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Hillsdale’s Davis and Draves Think Locally and Act Globally

Draves and Davis

By Jamie Larson

Ken Davis and Kevin Draves run two traditional small-town businesses in Hillsdale, New York: an ice cream parlor and a “lifestyle boutique,” but their unique approach and style are anything but ordinary. The couple’s artistic taste and community mindedness are a big part of the reason the little village at the crossroads of the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley has become such a draw for people driving through.

For all the time they put in at Village Scoop and Passiflora, it’s a surprise that those businesses are not their day jobs. Draves, a costume supervisor for movies and television, and Davis, a photographer and a 20-year volunteer with GMHC and their Friends In Deed Groups, spend the weekdays in the city and weekends behind the counters of their businesses, adjacent to each other in the center of town.

“We always loved this area and knew the village square was sort of this hidden gem,” Draves says.

A milkshake special at Village Scoop.

Draves and Davis met 21 years ago in New York before buying their home in Copake in early 2001. After a few years of keeping to themselves they wanted to become a more involved part of the community, opening Passiflora and later renovating the abandoned, flame-covered tattoo parlor next door into their modern ice cream shop. They’re now a part of a pleasant business district that seems to be adding interesting and diverse new stores and eateries all the time. Just this summer Village Scoop boldly expanded its operation to include local cheese plates, salads and yogurts, and are making “mocktails” as the area’s first alcohol-free bar.

“In a village this size, we all have to support each other and that’s really important to us,” says Draves. “Anyone who comes in, we are constantly talking up the other places in town.”

“If Eyes Could Speak” by Ken Davis

Davis and Draves aren’t just trying to give back to Hillsdale but to their global community as well. The two first traveled to India and Nepal five years ago with friends and became involved with Himalayan Healthcare and Jeevankala, the charity’s shop through which indigenous women sell handmade items to support their families. Passiflora carries many of these goods, which are part of vital micro economies. Davis and Draves have since returned to the region twice, even helping Jeevankala design and set up a new shop in Katmandu. They’ll be returning again this fall. Many of the other intriguing items at Passiflora take on new meaning when you find out they go to support world charities and people in emerging markets.

“It’s what we were able to do to help support them. It’s not that hard for us to do and it means so much,” Davis says, adding that the store is packed with stuff they love and believe in. “But we also wanted to have a price point that’s for everyone. A lot of times we’re thinking about our friends and neighbors and what they like.”

While traveling, Davis embraced his passion for the people he met through his photography, taking photos of enchanting settings and the strangers-turned-friends along the way. His photos are now on display at the Roe Jan Community Library through September 11.

“It wasn’t difficult to communicate, even though we didn’t speak the same language,” Davis says of the people he met and photographed.

Draves exuberantly talks up Davis’ photos and the meaningful experiences behind them but is modest when discussing his career accomplishments. His filmography is impressive. He’s worked as costume supervisor on television shows and movies as diverse as they are acclaimed. He’s helped outfit stars in high style and period attire in Sex and the City, Taking Woodstock, Julie and Julia, and Boardwalk Empire and helped superheroes don leather and cape in The Dark Night Rises and Daredevil. He says he’s really excited to see the next release bearing his fingerprints, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

It’s easy and enjoyable to peruse Passiflora or treat yourself at Village Scoop oblivious to the personal aspects — the compassionate world view and keen artistry — the owners bring to their small-town businesses. But their story gives you one more big reason to stop in Hillsdale and see what’s so special at the crossroads.

“People say, ‘this is one of our favorite places on our way to…’” says Draves. “We came up here to get away but then we met all these amazing people. Now we’re in a position where we’re able to give back to the community. That feels good. We are stronger together.”

2638 State Route 23, Hillsdale, NY
Thursday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Village Scoop
2640 State Route 23, Hillsdale, NY
Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sundays, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 08/22/16 at 10:06 AM • Permalink

Grillsdale: Major Sizzle At A Grilled Food Feast in Hillsdale

By Lisa Green

When Joanna Virello moved to Hillsdale, New York from the city, the food publicist knew she wanted to do a food event. “This is God’s country,” she says. “I wanted to shine a spotlight on the town.”

That spotlight will shed a glow on not just the town but the bounty coming out of the Route 22 corridor in a new event, Grillsdale 2016 at the Hilltop Barn at Roeliff Jansen Park on Saturday, Aug. 27 from 6-10:30 p.m., rain or shine.

Grillsdale will be more than a farm-to-table food fest. It will be a grill competition among some of the most renowned chefs in the area, special big name guests from New York and beyond, celebrity judges, local beverage purveyors, three alt-country bands, and a raffle for a Raleigh Port Townsend bike (complete with beer rack). Of course, all of the meat and produce will be coming from local farms, but the offerings may be a little different from what you’ve seen at other outdoor get-togethers.

The entry fee includes tastings of nine different dishes, including Mexican sliders from Dafna Mizrahi of Monte’s Local Kitchen and Tap Room (she was a Chopped champion); pork belly tacos from Charlie Norman of 52 Main in Millerton and an Argentine dish by special guest Rolo Scarpetti who runs a restaurant in southern Brazil. Jack Peele from JACüTERIE at Herondale Farm will be serving Thai/Vietnamese bahn mi with Thai sausage. David Wurth of Crossroads Café in Hillsdale will supply dessert.

And don’t cross this event off your list if you’re a vegetarian. Justin Panzer from The Oakhurst Diner will be grilling veggies on a six-foot grill, and there’ll be an auxiliary grill offering Mexican street corn.

Judges include John Markus of BBQ Pitmasters fame (and a Craryville resident) and Steven Abrams, CEO and owner of Magnolia Bakery and the newly spawned downtown NYC branch of JG Mellon, which is considered by some to be the best burger joint in the city (he’s also an Ancram resident). Attendees will get to vote, too.

Virello says once she and her cohorts at the Hillsdale-based events team Shire 935 Productions (Barbara Olsen Pascale and Meghan McCann) had the concept in place, they received an incredible amount of cooperation from local restaurants, farms, businesses and town officials. And because Virello is both a food and bicycling fanatic, she wanted the event to have a bike-related component. “It was a no-brainer to involve the Harlem Valley Rail Trail,” she says. A portion of the event proceeds will be contributed to the trail.

Chefs competing on grills in the hills, showcasing not only their grill skills but the quality and range of meat and produce at our local and regional farms. What could be better? Tickets are moving fast; reserve yours now.

Grillsdale 2016
Saturday, Aug. 27, 6-10:30 p.m.
Hilltop Barn at Roeliff Jansen Park
9140 Rt. 22, Hillsdale, NY
Tickets, $65

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/12/16 at 01:47 PM • Permalink

KentPresents 2016: A Festival Of Big Thinking, Year Two

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is interviewed by Christopher Buckley on “World Order” last year.

By Jamie Larson

Out in the beautiful and remote hills of Litchfield County, Conn., KentPresents is about to embark on its second annual “influential new ideas festival.” In our own back yard, on August 18-20, experts of the highest regard in science, policy, literature, business, education, the arts and perhaps most intriguingly, geopolitical statecraft, will meet to speak and mingle.

The exclusive three-day festival, created through the intellectual curiosity and civic generosity of Kent residents Benjamin and Donna Rosen, includes 84 speakers, 43 sessions, and just 300 attendees, at the prestigious Kent School. The Rosens are building on the success of last year’s inaugural festival which raised an impressive $100,000 for 26 local charities. Tickets are still available.

Nobel winning economist Paul Krugman (left) with Ford Foundation President Darren Walker (right), during “Income Inequality: Consequences and Solutions,” last year.

“Last year we didn’t know what to expect,” says Benjamin Rosen, who is, among many other things, a former venture capitalist, chairman emeritus of Compaq Computer, and chairman emeritus and current life trustee of the California Institute of Technology. “We were concerned about getting speakers and attendees, and whether it would be worthwhile. I believe we succeeded at all three.”

Rosen says Kent Presents is small by design, and the conversations that occur between all present is a huge part of the festival’s value and appeal. It was important that they have a diverse slate of speakers different from the previous year, with a few exceptions. Reappearing most notably this year is the usually elusive former Secretary of State and local resident Henry Kissinger who will be sitting down for two panels, one in discussion with former Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Richard Dearlove, and another on China with former U.S. Ambassador to China, J. Stapleton Roy.

“The intimacy is part of our appeal,” Rosen says. “People get to meet with presenters. We stress mingling. Last year there were a lot of first meetings of people who have continued meaningful relationships.”

Guests, including Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (center), mingle with speakers, Christopher Buckley (far left) and Jay Kriegel (left) at a cocktail reception.

Political presentation topics range from global affairs like “Understanding Putin’s Russia” and “Cuba: The Next Five Years,” to prescient national issues like “Where is the Supreme Court Headed” and “The Key Issues that Elect the President.”

The full list of speakers and their impressive titles includes elected officials, ambassadors, cabinet members from international governments, leaders of industry, technology and commerce, top journalists and educators, leading scientists in medicine and theoretical physics, and many more. And we haven’t even touched on the arts.

Donna Rosen (pictured at right with her husband) was a contemporary art gallery owner in New Orleans, and is now active in philanthropy and the visual arts. A board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and American Friends of the British Museum, her influence balances the festival with presentations focusing on “Are Old Masters Still Relevant” and “The ‘Hamilton’ Impact.”

Rosen is excited about the entire lineup and says that some discussions are not just presentations but a window into progress of public thought in action. Catching Rosen’s financially minded eye is a discussion on the idea of universal income. It’s not just the idea that’s interesting (that all citizens should receive a basic income from the government every year as a form of social protection) but also the perspectives of those discussing them. Both Charles Murray, a libertarian scholar, and Andrew Stern, former president of the SEIU, will be speaking in favor of the idea — from notably different angles.

“One thing that fascinates me,” Rosen says, “is the appeal on the left and the right. This is a panel where I don’t know if people like this have ever gotten together before.”

There will also be a discussion of the very recent discovery of gravitational waves, which emanated from the collision of two black holes 1.4 billion light years away. The event occurred back when we were little more than loose cells in a tide pool, but last year, scientists detected the invisible ripple in the fabric of space-time that the black holes ejected, as it washed over the earth at light speed. Einstein predicted it almost 100 years ago and, surprise, he was right.

Four Broadway stars close out KentPresents 2015 during “If I Loved You…The Anatomy of a Musical Scene,” a breakdown of the classic Bench Scene from “Carousel.”

For those of us not attending KentPresents, all of the talks from last year are available for free online and this year’s will be available shortly following the event. There is something to marvel and take pride in that such an influential and forward-looking meeting of the minds takes place here in the RI region. We only have so much time here, in this beautiful place, riding a speck through the universe, bombarded, as we are, by intergalactic waves. Kent Presents is the type of thing that makes you think that at least we seem to be trying to make the most of it.

August 18-20
Kent School
1 Macedonia Road, Kent, CT
Registration open now: $2,500 per person

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/31/16 at 10:57 PM • Permalink

A Renewed Acquaintance: The Village Of Chatham

By CB Wismar

Like the mythical village of “Brigadoon” emerging from the Scottish mist for one day every 100 years in Lerner & Lowe’s epic musical, the Village of Chatham, New York has reappeared. The reassuring news is that, unlike the legendary Scottish village, Chatham is not likely to disappear any time soon.

“I suppose it really started about five years ago,” says Village of Chatham Mayor Tom Curran, who is sitting on a newly painted picnic table perched outside the historic Village Hall. He looks up and down Main Street, waving to people as they drive past. “We took a real hit during the 2008 recession,” he recalls. “Stores closed, unemployment went up and the village really suffered.’

Curran has studied his history. Chatham Village has, over two centuries, gone from a market town to a mill town, a railroad center with crossing lines and its own roundhouse to a quiet ex-urban residential community. “Things bounced back slowly, but about five years ago you could see a difference,” he says.

And, bounce back, it has. All along Main Street, there’s not a storefront empty. The shops are busy, and during the recent Chatham Summerfest, an annual adventure that closes the streets and brings craft and food and face painting and fine jewelry together for a day, so many folks poured into town that restaurants ran out of some items created just for the festival.

“It was mobbed!” reports James Knight, owner of SomethinsGottaGive, who found one of the last available spaces on Chatham Village’s Main Street.  “Best thing I ever did was to move here,” he says. “I had no idea how accepting people would be.” Knight’s artisan gallery and shop joins several other galleries in Chatham, making it an emerging center of local and regional artists.

If shopping is your thing, then the Chatham Village re-birth will have magnetic force. From Boxwood Linen where Franca Fusco presents her handmade, elegant linens to Willow & Oak, Debbye Byrum’s newly opened housewares and ephemera shop to Pookstyle Thoughtful Gifts, The Jeweler’s Roost and Victoria Dinardo Millinery, the offerings are imaginative and refreshing, not mega-mall wannabes.

“It just felt right,” says Debbye Byrum. “I honestly looked at other towns, but the combination of prices and people made this an easy pick.”

Further down the block, where it appears that Arlo Guthrie may have met Don Mclean in a world of retail delight — something on the order of “You can get anything you want … at American Pie” — Tom Hope just figured out how to convert a hallway and a store room into one more space. “I had sold my bar and was going to work on my art and fly fishing,” he says. That was until he saw a complete marble ice cream soda fountain and simply had to have it shipped in so he could open … wait for it … American Pie a la Mode.  August 1 is the target date to open — just in time for the dog days of summer, when an ice cream cone will be a real treat.

For foodies, the village has blossomed into a destination that requires more than one visit. Landmark eateries that have survived the ebb and flow of commerce have been joined by The Taste Box on Main Street and the newest food and beverage addition to the Chatham Village mix, The People’s Pub. Angus Van Beusichem, whose Dutch-heritage name fits right into the land of Rip Van Winkle, has burst on the scene with a farm-to-table, craft beer, gourmet bar food emporium that collects a crowd most every night.  “Grey Ballinger and his cousin Tom and I grew up together here in town. We each went our separate ways, then the chance came for us to come back home.” 

Angus clearly enjoys the homecoming concept. “Here we are, not in the high-rent towns around us, but in Chatham, where we can refine our ideas as we build our market.”

A stone (or scone’s) throw away from the people’s pub is Chatham Brewing. Mayor Tom Curran sees the brewery and food truck supplied restaurant as a great draw. “Folks tend to tour the breweries up and down the Hudson Valley,” he says. “Finding Chatham Brewing both delights patrons and introduces them to our village.” 

(Worthy of note is that Mr. Curran is also the Police Commissioner, so when savoring the brewery’s finest, a designated driver is always a good idea.)

Art, food, shopping, entertainment in a gentle setting. It’s not Brigadoon. It’s Chatham Village, and it’s come back to stay.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/25/16 at 03:37 PM • Permalink

Berkshire Woodworkers Guild: Beautiful And Built To Last

By Amy Krzanik

We’ve all been there. Whether it was the three-drawer dresser in your first apartment that never made it to your second apartment because the front of it ripped right off (true story), or the shirt you wore only once because it completely changed shape, size and style after a trip through the washing machine, the old adage “you get what you pay for” rings truer and truer every year. [Artisans and handcrafters are reading this and shaking their heads, mouthing “I told you so.”]

The reasons for this trend are fairly simple: cheap materials + cheap labor = maximum profit. “For years furniture was made very well,” explains Jim Law, owner of Undermountain Jointers and president of the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild, “but new companies began making it cheaper and cheaper, because if it lasts for only a year or two, they’ll always have a market.” 

Members of The Guild, which will hold its 17th annual Fine Woodwork Show at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge on Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, know this all too well. Law considers part of the group’s job to be educating consumers about the benefits of buying fine furniture. “Our custom furniture will be tomorrow’s antiques,” he says. “If you price out how many store-bought items you need to buy [and re-buy] in your lifetime, it’s cheaper to have something custom made.” Part of the yearly show for the Guild’s artisans involves not just exhibiting their wares, but talking to potential customers, showing them what is involved with custom work, pointing out how the wood grains match and how the different parts interlock for a perfect fit. “This is what being a furniture maker is all about,” says Law, “creating something both beautiful and functional.”

The Guild, a 40-member-strong group of professional woodworkers who live and practice in the vicinity of the Berkshires, Columbia County and surrounding areas, formed as a way for those in the trade to share knowledge and tools. Members run the gamut from sculptors to stump grinders and everything in between. Its website is a helpful tool to find a local artisan skilled in making you a musical instrument; kitchen cabinets; cooking utensils; indoor, outdoor and garden furniture, a boat or an entire home.

Throughout the weekend, artisans will be offering woodworking and tool-sharpening demonstrations. A silent auction will benefit the Guild’s Scholarship Fund, which supports young adults who seek to make woodworking, architecture or a related field their life’s work. Law says the Fund began five years ago as a way to honor members who have passed away, and to encourage future generations of professional craftspeople. Additionally, a handful of Guild members have contributed work to the BBG’s Benched exhibition, which can be seen throughout the gardens. New this year, the Guild will host a reception on Friday, July 15 from 6-8 p.m. for industry professionals (designers, architects, builders) to meet and mingle with its members.

Admission to the show is $5, but paid visitors to the Garden and BBG members can attend the show for $3. Attendees of the event can receive $2 off of entrance to the garden.

The Berkshire Woodworkers Guild Fine Woodwork Show
at the Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 W. Stockbridge Rd. (Route 102), Stockbridge, MA
Saturday & Sunday, July 16 & 17 from 9 a.m.—5 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 07/12/16 at 02:05 PM • Permalink

Quilts Uncovered: Jane Fitzpatrick’s Collection Reflects Love Of Textiles And Community

By Shawn Hartley Hancock

For years, the late Jane Fitzpatrick, whom we’ve unreservedly and respectfully called the queen of the Berkshires, displayed a crazy quilt on the wall of her office at Country Curtains, the business she founded with her husband Jack back in 1956. Country Curtains is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass., at the Red Lion Inn, which the Fitzpatrick family continues to own and operate.

Turns out, in addition to being a leading businesswoman, Mrs. Fitz, as she was often called, was also an inveterate collector, from Staffordshire, toleware and Majolica to fine art and furniture (she even had a Santa Claus collection); she seems to have collected almost anything of beauty and utility. Jane’s affinity for textiles, however — her first and best love — may have been the driving force behind her love of quilts. Over the decades, Jane collected quilts in all sizes and style and that span more than 100 years, representing the best of this domestic art in terms of design, craftsmanship and innovation. 

“Quilts were always important to Jane,” says Marilyn Hansen, a 40-year employee of the company who also tracked Jane’s collections. “If the quilts weren’t displayed, they were used in some other way, even as picnic blankets. Jane never got upset about using her quilts — nothing was ever squirreled away.”

After Fitzpatrick died in late 2013, her daughters Nancy and Ann discussed where their mother’s quilt collection might go. Country Curtains has a store in Old Sturbridge Village, and also at Strawberry Banke in New Hampshire. Either museum would have been a natural recipient. It was daughter Nancy who suggested the collection “stay local” and go to Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass. “Jane just wanted them to be appreciated and preserved,” Hansen says, but Nancy knew they needed to stay in the Berkshires.

The bequest from the Fitzpatrick Family to Hancock Shaker Village included more than 70 quilts of all styles and sizes, which makes the current exhibit of the Fitzpatrick quilts at Hancock Shaker Village seem more an extension of the owner’s actual spirit than simply another collection on display. Hancock’s curator, Lesley Herzberg, welcomed the quilts into the museum’s education collection, and with curatorial assistant, Sarah Browne, recently organized a colorful and dynamic exhibit of them — 26 in all — that are now on view in the Shaker museum’s Brick Dwelling. Living Designs & Shared Values: Highlights from the Jane P. Fitzpatrick Quilt Collection will remain on view through October 30, and is included in regular admission. 

“It was a challenge to review the group of 70 quilts and get it down to 25,” says Browne. “We chose the quilts in the best condition and grouped them by visual interest.” There are seven quilts with a garden theme, for example, including those that follow classic patterns like the Cactus Rose, Honeycomb, Flower Basket and Kentucky Rose. In the community quilt category, a nine-block appliqued quilt from the 1850s called the Whig Rose or Democrat Rose, conveys its maker’s political bent. It is joined by a handful of classic “community” patterns, including the friendship album and old-fashioned star patterns — quilts made by many hands to serve a community need, as, say, a wedding gift for a local couple, as a community fundraiser, or to mark a special occasion, such as a minister’s departure. 

Creativity is celebrated in another category of the exhibit that features the Sawtooth Star, Virginia Star, and Four Winds, all patterns from the 1840s to the 1890s. The colors in this group come alive in the serenity of the Shaker setting. HSV’s curatorial team got essential support from HSV’s Quilting Friends, who made minor repairs to many of the quilts, including sewing on sleeves so quilts could be safely and appropriately hung, and who also helped with exhibit setup. (To see a fast-motion video of the collection as it was photographed for the HSV archives, click here.)

Fitzpatrick’s eye for detail, her quest for excellence and her intuitive leadership style inspired admiration and respect throughout the Berkshires. It’s no wonder her quilts reflect those same qualities. Domesticity is the underlying theme of the exhibit. Like their Shaker counterparts, the women who toiled to make these remarkable examples of design and craftsmanship, many whose names will forever be unknown to us, balanced the needs of their families, their community responsibilities, their precious time and all other available resources to create them. 

Most quilts in the collection have no direct connection to the Shakers, except one. In the category of Crazy Quilts — the one behind Fitzpatrick’s desk for all those years! — bears a Shaker provenance: It was made around 1910 by Josephine Jilson for Sister Annie Bell Tuttle when she lived at the Shaker community in Harvard, Mass. (Tuttle eventually moved to the Shaker community at Hancock.) Several of its patches are made from Shaker silk scarves, and one includes a typewritten blessing from maker to recipient: “I cannot find a truer word nor fonder to caress you. Nor song, nor poem have I heard is sweeter than God Bless You.”   

Living Designs & Shared Values: Highlights from the Jane P. Fitzpatrick Quilt Collection on view through Oct. 30
Hancock Shaker Village
Open every day through October 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/05/16 at 05:23 PM • Permalink

Speaker Series Brings Economic Issues Home

By Hannah Van Sickle Barrett

It seems entirely fitting that whether by happy accident or some kind of market prescience, the American Institute for Economic Research relocated from Cambridge, Mass. to Great Barrington in the 1940s. The independent nonprofit organization was established in 1933 to help ordinary Americans deepen their economic and financial knowledge and thereby enhance their well being and that of the nation’s. And Great Barrington, after all, is a town that boasts its own currency and is heavily supported by second home owners, many of whom flock to the Berkshires in retirement.

These factors bring up a host of issues for the RI region, its residents and visitors, topics that will be addressed as part of AIER’s 2016 Summer Speaker Series, held each year at its scenic campus. This year’s series will run for six consecutive Tuesdays, from June 28-August 2, in the handsome stone house ballroom.

“The Summer Speaker Series has been an integral part of the Summer Fellows program, AIER’s longest running education program” notes Ute Arnold Defarlo, Development Manager at AIER.  “The Summer Fellows program brings highly qualified graduate and PhD students of economics related fields to our campus for approximately eight weeks, where they do research alongside our researchers.” 

Certain concerns in our area loom large: the population decline in the Berkshires, our emphasis on supporting local businesses as they compete with big box stores, and, of course, the need for higher-paying professional jobs in our rural region. As AIER President Stephen J. Adams points out, the series “offers that rarest of things, economic insights that are relevant, useful and understandable.”

This year’s Summer Speaker Series kicks off June 28 with Polina Vlasenko, senior research fellow at AIER, who will present her talk, “What Is Happening To Our Jobs.”  Defarlo cites this presentation, in particular, as being “so very pertinent to the changing job landscape” especially in light of the prolonged recession since 2008.  Subsequent lectures in the series include:

July 5: “What’s the Best Age to Claim Social Security – 62, 66 or 70?” by Luke Delorme
July 12: “Our Inflation Crystal Ball,” by Jia Liu      
July 19: “Why People Move, and Why They’re Moving Less Often,” by Patrick Coate
July 26: “Mom and Pop vs. Big Box: How Small Businesses Compete with Larger Rivals,” by Max Gulker      
August 2: “Using the Business Cycle to Manage Your Investments,” by Bob Hughes

The lectures run from 4-5 p.m. and are free and open to the public; reservations are suggested.

American Institute for Economic Research Summer Speaker Series
Tuesdays from June 28-Aug. 2 at 4 p.m.
250 Division Street, Great Barrington, MA
For reserversation, call (413) 528-1216 x 3102


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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/19/16 at 11:35 AM • Permalink

At The Mount,  La Conversation Est En Français

Les Francophones in 2012. Photo courtesy Jan Werner.

Francophiles take note: beginning June 23, on Thursday mornings through Sept. 1, only French will be spoken at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Mass. And could there be a more glorious setting than the Terrace Café for Le Café Français? The tête-à-tête is open to anyone who wants to practice speaking French or converse like a native with others who are similarly inclined.

It started humbly, with just the staff, back in 2005. The Mount’s director at the time, Stephanie Copeland, gathered a handful of employees who wanted to practice their French speaking skills. The small group met — in the winter — in the frigid kitchen of the gatehouse. The next year, the group, now numbering around ten, moved to the terrace for the summer. Word spread, and by 2008 there were enough non-staff members that it became a volunteer-run group.

The conversational meetings continued to expand, and by last summer, when 35 or so French speakers turned up each week, the meetings went beyond the capacity of the volunteers running them. That’s when The Mount agreed to take the group under its wings, and Le Café Francais became a Mount event, which seems appropriate considering Wharton’s love affair with France. The hour of French bon mots has become so popular that The Mount has had to set up a reservation system.

French coffee and croissants will greet visitors, and small tables will allow for manageable conversations. “The only rule,” says Laurie Foote, house manager, “is you have to speak French. The group is a mixture of staff, native French speakers, French teachers and the general public. It really feels like a French café.”

Le Café Français at The Mount
Thursdays from June 23—Sept. 1, 8:30-9:30 a.m.
2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, MA    
$10 general, $7 Mount members
(413) 551-5100

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/11/16 at 09:22 AM • Permalink

A Tradition Continues: Morris Dancing In The Northwest Corner

The Bouwerie Boys

By Amy Krzanik

Morris dancing, a traditional English folk dance dating back to at least 1448, has made its own history of sorts right here in our part of New England. Morris troupes, or teams as they are called, have performed in the northwest Connecticut and southwest Massachusetts corner every June since 1982.

This year’s event, The Suds! Displays of Morris Dancing, will take place on Saturday, June 11, beginning around 10 a.m. Six teams from near (Great Barrington), far (Washington, D.C.) and destinations in between (Boston, Binghamton, Albany, etc.) will embark on four tours, of two teams each, stopping to perform in towns from Sharon, Conn. to North Egremont, Mass. The day-long event culminates in a grand processional and show, featuring all six teams, at 6:30 p.m. in Falls Village.

But what exactly is the Morris? “Well, the British empire was crumbling…” begins John Dexter, a professional viola player with The Manhattan String Quartet and The Suds! longtime organizer. You can read the whole story on Wikipedia, but the background of the dance’s popular resurgence in Britain sounds a bit like the situation in the United States right now: a pronounced rich vs. poor situation that the empire refused to recognize, the common people bringing back a custom that was close to their hearts, fathers passing down a tradition to their sons.

Much as it was then, dancers today usually don’t have any formal dance training. All it takes is practice. It’s also not required that you have British blood, says Dexter, and most of his 16-member New York City team, The Bouwerie Boys, do not. “How good you are depends on your attitude toward learning it and how good your teacher is,” he says. Dexter should know; he began dancing the Morris when he was 19 years old and can still keep up as he nears his 70th birthday. Most of his team members are in their 20s and 30s, and the type of dancing they do comes from Sherborne in the Cotswalds, requires expansive leaps, and isn’t something you can do if you’re not in decent shape.

But each team makes the dance their own, and not all are so athletic. Groups wear different costumes or “kits,” too, and perform to music from a variety of instruments. Dexter’s team dons black, white and red, with a fresh red rose in the lapel and rainbow ribbons that sparkle when they catch the light. Others wear suspenders, hats or employ colored handkerchiefs in place of ribbons. Almost all wear bells on their shins to accompany the musician playing fiddle, melodian, accordion, pipe and tabor, or other instrument. Many teams employ wooden sticks or swords in their performances. The Suds! has traditionally showcased all-male teams, but all-female and mixed teams do exist.

“It’s folk dancing, so it’s meant to be rustic,” says Dexter. “A Morris show or ‘stand’ is just really fun; we banter back and forth, speak to the crowd, make up stories about the dances, pass the hat and just talk to people.”

That sounds like a tradition we can get behind.

Saturday, June 11
Tour A
10:15 a.m. Canaan, Geer Retirement Community
11:20 a.m. South Egremont Library
2:15 p.m. North Egremont General Store
3:15 p.m. Ashley Falls, near the post office

Tour B
10:15 a.m. Paley’s Farm Marketplace, Sharon
11:15 a.m. Salisbury Market Place
2:00 p.m. Sharon, on the Green
3:40 p.m. West Cornwall, near the covered bridge

Tour C
10:15 a.m. Norfolk, CT, at the library
11:15 a.m. Mill River, MA, near the library
2:00 p.m. New Marlborough, MA, near the meeting house
3:15 p.m. Canaan, CT, Geer Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

6:30 p.m. Grand processional and show in Falls Village, CT by all participating clubs

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/30/16 at 03:16 PM • Permalink

Hudson Sloop Club Embodies The Past But Looks To The Future

A digital rendering of the future Everett Nack Estuary Education Center proposed by the Hudson Sloop Club.

By Jamie Larson

Hudson, New York has a long and complicated relationship with its namesake river. Centuries of industry and pollution led to a city built with its back to the Hudson. It was only over the past few decades of slow, hard-won progress that the river was restored as the face of the city. Now, the Hudson Sloop Club, a new nonprofit made up of environmentally minded builders, educators, boaters, sportsmen, kids and Hudsonians of all stripes, has come together to begin the next generation of environmental stewardship.

The Sloop Club is off to a good start, too, recently receiving a $91,780 grant from the Hudson River Estuary Program, for the creation of the Everett Nack Estuary Education Center at the Hudson Waterfront Park. The compact structure will be built from a recycled shipping container on an undeveloped and currently overgrown point between the park and a industrial loading dock. It will be powered by solar panels, contain a display aquarium as well as scientific equipment and computers useful for any number of educational and recreational activities on the water or at its edge. The plan represents an earnest understanding by the club of the river’s past and future. It doesn’t ignore the imposition or necessity of an industrial presence on the river but it’s also a model of passive sustainable structures that adapt to the river’s needs rather than bending it to ours.

“The point is getting everybody out on the river,” says Sloop Club Director Nick Zachos. “We look at it in three tiers: access, education and, if you allow people to develop a relationship with the river, stewardship.”

The three-year-old Club, which offers many unique boat-building and hands-on environmental education workshops for kids at the Hudson Middle School, Kite’s Nest, and their own summer programming, received its nonprofit status just last fall. The organization is volunteer run, so the grant is a big early win. Zachos says their strength is their desire to partner with other groups. For example, though they planned and wrote the grant, the city of Hudson was the official applicant. 

“This is not just a Sloop Club endeavor,” says Zachos. “We want to bring other groups together and ask ‘what would you like to do here?’ It’s for the whole community.”

The Club, which also has a small fleet of interesting boats, is holding a fish fry on Friday, May 27 at the waterfront park. It will be an opportunity to learn about the Club and new center, and upcoming summer programming (including a camp). Zachos says they hope to find volunteers with useful skills, from landscapers to builders and others, to donate and help stretch the grant as far as it can go. Plans are to have the center up and running by next summer.

Along with being built in an environmentally conscious way, the new center will also be able to adapt as the river changes. Climate change means higher storm surges and the center will take a passive approach to flooding. The small structure will actually let water in and through without damaging it or its contents. Humans have changed the earth’s environment and this little building is an example of the way we will have to learn to adapt.

Though the Sloop Club is still small, a lot of people in Hudson have taken notice of how much it’s accomplished in a short time. It’s succeeded because Zachos and the club’s other main members are knowledgeable, hard working and genuinely friendly folks. The river has needed and deserved stewardship like this for a long time, and a club so dedicated to the future of its people and the river enhances the city and environment for all.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 05/08/16 at 10:58 PM • Permalink