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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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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/12/16 at 08:37 AM • Permalink

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
(860) 365-5202
Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Donations accepted 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 12/07/15 at 11:11 AM • Permalink

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 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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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/23/15 at 02:42 PM • Permalink

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.

Rachel Parzick, manager of Mission Bar & Tapas, Chris Vecchia of Blue Q and Jess Conzo, director of Alchemy Initiative; the third-floor atriium.

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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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/08/15 at 12:17 PM • Permalink

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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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/03/15 at 11:06 AM • Permalink

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 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

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Posted by Nichole on 03/16/15 at 11:23 AM • Permalink

10 Ways To Survive A Snow Day In The RI Region

We invite you to peruse the nearly eight years’ worth of Rural Intelligence archives. It’s a good time to make a list of the restaurants you still need to try or the stores you haven’t yet shopped. Not feeling it? Consider some of the options we’ve curated for you to make waiting for a spring a bit more bearable.

1. Jumpin Jammerz Retro Monkeys Drop-Seat His-And-Hers Onsie

On a snow day, you can stay in your pajamas as long as you like, and you might like to in these adult footed pajamas with a drop seat and front pockets, made from 100-percent polar fleece. Interesting factoid: On March 11, 2012, in Austin, Texas Jumpin Jammerz threw the World’s Largest Footed Pajama Party ever…and made it into the Guiness Book of World Records. Why not have a party of your own? $49.99






2. Electric Forced Air Shoe Boot Glove Dryer 

The first intelligent boot dryer on the market, says the ebay seller. Foehn, the manufacturer, has clearly put thought into the design: it comes with three sets of collapsible tubes, one of three settings that runs air without heating — useful for odor elimination — even a keyhole on the back for wall mounting. And — hurray — it’s made in the U.S.A., where we need things like this because air drying is so old school. $75

3. Snowball Maker

With its handle and tong-style operation, you don’t even have to get your mittens all wet. “I really love the perfect snowballs this makes,” said one reviewer. And, hey, it’s from L.L. Bean, so you know it’s a quality item. $9.95

4. Chloe Lighting Three-Panel Eden Fireplace Screen

How many days can you stare at burning logs before it starts getting a bit ho hum? Put some pizzazz in front of the blaze with a Tiffany-style fireplace screen. This one is called Eden, and features a tree of life motif, handcrafted with quality materials in real stained glass. “A masterpiece for any fireplace,” says Wayfair. This is just one of many colors and styles. $326.99


5. Snowflake Cookie 4-Piece Decorating Set

Sure, you can make chocolate chip cookies anytime. But we’re doing a theme here, and this snowflake cookie decorating set fills the bill. You get a copper snowflake cookie cutter, white edible glitter, sugar crystals and snowflake candy sprinkles. It’s “the perfect answer for indoor winter fun,” says the company that’s been making handmade copper cookie cutters since 1984, and indoor winter fun is just what we’re going for. $17.49

6. CozyWinters Battery Heated All Purpose Thin Gloves

You can get those hand-warming heat packs at the Dollar Store now. But these gloves are in a whole other category, containing a well-concealed Lithium-ion battery cell that will keep your hands and fingers warm for up to 10 hours. With three heat settings and power indicator lights, they’re even environmentally friendly: the battery is rechargeable. This pair is is $199, but there is an array of styles and prices (check out the heated motorcycle gear and battery-heated socks) and other body-warming gear you’ve probably never thought of.



7. Wrought Iron Snowflake Snow Gauge

Why risk frostbite taking a yardstick outside when you can determine snow depth from your window? This snow gauge has easy-to-read large numbers. It “easily presses into your soil by stepping onto the sturdy foot bar at the bottom,” but at this point, just go ahead and stab it into the snow. Two-feet and three-feet options. We wish. $62.95-$64.95


8. TableTopics Do-It-Yourself Therapy Cube  

We’re not saying that cabin fever makes you totally crazy, but just in case, here’s a fun way “to help you and your friends get down to what makes you tick, twitch and laugh at yourself.” The 135 question cards (examples: What parents did you wish you had? Which of your mother’s silly instructions do you still obey? If you had multiple personalities, what would they be?) are intended to add levity, though we can’t honestly guarantee that. $25

9. Super Plush Faux Brown Bear Rug

The fire is lit, and now you’ve got the time to enjoy your very own bear rug. Made in France (under strict EEU environmental standards), the soft pile is guaranteed not to mat down, shed or fade. Best of all, no animals were sacrificed for your pleasure. And just $89 from Hollywood Love Rugs.



10. Video: How To Build An Igloo

How to Build an Igloo by Douglas Wilkinson, National Film Board of Canada

You don’t even need Netflix for this. Produced in 1949 on behalf of the National Film Board of Canada, this old-style documentary follows two Inuit men in Canada’s Far North creating an igloo using only snow and a knife. It’s actually kind of fascinating, and will use up 10 minutes of an enforced snow day. After watching it, you could even try making one yourself. (Wait, who are we kidding?)


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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/15/15 at 01:19 PM • Permalink

For Gibson Buffs, OK Guitars Is The Sound of Dreams

By Robert Burke Warren

Charlie Gelber makes dreams come true.

A semi-retired NYC film editor and director, Gelber collects and deals stringed instruments, specializing in the shapely Gibson ES-335 electric guitar. From his Kent, CT store, OK Guitars, he sells them, mostly to men aged 48 to 68 who desire the instrument made famous by players as diverse as rock god Eric Clapton, bluesman B.B. King, jazz legend Larry Carlton, and even stadium rocker Dave Grohl. The 335, introduced in 1958 for $335 (roughly $2700 today), can set a guy back some serious coin, but Charlie Gelber makes sure it is money well spent, because he’s been on the other side, as a player, a buyer, and a dreamer.

“You want the thing you wanted as a kid,” he says, “but you couldn’t afford it. Now you’re older, you’ve got some disposable income, so you go for it. It’s a guy thing; in 13 years of business, I’ve sold one guitar to a woman. And it’s mostly men of a certain age. I’ve joked that I should have a prostate exam table set up!”

That would be difficult, for various reasons. Aside from the obvious, OK Guitars is tiny, housed in a charmingly up-cycled train car, and packed with approximately 30 gorgeous instruments. Gelber likes it that way; he’s been collecting since he was a 14-year-old kid in 1966, surrounding himself with guitars as he worked for decades as a film and TV editor. “When I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan,” he says, “I had to have a guitar. My dad bought me a [cheap] Kay. But I always wanted an ES-335. The first one I saw was a red one played by Johnny Rivers on Hullabaloo, and I just loved it. But they were expensive. I didn’t actually own one until 1980.” (To date, he has owned more than 500 guitars.)

When the Gibson guitar company introduced the ES-335, they affixed “ES” to it to differentiate it from the very popular Gibson Electric Hawaiian – or “EH” – slide guitar. Hawaiian music was all the rage, alongside this newfangled fad called “rock and roll.” Because the guitar shape we all know is Spanish in design, “ES” stands for “Electric Spanish.” The semi-hollow ES-335 offered a cross between an acoustic guitar and an electric, with exquisite workmanship, making it pricey but ever popular. According to Gelber, it is the only guitar model never to have gone out of production, and vintages in particular are extremely valuable.

Inspired by guitar transactions on eBay, Gelber began selling, “mostly for fun” in 2002. He started his collector business online, expanding it in 2010 with an engaging blog, (He has a degree in English and it shows.) Here, he dives into the geeky minutiae of his beauties, but also offers accessible anecdotes, passion-fueled descriptions, and fetching photos that’ll make you want to hold – or better yet, buy – a fine electric guitar.

Gelber’s weathered a lot since he started, including the economic downturn. Nevertheless, while continuing as a film editor (mostly on documentaries) he and his wife moved from Manhattan to Kent in 2012, and he opened OK Guitars. Since then, things have started looking up; apparently, the collectible guitar trade is an accurate bellwether for the financial health of the U.S. economy, and he’s happy to report business is good, and getting better, especially as his reputation has grown. 

OK Guitars allows Gelber to share his expertise and love of guitars in real time, three days a week and by appointment. From behind his burnished wood counter acquired from a cigar store, he’s had some Antiques Roadshow-type moments with people seeking appraisals.

I had a Gibson 1913 mandolin come in,” he says. “It was fun to tell the owners it was worth $4,000 and see their jaws drop. But also, because some 335s look vintage to the untrained eye, people sometimes think they have something really valuable when they don’t. But they’ve still got a great guitar.” Just not one that’ll put their kid through grad school. Gelber has seen 335s valued at $50,000. (Eric Clapton’s sold for $1 million.)

Unlike many brick-and-mortar business owners, Gelber has nothing bad to say about the Internet. OK Guitars, in fact, depends on it. “It’s 90 percent of my business,” he says. 

But the store is where he has the most fun. Because he recalls from his youth fussy guitar shop owners forbidding him from playing their merchandise, he freely allows anyone to take down one of his guitars and strum away, even local schoolkids, who get the rare pleasure of holding a fine instrument that some men never stop dreaming about.

OK Guitars
11 Railroad Street, Kent, CT
(203) 858-0098
Friday through Sunday, 12—8 p.m., or by appointment

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/09/15 at 01:25 PM • Permalink

MASS MoCA Announces A Mind-Boggling Expansion

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Sometimes bigger really is better.

We already knew that MASS MoCA was one of the biggest contemporary art facilities in the country. So it’s mind boggling to consider that its new expansion project will double its existing gallery space.

That’s not a fudged number or a bit of PR-speak. The converted factory complex already has a gallery the size of a football field and 120,000 square feet of total gallery space. When it’s done with its truly epic expansion, that number will shoot to 240,000.

This much we already knew, after the commonwealth of Massachusetts chipped in $25.4 million dollars in August to help things along. But this week, MASS MoCA called all hands on deck for one of the biggest announcements in its history. For the first time, we found out what’s going to go in all that new space. And when the new bits open in 2017, it’s almost going to be like a whole new museum, which anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary art (or forward-thinking performing arts) will feel the strong urge to make a pilgrimage to.

When MASS MoCA partnered with the Yale University Art Gallery in 2008 to renovate a three-floor factory building and install a mammoth installation of wall drawings by Sol LeWitt on a 25-year loan, it hit upon a winning formula. Building on that model, the new gallery space — chiefly a rambling building adjacent to what’s known these days as the “big gallery,” with an acre of floor space on each of its three levels — will be home to other long-term loans, in partnership with artists and other outside foundations.

Laurie Anderson. Photo by Lucie Jansch

Laurie Anderson, the legendary fixture on New York’s hip art scene (and widow to the late rocker Lou Reed), will create a visionary sound and light installation, plus a multimedia studio where she’ll invite the public in as she creates new work. (Specific plans are still being worked out.)

“This is really, really, really forward thinking stuff,” Anderson in an interview after a packed press conference that saw Governor Deval Patrick trumpet the plan. “I’m still really stunned. Where else is this going to happen? Where else could something this huge, ambitious and crazy happen?”

Some other heavy hitters were announced, of course. There will be paintings by the late, great Robert Rauschenberg, plus rotating pieces by other artists curated by the foundation devoted to his work. Louise Bourgeois’ marble sculpture will be on view —including some that’s never before been available to the public — as will immersive light installations by James Turrell (including a new commission), and projections by Jenny Holzer.

Work of Jenny Holtzer. Photo by Attilio Maranzano

Deepening its long-term relationship with New York City’s new-music innovators Bang on a Can, the museum will also make the oversized instruments of Gunnar Schonbeck available for visiting musicians and the public.

Additional elevated-walkways (like the cool one that leads to the LeWitt building now) will help complete a full loop around the campus for the first time.

“The public will be able to recognize this as a complex in a way that they never have before. Even though it’s a doubling of our exhibition space, it’s going to feel like a quadrupling,” museum director Joe Thompson told the assembled press, “or an order of magnitude larger, as an expansion of the experience of this complex and the way the buildings work together.”

Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois

MASS MoCA will also build up the infrastructure surrounding its burgeoning side business in top-shelf music festivals. When Wilco has its Solid Sound Festival, Jeff Tweedy will have a finished green room to hang out in. More visible to the public, there will be a vending arcade that opens up onto the Hoosac River, which winds its way across the campus.

The world is noticing. MASS MoCA’s big news has been covered everywhere from the New York Times to the Washington Post. And even though the museum has been a fixture of the region since it opened in 1999, in a couple years it’ll feel like we have a whole new cultural centerpiece on our hands. And isn’t that big news?

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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 11/19/14 at 05:46 PM • Permalink

My Turn As a Tourist: A Day With Behold! New Lebanon

By Lisa Green

Behold! New Lebanon is a living museum of contemporary rural American life. There are no ladies in bonnets spinning wool a la Sturbridge Village. These people are the real deal, willing to open their lives to share their skills and experience of rural living as a step toward creating their own sustainable future through tourism. [See full story here.]

I chose to “take” two events on the first day, and while I enjoyed both of them immensely and learned a huge amount, I found that part of the fun was not only the give-and-take with the presenters but with my fellow “visitors” as well. The two-room Visitor’s Center is part gift shop (offering New Lebanon-made products and Behold! New Lebanon merchandise) and part sign-in desk. But furnished with rocking chairs, filled with sunshine and a light breeze, it is a welcoming gathering space where locals greet one another and the rest of us meet them and each other. On the bus ride to the events, the anticipation is palpable – what are we going to see and learn? — and on the ride back, oh my, it is a voluble, good-natured competition about whose experience was better.

At “Hitching the Horse to the Plow,” we met 23-year-old farmer Even Thaler-Null, who runs Abode Farm CSA with his partner, Sarah Steadman. A first generation farmer from Westchester, Thaler-Null farms the former Shaker land (which before was Mohican land) using two plow horses and somewhat ancient but working farm equipment. The couple’s mission is to provide more food for New Lebanon, so they attempt to keep their 150 varieties of crops affordable through their CSA.  It’s one thing to know that farmers work hard, but it is another to witness Thaler-Null’s commitment to this labor of love.

My afternoon event was “Going Once! Going Twice: Auctioneering 101” to meet with Dolores Meissner of Meissner’s Auction Service. I have attended these auctions in the past, and have walked out a bit dazzled by the speed, efficiency and humor with which the auction items are dispatched. But I didn’t know how Dolores and her late husband, Keith, built up their business, how she “reads” a crowd, learned the patter, where the merchandise comes from — and how she is coping with running the business without Keith. When it was time to get back on the bus, I was finally able to express my condolences to Dolores on the tragic loss of her husband just last December. “Now I need to give you a hug,” she said. And did.

I have beheld New Lebanon, and I will be going back.

Behold! New Lebanon
Friday, September 12 – Sunday, September 14
Friday, October 10 – Monday, October 13
Friday, October 31 – Sunday, November 2
Visitor’s Center
14398 NY Route 22, New Lebanon, NY   (518) 795-5756

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/01/14 at 02:24 PM • Permalink