Henry Hudson Hall: New Name, New Life for the Opera House
By Jamie Larson
(Editor’s note: Shortly after publication of this story, the Hudson Opera House announced it is revising its name to “Hudson Hall.” Explanation is available on the website.)
The Hudson Opera House is now the Henry Hudson Hall Center for the Arts and the name is the least of the changes. After 25 years of stewardship and planning, $8.5 million in capital project funding, and one crazy year of construction and restoration, this regional institution is about to embark on one of the most exciting periods of its 162-year history.
During a special preview performance Saturday at the HHH (or maybe the Henry, or the Hall… we’ll figure it out later), the board of directors and staff welcomed stakeholders and capital campaign donors upstairs to the (almost) fully completed theater. The grand space, constructed as a city hall in 1855, has been restored, refurbished and repainted to honor both its history and its future as a modernized arts and events space. The evening gathering was capped by the performance of an original piece by drummer Bobby Previte, a wrok that he created in residency at the hall over the past two weeks. It was a casual early peak at the space that will be officially christened on April 22 at the much-anticipated Proprietors Ball. Though the lion’s share of the work is well behind them, there were quaint finishing details in the hall still yet to be completed. The most noticeable and elegant of these was the top left corner section of proscenium, still red, patiently waiting for its gilding.
There’s unmistakable anxious excitement in the voice of HHH Director Gary Schiro when he talks about the massive project and what it means for the future of the non-profit.
“It’s very much a new beginning,” Schiro says. “We kept all our downstairs programs running through the project, which was an enormous challenge. It was a complex project on a tight footprint. We can’t wait to let everyone in to see what we’ve done.”
There was certainly a handsome bohemian charm to the unfinished state of the hall before the renovation, but the level of sophistication imbued in the space has transformed the venue into a bird of a different color. That color is a soft selection of grays that make the space feel bigger than when it was a striking, flaking red. The crumbling moldings have been restored and the floor shines, giving any local venue a run for its money.
“There were a few really satisfying things that happened during construction,” Schiro recounts. “The oculus in the center of the ceiling had been all chopped up, and we’d resigned ourselves to the thought we would have to replace it with something. Then, a couple of weeks into the project, the contractors found the original missing piece up in the attic. We are so lucky it survived the ravages of time.”
The restored beauty of the hall itself is inescapable, but the well-spent donations and grants also went towards technical infrastructure like modernized lighting and sound equipment. The hall, originally opened as Hudson’s city hall, has been many things over the centuries. One thing it had never been until now is handicap accessible. An elevator has been built in the back of the building. Construction was no small feat, as it had to be built on the corner of two small alleys. On Saturday, Schiro and Board President Susan Hendrickson gave a vociferous thank you to their neighbors, who endured a year of maneuvering around the tricky construction zone. Shiro says he still gets a rush every time he rides the completed elevator.
Now that they’re in the home stretch, Schiro says, the renovation is not just about looking the part but giving the HHH the ability to expand performance capacity and provide more resources to community programming. Asked an example of what he’s looking forward to, his first thought was how the kids’ hip hop dance class that meets downstairs will now have the satisfaction of session-end performances on a real stage.
“As far as programming, we are going to up our game,” Schiro says. “We have the capacity now to showcase a lot of work and develop new work with artists. Providing residency support is a new way to use the space.”
All this progress is well and good but the only thing anyone seems to be talking about around town these days is… the name. Ever since the announcement of the “rebranding” last week, a not insignificant number of locals have voiced disapproval. Perhaps the most convincing sentiment is that there are already enough institutions named after white male colonialists out there. Others see the change as an unnecessary shedding of existing historic character, while others think Henry Hudson Hall is clumsy sounding and difficult to say (or think it’s odd for the organization to share an acronym with a famous professional wrestler). Social media communities have also amplified this dissatisfaction. It has become an unfortunate distraction.
“We knew going into this process that not everyone was going to be happy,” Schiro says of the rebranding venture. “But we did it with the best intentions and I think people will see that. It’s unfortunate we are talking about the name and not what a great opportunity this is.”
HHH Board President Susan Hendrickson and Director Gary Schiro address the crowd Saturday.
In many ways the hubbub is a reflection of how deeply the community holds the Opera House in their hearts to begin with, but it would be unfortunate if a disagreement detracted from the monumental concrete achievements soon to be unveiled for all to see (a Community Day is planned for May 21). The Opera House earned its virtues through hard work, excellent programming and dedication to the Hudson community — and none of that has changed with the name. So, call Henry Hudson Hall whatever you like. It won’t change the fact that the place is dazzling.
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In Memoriam: Frank Delaney
By CB Wismar
Regardless of the fact that Francis James Joseph Raphael Delaney… or “Frank” as we knew him… was born fully 18 months after the death of Irish novelist James Joyce, the two became fast friends.
Frank’s literary career was launched with the 1981 publication of James Joyce’s Odyssey: A Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses and grew exponentially from there. With 15 novels, eight volumes of non-fiction, 10 edited collections of prose and poetry, and four screenplays, Frank was a prolific, flamboyant literary personality.
But, just as important, from 2002 until his passing last week, he was ours.
Widely traveled – speaking, judging literary contests, espousing causes of literacy and education – Frank Delaney always found his way back to Kent where he and his wife, Diane Meier, were a vital part of our community. He was generous to a fault. Cliff Carlson, writing in Irish Times, summed up Frank’s life beautifully: “He had it all, and he gave of it willingly.”
A broadcaster and producer, Frank began his career as a newsreader on Irish radio, and then moved to the BBC where he created and hosted programs focused on literature and the arts. By his own count, he interviewed more than 3000 of the best and brightest. His regular podcast series “Re:Joyce” has been downloaded over 2.5 million times as Frank explored “Ulysses” line by line in a series that was scheduled to run until 2026.
When Frank Delaney died on February 21, the worldwide outpouring of sympathy, the tributes and acknowledgments of his genius and charm, were quick to follow. After all, NPR had named him “the most eloquent man in the world,” and Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins offered up this reflection: “It is with great sadness that I have heard of the passing of Frank Delaney, acclaimed novelist, broadcaster and journalist. He was recognized as an important scholar on the work of James Joyce and an influential Irish voice in the UK and further afield.”
Diane and Frank opened their home to support the local causes that meant so much to them. This past fall, they welcomed the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council to their beautifully restored barns where Frank conducted a lively, charming interview with Cornwall resident, actor Sam Waterston. The event, a fundraiser for the Arts Council, signaled the first time the near neighbors had met each other. Their conversation wound through Frank’s self-declared five acts of Sam’s life and left the audience totally charmed.
Remembering the day, Waterston lamented Frank’s passing. “Lynn and I got home that evening and both commented on what a wonderful experience it had been and how great it was that Frank lived so close to us. We looked forward to getting to know Frank and Diane better. More’s the loss.”
Many of Frank’s books drew on the fierceness, the drama and the beauty of nature as backdrop for his magical storytelling. His devotion was underscored by his support of both the Kent Land Trust and the Housatonic Valley Association. Celebrating the HVA’s 75th anniversary, Frank penned the poem “River Words,” which he read to an eager dinner audience. His words of tribute concluded:
“We live by a river we love and guard,
Yes, our own lovely, bright Housatonic.”
Celebrating his life and contributions, the HVA posted a remembrance on its website, complete with an outpouring of sympathy. “How fortunate we are to count Frank as an ambassador and friend. We hold Diane and their family in our hearts with sorrow and love.”
His fundraising efforts for the Kent Land Trust, the Housatonic Musical Theatre Society, and the Young Writers Celebration in Washington, Conn., as well as his participation in Kent Presents – not to mention his regular Rural Intelligence readership – set Frank apart. Without putting too fine a point on it, he will be missed.
His lifelong devotion to Joyce seemed a fitting source to find the words with which we celebrate him. “Better pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion than fade and wither dismally with age.”
In “full glory” he did pass, and we are the poorer for it.
Read our 2011 interview with Frank Delaney: 20 Questions for Author Frank Delaney.
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Sit Awhile: The Porch Brings Storytelling To The Spiegeltent
By Robert Burke Warren
A single spotlight, a bare stage, a microphone, and a true story. With that simple formula, Red Hook resident Joey Shavelle has created The Porch, a standing-room-only storytelling series coming to Bard’s Spiegeltent in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, on Friday, June 24 at 8 p.m.
Like the hugely successful radio series The Moth, participants in The Porch share a tale with an audience, without the aid of notes or props. Stories are limited to ten minutes, and must be true. Unlike a slam, there is no “winner,” and Shavelle, a web designer by trade, curates the material. Rhinebeck psychologist John Nathan hosts.
“I was at a dinner party in Rhinebeck,” Shavelle says. “Some friends and I were talking about how much we loved The Moth, and how it’s amazing that everyone has at least one amazing story, and how someone should do a local version of it. And all these people looked at me.”
The Porch started small, in June 2015, as a fundraiser for the historic Morton Memorial Library and Community House in Rhinecliff, where Shavelle and his family regularly attend. As he does at every Porch event, Shavelle strung the room with white lights, set up chairs, and offered wine, M & M’s, and chocolate-covered pretzels. Suggested donation was $10. Notice went out via word-of-mouth and social media, and sign-ups included writers, musicians, academics, teachers, social workers, and assorted local characters. A whisky bottle was on hand, in case of nerves.
“It was packed,” Shavelle says, still surprised. “About 75 people in this little common room. Participants gave me a synopsis, but that’s all the info I had.” Shavelle’s wife suggested he get the ball rolling, so he told how his WW II vet father smashed his BB gun. A respected art curator explained how, at age 15, she stole her mom’s car. A son related the hilarious tale of coming to his 71-year-old father’s aid in an online dispute that ended very dramatically (and satisfyingly). The audience laughed, cheered, and, a couple times, wept.
The community clamored for more. Shavelle realized he’d tapped into something special, a deep need to share human experience in real time, without the trappings (or expense) of professional theater, or the distance imposed by a screen. Clearly, folks desired a communal intimacy unavailable through the hyper-connectivity of social media, smartphones, and the internet.
The series moved to a restored barn in Red Hook, and became a fundraiser for the Red Hook Education Foundation. Shavelle built a small stage, and bought a spotlight. While he’s intent on keeping The Porch austere, Shavelle, a film school grad, also values a few subtle showbiz touches.
“I get into the stagecraft a bit,” he says. “I pay attention to the lighting. I bathe the rear wall in blue. These details make it look pro, focusing the audience, making it more satisfying for them. It feels like an event.”
Initially, Shavelle, the father of two, was a little concerned that parents would think The Porch was “storytime for kids.” It is not. “It’s uncensored, 18 and over,” he says. “I don’t want participants to be telling their story and see a kid in the audience and get thrown.”
Once again, the community turned out en masse. The Porch officially became “a happening.” After another night at the Morton, Bard’s Fisher Center came calling.
“There’s a powerful, primal quality to simple storytelling that we don’t often acknowledge,” Shavelle says of The Porch’s success. He notes the growing popularity of “The Moth,” “Serial,” “Selected Shorts,” “This American Life,” and podcasts, all of which offer audiences — live and/or listening via radio or computer — the opportunity to use “theater of the mind.” And while he likes the idea of a Porch Podcast, Shavelle’s priority is the live, local experience, the vibe in the room as people sit on the edge of their seats and connect, together, as humans have for millennia: in the darkness, focusing on a yarn woven by a peer haloed in light.
The Porch: Where Great Stories Are Told
Friday, June 24 at 8 p.m.
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Now There Are Four RI Apps On The Map
When we launched our first app, The Rural Intelligence Guide to the Berkshires and Beyond, last spring, we were thrilled to bring our readers into the app universe with us. It was — and still is — the only app of its kind that focuses on our region. As we said at the time, it was our first foray into the app system, and we welcomed your feedback.
We listened. For some readers, “The Berkshires and Beyond” didn’t ring quite true. The Rural Intelligence region is quite vast, actually, and those in and traveling to the Hudson Valley and Northwest Connecticut aren’t necessarily part of the Berkshires. We knew that, but the truth was, we just had to start somewhere.
With the first version a success, we went back in and are delighted to introduce three new apps: Guide to Hudson and Columbia County, Guide to Dutchess County, and Guide to Litchfield County.
Now, wherever you live or visit in the region, there’s an app for you. Like the original version, we created the other three to help you explore the area, to find a special bed and breakfast, a top-rated restaurant, the cultural venues that make our towns famous, where to shop, get fit or take the family for a fun experience. Best of all, because they’re downloaded onto your phone or tablet, the guides are as mobile as you are.
We especially like that everything is mapped out (Google maps, we love you), and that there’s a direct link to our popular events calendars, which we curate and update daily on our website. You can find out more about the features in our “RI App” section. Or skip the details and go straight to the download here.
The apps are free, so you can even download all four. We invite you to use our local knowledge to enjoy our region, anywhere from Williamstown to Poughkeepsie to New Milford. Living and visiting in the Rural Intelligence region just got even better.
—Lisa Green, editor
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Ellsworth Kelly’s Legacy Of Giving
Kelly, Bill Thompson and Marie Claude Giroux.
By Jamie Larson
As an artist, Ellsworth Kelly, who passed away on December 27 at the age of 92, left a mark on the world —a gift of great size, color and beauty. Greater still is the mark he has left here in our region, as a supremely generous neighbor. In addition to his awe-inspiring body of work — a foundation stone in the school of modern minimalism and color field painting — his local legacy of quiet charitable giving, especially that in support of childhood art education, insures his monumental presence will be seen and felt here, very tangibly, forever.
“The longevity of Kelly’s career was remarkable, especially the splendid output of the last two decades,” says Ann Temkin, the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA, the home of nearly 200 works by Kelly and perhaps the venue most associated with his art. “Kelly always worked with great concentration and great pleasure, and this was all the more true in the last chapter of his career. For the fortunate visitors to his studio in Spencertown, the artist’s joy in his work was immediately evident and highly contagious. Available to all in the collections of museums around the world, Kelly’s creations stand as exhilarating celebrations of life.”
Ellsworth Kelly in studio by Jack Shear.
Over the near half century that Kelly lived in Spencertown, N.Y., working first in a studio on Main Street in Chatham and then out of a home studio, his international acclaim only grew. But he also found another purpose here, investing nearly $2 million for the creation of youth art programming for all seven of the public school districts in Columbia County. Through its generosity, the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has allowed a generation of local children (including this writer) to explore and expand their creative abilities.
The EKF worked with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to help implement its philanthropic goals over these many years and the BTCF shared this sentiment on Kelly’s passing:
“We are so grateful for our partnership with him and his foundation to create permanent sources of support for arts and humanities programming for the 7,800 students in Columbia County’s public schools. In the last 15 years, the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has contributed nearly $2 million to six Berkshire Taconic education enrichment funds that enhance teaching and learning through hands-on projects in theater, literature, music, fine arts, history and more. Encouraged by a public school teacher to pursue his passion for art, Ellsworth Kelly in turn has helped inspire hundreds of local students through life-changing experiences that might otherwise be out of reach. This tremendous legacy of generosity will continue for decades to come and transform the lives of young people in Columbia County.”
‘Méditerannée’ by Kelly.
Kelly moved to the area in the 1970s, already accomplished and affixed as a shaper of the modern art world. Born in 1923 in Newburgh, N.Y., Kelly served in WWII, on a project called the Ghost Army which designed false military equipment intended to confuse the enemy. Afterward, he lived in Paris, and then New York, among many noteworthy peers of his generation.
In his sculptures and paintings Kelly employed large shapes and fields of solid colors. Some viewers never quite got them, seeing them as too simple or straightforward, while others, indeed most, are moved by the artist’s ability to capture the feeling inside form and space.
“(He) was one of the giant figures in the art of our time,” says Temkin. “With a singular voice, he carried forward the abstraction pioneered by the European modernists into the second half of the 20th century. Kelly’s paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints were rooted in the observation and study of line, form and color. He was not interested in recording narratives or emotions, but rather in transcribing his perceptions, and engaging viewers in the act of perception.”
When he first moved up river, he wasn’t sure if he would stay but as those who have worked with him through the years have noted, while his work is abstraction, much of its language is drawn from nature. His sketches, which are displayed publicly from time to time, capture more literally the shapes of plants and the natural world, while hinting of a further evolution into the curves, edges and solid colors of his larger work.
A sculpture by Kelly, now in Sweden.
A number of his sketches and other works were shown, on the event of Kelly’s 90th birthday, at the intimate Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham. And again, just last year, a unique exhibition Kelly put together at the Clark Art Institute featured his drawings and paintings alongside paintings of Claude Monet. Monet is credited for inspiring some of Kelly’s earliest monochromatic work in France, so the local exhibition was steeped in meaning.
The Clark’s interim Senior Curator Kathleen Morris met with Kelly infrequently during that project but said the artist’s presence in our already art rich community is elevating.
“He had a lifelong tie to the area,” Morris says. “It’s a reflection of how beautiful the Berkshires and upstate New York are, and the quiet way of life here. The presence of artists, past and present, in our community is really vital.”
Kelly wouldn’t be the first local artist to pull inspiration from the surrounding mountains and valley. From Fredric Church to Norman Rockwell, there is a well-trodden path of America’s greatest artists finding a muse here, but there’s something unparalleled about the successful way Kelly transmuted natural form.
“I think he was fundamentally interested in nature,” Morris adds. “He created a new formal language for it, but I think it sprang from nature.”
The art of Ellsworth Kelly is a gift left to the world. Here in the region he called home, we were given even more.
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Happy News For The New Year At The Bargain Barn
By Lisa Green
You can practically feel the sighs of relief — and the air of jubilation — whirling around the filled-to-the-rafters Bargain Barn Thrift Shop, and not just because it’s Christmas shopping time.
No, it’s because the Sharon, Conn. thrift shop — a community center, everyone insists — was saved from its demise when the Health Care Auxiliary for the Tri-State Region announced in early November that it was dissolving its charitable status. Thus, they would no longer be able to run the nonprofit thrift store. No other nonprofit organization stepped up to take over. Things looked grim.
Enter Tri-State Public Communications, better known as Robin Hood Radio, which, like its namesake would have done, swooped in and rescued the bargain hunter’s destination. (Full disclosure: Rural Intelligence has a weekly radio podcast on Robin Hood Radio.)
Station co-founders Marshall Miles — whose mother had run the Bargain Barn for a number of years — and Jill Goodman had posted the possible closing on the station’s Facebook page and on a town page. The response was a lot of upset Bargain Barn fans.
“Jill and I looked at one another and said, ‘we’re a 501c3, let’s investigate,’” relates Miles. An informal agreement came quickly, and they signed all the paperwork just before Thanksgiving.
“It’s managed and run extremely well; that’s why we could take this on” Miles says. “It’s a no-brainer for us. We’re there for the public good. If we can raise funds and keep a viable asset going, we’ll do it.”
Now, proceeds from Bargain Barn sales will go to “the smallest NPR station in the nation.” But the benefits of the transfer of ownership go much deeper than that. Susan Leslie, under whose direction the Bargain Barn has been so ably managed the last 13 years, emphasizes the importance of the thrift store as a community-gathering place.
“People come here to shop — we’re a full-service thrift shop, with art, gowns, vintage clothing, jewelry, housewares, a ‘posh’ section — but people come in just to talk, look at a magazine or listen to music. They might not have a place to go, and we provide a haven for them.”
The prices are kept low, and that, along with the eclectic nature of the merchandise and the often surprising things donors bring in — this is Litchfield County, after all — allows the customer base to run the gamut from those who stick to the 25-cent table to some famous names Leslie declined to reveal.
“People come from all over — Poughkeepsie, Albany, lower Fairfield County, New York. I have one customer who will be 100 in a couple of months. She drives up from the city,” Leslie says. A fun fact: about 50 percent of the customers are men.
When I visited the Bargain Barn, there wasn’t a single customer who didn’t mention the store’s possible demise and relief that it was scooped up by Tri-State.
The “barn” itself is a rambling assemblage of rooms, loosely divided into sections for apparel; books, CDs and markdown tables; housewares; and the tucked-away “posh” department. New merchandise comes in every day, and ever since the new ownership was announced, donations have increased.
“The hills are alive with the sounds of the Bargain Barn’s new life,” says Leslie.
The Bargain Barn
1 Low Road, Sharon, CT
Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Donations accepted 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
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Rural Intelligence Gets Smarter: Introducing The RI Mobile App
Not to toot our own horn, but we hear it time and time again: “I really rely on Rural Intelligence.” Lest you think we simply rest on our laurels (and thank you for the most satisfying feedback, by the way), we take that comment seriously. It’s made us extra cognizant of the fact that we have a responsibility to bring the most interesting, most rurally intelligent people, places and events of the region to our readers.
But our mission isn’t just to offer the information; it’s also to provide it in the way that makes the most sense for you. And for some, that’s an app. That’s why we’re so excited to announce the launch of the Rural Intelligence Guide to the Berkshires And Beyond app, available — free — for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.
It’s the brainchild of RI’s publisher Mark Williams, who realized that it’s been years since any print travel guide in our region has been published, and that the ones that are out there are somewhat out of date. An app travel guide seemed to be needed …and who better to provide one than Rural Intelligence?
So, whether you’re a new visitor, a weekender, a second homeowner or lucky enough to be a full-time resident of the RI region, this app is for you. We created it to help you explore the area, to find a special bed and breakfast, a top-rated restaurant, the cultural venues that make our towns famous, where to shop, get fit or take the family on a fun experience. Best of all, because it’s an app, this guide is as mobile as you are.
We especially like that everything is mapped out (Google maps, we love you), and that there’s a direct link to our popular events calendars, which we curate and update daily on our website. You can find out more about the app’s features in our new “RI App” section. Or skip the details and go straight to the download here.
There’s a lot of information in the app, and we plan to keep adding to it. If you have a local business that would be appropriate to list in a travel guide, please let us know. (Email us at email@example.com and we’ll encourage you to upgrade your listing so you get the benefit of all the bells and whistles.)
One final thought: While we seem to have the web magazine formula pretty well figured out, the RI Guide to the Berkshires and Beyond app is, admittedly, a work in progress. Listings will get more robust as businesses and organizations enhance their entries. We know there will be glitches to work out. But we fully intend to stick with it until we get the app to run as seamlessly as possible— and we hope you’ll stick with it, too, as we navigate this next foray into the media universe.
—Lisa Green, editor
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A Pittsfield Milestone: Hotel On North Opens
Lisa Green reports from Pittsfield. How long did it take to get to this point? The answer to that might be up for debate, but this much is known: A blend of Berkshire roots and cosmopolitan style, the fabulous boutique Hotel on North officially opened on Thursday, June 4 with a welcome party in which guests were encouraged to roam the former Besse-Clark department store building, explore the spacious and gracious rooms (no cookie cutter guest rooms here) and bask in the skylight atrium on each floor. Remarks by the principal players in the design and construction of the hotel turned emotional as they gave thanks to the employees and community for helping to make the enterprise come to fruition. “This was an interesting and joyful project,” said Nancy Fitzpatrick, owner of the Red Lion Inn and Main Street Hospitality Group, which manages the hotel. “We plan to deliver one of the best hotel experiences in New England — dead center in Pittsfield.” Above, Bruce Finn, COO of Main Street Hospitality Group, and Lindsey Struck, general manager of Hotel on North.
There’s plenty of room for a bar scene; The principal players: Lindsey Struck, Bruce Finn, Sarah Eustis, CEO, Chef Brian Alberg, Nancy Fitzpatrick, Laurie Tierney and David Tierney, who built the hotel.
Meaghan Tierney, Carla Child, who served as project manager, and Hope Boyer, her assistant.
OLLI’s Megan Whilden, Shire City Sanctuary’s Crispina ffrench and Deanna Boucher, and Peter Lafayette; Gallerist Cassandra Sohn, Maurice “Pops” Peterson and Rural Intelligence publisher Mark Williams.
The Library isn’t finished yet, but it’s the room everyone is going to want to book; hotel owners David Tierney and Laurie Tierney during the remarks.
Ralph Fontaine and Melissa McCarthy; Nancy Fitzpatrick.
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You Thought You’d Have Your Mom Forever. And You Do.
by Martha Holmes
Martha Holmes, who lives in Gallatin, NY, worked on Madison Avenue for 30 years. Upon retirement, she and her husband moved to their weekend home full time. This essay, which she read on NPR’s 51% in 2005, elicited more requests than any other. Holmes has graciously allowed us to share it with our readers.
Mothers are supposed to live forever, but they don’t. Like bedtime stories and softball games, mothers have endings, and when yours comes to that end, no matter how or why or when, your heart falls splat to the floor and you look down at it through flooded eyes and yell FOR CRYING OUT LOUD and then you notice that the voice wailing in your ear is your own and you wonder how you’ll ever get your heart back into that chasm in your chest where it was supposed to remain for the whole of your lifetime, beating non-stop from your first wahhhhh to your last oh my. Your mommy’s gone, just like she said she’d be one day and you cry your babybawl until the awe wears off and then you bury her as best you can, accepting that life has an end and even she told you so. For a moment you’re at rest. But then up she comes with a Mother’s Day, or a photograph, or a sewing needle you remember in her hand, or a lipstick just her color, or on the lyrics of a song heard from a room away –-let me call you sweetheart by the light of the silvery moon when you were sweet sixteen—and you’re awash in the whole of her as you never were when you could have called her up. So you look upward, not to see her in God’s lap but to keep the tears from hopping off your lower lid and onto your shirt, where everybody would see them.
As she told you SO many times, she’ll be right back. And she is; among the fireflies just after dusk when mothers’ voices arch over the trees and right past the screech of swings and the barking of dogs, calling your name. To come home. For dinner. Something she made that you liked or didn’t, ate or didn’t, thanked her for or probably didn’t. And now it’s so many years later and, still, she’ll be right back. When you think of her hand, how dry it had become where the blue vein moved through the brown-spotted crepe of skin, where the knuckles had swelled with time, and still you thought you’d have her forever.
And you realize you will never see your mother again, except anyplace you put her—in her chair by the TV, or next to you in the car, or walking ahead of you in the wind, her hand reaching back for yours. And there she sits at the family dinner table again, in her seat nearest the kitchen, leaning forward to pass you a bowl of something she thinks you’ll like. You can almost hear the clank of dishes, the ping of forks, the laughter, the arguments, the songs. Or there, waving through your window as you drive away, as she did when you last saw her, looking at you, her child, keeper of her future.
And when you hear yourself in the night, waking with a squawk from a dark dream, you blink into the black and remember that’s it’s okay, there there, just a dream. And you almost wish those arms could reach down from the ceiling and give you a hug like you used to get in exchange for these nightmares, a snug hug with a scratch on the back, a rumple of your pajama top, a kiss on the forehead and goodnight. Instead, you punchfluff your pillow and turn on your side and pull up the blanket around your shoulders, tucking yourself in again.
One day you open a box and something she owned is inside, something you didn’t care enough about to use but didn’t throw out, and up she comes, her fragrance arriving like a fine howdy-doo, and you ask her to please come closer, maybe touch your hair again, or else to please go away so you don’t have to long so hopelessly for more of her.
And then you hear, in your brother’s laughter, hers. Or you see, there on your sister’s face, her smile.
Hold her down if you can but don’t be surprised if she’s everywhere. You are, after all, her hereafter. And where you once came from deep inside her body, she now comes from you.
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Gutsy Gals Wanted: Women in Film Honored
By Nichole Dupont
Like the skies over the region, the recent Oscars was a dismal affair punctuated by political outbursts of truth (thank you, Patricia Arquette and John Legend) and abysmal-even-for-Hollywood underrepresentation of women across the board. Writer/director/actor and pretty much everything elser Cathryn Michon [in photo, right] knows the hard numbers by heart. And they ain’t pretty.
“Four to six percent of films are directed by women. Something like fifteen percent of characters with major speaking roles are women,” Michon says, referencing several articles from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com statistics blog. “Things were better for us in 1939, think about that. There were 10 films nominated and five of them followed a woman’s story line. Now it’s a fear-driven business where they care more about the ‘common wisdom.’ It’s a herd mentality, they’re not looking at how the world is shifting.”
Part of that seismic shift will be felt this weekend in the Berkshires, when Michon and other women in the film industry will be honored in the first ever Gutsy Gals Inspire Me film awards. The awards ceremony and a screening of Michon’s film ‘Muffin Top: A Love Story’—a gut busting RomCom which she wrote, directed and starred in—will take place at Simon’s Rock campus on Saturday, March 21 as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, now in its fifth year. The awards ceremony will be hosted by director Karen Allen and by Gutsy Gals founder Deborah Hutchison, who is no stranger to the old (white) boys’ glass ceiling of Tinseltown. A longtime casting director and director (and member of the Directors Guild), Hutchison says that she was inspired to move in a different direction from Hollywood when she acquired a watercolor manuscript of the story of Berta Benz.
“I was looking through these pages, reading this story about the first long distance automobile drive in history,” she says. “Berta defied her husband, she defied authority, she was compelled. That’s when I had the meltdown. Just think, there were women way before Berta who had done the same thing. If I had known about women like that when I was a girl…can you even imagine? That’s the moment Gutsy Girls came into being.”
Cathryn Michon, Deborah Hutchison, and Marissa Jaret Winokur, who co-stars in “Muffin Top.”
Hutchison went on to transform the pages of the Berta Benz book into a short animated film while building momentum for Gutsy Gals, which recognizes strong female role models and designates awards in the categories of Education, Business, Entertainment, Charitable Work and now, Film.
And what a film it is. ‘Muffin Top’ literally strips away the relentless layers of pressure and hypocrisy and double-standardism that accompany being female in American society. Suzanne, the main character played by Michon, is facing a crisis on several fronts, not the least of which is her declining fertility coupled with her expanding waistline. Yet, she is a professor of feminist culture—a supposed lion of women’s rights who ends up on a surgeon’s table begging for lip injections while getting liposuction. The film is hilarious and does not sacrifice the authentic details for the sake of being more palatable for the male set. Granted, there are no menstruation jokes, but nearly everything else is up for grabs; Spanx welts, unwieldy Bumpits, mortifyingly tight yoga pants.
“Everyone, everywhere feels insecure about how they look. There is no escape from it,” Michon says. “I do yoga with actual supermodels and even they look critically at themselves in the mirror in the little locker room. No one can get away with feeling good about themselves. The only way we can defang that kind of thinking is to laugh at it. Laugh really hard at it.”
Michon has toured more than 30 cities with her film, which was funded largely by a Kickstarter campaign. And while the audience reactions have been over-the-top rewarding (especially the but-gusting laughter), no part of making and promoting ‘Muffin Top’ has been a cakewalk, right down to rolling and unrolling the red carpet for each screening at each location. But if that’s what it takes…
“You have to be multi-talented,” she says, rattling off names such as Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Nicole Holofcener. “Consumers are getting more activated. Smart money will flow. This isn’t just an entertainment story, it’s a business story. In the end, 52 percent of potential ticket buyers worldwide are women…so…you do the math.”
Gutsy Gals Film Award and “Muffin Top: A Love Story” Screening
Saturday, March 21, 7 p.m.
Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock
84 Alford Road, Great Barrington, MA