Gardening Benefits Plentiful Despite Challenges

With the coming of summer, lots of North Country folks’ minds turn to gardening. Well, actually, many of those minds turned to gardening as early as January, when the seed catalogs started arriving in the mail and the planning began, on sheets of paper spread across kitchen tables on cold, dark evenings. Hard-core gardeners, it’s said, even began dreaming the moment they finished putting last year’s garden to bed for the winter, pulled the last carrot or dug the last potato through frost-crusted earth and wondered why this crop or that hadn’t come in. “We’ll try again next year….”

    For most of us, gardening may be about the independence of raising our own trustworthy food, the satisfaction of coaxing something edible from the Earth, the pleasure of getting our hands dirty, our latent desire to do something good for a beleaguered planet, or our determination to make the most of the north country’s all-too-short summers: “The growing season is only a few weeks long, and I am GOING to enjoy it, even if it exhausts me!” But for everybody, what’s even more important is that gardening is a super source of family stories.

    For us, these revolve around the expansion and contraction of our gardens as we’ve passed through life’s stages. Growing up in the north country, I got it into my head that everybody had a big garden. A great-aunt, for example, maintained a massive layout, full of flowers and vegetables and plum trees, on hundreds of square feet of river bottom, which she tended religiously into her 90s. A proper lady, she wore pants only when gardening; upon completing her weeding, clipping, hoeing and harvesting for the day, she would repair immediately to her room and emerge in a dress. I naturally assumed that when I grew up I would become a gardener too.

    That proved easier said than done, because for the first few years after college I lived in urban environments, surrounded by asphalt, and then in a boarding school where I taught. We did manage a small (I mean about six-foot by six-foot) plot there, but the grounds superintendent wasn’t thrilled that we wanted to dig up a tiny square of his campus.

    When we moved to the Canton area and bought an old farmhouse with an acre of land, though, it was time for the gardens to take off. We had some fine ones for a few years, and even succeeded in being nearly self-sufficient in veggies one winter. One year we cajoled corn stalks up to a few inches greater than my almost-six-foot height, and we even harvested a couple of palatable (if you define the term liberally) cantaloupes, which our neighbors said couldn’t be raised in the north country – too short a season. Those neighbors were from Birdsfoot Farm, one of the few communal organic operations that survived the idealism of the Back to the Earth fad of the 1970s (and continues to thrive to this day), so we were pretty smug about that. Or maybe just lucky.

    We survived late frosts; one we christened the Great Anniversary Freeze, because it fell on our wedding anniversary, June 29, and devastated not only our garden but also dozens throughout the region. We also endured a cow invasion: one spring day we looked out the window and spotted a dozen Holsteins trampling around in what after a rainy spell was abnormally spongy soil. They’d escaped from another neighbor’s farm, and were having a delightful time trashing our newly-planted spread. A quick call brought the farmer running, issuing heartfelt apologies even before he was within hearing range, and the cows were soon rounded up and headed home, though not before leaving deep holes all over our poor garden; I had not appreciated until then how much a dairy cow weighs, and thus how far into saturated soil it can sink its legs. They also left some fertilizer, though, for which we thanked the chagrined farmer.

    Which reminds me of the prolific rhubarb we cut each spring. We couldn’t imagine how it could get so big and delicious with no work on our part. Then a previous owner of the place told us it had until not many years earlier been a working farm, and the rhubarb had sprouted happily in the former manure pile. Ah, the wonders of nature.

    But the main thing we survived was zucchini. Why we kept planting so darn much of it I could never imagine, except that we knew it would grow no matter what, so there was that smug satisfaction thing again. The problem was that we always went away on vacation in August, and it never had the courtesy to stop growing while we were gone. We’d come home to zucchinis the size of Goodyear blimps. The vines would lose all sense of propriety, insinuating themselves among the bean stalks, climbing the pepper plants for a better view, hauling themselves up the tomato cages and cutting off the tomatoes’ sunlight with fronds as big as truck tires. We prayed for a hard frost.

    Eventually, we moved into town, and the gardens got smaller and smaller as our backs got older and we realized we could patronize the Farmers Market, featuring growers who actually knew what they were doing, for a little cash and a lot less sweat, mosquito repellent, muscle rub and dirt under our fingernails. We’re now down to a fall-bearing raspberry patch, some rhubarb transplanted from that old manure-pile stock, and sporadic asparagus – perennials that require minimal human effort.

    Meanwhile, gardening has evolved a new ethos as a beneficial aspect of the larger environment, partly in response to concerns about global climate change and natural habitat loss. Trees (carbon captors), bees (pollinators), water conservation practices and native species (as opposed to invasives) are the “in” things today.  We’re all for it; we’ll just let the younger generations do the labor while we rock on the deck until the raspberries are ready to pick, sometime in October.

 

Black River Brew & Music Fest Taps Watertown

PHOTO BY JASON BONE Rusted Root

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The Sweet Sounds of Music

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50 Years STRONG: Thousand Islands Arts Center Celebrates Years of Creative Development

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY LIVING
Thousand Islands Arts Center executive director Leslie Rowland.

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Nothing to Squawk At: NNY Artist presents two time Oscar nominee with award

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY LIVING Viggo Mortensen is presented a crow sculpture at the 2017 Snowtown Film Festival by local artist Will Salisbury.

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NNY Arts in the Winter

 

Kari Robertson

par•tic•i•pate: verb. take part in, engage in, join in, get involved in, share in, play a part/role in, be a participant in, partake in, have a hand in, be associated with *ART

While it has been said that we live in a cultural desert, there are many ways to pARTicipate in NNY that will keep you warm inside, help you connect with oTers, and simultaneously bring on the “cool.”

                In early January, Snowtown Film Festival President Mark Knapp told me with infectious smile, “It’s gonna be huge for our community!” 

                The event, held on Jan. 27 – 28 was, as he predicted, a sold out opening night full of enthusiastic people sporting smiles and dressed to impress for the “flannel red carpet.” The 2017 Snowtown Film Festival planning team narrowed an astounding 832 submissions to 26 for the short film competition. Several full length films were run as well.

                One of the fine moments of the Festival (and season) was the appearance of well-known artist and Watertown High School graduate, Viggo Mortensen. After the showing of his thought provoking movie, “Captain Fantastic”, the two-time Academy Award nominee took questions from the appreciative home town crowd. Then, Mr. Mortensen was presented with an original metal sculpture of a crow, entitled “Rascal”, by the sculptor Will Salisbury, (also see his large crows next to Interstate 81 near Alexandria Bay) for “his dedication to the North Country and contribution to the arts.” 

                Also in its third year is the Hammond Barn Quilt Trail. These original, professional looking artworks are popping up all over the north country. They are painted on large boards and affixed to barns, houses, businesses, government buildings. There are at least 50 completed and more to come. The colorful works are lovely year-round, but really stand out against the cool of winter.

                Take it to the next step by visiting the barn quilters’ studio, in the basement of the Hammond Free Library. It is open 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, and additional hours by request. The public is welcome to observe, chat, and create. Former art teacher Pam Winchester, along with the others in the group, are excited to help anyone who is interested. They offer “brushes, tools and camaraderie.” Alternatively, barn quilts may be purchased, which helps to defray costs of running the public art program.

                Jennifer McGregor recently finished and mounted her piece, “Scottish Pride” on her barn in Hammond. It was designed to reflect her heritage, blending the traditional thistle and tartan. “This is something that is brand new for me. I paint, but not artistically. I had lots of help by people here. There is always someone on hand to help if needed.”  As she prepared a board for a new painting, Jen said, “There is teamwork down here!”

                The Barn Quilters’ community spirit carries this project into new areas and activities each year. Pam Winchester is working on a piece themed around her mother’s tea set and will welcome the community to a unique kind of tea party upon completion. The group is planning a garden barn quilt project and a fairy house project for this summer. Mrs. Winchester says “You see a need in the community and you do it.” And accompanying artist Nancy Misenko continued, “We know how to get things done!”

                Continuing northeast, visit the Frederic Remington Museum, in Odgensburg, NY. It is located in the former home of one of the premier artists of the Westward Expansion.  Remington became famous for his action packed sculptures, illustrations and paintings. Melanie Flack, director of development, has been spinning off of the national trend in museums by offering high energy participatory events within the traditionally staid museum setting. One of the Remington galleries has been reconfigured to allow floor space for yoga amongst the art. This “draws people into the galleries and invites them to experience the Remington art in a new way, and they have such an amazing setting in which to enjoy their yoga,” says Executive Director Laura Foster. The Museum has also hosted “Tai Chi. Taste. Tie-Dye.” All of this is in addition to their regular repertoire of tours and lecture series about Remington’s work and life. While an internationally acclaimed collection, this is a particularly accessible art gallery experience for children and art neophytes.

                One of the area’s best kept secrets is the Pottery Studio located behind and run by the TI Arts Center. Curriculum-based after school clay classes begin in March for grades K-8. The pottery studio is open year-round for adults who already have experience in clay, during designated hours. Adjacent, on John Street, the main building has a room full of weaving looms available for public use on Wednesdays. Upstairs is a surprisingly comprehensive library on all things related to fabric or textiles. The current show in the main building is called “Art of Winter.” This annual exhibit is traditionally inclusive, featuring work by a range of artists, from children to professional. The exhibit closes on April 1, 2017.

                Also in Clayton is the annual Fire and Ice Celebration, February 16-18, at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel. The celebration features 20,000 pounds of carved ice.  Sculptors from The Ice Farm in Auburn, NY, bring in the ice and will begin work on Wednesday, February 15, in the afternoon, finishing in time for the adult only evening event on Thursday. The public is welcome to stop over to watch the process. “I love watching them piece the sculptures together, to take large 300 pound pieces of ice, take a saw and a chisel to make something,” said Todd Buchko, General Manager for Harbor Hotel.

                This event is a fundraiser supporting North Country Troopers Assisting Troops. “We are here for a great cause, to get people moving around, see friends that they haven’t seen in a while. We are happy to do it,” said Buchko. The ice sculptures will continue to be on display for public viewing until Mother Nature has her way.

                The North Country Arts Council, on Public Square, Watertown, is a non-profit whose mission is to promote all art forms. The organization chartered in 1948 as the North Country Artists Guild, and is arguably the oldest art council in the United States. Today it is run entirely by volunteers. The NCAC works to offer a clearinghouse for arts opportunities, sell local art in the gallery, run educational programming, and produce a variety of events. Towards these goals, the NCAC welcomes anyone with interest in enhancing the cultural climate of Northern New York to join in. Meetings are open to the public.

                Participation in Northern New York crosses career paths, religious and political affiliation. It is a great way to celebrate beauty and ideas while building community. Few of us will become Academy Award winners, but for all of us, quality of life can be enriched by getting active at some level and in some aspect of the arts, warming us in this “cool” desert we call home.

Kari Zelson Robertson is a clay artist. Her studio is at 28279 state Route 126, Rutland Center. She makes sculpture to use, hand-built and wheel thrown serving bowls, vases and drinking vessels. Her studio is attached to her farmhouse. She runs a fair weather gallery next door, open by appointment in the fall and winter. Contact her at karizelsonrobertson.com.

Trinity Concert Series hosting award-winning harp player

JOE LARONGA
Katherine Siochi will perform a harp and piano concert Sunday at Trinity Episcop-al Church in Watertown.

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The fine art of ‘slow gifting’ for the creative souls on your list

Kari Zelson Robertson

Kari Zelson Robertson

Like it says in the song, there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. Diamonds? Puppies? Even food is tastier and better for you when made from materials that are close to the source. In Italy, they call it the “Slow Food” movement. It’s catching on here, too, as we start to appreciate regional traditions and locally available ingredients. We want to know from where, who, and by what processes our consumer items come to us.
In my world, this translates to my manmade surroundings. My home is more than 200 years old. The hand hewn timbers show the marks and some logs still have the bark on them. They tell a story of real people and naturally occurring materials. I also collect and proudly display art and craft work by people who I have met. Their stories are now part of my story and I enjoy their pieces every day.
In Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book, Future Shock, he predicted the stress induced by too much change in too short a time. He wrote about the downside of massive amounts of information piled upon us in our love affair with technology, overwhelming the human spirit. Interestingly, he also predicted a pendulum swing response, in the form of a renewed hunger for craft and art in the everyday.
Here in the north country, we are fortunate to live our own kind of slow movement. We take time to note and celebrate the beauty around us, to take time. This year, as you think about how you would like to embrace the season, I propose Slow Gifting, a movement toward finding authentic instead of mass-produced objects.
Seek out the creative makers in your area, and think about how their pieces can enhance quality of life for you and your friends and family. This is a perfect time to shop with an eye to regional tradition, authentic materials, and your entrepreneurial community. Have fun “slow gifting” this year. It will be memorable.

COOPERATIVES AND ARTS ORGANIZATIONS

These are one-stop-shops offering work by multiple artists at each location.

TAUNY

53 Main St., Canton

tauny.org

Bayhouse Artisans

21 James St., Alexandria Bay

bayhouseartisans.com

Fibonacci 321 Gallery

321 James St., Clayton

fibonacci321.com

North Country Arts Council

52 Public Square, Watertown

nnyart.org

Lake St. Lawrence Art Gallery

10 Main St., Waddington

 

INDIVIDUAL ARTIST STUDIOS

For the more adventurous and curious, here are a few favorites. The following are professionals who also have gallery and studio spaces that are worth investigating. Here, you have the opportunity to talk to the person who made the item, and to get personal assistance in learning about and choosing just the right thing.

Scott Ouderkirk, stained glass, illustration, 291 River Road, Hammond, glassgoat.com

Scott and his family run the art studio and sustainable farming project. They also keep bees, goats, and always have great projects in the queue.

Lisa Nortz, jeweler, 8270 Soft Maple Road, Croghan, silverbenchjewelry.com

A second-generation silversmith, Lisa does all sorts of things with silver. She hammers, bends, braids, solders and sets stones. You will say, “ah” as you wind your way through the woods to her place.

Greg Lago, printmaking and sculpture, 12975 House Road, Clayton, wingedbull.com

Greg is a Renaissance Man and knows at least a little bit about everything. He has a ton of information about local history that translates to his prints of scenes, stories, ideas about life. The work is truly magical, unusual in design and perspective. His workspace is off the beaten track, but only a few minutes from the village, and a very interesting location to soak in.

Larry Barone, painter, 115 W. Main St., Sackets Harbor, thegalleryfineart.com

Larry has been working as an artist nearly every day since retiring as an art educator. His pastels, mostly local scenery are nuanced, richly dimensional. He is a master. His bright and airy studio is on the main road in Sackets, where he always has a piece on the easel.

Cathie Ellsworth, clay, Paddock Art and Antiques, 1 Public Square, Suite 6, Watertown

Cathie makes lovely and unique hand-built serving bowls, platters and raku. Her daughter, Claire also sells drawings at the shop, with a focus on charcoal. Both women are certified art educators, with years of experience as trained artists. Their space is in the oldest covered mall in the United States, the Paddock Arcade.

Michael Ringer, painting, bronze sculpture and books, 47382 Dingman Point Road, Alexandria Bay, michaelringer.com

Michael, another former art educator, has been making art his full-time business since 1990. He has also published books of his work, highlighting life on the river.

ART TRAILS

In the third and final category, and panning further out, here are links to art trails, mapped overviews of the hotspots. These links throw open the doors to all sorts of local art world connections that are quietly bubbling around us:

NNY ART TRAIL

NNYArtTrail.com. New in 2016, this trail covers studios and galleries in Jefferson-Lewis-St. Lawrence counties.

SLCARTSCOUNCIL.ORG

Sponsored by the St. Lawrence Arts Councilin Potsdam, this trail covers artists in the St. Lawrence County region.

NORTHGUIDE.ORG

Initiated by the Adirondack North Country Association, this Art Trail covers everything north of Interstate 90 and east of Interstate 81. It is sortable by location, materials, name of artist and/or gallery.

 

Kari Zelson Robertson is a clay artist. Her studio is at 28279 state Route 126, Rutland Center. She makes sculpture to use, hand-built and wheel thrown serving bowls, vases and drinking vessels. Her studio is attached to her farmhouse. She runs a fair weather gallery next door, open by appointment in the fall and winter. Contact her at karizelsonrobertson.com.

“Making” Good in NNY

Garrett McCarthy, Henderson Harbor artist

Garrett McCarthy, Henderson Harbor

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Autumn 2016: Social Scene

GWNC Chamber of Commerce Athena Award Dinner

The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce presented the 2016 Athena Award at the Hilton Garden Inn, Watertown, on Thursday, September 8. This year the award was presented to Jefferson Community College President Dr. Carole McCoy.