June 29, 2011

The passing of several of my friends recently — Jack Levine, Bruce Currie, Robert Angeloch — reminds me of little anecdotes of a couple of others that I have profiled over the years and who have also passed on to leave us bereft of their wonderful talents. Eugénie Gershoy, an artist like the aforementioned, was denizen of both Woodstock and New York City, her shared residences alternating between Twin Gables upstate and the Chelsea Hotel “in the city” (as upstaters referred to the Big Apple). Although she was an accomplished painter (I have a beautiful floral hanging in my bedroom that she did for me while she was up in Woodstock), Eugénie made her mark as a whimsical sculptor, her crowning achievement a solo show at the Smithsonian. I had profiled her in the early ‘80s and always found her acerbic tongue a delight — divorced from her husband for some years before I met her, whenever she referred to him or mentioned his name she would turn her head with a loud “ptoooie” and then resume her narrative. She, along with another dual resident of Woodstock and NYC, Dorothy Varian (who lived at the Carnegie while “downstate”), both urged me to “get my head out of Woodstock” — in other words, not to concentrate only on Woodstock artists, but to extend my vision to include those outside the area — in fact, Jack Levine (at Eugénie’s urging) was my first NYC artist to profile. Another great artist, this time a singer/guitarist, was Odetta, who passed away (it seems) just a scant few months ago. I hadn’t seen her for some years (although Cornelia used to meet up with her in the city every so often to go “clubbing”), having gotten to know her pretty well when I profiled her for ART TIMES in August of 1985. I’d met her the month before in the little town of Gardiner, New York, where a friend of hers had loaned her home where she could find the seclusion to work on a project. We sat as old friends across a kitchen table, sharing laughs as she unfolded her life and career for me. At one point, I asked her if she has seen any deer while she was spending time “in the country”. “Deer?” she said, somewhat surprised. “There are deer up here?” “Sure,” I said, they’re all over. She’d been so busy working on her notes and tapes that she rarely took time to look out the window at the nearby woods. Looking at me a bit skeptically, I invited her to take a walk outside with me. A nearby brook bubbled out behind the house and in no time, I was able to point out deer tracks in the soft earthen banks to her. “Wow!” she said. “And I never saw them!” She looked at me a bit sheepishly, and added, “I’m a city girl, you know, and never even thought about deer around here.” We walked a bit more and, as I glanced down looking for more tracks, I spotted a fossil rock, indented with ancient shell imprints. I picked it up and handed it to her, explaining what it was. She was absolutely dumbfounded. “Come on,” she said. “You put that there before!” “How could I?” I asked. “I didn’t even know where you were until I got directions from you this morning.”  Still a bit dazed, she just shook her head and cradled the stone in her hand. “Deer,” she mumbled. “And fossils!”) Some years later, Odetta was performing at SUNY New Paltz, and I went to hear and see her. After her performance, I had a lovely backstage visit, where I got a big hug from her. (I had a photo of this moment but it burnt up when my studio went up in flames). Anyway, just before I left, she said, “Wait! I want to show you something.” She went into her purse and pulled out a tied up handkerchief — inside, was the fossil stone! “Look,” she said. “I covered it with clear nail polish so it will be preserved.” I looked at her and grinned. “Preserved,” I said. “Odetta — that thing is probably over a million years old! Thank God you’re going to protect it for a few more years.” Another hug, another memorable moment.


Passing of Another Woodstock Legend

March 12, 2011


The recent death of artist Bruce Currie closes yet one more door on Woodstock’s illustrious past as America’s “go-to” art colony. The ending of World War II breathed new life into New York City’s Art Student League as it languished under a dearth of students during the war years. Almost overnight — with the help of a movie made by the League under the auspices of the U.S. Government (starring, incidentally, another Woodstocker and colleague of Currie’s, Robert Angeloch) that urged homecoming soldiers to seek a career in art — both their New York City and Woodstock summer school facilities suddenly burgeoned with budding artists. Already enjoying an international reputation as “the world’s best landscape school” before the devastating war years, the League’s summer sessions once again drew applicants from across the expanse of the United States, among the many who crowded Woodstock’s two main rural thoroughfares being Bruce Currie — a genuine decorated war hero from Iowa who quickly translated his dedication as a soldier to that of a dedicated artist. I profiled Bruce for a local newspaper — one month, in fact, before we founded ART TIMES in August of 1984. A gentle, soft-spoken man, as I sat in his studio on Boggs Hill Road, I quickly learned why he more than held his own in a competitive art colony of would-be ‘famous’ artists — and, make no mistake, Woodstock had many such, attracting back in those days reporters from NYC publications (including the Times) to cover shows at the Woodstock Artists Association on Tinker Street. No longer just a “landscape school”, the mixed bag of artists that had descended on Woodstock from across America and beyond assured the League of a variety of “new” ideas — abstraction, one among many. Currie soon developed his own unique vision, a subtle blend of realism and abstraction that soon made others take notice — including New York City galleries that eagerly sought to represent him. This, in turn, brought him more solo shows, more recognition, more awards, until he was a force in his own right. Currie, along with many of his Woodstock contemporaries, served as exemplars for the main character in my novel The Mountain. I had profiled most of Woodstock’s “second wave” over the past 35 years and almost without exception each contributed to the amalgamation that would become “Jake” in his coming-of-age in my novel on the Woodstock artscene. Bruce, as well as being an artist to know, was also a man to know. I, along with much of Woodstock, will miss his quiet presence.