Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Folk Art Exhibit at Roxbury Arts Group

Nellie Bly Ballard and Don Strausser are featured in an exhibit presented by Catskills Folk Connection called "Growing Up To Brush: The Catskills Landscape in Folk Art."  The exhibit opens this Saturday, October 1, with a public reception from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Roxbury Arts Center, 5025 Vega Mountian Road, Roxbury, NY  12474.  

Growing Up To Brush” is a phrase often heard among farmers to refer to the succession of weeds and shrubs taking over pastures that are no longer grazed, fields that no longer grow corn and meadows that are no longer mowed for hay. It's not a compliment, but rather the reflection of the changing agricultural landscape in the Catskills that has been going on since the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Farmers once cleared their holdings all the way to the mountain top to feed their livestock, leaving only a few woodlots to provide fuel for their houses. As farms have been consolidated into ever larger operations located mostly in valleys, the sidehills, saddles and mountain tops have grown up to brush on their way to becoming the forested slopes we see today.

Those who farmed from the late-19th to the late-20th century made a conscious effort to maintain the working appearance of the agricultural landscape in the Catskills. “We used to have to cut brush all the time” recalls a grandson of Nellie Bly Ballard. “I remember my father would to come up to the farm where I used to work. I'd be side raking some hay and he'd say 'You're coming down [to our farm] and you've got to cut brush.' … It was so important.” Trimming out walls and around boulders too big to remove from a field and trimming along the road were constant tasks that served a common aesthetic about how the landscape should look.

Both of the folk artists featured in this exhibit come from the mountain culture that values well-trimmed and cleared fields. They paint in different styles, with different materials, but they each represent a way of seeing the Catskills cultural landscape that they felt compelled to express in their paintings.

Nellie Bly Ballard (1894-1971) recorded her native Roxbury and nearby farms and hamlets in Delaware County in her paintings on canvas board. She earned her nick-name, “The Grandma Moses of the Catskills” by skillfully portraying recognizable buildings and structures and by including in some of her paintings ordinary farming activities such as harvesting ice. The working landscape she paints is comfortable for those who grew up on farms in the region and who took pains not to let their farms grow up to brush. But look closely and you will see signs of change, with mountains wooded to the top, and in one painting a mid-20th century vacation home development on a farm that had begun to revert to shrubs and trees.

Don Strausser (b. 1934) lived in Westkill in Greene County where he painted farms, houses and churches in a Catskills setting. While some are portraits of actual places, others come from his imagination and from photos and illustrations. Like Nellie Bly Ballard he shows the agricultural landscape, but he also portrays the wooded Catskills as a backdrop for his favorite wildlife, the bald eagle. Viewers could interpret that in his wilderness paintings Strausser is reminding us of the portrayal of the “sublime” forces of nature favored by fine artists in the Hudson River School. But in fact forested mountain sides are the working landscape for this artist who is a woodsman, a hunter, a fisherman and a harvester of ginseng. Strausser is most noted for his technique of painting on found objects such as slate, tools, and household objects plus shelf fungus from the woods around his home.   

To see more paintings by Don Strausser and Nellie Bly Ballard, see our Gallery, in the upper right.,

Please join us for the opening reception, Saturday, October 1, 4-6 p.m. at the Roxbury Arts Center.  For more information about this exhibit call 607-746-3521 or contact vscheer@  juno.com.  For information about the gallery at the Roxbury Arts Center call 607-326-7908 or contact info@roxburyartsgroup.org 

This exhibit is a project of Catskills Folk Connection which is sponsored by the Roxbury Arts Group, and is funded in part by the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Council for the Humanities, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the NYS Legislature, and the O'Connor Foundation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Reflection: Catskills Folk Connection

Tonight, September 6, on Catskills Folk at 7 pm on WIOX 91.3 FM, and streaming live at wioxradio.org, Ginny Scheer will pause to review the activities of our regional folklife organization, Catskills Folk Connection - activities that include a schedule of square dances and WIOX radio programs, and that are growing to include an exhibit of folk painting, lectures about folk art and about traditional music and dance in the Catskills, and eventually programs about Catskills foodways and vernacular architecture.  Planning folklife presentations takes a lot of time from grant writing through performance - as much as two years -  and involves more than just the folklorist and her interviewees. Radio programs, on the other hand, can be more spontaneous, giving the folklorist a chance to share new and exciting discoveries of Catskills tradition bearers, such as a folk artist who makes models of local churches, or mountain residents who gather wild foods and medicinal plants, or a member of a traditional square dance band who turns out to be a folk painter too.  Join me tonight to reflect on these and other topics and music that have been featured on WIOX's Catskills Folk and in the public presentations of Catskills Folk Connection.    

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tonight on WIOX, Catskills Food Ways

For Catskills Folk's  third weekly show in a row, tonight August 23 at 7 pm, Ginny Scheer will present a program about traditional foods in the Catskills on WIOX 91.3 FM and wioxradio.org.  The focus this time will be on a series of recipes Ginny collected in the 1970s when she first moved to the Catskills, including pickles fermented in a crock and meat brined in a crock before smoking.  There will also be family and community recipes for more pickles, plum ketchup, suet pudding, and chokecherry jelly.   Future Catskills Folk programs on the food ways theme will include woodland plants used for food, traditional dishes derived from dairying and recipes centered on the production of cole crops, especially cauliflower. Please join Ginny for these radio programs and call or write with traitional family recipes you would like to share: vscheer@juno.com or 607-746-3521.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On WIOX Tonight, 2 Hours of Catskills Folk

In a special two hour Catskills Folk starting at 6 pm August 16, Ginny Scheer will host a two-part program, first about a folk artist from an upcoming exhibit and second the final part of a previous program on tourism in the Catskills.

Last week Ginny discussed the work of Nellie Bly Ballard, a folk artist from the mid-20th century who painted landscapes from around Roxbury, NY (see blog article below).  Ballard will join this
week's featured artist, Don Strausser, in an exhibit created by Catskills Folk Connection called "Growing Up to Bush."  It will be on display from October 1 through November 5 in the Walt Meade Gallery at the Roxbury Arts Group, Roxbury, NY.  

Hilt Kelly and the Sidekicks at the Halcott Grange, with guest fiddler Henry Hermann.
  Don Strausser is on the far left.

You may recognize Don Strausser's name from his career in music as lead guitar in Hilt Kelly's square dance band, the Sidekicks.  Many do no know, however, that Don's talented fingers on the guitar could also wield a paint brush.  Until a few years ago when his eyesight began to weaken, Don painted favorite original scenes from his area of Greene County, near Lexington, and favorite views from magazines and other publicaitons.  What makes all these paintings unique is that they are painted on a variety of materials: slate, household objects like an ironing board, tools such as saws, as well as canvas board.  Perhaps the rarest of 'canvasses' for his art are the huge shelf fungi Don found on his travels in the woods.  On these he painted scenes or carved line drawings on the velvet side of ther fungus.       .

This blog's Gallery contains a good selection of Don's work, as well as a photo of Don at a music workshop.

Join Ginny tonight at 6 pm  on the air at WIOX 91.3 FM or streaing live at wioxradio.org to learn more about Don's painting in his own words, and to hear about Ginny's research about farm boarding houses and other forms of tourism in the 20th century Catskills.
Hubbell Farm Boarding House, Bragg Hollow
Hewitt's Crystal Spring Farm, Denver, NY

August 28 Is Next Catskills Folk Connection Square Dance

Catskills Folk Connection's monthly square dance will take place Sunday, August 28 from 1-4 pm at the Bovina Community Hall, 1866 County Route 6, Bovina, NY.

The Tremperskill Boys will provide old-fashioned Catskills dance tunes for their regular caller, fiddler John Jacobson, and for guest caller Wes St. Onge, well-known musician in the western Catskills.  Both callers are familiar with the dance repertoire of Hilt Kelly, the late, legendary fiddler and square dance caller from the Catskills.

Join us for an afternoon of family fun.  Beginners are welcome and all dances will be taught.  Suggested donation for adults is $7 and children under 13 are free.   For more information, call Ginny Scheer 607-7446-3521 or e-mail at vscheer@juno.com.

Folk Painter Nellie Bly Ballard featured on WIOX

Last Tuesday,  August 9, 2016, I featured the late artist Nellie Bly Ballard on Catskills Folk, my bi-weekly radio program on WIOX, 91.3 FM community radio for the Catskills.  Nellie was active in the mid-twentieth century in Roxbury painting landscapes of her native area.  Some of her paintings were farm portraits, some were views of familiar valleys or villages, and others whose locaitons we have not been able to identify may have been fictional.  Though she only painted for the last two decades of her life, Nellie was very prolific and a number of her paitnings have survived in collections around the Northeast.  Catskills Folk Connection, along with the Roxbury Arts Group, will be presenting her work along with paintings by another local artist, Don Strausser, at an exhibit called "Growing Up To Brush" in October at RAG's Walt Meade Gallery in Roxbury.

Here is a photograph of Nellie Bly Ballard in her studio with a number of her paintings, followed by examples of paintings that may be in the October exibit: