projects, but they’re only as good as the maintenance. I’ve taught at NYU for 15 years or more, and I love my students. I work pretty hard all week and on the weekends I like to come up and play with my plants.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/05/18 at 09:37 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Joane Cornell

Joane Cornell began her career in fine jewelry in 1979, working with the well-established New York City jewelry equipment supply house I. Shor MFG., then heading to the renowned diamond/jewelry district of 5th Avenue/47th Street a few years later to learn jewelry-making from the ground up. Cornell permanently embraced the country life in 2002, moving to our area full time and opening Cornell Fine Jewelry in Lenox, Mass., where she became known for her unique pieces, most of them hand forged in her Richmond, Mass. studio. After 16 years in the Berkshires, Cornell recently moved her boutique to Columbia County. She opened her new shop, GLINT, on 9 Main Street in Chatham on March 15 and is excited to talk about her current passion projects, five brand-new design collections.

I love being in the country. I was in NYC working full time since 1974, but when you get older it’s not the place to be. When I moved up here, just the lack of brick and mortar and noise, my design capabilities and abilities exploded. It was like seeing color for the first time. I designed a lot at first, and I only started to hand fabricate a couple of years ago. The construction, the architecture, came so easily to me. It was another step forward in this amazing journey.

I work seven days a week and it’s my passion. I import stones from dealers I trust, and I’ve developed relationships, so I get ethically sourced stones directly from Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Afghanistan. I collect stones voraciously. My collection can sit for a month, six months or a few years before they’re used in a design process. As my style evolves/transitions and defines itself, what I might have used the stones for six months prior will change completely as I explore a new concept.

I love doing commission work. I have a calendar right on my website where anyone can make a private appointment with me. My pieces are one-offs, no repeats. I respect my customer base. There’s no mass production or factory line, like many high-end New York City designers/manufacturers. Every piece of mine is given a lot of thought and energy.

At the moment, I’m working on five individual design collections for a 2018/2019 debut. In the last two years, I started to build a younger, edgier line with more black metal and different colors. This new line is gender-fluid jewelry. I’m also working on a tabletop line, which is in the design concept stage, and will utilize precious and semi-precious metals, and a smattering of semi-precious stones. It was inspired by the flora in the Berkshires/Columbia County regions.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/29/18 at 11:21 AM • Permalink

Rural We: Giovanni di Mola

Giovanni di Mola has been a familiar face in Hudson, New York for years. The busy photographer seems to know everyone in town and has taken pictures of quite a few of them. With the release of his first book of portraits “Kindred,” he’s sharing intimate, vulnerable and raw images of the people of Hudson, taken over 13 years. Ninety percent of the photos in “Kindred” were shot in Hudson and only one was taken outside New York State. Di Mola will be launching and signing his book at The Spotty Dog this Saturday at 5 p.m., and a collection of his work will soon be on display at The Gallery at 46 Green Street in Hudson with an opening reception to be held June 9. The exhibition, which also includes Hudson-related work not seen in the book or di Mola’s previous NYC show, will run through July 15. 

I was born and raised in Astoria, Queens. Both of my parents were from Italy. I won a photo contest against adults when I was in the second grade. They were closeups of dogs and cats in the neighborhood. They were portraits! I won a camera with a flash, five rolls of film and free processing and prints. So all of a sudden I knew I could take pictures and my mom didn’t have to pay for them and I didn’t have to use allowance and I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission.

My father was a guard at the Vatican (that was his claim to fame). He took me to see Renaissance paintings and those seated portraits were, to me, the most magical things in the world. They still are. When I went to the Clark, I fell in love with those seated portraits from the 1800s. That inspires how I shoot. I use all available light and no retouching.

What brought me here: I kept coming up on weekends in the early ‘90s with my crew of friends from the East Village who had started getting these inexpensive weekend places. I was freelancing so I would have days and days free. I’d visit them and bring my equipment and in a weekend I would create more artwork than in six months to a year in NYC.

I use to be petrified to do portraits. I was super shy. But over time I got more comfortable with face contact. But I also loved fashion so I liked dressing my friends up in something I designed.

These days people are so super aware of their own face because of the selfie thing. I meet up with people and there’s nothing but me, the camera and the daylight and we just hang out. I never thought about a book. I just wanted to do their portrait because they were interesting and accessible and were fun. This is a whole new world I’m trying to be open to.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 05/22/18 at 11:14 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Linda Weintraub

Linda Weintraub lives in a beautiful natural space, both physically, at her fabulous passive home and rolling property in the woods of Rhinecliff, and through her work. She creates art, writes, teaches and curates with a heart that explores the relationship between art and the era in which it’s created. She’s acutely invested in our ecological impact on the natural world and how art movements react to and address those issues. On May 23, at 6:30 p.m., Weintraub will be speaking at the Morton Memorial Library about her latest work, in an illustrated presentation titled, “Can Artists Rescue Our Assaulted Planet?”

My involvement with the vanguard forms of art started when I was a kid. I had the supreme privilege and pleasure of learning from some of the all-time greats of modern dance, such as Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, to name a few. I thought dance was going to be a career, and then I started having lots of babies, so that wasn’t the best career choice. I discovered that many of the innovations I experienced with dance were being translated to the visual arts as well.

I began to look for reasons why creative people, who didn’t know each other, seemed to be presenting something that was consistent and unified. That led me to realize that art is a comment on the current era — and that has colored my writing, my teaching, my curating, and my personal art explorations forevermore.

Along the way, in the ‘70s, I became really cognizant of the crisis our planet is being subjected to due to human irresponsibility and I said to myself, “art has always commented on the critical issues of its time, I wonder if the vanguard artists are addressing environmental concerns.”

It was way early in the development of eco-art but I found a lot of artists who were responding individually to, what was to them, a really critical issue of our era. I’ve really devoted a lot of time since then to helping establish eco-art as a movement, introducing people to the really ingenious strategies artists have developed to remediate the planet, or ways to help people become aware of the severity of the problem.

We have the ability and the responsibility to reform the way we interact with the Earth and how we make it a safer place for future generations. I really believe that we can make things better and we can change the things we have control over. We don’t have control over a lot but we do have control over the choices we make for ourselves.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 05/15/18 at 06:38 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Cynthia Pansing

Cynthia Pansing in front of the peach tree she planted in memory of her late sister, and her daughter’s treehouse.

West Stockbridge resident Cynthia Pansing was born in Nebraska but has lived in many other states as well as Canada and Switzerland. It was, in fact, her time in Switzerland as a child that, in a roundabout way, led her to the Berkshires. She is the executive director of Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, a nonprofit organization based in Great Barrington, Mass. that provides financing and technical assistance to food and farming entrepreneurs and local businesses to help them thrive in the local economy. Prior to her work with BAV she was CEO of Changing Tastes, a national food and sustainable agriculture consulting firm. She’s really in her element now, she says; her current position combines all sorts of interests she’s had over the years.

I fell in love with the Berkshires 14 years ago when I came here for a personal retreat. The area spoke to me in so many ways — the nature, the culture, the people, the connection to the spiritual life through the retreat centers. Over the years, the more I learned about the innovative nonprofits here, and about the culture and natural world, it just drew me. I was living in the D.C. area with my then-husband and my daughter, driving in traffic 13 hours a week. I didn’t want to raise my daughter in the hustle bustle. I came up for a retreat at Kriplau, saw a house in West Stockbridge, and put in an offer. Our consulting business allowed us to live anywhere we wanted, so we decided to make the move.

My mother raised me, from an early age, with a connection to nature and food, and thinking about healthier ways of eating. For two years we lived in a small village in Switzerland where I was able to explore the world around me freely. The Berkshires reminds me of it. Now I have a cottage garden at home; my daughter and I love to plant our own vegetables and fruits. We even occasionally forage in our yard, like I used to do in Switzerland.

The Berkshire Agricultural Ventures began as a program of Berkshire Grown and the Carrot Project. A year ago we became an independent nonprofit to better serve farmers and food entrepreneurs. We get our funding from donors, private investors, foundations and government agencies.

Our mission is to provide farmers and food entrepreneurs with the resources they need to grow by providing flexible financing and technical assistance. We offer loans, equity investment, business development and marketing assistance. In just the past year we’ve served 21 farms and food businesses, and are working on four regional infrastructure projects. 

As an example, a farmer came to us and wanted to grow vegetables year round at a low cost both financially and in energy usage. We provided him with a matching grant to install the equipment that created a climate control system.

This is a dream job. I adore the people I work with — the staff, board, partner organizations and the farmers and entrepreneurs we assist.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/08/18 at 10:08 PM • Permalink