Nyack Sketch Log: Our Segregated Cemetery

Mount Moor_Featured Image_Revisedby Bill Batson

Cemeteries were segregated in America until the mid-20th century. Even black veterans of America’s armed conflicts were dishonored when buried. Today, Mount Moor Cemetery stands as a monument to the twisted logic of racial discrimination. But the cemetery of approximately 90 veterans and civilians also serves as a symbol of perseverance and defiance. The gravestones at Mount Moor endure, despite the initial efforts of the developers of the Palisades Mall to obliterate the burial ground.

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(l.-r.) Hezekiah Easter Jr., Ruth Easter, Hezekiah Easter Sr.

A commemoration for African American Civil War veterans will be held at Mount Moor on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Mount Moor at 1pm. The exploits of men who fought and died to preserve a democracy that did not grant them citizenship is one of the greatest tales of self-sacrifice in American history. Hollywood attempted to tell the story in the 1989 film “Glory,” staring Denzel Washington. However, our monument to this expression of epic heroism, Mount Moor, would not exist if not for a hometown hero, the late Hezekiah Easter, Jr.

United in Battle
Divided in Burial

There are 28 Civil War veterans known to be buried in Mount Moor. They served in the 26th and 45th New York Regiments of Colored Volunteers and the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was the regiment that was recognized for their valor in the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina on July 18, 1863, the battle that was depicted in the movie “Glory.”

Daniel Ullman, one of the Union Army officers who convinced President Abraham Lincoln to mobilize African America troops during the Civil War, is buried in Nyack’s Oak Hill Cemetery. He organized  five regiments known as the Corps d’Afrique and was elevated to the rank of Brigadier General.

Hezekiah Easter, Jr. became the first African American elected to public office in Rockland County when he won a seat on the Village of Nyack Board of Trustees in 1965.  His connection to Mount Moor Cemetery was deeply personal. In 1945, he helped bury his brother Linwood, who died from a ruptured appendix at age 15. His father, Hezekiah Easter, Sr., a World War I veteran who owned a wood yard near the cemetery, was buried there in 1986.  If the developers of the Palisades Mall had had their way, Hezekiah Easter, Sr. would have been the last burial at Mount Moor.

A copy of Mount Moor’s successful application for placement on the National Park Service’s Register of Historic Places documents how the cemetery was a significant landmark for  a black community that has called Rockland County home for over three hundred years.

The recorded presence of African Americans in Rockland County began at the same time that Europeans arrived in the region. African slaves and free blacks were a part of the Dutch community that settled here in 1687. According to census records from 1723, nearly one fifth of the 1,244 inhabitants of the county were African slaves. Mount Moor was established in 1849, 22 years after the New York State Legislature abolished slavery in 1827 and 13 years before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

NSL136_Mt Moor historical markerJames and Jane Benson deeded the land that became Mount Moor Cemetery to William H. Moore, Stephen Samuels and Isaac Williams on July 7, 1849. The land was purchased for the purpose of creating of a non-denominational final resting place for black families that were excluded from cemeteries where whites were buried. The name of cemetery captures the rugged topography of the location and the language of racial exclusion. The property is a wedge-shaped parcel on a steep hill and the term Moor was commonly used in the 18th and 19th century to described people of African descent.

The area around the cemetery had been, until recently, undesirable marsh land. So much private and commercial refuse was dumped nearby,  the site was eventually dubbed Toxic Alley. Lacking the revenue and resources of traditional cemeteries, and with only a meager budget for maintenance, the grounds became overgrown. A lack of complete records and missing headstones have made determination of the exact population of the cemetery impossible.

The Gulfields

The cast zinc obelisk monument that is the subject of this week’s sketch is an example of the funerary arts that helped secure Mount Moor a place on the National Register of Historic Places.  Also called a catalogue monument, the ornate marker elegantly records evidence of life, death and tragedy.  Two of the people buried under the tall metal sculpture died as children, one as a young adult.  This is also the resting place of one of the Civil War veterans, Samuel Gulfield, Private Corporal in the 26th Regiment and his wife, Christina.

  • Gulfield, Charles P.
    4/18/1873 -  8/26/1877
  • Gulfield, Christina
    1/29/1841 – 3/1/1907
  • Gulfield, Jane F
    12/9/1870 – 8/24/1884
  • Gulfield, Samuel
    10/14/1831 – 5/18/1886
  • Gulfield, Susan O
    2/4/1863 –  7/28/1884

In 1940, a group of leading African American Rocklanders established the Mount Moor Cemetery Association to maintain the burial ground. The first president was Rev. William Clyde Taylor, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church. Hezekiah Easter, Jr., who had been elected to the Rockland County Legislature in 1970, became President of the Association in 1977.

Easter’s tenure as President of the Mount Moor Association coincided with the beginning of the battle against over-development chronicled in the documentary film Mega Mall.  A Syracuse, New York based developer, the Pyramid Companies,  announced their plan to build the second largest shopping mall in America next door to the cemetery in 1985. Using his extensive experience in public office, Easter sought to secure local, state and federal recognition of the historic importance of the site. As a World War II vet, Easter helped coalesce support of his brothers-in-arms to protect and maintain the site. Veterans from every major American conflict are buried in Mount Moor including the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I and II and the Korean War.

Even though the Pyramid Companies had amassed their own army of lawyers and public relations specialists to overcome community opposition to the mall, Easter did not relent. Joined by his colleagues Jacqueline L. Holland, Leonard Cooke, Wilbur Folkes, Charlene Dunbar, Bea Fountain and their attorney Alicia Crowe, they group stood their ground, even when confronted by bulldozers and belligerent security guards.

“The families told me they did not want the Pyramid Companies to dig up their ancestors,” said Attorney Crowe. Proposals from the company included burying the plots under 100 feet of soil or disinterring the bodies for reburial elsewhere. “We were not going to allow them to disturb these rightful resting places in order to accommodate more parking spaces,” Crowe recalled.

136NSL_Hezekiah Easter gravestone revisedAt a meeting at Depew Manor in 1994, a representative of the Pyramid company surrendered to the group’s demands. Once it was granted a place on the Federal Register, the cemetery could not be buried or dug up. The Pyramid company agreed to construct a fence around the original wedge-shaped survey lines from the 1849 deed, and also agreed to maintain the grounds of the cemetery.

There would also be one final tombstone.

On March 13, 2007, Hezekiah Easter, Jr. was laid to rest beside his brother and his father. The man who saved the cemetery is the last man buried at Mount Moor. A parking structure and the facades of box stores loom in the distance, held at bay by a solider and statesman who will forever keep his silent and solemn vigil over these hallowed grounds.

There will be an event in observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War at Mount Moor Cemetery on Saturday, April 12 at 1p. Participating organizations include the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Ellis Camp 124 Department of New York, and the African American Historical Society of Rockland (AAHS)  Captain David Smith and representatives of the 26th  USCT organization will make remarks.  For information contact James Meaney at 917-453-8573

Color photos by Jennifer Rothschild

Special thanks to Brian Jennings, the newly appointed Local History Librarian at New City Library.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Our Segregated Cemetery” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: The Hopper Years

Hopper Houseby Bill Batson

New York County (Manhattan) remains the center of the American art universe. But according to the curator of the current exhibit at the Edward Hopper House, the big bang that created the American modern art cosmos may have happened here in Rockland County.

In “Painters and Paintings of Rockland County: The Hopper Years (1882-1967),” Mark Waller presents the work of the local art scene during the life time of the celebrated painter. Waller, a third generation art and antiques dealer, will be giving a gallery talk on Friday, April 4, at 7p that will remind residents of our region’s pivotal role in American art history.

Edward Hopper House Art Center

The childhood home of Edward Hopper was saved from demolition in the early 1970s by an ad-hoc coalition that included neighbors, Rotarians, labor unions, students and artists.

Thanks to decades of volunteer labor from board members and supporters, the property is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and functions as the Edward Hopper House Art Center.

Today, the Hopper House offers a climate controlled gallery space with a packed schedule of world-class exhibitions and events, managed by a professional staff led by Executive Director, Victoria Hertz. The multi-arts center offers a summer jazz concert series, Music in the Garden, hosts artists-in-residence and organizes lectures and gallery talks.

On March 24, the Edward Hopper House Art Center was selected as one of the best 13 New York art spots not in NYC by the Huffington Post.

Mark Waller, curator of  “Painters and Paintings of Rockland County: The Hopper Years (1882-1967)” will give a gallery talk on Friday, April 4 at 7p as part of the Nyack Art Collective‘s First Friday cultural festival.

The Hopper Years is on display until April 13, 2014. The Hopper House is located at 82, North Broadway, Nyack, NY.

From 1982 -1999, Waller served as Director of Galerie Moderne Ltd  and Co-director of Le Pavillon de Sevres Ltd in London, England. In 2003, Waller and his wife, Stephanie Arvey reopened Gallery Moderne in Piermont. Before he embarked on the 14 years of research that produced “The Hopper Years,” Waller had established himself as an internationally recognized expert on the work of French glass designer Rene Lalique. He has helped mount exhibitions of Lalique’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, in Tokyo, Japan, and the Musée des Art Décoratif in the Louvre, Paris.

Waller became fascinated with the pedigree of painters that lived and worked in his new Hudson Valley home as soon he arrived. In the illustrated catalogue of the exhibit, Waller  described the factors that drew artists to this area.  “As a progressive and open-minded society, the county has historically been an engaging community for artists that have sought refuge in its beautiful Hudson riverside towns and extensive parkland, before, during, and after their greatest successes and creative endeavors,” Waller wrote. “Due to its location a mere 15 miles from Manhattan and its affordability for artists, Rockland has served as a support system for New York City and a gateway to the rest of the Empire State.”

“The Hopper Years” assembles the work of Hopper and 21 of his contemporaries. The criteria for their inclusion is not just the mastery of their medium, but the role they played in shaping the evolution of the fine arts in America. In his argument, Waller calls Rockland County a “cradle” of American modernism. The artists in “The Hopper Years” created groundbreaking art work, organized pivotal exhibits and mentored trailblazing talents, all the things you would expect from the parents of a burgeoning art movement.

Here is a sample of some of the works selected by Waller and a short description of the artists, excerpted from the illustrated exhibition catalogue.

 Robert Henri (1865 – 1929)

Robert Henri’s artistic style and his approach to art attracted such talented students as Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Joseph Stella, C.K. Chatterton, and Rocklanders Edward Hopper and Ruth Reeves.

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Hudson by Robert Henri

By 1895, Henri rejected the traditions of impressionism and academic painting and sought to create more realistic art that reflected modern American urban life. Henri mused, “Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life’s experience.” This new style of urban scene painted by Henri and other like-minded artists came to be known as the Ashcan School.

In 1907, in response to the refusal of the conservative National Academy of Design to exhibit works by Henri’s circle of artists in its annual show, Henri became an organizer of a group of artists known as “The Eight”. In February 1908, “The Eight” organized its own exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery. The exhibition traveled to other cities such as Newark and Chicago, and sparked discussion about academic painting and the appropriate subject matter for art. Between 1911 and 1919 he organized exhibitions at the MacDowell Club, and in 1913 he helped the Association of American Painters and Sculptors to organize the Armory Show, entitled The International Exhibition of Moderne Art. 

NSL_Hopper Years_On_the_River_near_the_Lake_by_Davies

On the River, Near Rockland Lake, NY, by Arthur Bowen Davies

Arthur Bowen Davies (1862 – 1928) 

Arthur Bowen Davies, a talented mystical painter, printmaker, sculptor, and illustrator, was one of the first American artists, along with Alfred Stieglitz, to patronize the modern art movement. In addition to being an artist, Davies was an influential advocate of modern art in the United States. He organized the 1913 Armory Show - the exhibition largely responsible for bringing modern art to America.

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Munich Street by Vaclav Vytlacil

Vaclav Vytlacil (1892-1984)

Vaclav Vytlacil, born in New York City to Czech immigrant parents in 1892, was a gifted modernist artist and one of the strongest advocates of American abstraction. In the early 1920s, his interest in Paul Cezanne’s work drew him to Europe to study.

While in Europe, Vytlacil studied for six years in Munich at the Royal Academy of Art under Abstract Expressionist, Hans Hofmann. After returning to the United States in 1928, Vytlacil joined the faculty of the Art Students League, where he taught until his retirement in the late 1970s.

Many of his students, such as Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg,Knox Martin, James Rosenquist, Frank O’Cain, Cy Twombly, and Tony Smith, went on to become accomplished artists. In Rockland County, Vytlacil’s legacy still lives on at the Art Students League. In 1996, his family donated the artist’s property in Sparkill, New York, and the necessary funding to create the League’s Vytlacil Campus and its international residence program.

Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)

NSL_Hopper Years_Harborview_by_Edward_Hopper

Harbor View by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was born in Nyack in 1882 into a middle class family that supported his artistic ambitions. Hopper studied at the N.Y. School of Illustrating from 1899 to 1900 then shifted his focus and transferred to the New York School of Art. After studying at the New York School of Art from 1900 to 1906, he shifted his focus from illustration to the Fine Arts and studied under William Merit Chase and Robert Henri. His classmates included George Bellows, Guy Pene Du Bois, Rockwell Kent, and C.K. Chatterton. Over the next few years Hopper made three trips to Europe, which were very influential on his later work.

After returning to New York in 1910, Edward Hopper struggled for recognition for his paintings and subsequently turned to more commercial endeavors such as illustration. Hopper did, however, exhibit a painting entitled Sailing (1911) at the 1913 Armory Show, organized by fellow Rocklander A.B. Davies.

Hopper Years Catalogue

These images and short biographies of the artists featured in Painters and Paintings of Rockland County: The Hopper Years (1882-1967) were excerpted from an illustrated exhibition catalogue, written by Mark Waller and Savitri Arvey with a foreward by Carole Perry, Executive Artistic Director of the Edward Hopper House Art Center.

Copies of the catalog are available at the Hopper House gift shop, 82 North Broadway, Nyack or at Gallery Moderne 7 Roundhouse Road, Piermont.

In the 1920s, as an artist he was received with greater success. In 1924, he married former classmate Josephine Nivision, who would become his life companion as well as the primary model for his work. In 1933, Hopper’s work was showcased at a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, in which he was praised for his distinct mature style that illustrated the transitory nature of contemporary life. Hopper’s work was featured in several other important retrospective exhibitions throughout this later career, namely at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In 1952, he was chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.

Edward Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square in New York City on May 15, 1967 and Josephine died ten months later. Their collection of more than 2500 works of art was bequeathed to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The continued vitality of the local arts community in Rockland County is the greatest proof of Waller’s theory. In the conclusion of his curatorial essay, he observes that the legacy of the artists in his exhibit “lives on today at the Edward Hopper House Art Center, the Vytlacil campus of the Art Students League in Sparkill, the Rockland Center for the Arts (ROCA).  Further validation emerged on March 24, 2014, when the Huffington Post listed the Edward Hopper House Art Center as one the 13 best “art spots” not in New York City.

My exhibit, Hopper Country, is on display at the Edward Hopper House Art Center until April 30, 2014. The sketches and short essays included in Hopper Country pay homage, in style and substance, to the impact of Edward Hopper and his village on America and the world.

See also

Hudson, by Robert Henri and On the River, Near Rockland Lake, NY, by Arthur Bowen Davies are Courtesy of Gallery Moderne
Munich Street ,by Vaclav Vytlacil, is from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nahman
Harbor View, by Edward Hopper Hopper, is from the Arthayer R. Sanborn Hopper Collection Trust

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: The Hopper Years” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Houses With A Secret

Houses With A Secret Featured Imageby Bill Batson

Before the construction of a second Tappan Zee Bridge reshapes the historic character of our river villages, enjoy the upcoming house tour sponsored by the Historical Society of the Nyacks on May 3.  The tour, called “Houses with a Secret,” invites you into homes that have mysteries hiding behind their doors.  In case your speculation does not unlock the secrets in each venue, a volunteer docent will be on hand to demystify the local history surrounding each property.

NSL_Houses with a Secret_Detail

A visual hint: recognize this roof line, window and fish scale shingles?

The identity of eight of the ten homes on this year’s tour is a tightly held secret. This sketch log gives some hints about one home and details about the building that houses the Historical Society’s museum.

The 10a- 4p tour stops at 10 locations in Nyack and South Nyack. This year’s event includes  large houses and cottages built in the Queen Anne Victorian, Carpenter Gothic and Dutch Colonial Revival architectural styles, as well as a community building that has an interesting past.

For the intrepid fan of architecture with a keen eye, this week’s featured sketch might lead you to one of the featured homes. This structure, with its distinctive shutters and intricate wooden features on the porch, was built by Cornelius DeBaun circa 1860. It has a exquisite sunroom, a mature garden,  and a commanding view of the downtown Nyack skyline and the Hudson River.

NSL_Houses with a Secret_McCullers

Carson McCuller’s house was build by a DeBaun

Cornelius DeBaun and his nephews Matthew Watson and Henry DeBaun were leading Nyack builders in the last third of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The DeBauns built some of the more recognizable structures in the village, including; the carpenter gothic style former Unitarian Church on South Broadway, the Carson McCullers house further down the road and the commercial “Philip Moeller Block,” between 5 – 13 South Broadway.  These additional examples of DeBaun’s projects are not in this year’s tour, but were featured in a recent Historical Society exhibit, “Built by DeBaun.”

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Watercolor of Bernard’s North Cottage by Beverley Bozarth

In previous years, the house tours have featured dozens of the finest and most intriguing residential structures in the river villages. The 2010 tour offered a collection of homes that were associated with Pierre Bernard, the founder of the American yoga movement, known by the tabloids of his time as  Oom the Omnipotent.

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Watercolor of Depew House by Beverley Bozarth

The home, represented by one of the vivid watercolors of Beverley Bozarth, is a cottage built in the early 1900s by James Hilton for his daughters, on the north side of the Moorings Estate. In 1925, the entire estate, which included four houses, was sold to Pierre Bernard for his Clarkstown Country Club, an ashram that eventually occupied the area that is now Nyack College. The upper floor of the main house was used for tantric dances, chanting, and theatrical exhibits.

The Depew House  serves as headquarters of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. The house was built in 1854 as the home for the era’s most prominent Nyack family, the DePews, who lived here until 1916. The  Italianate mansion has a generous wraparound veranda, a bracketed cornice and a picturesque belvedere. The DePew House is currently owned by the Nyack Public Library. The lower level houses the headquarters of the Historical Society of the Nyacks.

Beverley Bozarth

Beverley Bozarth is an accomplished artist and art teacher, who specializes in watercolor paintings. Bozarth produces a painting of each home featured on tour.  The souvenir guide book contains reproductions of each watercolor.  Owners who permit the public to tour their properties receive an original painting as a thank you from Bozarth and the Historical Society.

To see more of Bozarth’s work visit bbozarthwatercolors.com

The well preserved historic character of the Nyacks is no secret. Each house tour demonstrates how our cultural assets enhance the quality of our lives, our home values and the local economy. Our beautiful homes and compelling stories attract countless visitors to our region.

As custodians of these architectural treasures, the residents of the Nyacks can not take this historic housing stock for granted. Even if you’ve enjoyed a past  biennial house tour, you don’t want to miss this one. By examining  the many homes and histories of the Nyacks, we might become more zealous defenders of our community.  If we do not, we might find ourselves reciting the lyrics from that famous Joni Mitchell song, “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone...”

Proceeds from House Tour ticket sales support the work of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Nyack Public Library and online via credit card at nyackhistory.com. There is an “early bird” price of $40 until April 28, after that date, the price is $50. Souvenir tour booklets (which serve as your ticket) can be picked up on the day of the tour at the Living Christ Church, 151 South Broadway,  South Nyack, from 9:30a to 1:30p.

The Historical Society of the Nyacks’ museum currently features an exhibition entitled “African American Entrepreneurs in the Nyacks 1800-present.” The exhibit will be on display Saturdays from 1-4p through July 5.  The Society’s museum is located on the lower level of the Depew House, 50 Piermont Ave. at the corner of Piermont and Hudson Avenues across from Memorial Park  (east of the Nyack Library parking lot).

See also:

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Houses with a Secret” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: oKrecords

NSL133_Piano_revisedby Bill Batson

The music that songwriter, engineer and guitarist Greg Talenfeld mixes inside his Nyack recording studio, oKrecords, reaches a vast audience. Talenfeld’s recording of local composer John Gromada’s soundtrack for The Trip to Bountiful was enjoyed by 3 million. On Monday night, March 24, the documentary “All of Me”, scored and performed by Talenfeld and his wife, Melanie Rock, will air on PBS.  Here’s how the former Harrison And Dalley warehouse on New Street became a workshop where musicians and storytellers produce fine audio art.

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Greg Talenfeld

In 1989, Talenfeld was a self described “dreadlock/slacker guitarist/engineer” when he met Jim Waters at Waterworks Recording on West 14th Street in New York City. With copious amounts of sweat and sheetrock, they transformed the studio from a half-inch eight track with a Yamaha console into a two-inch twenty-four track recording facility.

Some of the tracks laid down at Waterworks include: Moby’s All That I Need Is To Be Loved (Elektra) Jon Spencer Blues Explosion‘s Orange  (Matador), and Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain  (Matador)

Jim moved to Arizona to open Waterworks Recording West in 1993Talenfeld took over the shop until 2000, when a multi-alarm late night fire at Dizzy Izzy’s Bagels, their downstairs neighbor, forced Greg to relocate.

Greg and Melanie drove north looking for living and working space. “Melanie and I met when we were both music students at NYU. Her band was looking for a new guitarist, and I got the gig. We’ve been playing and writing music together on and off ever since.”

NSL_133_Caterpillars

Talenfeld and Rock performing as The Caterpillars at Riverspace

Like their romance, the home they found was steeped in music. The gorgeous stone house they fell in love with in Rockland County was once the home of songwriting hall of fame inductees Teddy Randazzo and Jimmy Webb. Web was the tunesmith behind Up, Up and Away, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and MacArthur Park.  Randazzo’s song book is also impressive, including Goin’ Out of My Head, It’s Gonna Take a Miracle, and Hurt So Bad. “We met Jimmy backstage at the Bottom Line some years ago. He asked us if we still had a ladybug problem (we did, the studio was swarming with them).”

NSL_OkRecords_Harrison Dalley

Harrison and Dalley Emporium

Talenfeld found a place to build his studio in the warehouse for the old Harrison and Dalley Emporium. It was built in 1912 to store goods for the Main St. department store. Later, it was a plumbing supply company.

Working with studio designer Francis Manzella and local architect Robert Silarski, Talenfeld wanted a workspace that would honor the history of the site. “The process of converting it into a recording studio took almost 2 years. We had to remove the entire slab to ‘float’ the studio without destroying it’s old Nyack-bricky charm,” Talenfeld said.

Similarly, Talenfeld’s sound engineering  synthesizes modernity and history. “My personal preference is to work in an analog environment, with rugged old gear. That said, it’s often more practical, and even more appealing, to delve into the digital realm, for all sorts of reasons.”

NSL_133_studioTalenfeld’s approach is informed by working with “artist who have a singular, clear vision of what they are trying to express.” he said, “Some years ago I worked with Beck, and people tend to think of his material as very studio-techy, but it was just a guitar and a harmonica and an abundance of talent and focus.  Recently I’ve been working quite a bit with composer John Gromada. His scores for film and theater have an immense musical vocabulary – from psychedelic rock trio to chamber ensembles to bagpipers to banging on bits of metal he found somewhere thirty years ago. Those sessions are always satisfying – I get to record some truly amazing players making great music on wonderful sounding instruments.”

NSL_133_trip to BountifulTalenfeld’s work on The Trip to Bountiful was a collaboration across time. Horton Foote, the author of the play moved to Nyack in the 1950s. Gromada, who arrived here years after Foote’s departure, worked with the playwright on several projects and was nominated for a 2013 Tony Award for his sound design for Broadway production of Bountiful.

NSL_133_All of Me

The Women of All of Me

When Lifetime wanted to bring the production to television, Gromada took the project to oKrecords. Gromada had worked with Talenfeld on the score for the Broadway hit Seminar. Gromada and Talenfeld are hoping to bring more film and theater scoring work to the village in the future because of the tremendous wealth of talent and resources.

All of Me On PBS

All of Me will air on PBS on Monday, March 24, at 10p, as part of the prestigious Independent Lens.

“I started the journey of making All Of Me thinking about the experience of weight-loss surgery and wanting to know what it would be like to quickly—and almost magically—lose hundreds of pounds and live in a totally “new” body”

Director Alexandra Lescaze

To learn more visit All of Me Movie

That same spirit of collaboration extends to All of Me, a project directed by friend and Nyack resident Alexandra Lescaze. The Sound track for  All of Me is the first big collaboration between Melanie and Greg since their kids came along. “We’d seen Alex’s early cuts of the film, and were inspired to contribute new music for it. “All of Me” follows three women, each of them morbidly obese, confronting bariatric surgery. It film explores American attitudes towards fat, and exposes some surprising aspects of these women’s lives.

Greg and Melanie may include their daughters in future collaborations. “We have a drum-set in the living room. It belongs to our 8 yr old daughter, but she lets us all play on it. Our other daughter is an aspiring songwriter. We encourage them to rock,” Talenfeld said.

Visit oKrecords to learn more.

Studio photo by Mike Avezzano.

See also:

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: oKrecords” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Green Mountain Energy

NSL_Green Mountain Energy_Featured Imageby Bill Batson

“Most people are concerned that the problems of the environment and climate change are too big to handle,” observes Scott Weissman of Green Mountain Energy. For those who visit the renewable energy company’s booth at the Nyack Farmers’ Market, Scott supplies a more hopeful perspective. “There is something that everyone can do to make a difference,” Weissman suggests. The solution Scott represents is harvested on a wind farm in Texas.

Green Mountain Energy was founded in 1997 and is headquartered in Austin, Texas. The renewable energy company has been a presence at the Nyack Farmers’ market since the spring of 2012. “Nyack is one of our favorite communities in our region that extends from south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of Albany and all the way to Pennsylvania,” Weissman said. The booth is a site for selling renewable energy and dispensing  energy education. “I am always surprised how many people do not know that they have some control over where their electricity comes from.”

NSL_GME_Wind Turdine DiagramIn the 16 years since Green Mountain Energy first offered power produced primarily by wind, they report keeping 24.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and extreme weather. CO2  is released by burning of carbon-based fuels.

By choosing renewable energy, Green Mountain’s customers have avoided the production of as much CO2 as:

  • over 2.3 million cars produce in a year or,
  • the lights in 12.7 million households during a year.

Unlike carbon-based fossil fuel (like coal and gas), wind power produces no emissions. It is also an abundant and renewable energy source.

The wind was harnessed by ancient civilizations to grind grain, pump water and power transportation. Modern wind turbines can be as tall as a 20-story building, with blades as long as a football field. Constructed in rows, these “wind farms” are an increasingly familiar feature on the American landscape. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the top five wind power producing states are Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota and Washington.

Green Mountain offers renewable energy to residential and business customers in Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania and Texas. In New York City, the company landed a sky-scraping  spokes-NSL_GM_Blog_EPA_GOV_ESBmodel when the Empire State Building signed up in 2011.

Over the life of its four-year contract with Green Mountain, the Empire State Building is projected to avoid an estimated 239.4 million pounds of CO2. That’s like:

  • every household in New York State turning off all their lights for a week and a half or,
  • Taking every NYC taxi off the road for 6 months

It would take all of the trees in Central Park 170 years to absorb the same amount of CO2.

In order to model the renewable energy philosophy that they espouse, Green Mountain operates with a zero carbon footprint. Their Austin, TX headquarters are the first LEED Platinum office space in their city. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings are made by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

As a company, Green Mountain Energy seeks to change the way that power is made, but they also leverage the altruistic energy of their customers to provide clean power to worthy causes.

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BLK ProjecK Executive Director Tanya Fields

Through their “Sun Club,” Green Mountain Energy and their employees and customers contribute funds to socially responsible non-profits for renewable energy installations. Since 2002, they have installed more than 600 kilowatts of solar power through more than 55 projects. Local programs that have benefited include GrowNYCGreyston Foundation Bakery in Yonkers and the BLK ProjeK. Green Mountain’s donation to BLK Projeck, a women of color led organization that harnesses the power of the local, good food movement, funded the installation of a solar array on the top of a vegetable-powered rolling farmer’s market. Information can be found on the Sun Club donation page.  Non-profits can apply through June 15, 2014, for donations in 2015.

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Green Mountain Team Members Jesse Frayne (l.) and Scott Weissman at the Indoor Farmers’ Market at the Nyack Center

For the consumer, the transition to Green Mountain Energy is described as seamless. After you sign up, you continue to receive your power from your current energy provider. Your house is not wired to a wind turbine. The avoided pollution occurs when the amount of wind power that you have purchased is added to the power grid that supplies your utility, replacing a carbon-based source.

Green Mountain has become a fixture at the Farmers’ Market. One member of their sales team, Jesse Frayne, a gifted folk singer, is a frequent performer. Last month, Green Mountain moved to expand their presence here in Nyack, becoming one of the first businesses to sign on as a sponsor of the new Saturday Farmers’ Market coming in June.

Like any business, the real power that fuels Green Mountain comes from energetic human beings. Green Mountain always has an employment notice on display at their booth. “We want to hire people who are passionate about saving the world and want to make some money while doing it,” Weissman said.

If you want to explore renewable energy, employment opportunities, or to nominate a non-profit to get solar panels installed, stop by and see Jesse, Scott or Sherry at the Green Mountain booth at the Indoor Farmers’ Market.

Nyack’s Farmers’ Market is open every Thursday from 8a -2p  at the Nyack Center until March 27. Starting in April, the Market returns to the Main Municipal Parking Lot. In June, the Market will operate on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Empire State Building photo courtesy Greening the Apple, the EPA’s NYC blog

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Green Mountain Energy” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: African American Entrepreneurs in the Nyacks 1800-Present

AAEE_Cynthia Hesdra_Revised_Aby Bill Batson

As a trail blazing entrepreneur, who overcame racial and gender, discrimination, Cynthia Hesdra amassed a fortune by 1879. Hesdra is the first of a dozen local figures featured in African American Entrepreneurs in the Nyacks 1800- Present.  The exhibit, that opens on Saturday, March 8 at 1p at the Historical Society of the Nyacks, honors men and women — living and deceased — who have contributed to the local economy despite America’s legacy of discrimination.

This exhibition represents the beginning of three-year community-based initiative called the Nyack African American History Documentation Project. The project is a collaboration among students and faculty of St. Thomas Aquinas College, the Historical Society of the Nyacks, and the Nyack Library to discover, survey, record and ultimately place under archival care materials that reflect the history of African Americans in Nyack and the surrounding areas of Rockland County.

There is an element of urgency to this project. The materials that we are seeking, mostly papers and photographs, are underrepresented in public collections. Until they are preserved, the documents are vulnerable to loss and decay.  There is a literal race against time to secure the history of an African American community that had previously been isolated and marginalized by law and custom.

Until a truly representative collection of the documentary materials of the people who have called the Nyacks their home has been archived and cataloged, it is difficult to understand how our diverse, creative and compassionate community came into existence.

African American Entrepreneurs in the Nyacks 1800-Present

NSL_AAEE_Ex-Slaves FortuneCynthia Hesdra was born a slave in Tappan, New York in 1808 to John and Jane Moore. Cynthia’s father, one of the wealthiest men of his time, owned and operated a mill in Sparkill. He also constructed mill wheels that were said to have produced blankets for soldiers fighting in the Civil War.

Very little is known about Cynthia Hesdra’s mother, Jane. She may have been a slave, which might explain how Cynthia Hesdra became enslaved.  Cynthia eventually met and married a man by the name of Edward Hesdra, the son of a white Virginia planter and a free black woman from Haiti. After their marriage, the couple purchased Cynthia’s freedom. The two settled on Amity Street in New York City. Cynthia operated a successful laundry business in New York City and she owned several properties there.

Eventually, she took her trade to Nyack, NY, where she also accumulated property and operated a business. Among the many properties owned by Cynthia and Edward, was a house located near the intersection of Route 9W and Main Street in Nyack that was part of the Historic Underground Railroad. The Hesdras were rumored to have been in charge of the station between Jersey City, NJ and Newburgh, NY. The house was destroyed during the period of Urban Renewal in the 1970s.

When Cynthia Hesdra died on February 9, 1879, she was reportedly worth $100,000, the equivalent of 3 million in contemporary dollars.  In 2010, Piermont Ave. between Hudson and Depew was renamed Cynthia Hesdra Way.

Here are some excerpts from the panels that describe the other entrepreneurs and that are on display at the Historical Society of the Nyacks:

NSL_AAEE_Blount PortraitWalter Blount, Sr.

“He went to a tailoring school where he learned how to do tailoring and that sort of thing and he finally opened up a dry cleaning & tailoring business in Nyack. I think he worked a short while at the St. George Hotel while he was still going to school, but after that was when he opened up the business in Nyack. He continued in that business 50, 60 years.”

Excerpted from an oral history of Walter Blount, Jr. conducted by Jean Pardo at the Nyack Library

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AAEE_Hezekiah Easter Sr_Solo PortraitHezekiah Easter, Sr.

“Dad was in the wood business—he was a firewood dealer…his place was located just off Depew Ave. on Railroad Ave. That area now is occupied by the Nyack Plaza housing development over there. He had formally gotten out of construction back in ’43 when I was in the service. He had started this little firewood business. He was selling logs for fireplaces and kindling wood for starting the fire—very popular in those days.”

Excerpted from an oral history of Hezekiah Easter, Jr. conducted by Jean Pardo at the Nyack Library

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NSL_AAEE_Sir HildredSir Hildred Humphries

Sir Hildred Humphires honorific “Sir” was earned as an accumulation of respect from his musical peers. During his extensive career, Humphries performed with Billie Holiday, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and another titled member of jazz royalty, big band leader Count Basie.

In 1990, Sir Hildred released  “Stardust” that was recorded at Clarkstown South High School and sold to support The Hildred Humphries Scholarship Fund.

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NSL_AAEE_Chic And CharlieCharles and James “Chic” Glass

Chic & Charlie’s was more than just a tavern: it was an important community institution. Robert Kennedy visited the establishment during his 1964 New York State Senate Campaign. The tavern was not only popular at night, but would often serve as a gathering place after Sunday church services.

The brother’s originally bought the Cedar Street Bar and Grill on Cedar Street from Ike Sutton in the early 1960s.  When that bar was condemned by Nyack’s urban renewal prorgam, they moved to Franklin Street and changed the name. The tavern was located at 44 South Franklin until it was destroyed by fire in 1982.

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AAEE_Frances Adeline Batson_PortraitFrances A. Batson

Frances A. Batson is best known as the Deputy Clerk of the Village of Nyack, a position that she held for 26 years. Frances was the first African American to hold that position. Before her public service, she was the owner of Batson Spot Secretarial Service.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Frances was the branch Secretary for the Nyack NAACP and the church secretary of St. Philips AME Zion Church. 

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AAEE_Dr. Johnson_Portrait_revised

Dr. Fletcher Johnson

At 6’ 5” tall, Johnson went to Duquesne University in 1950 on a basketball scholarship. He funded his medical studies by playing professional basketball in Europe.

Dr. Johnson practiced surgery at Nyack Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. He also served on the Nyack School Board and County Board of Health.

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AAEE_Willie Bryant PortraitDr. Willie Bryant

Dr. Willie Bryant joined the dental staff at Letchworth Village in 1982, where he served as director for over fifteen years. During this time, he has continued his private practice that spans thirty five years.

Last year, Dr. Bryant organized a Juneteenth celebration in Rockland County that included a 1.6 mile Fun Run named in honor of Laurence H. Holland, former president of the Nyack Branch of the NAACP, and a self-guided walking tour of 26 historic places in the African American experience in Nyack.

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AAEE_Alice and Alicia_PortraitAlice and Alicia Crowe

Identical twin attorneys Alice and Alicia Crowe opened Zola Africentric Gallery on Main Street in Nyack, NY in 1990 after graduating from Howard University School of Law.

The twins closed Zola Gallery to go into law practice where they represent the arts, culture and historic preservation. One case of particular note is Hezekiah Easter Jr.’s case against the Palisades Mall’s encroachment on the Mount Moor Cemetery.

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NSL_AAEE_Karim DeenKarim Deen

Karim Deen came to Nyack 38 years ago from England. In the shopkeeping tradition of Great Britain,he opened his first store, Afrique Curiosity, on the ground floor of the Presidential Life building. Since then, Karim has owned and operated three businesses in Nyack. In addition to his commercial enterprises, Karim was the first African American to run a major clothing line in New York’s garment center.

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NSL_AAEE_WaymonSam Waymon

Sam Waymon began piano lessons at the age of three, as did his sister Eunice, who later changed her name to Nina Simone. In addition to his solo career, for over a decade Sam performed with, wrote music for, and managed his sister.

Sam composed the score for and appeared in the 1970’s cult classic Ganga & Hess, which was shot in Nyack. Waymon performed in Vincent Pastore’s Wild Children that premiered in Nyack in 2012 and will soon have a run on Broadway.

African American Entrepreneurs in the Nyacks 1800-present will be on display every Saturday from March 8 until July 5 from 1-4p at the Historical Society of the Nyacks, located on the lower level of the Depew House, 50 Piermont Ave. at the corner of Piermont and Hudson Avenues across from Memorial Park. (behind the Nyack Library parking lot)

Special thanks to Constance L. Frazier, Professor Stacy Sewell, Anngela Vasser-Cooper, Sylvia Peterson, JoAnn Saunders, Louise Palmer, Dr. Lori L. Martin, Rev. Lee Burns, Sr., Fannetta Glass-Miles and Jack Dunnigan.

African American Entrepreneurs in the Nyacks 1800-Present is presented by the Historical Society of the Nyacks, curated by Bill Batson and sponsored by the Art, Craft and Antiques Dealers Association (ACADA), La Talaye Catering & Event Design and St. Thomas Aquinas College. 

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: St. Charles AME Zion Church” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: St. Charles AME Zion Church

NSL_130_St Charles_Featured Image_revisedby Bill Batson

Men and women who survived American slavery built St. Charles African Methodist Episcopal  Zion Church in Sparkill in 1865. This sanctuary is a monument to a church movement that included abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Led by Rev. Louis Sanders since 1981, St. Charles is directly linked to the period of history chronicled in the Oscar-nominated film 12 Years a Slave.

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Bishop James Varick

When Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning,” he was reflecting on the racial dynamic that led to the creation of Zion Methodism. Sadly, King was describing the state of race relations in the mid-20th century. The legal and cultural customs that discouraged mixed-race religious observance have been a constant feature in American history.

In her exhaustive and exquisite 1983 history of her church and denomination, Jacqueline L. Holland wrote about the conditions facing black Christians in 18th century New York. “There were spots of negro membership in white churches, but it was fashion to segregate them. Negroes were seated in the back of the church, or in the balcony.”

Holland notes that after a slave revolt in New York City in 1712 “whites exhibited a common fear of slave organizations of any kind.” When black congregations sought to hold their own services on Sunday evenings after their European breathren were done worshiping, a motion was adopted at a Methodist congress that said “we don’t want negroes meeting alone together in our church at night.”

NSL_130_Abraham Sisco_revised

Abraham Sisco, a member of the largest and oldest black family in Rockland County, lived in Skunk Hollow. The Siscos continue to worship at St. Charles AME Zion Church.

In order to have unfettered rights of religious expression, an African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in New York City in 1796. In 1822, James Varick, who was born in Newburgh, NY, was ordained as the first Bishop of the AME Zion Church.

From its inception, the AME Zion Church was an active participant in the struggle to abolish slavery. According to Holland’s account, “The Underground Railroad was practically a church movement.” The Underground Railroad was a euphemism for a clandestine network of individuals and institutions that helped slaves escape from legalized bondage in the American south.

St. Charles was built in 1865 by Rev. William Thompson, an itinerant minister who came from New York City. Holland reports that “St. Charles AME Zion Church families can trace some of the family names” from the First AME Zion church in New York City.

NSL_130_Rev Sanders

Rev. Louis E. Sanders

On Tuesday, January 28, The Rev. Louis E. Sanders, senior pastor of St. Charles A.M.E. Zion Church in Sparkill, received the 2014 Buffalo Soldier Award from County Executive Ed Day.

The award is named after the all-black members of the 10th cavalry regiment that fought in Kansas in 1866 and is given to African American veterans.

Sanders, who hails from Plymouth, North Carolina, holds a bachelors degree from North Carolina A & T State University, a masters of science from City University of New York and a masters of divinity from Union Theological Seminary.

Sanders rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Chaplaincy and served actively as recently as Operation Desert Storm.

He has taught for 30 years at Tuckahoe High School in Eastchester, New York.  He and his wife, Connie Hale, have three daughters and one granddaughter.

Most of the almost 200 congregants of the historic church live outside Sparkill; in Nyack, Stony Point, Haverstraw, Northern New Jersey and New York City.

Original members of St. Charles were also drawn from a community of free black settlers who lived in an area known as Skunk Hollow. Skunk Hollow encompassed land that includes the Palisades, Piermont, Sparkill and Closter.

St. Charles faces Ferdon Pond, where a black man named John Moore built and operated a mill in the early 1800s. According to historian Dr. Lori Martin, Moore also constructed mill wheels that were said to have produced blankets for soldiers fighting in the Civil War and were used widely throughout Rockland County. Moore’s daughter, Cynthia Hesdra, became a successful businesswoman in her own right, owning property in New York City and Nyack.

Hesdra was also rumored to have used her properties as stations in the Underground Railroad. Piermont Avenue between Hudson and Depew Avenue in Nyack is named for Hesdra, who owned a parcel of land near what is now Memorial Park.

Laurence H. Holland, the brother-in-law of the author of the history of St. Charles, made a material contribution to the church of historic proportions. A chemist at Lederle Labs in Pearl River from 1941-1991 and NAACP leader, Holland won a large lottery prize in the late 1980’s. His generous donations helped finance efforts to renovate and add to the original structure. A fellowship hall was named in honor of Laurence’s brother, Albert Jr., an attorney, who was a respected civil rights leader.

“I was privileged to work as the architect for the addition and restoration with a building committee of outstanding individuals including Rev. Sanders, Leonard Cooke, Albert Holland, Clarence Branch and others,” said President of the Historical Society of the Nyacks, Winston Perry. “Wherever possible, we preserved and restored the architectural features of the historic church building,” Perry said.

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Leonard Cooke Library and African American Museum

Inside St. Charles is a library and museum that contains the history of the men and women who not only survived the most outrageous aspects of American racism, but managed to build an institution that continues to seek to reverse the most pernicious effects of slavery and discrimination.

As historians, builders, advocates, and philanthropists , generations of St. Charles members have constructed a secure vessel to pursue freedom and justice for themselves and others. To paraphrase the inscription at the base of Dr. King’s monument in Washington: with their faith, the members of St. Charles hewed out of the mountain of despair, a stone church of hope.

A copy of Jacqueline L. Holland’s “The History of St. Charles African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: A Manifestation of the Black Church in America” is available in the local history room of the Nyack Library.

You can purchase copies of Martin’s book, The Ex-Slave’s Fortune: The Story of Cynthia Hesdra on line here or you can also find it on the shelf at the Nyack Library

 See also:

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: St. Charles AME Zion Church“ © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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