Nyack Sketch Log: Maria Luisa

maria luisa_featuredby Bill Batson

Maria Luisa Whittingham is a civic seamstress. She weaves business, social responsibility and family into a garment of retail longevity. From the durable and colorful threads of a matriarchal tradition and her own raw talent, she has created a popular business and brand: Maria Luisa. Here is the global back story of a local fixture.

Where did you learn the merchant tradition?

My first experience with the merchant tradition was very early on in my life. My mother, Carmen Mercedes Colon de Perez, had a bazaar in Cayey, Puerto Rico. I grew up exploring the back rooms and looking under the cases of her general store.

NSL_152_Mother

Carmen Mercedes Colon de Perez

She started the store when she was in her 20s.  She had an eighth grade education.  When her mother died, she had to go to work and help the family as the eldest. She worked for a department store as their bookkeeper and manager.

When she opened her own store, she carried everything from soap to thread to handbags to  dresses.

So your mother was your mentor?

She was my hugest supporter. She was definitely my mentor. For someone with little opportunity, she really maximized what she had. Later in her life, as a stay-at-home mother, she sewed. She was also a great seamstress.

I would sit under her sewing machine and take her scraps and sew. No lessons. I would just get a needle and thread and sew clothes right onto my dolls.

NSL_The Coat Building

The Coat Building

When we moved to the states in 1967, I was in fifth grade. I started sewing my clothes and by middle school, classmates were paying me $15 dollars to embellish their jeans. There was no fashion program at Hillcrest High School in Queens, so they combined art and home economics for me. I was able to produce products as part of my program.

At the end of my senior year, one of my teachers, Mrs. Clara Steiner, was so supportive, she scheduled a fashion show with students as models. I went on to the Fashion Institute of Technology.

What was your first job in fashion?

NSL_ML_FIT

Maria at her first store on 37 South Broadway

The first job I had was with London Fog.  I was doing rain coats. One of my professors, Mary Ann Ferro, worked there and recommended me. I went to work at 512 Seventh Avenue, the coat building.

The Coat Building?

Yes, it was the coat building, outerwear, coats and suits.

I was the first employee hired out of college. I was there for two or three years. I was the assistant designer. Two of the coats I worked on made it big in the line. One became a best seller, the Freddie. It is so cool when you are standing on the subway platform and you see the coat you designed. It is really exciting.

My next stop was an independent company that designed and produced ice skater outfits. It was interesting and fun. I met a lot of good people there.

Then I went to College Town, a company that was similar in scale to London Fog. It was a big company out of Baltimore. At around this time, I had my son Christopher, and my division at College Town folded so I started working freelance.

NSL_ML_With Christopher

Maria and her son Christopher

Around this time, I went for my physical. My doctor got very serious and he said, “I want you to go have this test, it’s probably nothing at all I concerned about a lump on your ovaries. It’s probably nothing at all, but I am concerned.”

That was the first time I felt mortality, as such; not as a document that says I am going to live a long time, and I can turn in when I am old and it’s time to go. I saw that death can happen at any time. It turned out to be nothing. But it shook me to my core. I had a little baby.

So I went out and bought life insurance. I respected my parents, but I didn’t want to live their lives of always wanting more and having less than I needed. I realized I couldn’t wait.

NSL-ML_Label

Maria’s first label

Is this when you launched Maria Luisa?

I had been writing business plans that went nowhere. But after that appointment, I jumped at it. I saw a little spot when visiting Nyack from Monsey, where I lived at the time.

Where was your first store?

I started downstairs in the mall next to the YMCA in 1987.  I started with $2k. I was 30 years old. Everything I sold, I made. I fashioned ribbons into belts, I made silk blouses, lace lingerie. It was half the size of my current back room. I had a friend who I used to ride the bus with. She had beautiful jewelry from France and fabrics that I bought to make my line.

Maria selling on of my Hopper’s Bike t-shirts to Collette Fournier, who is currently exhibiting her photography at the Edward Hopper House, at 82 North Broadway.

After two moves inside of the mall at 37 South Broadway, I took the leap and opened on the corner of Burd and South Broadway where I stayed for 21 years, until I moved to my current locations at 77 and 75 South Broadway.

What was the business climate like in Nyack in 1987?

I started at the bottom of a business cycle, right after a market crash. I had no major money to lose. I still had a job. At the time, I was freelancing for Putumayo. I was doing all of their technical specifications for India.

Talk the talk

Walk the walk

Bag the bag

For your convenience, Maria Luisa will be open 7 days per week during the holiday season and late on Thursday.  But don’t ask for a bag to haul away you social responsible spoils. When it comes to ecology, Maria not only walks the talk, she also engages her customers, employees and fellow merchants in collaborative action.

In 2014, Maria started the “Say No To The Bag Campaign.”

Here is the pledge she invites us to join:
If you agree with me about the need to reduce our disposable-bag consumption, will you join me to “Say No to the Bag”?  By choosing to, as a consumer to bring a bag with you not just when at the food market but when heading out for supplies, take-out food or fashion shopping. Please go to our ‘SAY NO TO THE BAG’  and take the pledge.

-As a merchant, employee or volunteer in a retail setting, I pledge that I will always ask “Did you bring your own bag today?” If the answer is no, I will then ask “Will you need a bag today?”

-As a consumer, I pledge to bring a bag when shopping.

Since I started at the bottom, I have always enjoyed growth. I had growth through a good number of years. Then came 9/11. It was a wake up call.

How did things change?

After that tragedy, I had to become smarter about how I bought, how I did business. When things are good you can afford to do a little of this, and a little of that. Today, there is no margin of error. You are already leaning on the negative. You can’t make mistakes.

In the business climate of the last five years, you have to be constantly on the go, on the move. It’s like being on an obstacle course. Everything is in flux.

I hear that you are participating in trade delegations to other countries.

I went to Peru in 2013 for the first time. A representative of the Peruvian government walked into the store and invited me to join a trade delegation.

Maria Luisa in Peru

There have been two trips to Peru. My work is with communities in Lima and Ayacucho. I have developed a group of bags that arrived in September, 2014. They look like pillows, but are interpreted as bags. I use one all of the time.

Some of my vendors are not-for-profit companies like Malia Designs, that use the profits from their sales to reduce human trafficking around the world. The products that they make use already existing materials that are made by communities that are getting empowered also by crafting the product. One example is a bag made from recycled cement bags made in Cambodia.

Maria Luisa Boutique and ML by Maria Luisa are located at 77 and 75 South Broadway in Nyack.  You can learn more by visiting marialuisaboutique.com

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Maria Luisa“ © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.


Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final

Advertisements

Nyack Sketch Log: Weems Exhibit at Hopper House Inspires Mass Oral History Collection

by Bill Batson

Whether we consciously chose to co-author it our not, the story of Nyack is being written every day. Online articles, youtube videos, tweets, memos and artworks are all being produced by a population that constantly ebbs and flows. Some of this material will eventually be collected and archived. An exhibition by renowned photographer Carrie Mae Weems at the Edward Hopper House chronicles a story-telling collaboration between the artist and the African American community during her tenure as artist-in-residence in Beacon, NY in 2002. This call and response between artist and community has inspired a local project that will mass collect oral histories starting in January 15, 2018 to ensure that in Nyack, the tale told is of one city, not two.

Father Owen Thompson of Grace Church in the pulpit during Pilgrim’s King Day service, Dr. Frances Pratt in a seat of honor.

Every year in Nyack, people converge at Pilgrim Baptist Church to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year,  congregants will be invited to march to the Nyack Center and join in a mass collection of oral histories. In some communities, King’s holiday is commemorated through public service. This collective story-telling summit aims to elevate the practice of recording the personal history of our elders to the status of an essential and routine civic undertaking in Nyack.

Carrie Mae Weems

This public art and history project is an homage to Weems, who is considered one of the most influential contemporary American artists, Weems is celebrated for her photography, films, and videos that address social themes focusing on race, gender, and class. She has exhibited at major institutions throughout the world, and she is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the MacArthur “Genius” grant, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prix de Roma, and many more.

For the Beacon series, Weems documented the changing landscape and culture of Beacon, NY, over the course of her year there as artist-in-residence in 2002.  Beacon is like Nyack in many ways. It is a diverse Hudson Valley community that has seen many changes over the years as it has evolved from a factory town to a center of arts and culture. Places of historic and cultural significance such as Dia:Beacon are featured in her photographs. Weems places herself as the subject, always standing with her back to the camera, observing – and as she says, “bearing witness, confronting something, [serving] as a guide to the viewer standing with me, [we are] witnessing something together though our experience of it might not be the same.”

Carrie Mae Weems, Company Housing from Beacon, 2003-05, Archival pigment print, 33.25 x 29.25 x 1.25 in.

The Weems exhibit, entitled Beacon, came to Nyack as a result of her being the first artist recipient of the Edward Hopper citation. New York State Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee (D-Rockland County), who initiated and sponsored the bill to establish The Edward Hopper Citation of Merit for Visual Artists, said, “I am thrilled that the first Edward Hopper Citation of Merit for Visual Artists will be awarded to Carrie May Weems, whose powerful, groundbreaking work addressing equality and social justice is poignantly relevant in these times.” Edward Hopper, Nyack’s native son, grew up in the house on North Broadway and went on to become one of the most iconic artists in the world. Weems’ exhibit is on display at Nyack’s Hopper House until February 25, 2018.

I was approached by Hopper House Executive Director Jennifer Patton to create some programming to extend the energy and aesthetic of Weems work beyond the walls of the exhibition space. When we learned that Weems had conducted her oral histories in a record shop in Beacon, we saw that the parallels between our two Hudson Valley communities included having stores dedicated to vinyl.  Kaim Record Shop co-owners Jennifer O’Connor and Amy Bezunartea have gracioulsy agreed to allow their store front to be the site for oral history collection starting on January 16th.

In order to accommodate the anticipated interest of people attending the King Service at Pilgrim on January 15, the first day of oral history collection will take place at the Nyack Center. Volunteers will be on-site to schedule and conduct interviews.

Participants are being asked to bring an object or photograph that represents their personal or family history in a community wide version of show-and tell. The process of carefully collecting and preserving these personal and family histories is being supported by the Historical Society of the Nyacks, The Historical Society of Rockland County, the African American Historical Society of Rockland County, and the Nyack NAACP.  These are some of the same groups that collaborated on the Bench by the Road initiative that erected a monument in Nyack’s Memorial Park commemorating 19th Century ex-slave, entrepreneur and abolitionist Cynthia Hesdra.

Working with Multimedia artist and creator of the Hopper Happens public art events Kris Burns, the windows of Kiam Records will be transformed into part bulletin board, recording booth and projection screen from January 8 through January 21.  Hesdra Scholar Dr. Lori Martin, Toni Morrison Foundation board member Dr. Craig Stutman are academic advisors and Red Trunk Project creator Kevin Thomsen is acting as content and technical advisor. If you wish to help in this effort to mass collect oral histories in Nyack, attend the launch meeting on Thursday, December 14 at 6p at the Edward Hopper House at 82 North Broadway.

My mother Daisy and I in front of St. Philips African Methodist Episcopalian Zion Chruch. She is holding a cane that belonged to my grandmother Frances Lillian Avery Batson. Her cane would be a perfect object to bring for our community wide show-and-tell. Photo by Ray Wright.

In many communities throughout America, the official historic record excludes the experience of the African American communities. Whether that exclusion is intentional or not, the result is always the same, the portrait of a place is painted absent a segment of the population who made enormous contributions and sacrifices to help build and maintain every civic, economic and cultural institution.

“It’s fair to say that black folks operate under a cloud of invisibility – this too is part of the work, is indeed central to [my photographs]… This invisibility – this erasure out of the complex history of our life and time – is the greatest source of my longing,” said Weems.

In Beacon, Weems created a portrait of a place where an anonymous black woman stands vigil as powerful forces reshape the landscape. The Nyack Record Shop Project takes Beacon as a clarion call to reclaim the portrait of this place, by ensuring that for posterity, the narrative will include the voices of all.

To learn more, click here.

Visit the Edward Hopper House to see Carrie Mae Weems: Beacon: Wednesday-Sunday 12-5 pm or by appointment. They will be closed on the Christmas Day and New Years Day.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Weems Exhibit at Hopper House Inspires Mass Oral History Collection” © 2016 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.

Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final


A First Class of Sketch Loggers Create A New Column: Words And Images

Sketch Logging Student Diana Siegel

by Bill Batson

After six years and over 300 Nyack Sketch Log entries, I am constantly reminded that there are too many stories and not enough story tellers. This fall, I began addressing that imbalance by teaching a sketch logging class at the Learning Collaborative at the New City Jewish Community Center. I am planning on teaching a similar class in 2018 at the Nyack Center. Today’s column was written by one of my students, Dana Asher.  Starting on Sunday for 15 weeks, we will publish an installment by one of my students in a series the class entitled Words & Images.

Daisy and Bill Batson with Author June Sundvik

My Sketch Logging class was inspired by my work with first time author June Sundvick, who published Life on Old Mill Road in her 88th years of living. I was June’s editor. When I met June for the first time four years ago, I was with my father, who was in his early 90s. He was beginning to succumb to the irreversible march of Alzheimer’s.

Unlike June’s crisp mental faculties, that allowed her to chronicle the lives her neighbors on Old Mill Road, everything my father had witnessed and learned from life was locked away behind a door with no key. His mental hard drive held the sum of his experiences, the fascinating details of growing up black during the depression; serving in an all black army unit in Europe during World War II; being a proud union member; courting my mother, Daisy, in Paterson, NJ; adopting me; but his motherboard had been fried.  All his data was lost.

Prime and Bill Batson

There is no time to waste to support the efforts of everyone downloading and backing up the content on our fragile gray-matter computer. When we fail to support the storytelling of our elders, or even to solicit it, we are throwing away our collective hard drive.

I had 16 students in my class at the Learning Collaborative. Each person’s story, bar none, was compelling, unique, poignant and significant. Many brought tears, some confronted political issue, many people revealed that they were objects of intolerance, one student found he had an ancient relative who was epically intolerant, one story introduced us to a member of an early pop-art collective who may have invented the selfie.

Each Sunday for the next 15 week, Words & Images will tell a story you have never heard before. If you are inspired, send in your own short essay or personal stories told in words and images for consideration. I’ll get back to you personally to find a way to share the spark of your life.

And the first flame to light the fire of this storytelling bonfire today is retired speech pathologist Dana Asher. Sit back and be warmed.

Word & Images: Pemaquid Point Light

by Dana Asher

Recently, I returned to Boothbay Harbor, Maine and to Pemaquid Point Light. My husband Mike and I visited for the first time in 1977. A wave of nostalgia for the vacation spot suddenly came over me like goose bumps. I gave in to the feeling, summoned a friend and secured an Airbnb. As we approached the lighthouse, it seemed like nothing had changed in thirty-six years.

I inhaled a lungful of air that was ocean, gulls and fish. My mouth tasted briny. The cluster of buildings including the lighthouse was still pristine, solid and strong rising up from shelves of granite, overlooking the excitable waves below. A perfect setting for a postcard, of which there were scores in every gift shop. Standing on the rocks I took in the brilliant October sky, lashing waters and chalk white buildings. My eyes welled with a memory of me at twenty-five with Mike in this place.

At that time, I was a sheltered girl from the Bronx, unaccustomed to the large expanses of rugged rock. The ceaseless ocean made the Long Island Sound, my only reference, seem like a wading pool. I stood in one safe place while Mike, stocky but agile, scampered on the rocks, shooting everything in sight with his Nikkormat. The layers of rock were child’s play to someone who climbed the Presidentials as well as the Grand Tetons. The first time I met him, Mike sported a mountaineering rope over one shoulder, having just come from REI for supplies. His receding hairline was offset by a thick mustache and beard which he would smooth with two fingers when thinking. The pale blue eyes behind his John Lennon frames assessed his surroundings, including me, carefully but with enthusiasm.

At Pemaquid Point, ME

I wondered if I caused his nervous giggle. It seemed to me, the unformed twenty-year-old me, that this man’s solid boots and biceps tight in his sleeves could always protect me. Pemaquid Point captured a moment of our early years; he, moving freely, I, feeling anchored, out of my element.

On my recent visit,  I was the one holding the camera, examining the vistas, framing the photos. Mike was gone; I was alone. I tried hard to stay present, not let the past infringe on the beauty of the moment. But how had everything remained the same, or as I remembered it, while I had changed so significantly?  I walked around to the other side of the keeper’s house. There were men at work, ladders and paint cans with tarps beneath them.  The men’s jackets looked like they were thrown upon the picket fence in a rush to start the long day. Everything was peeling. Even the danger sign was worn. The sea had defaced the structures; people struggled to restore them.

This was where I found my truth; that time and nature leave their mark. On everything, including me.

And there was beauty in that.

 

 

 

Dana Asher is passionate about dim sum, live jazz, dancing and mystery novels. If given the choice, she would always prefer intimate conversation over an exotic destination. Her greatest joy is her two wonderful kids.

Words and Images is a column that features the work of students from Bill Batson’s sketch logging class at the Learning Collaborative.  

Thanks to Editorial Assistance Bonnie Timm.

 

 

 


Nyack Sketch Log: Soup Angels Serve Three Thousand for Thanksgiving

by Bill Batson

For the hungry, the First Reformed Church tower on South Broadway is a beacon of hope. Inside this building that almost scrapes the sky, an organization called the Soup Angels provides food and comfort to the needy three nights each week.  This Wednesday, for the 12th year, Soup Angels will serve over three thousand Thanksgiving meals throughout the county.

Last Thursday, I joined colleagues from the Nyack Chamber of Commerce to volunteer for a shift. I haven’t always been on  the serving side of a soup line. In 1983, I found myself in Los Angeles without money or a place to live. I traveled across country on a whim, minus a plan.

When I was living in my station wagon in Venice Beach, I sought out food programs.  What I found were places overwhelmed by relentless need, with an atmosphere of despair and the ambiance of alienation. From its inception, Soup Angels has sought to be the opposite.

In a history of Soup Angels that accompanies their 2016 cook book, the mission of the organization is described as “an all-volunteer, non-sectarian venture, where food was cooked with attention to quality, healthiness and flavor…there would always be table clothes, candles and music during meals. Guests would be served restaurant-style by volunteer waiters, using china plates and flatware.”

A loyal corp of 300 volunteers have guided founding members Katie Berry, Kathleen Myers and Katherine Rife vision to fruition.  Diane Sesti has been a volunteer since their first Thanksgiving meal 11 years ago. “Personally, I liked the idea that it was completely ecumenical,” Sesti said.”We are not involved with a church or any agency. We have always been open to everyone. I think that’s the most amazing thing about Soup Angels.  What is done is completely done through the generosity of the community.”

President Scott Baird, Vice President Nancy Phillips, Board member and Casa del Sol owner Tom Lynch and Marketing Coordinator Bill Batson with Soup Angel shift leader and Village of Nyack Trustee Marie Lorenzini.

“The Chamber of Commerce volunteered when we heard that there was a third day of meal service added in October,” said Chamber President Scott Baird. “We not only wanted to show our support, but blast it our through social media so that people will think of volunteering or donating and that if anyone was hungry, they’d know where to go.”  Baird was joined on Thursday, October 16 by Casa del Sol owner Tom Lynch and Chamber Vice President Nancy Phillips.

Daisy Batson on the BPNJ assembly line

Sesti runs the monthly volunteer orientation on the first Wednesday of every month at 5p. Volunteers should enter the First Reformed Church on Church street, a few yards up from South Broadway. The entrance for guests seeking a meal and hospitality is on the Burd Street side Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30p.

“Each week, we share 120 servings,” Sesti reports. “Our volunteers can be high school students seeking community service credit members of the Chamber.”

Volunteers shop for the food, assist various chefs from the community who create meals, prepare hearty soups, entrees and salads and serve the food.  Take home offerings called bounty bags, consisting of fresh fruit and a sandwiches, are created and dispensed.

The doors of this food program opened in the fall of 2005 when another local program closed theirs. Since 2005, national and regional economic decline has driven a greater need for food programs like Soup Angels.According to the United States Department of Census, more than 1 in 10 Rockland County residents — 33,000 of our neighbors — live at or below the poverty line.

An anonymous benefactor provided initials funding and supports the annual Thanksgiving meals. Local business like Porky Products, of Northern New Jersey and World of Food from Valley Cottage supply additional food.

Tom Lynch getting his chop on

Yet despite the longevity and depth of the volunteer and philanthropic commitment, hunger persists and grows.

Since these angles took flight, they have not missed a meal, showing up to serve during winter storms, summer heat wave and even Hurricane Sandy, where they provided meals to first responders.

If you are feeling angelic yourself, you can go to their SoupAngels.com and click on Support Us to make a contribution.

Soup Angels serves dinner every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5:30p until 6:30p.  Everyone is welcome, no questions asked.  The entrance is on Burd St. between Cedar and South Broadway and is accessible to the disabled.  To donate or volunteer visit SoupAngels.com.

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Soup Angels Serve Three Thousand for Thanksgiving”  © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored each week by Weld Realty.
Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final

Nyack Sketch Log: 1st time Author at 88 Chronicles Old Mill Road

by Bill Batson

I met Rockland County’s newest author when she was 85 at a book talk I gave at Valley Cottage Library.  “I’m writing a book and you’re going to help me self-publish,” she informed me. “Sure,” I replied, thinking I would never hear from her again. Two years later, I answered a call from an unknown number and heard the party say, “I’m done writing. Let’s get this published. You promised.” That determined voice was a force of nature named June Sundvik.

My bluff had been called  I never expected June to call back.  The way forward required acknowledging a tragedy.  June sought my guidance because I had self-published Nyack Sketch Log Volume I.  However, without the wisdom and dry wit of Jim Hershberger, my tome would have never made the book store shelf. Jim was a retired executive who made it his second life’s mission to provide tech support to historical societies and non profits and tail-gate every Giants home game. Jim vetted printers, compared notes with other self-published authors and helped me organize my sketches, essays and thoughts. The only way that I was able to help June was by reverse engineering what Jim did for me. Jim passed away on November 11, 2016. His loss is profound, but so is the continued resonance of his generosity.

June Sundvik was able to draft like a cyclist in the wake of Jim’s hard and smart work, channeled through me, to publish an exceptional local history entitled Life on Old Mill Road from 1750 to 1950.  Her family moved to Valley Cottage from Teaneck, New Jersey to a property that her grandfather, Carl Anderson, purchased in 1927.  Her father, Gustav Svahn, was a very prominent builder responsible for 10 homes on Old Mill Road and may others throughout the region.

With the help of fellow Swedish immigrants, Svahn built a garage, a flat-roofed four-bedroom house, dug a pond, created a cause way and an island in the pond, and expanded the original flat-roofed house to three-stories with a cathedral ceiling living room, among other structures, for his family.  The man-made and augmented natural features were so impressive that Charles and Ann Lindbergh were seen admiring the property from the road.

In July of 1928 Carl and his wife Clara Svahn made June, the youngest of three. June’s personality was clearly shaped by her father’s blizzard of building.Many of her father’s qualities can be seen in her creations and her character. His prolific construction projects also betrayed a playful aspect. He built a miniature lighthouse, a shed for the swans, Hansel and Gretel to winter in, a playhouse for the children, houses for the dogs. June’s hobby horse was deployed as a weather vane on a barn. June would go on to become an accomplished weaver and water colorist and now, a published author.

Life on Old Mill Road

by June Sundvik

Book talk, signing and sales

Meet June at the Valley Cottage Library, 110 NY-303 on Wednesday, November 15, at 2p.
June will describe her research process, read some passages, take questions and sign and sell her book.

Her book is on sale for $15 at Pickwick Book Shop, 8 South Broadway in Nyack, at the Valley Cottage Library and at my Bill Batson Arts booth on Thursdays at the Nyack Farmers’ Market.

June has witnessed the steady migration of families through the many homes that her father built along Old Mill Road. Like a builder, she has constructed her narrative on a strong foundation of primary source research.

This story started many years ago when I was taking home an old neighbor friend, Catherine Daniels, who had been helping me clean house,” June said. “She asked me if I was interested in some old books and artifacts from the old Fisher farm, which also had been torn down in 1933. She began writing in earnest when she was given a wooden chest full of old deeds and title search from her sister, Stina. Because I lived on Old Mill Road almost all my life, and remembered many of the families I decided to tell the story about their lives and the history of the homes they lived in. Although I included a few homes on the West Nyack part of the road, I concentrated on those that were in Valley Cottage, beginning where the Kill Von Beaste* flows into the Hackensack River, north to Kings Highway.

The result is, like June, artistic and sturdy. Her words are illuminated by historic family photos, many carefully restored by Dr. Arnold Roufa. She narrates with  the economy of a no-nonsense story teller who gets out of the way of her subjects. One of my favorite extended passages (1,144 words) is a an oral history taken by a granddaughter, Dotty Larson describing her grandmother’s somewhat scandalous, poignant and epic love affair with a man she was hired to serve as a housekeeper and cook.

Her final job was when she became the housekeeper/cook for Lester Polhemus on Old Mill Road in Valley Cottage. They became something of a love match between two adults who had buffeted in life and were happy to be in each other’s company for the final stretch.

The little house where Susan and Lester lived had only two rooms with an attached summer kitchen. It was full circle for Susan because it was similar to the one she lived in as a child in Glen Cove. It had no electricity, no running water, and was heated by a large iron wood stove that had become popular after open-hearth cooking became outdated. For furniture, there was an oak gate leg table, straight back chairs and a large floor to ceiling wooden breakfront with glass doors and drawers below for storage. A daybed was used for sleeping or seating in the main room. The bedroom had a large feather bed draped in white quilts and pillows. There was a hand-crafted blanket chest made of pine by local artisans.

There is a contemporary photo of their love shack taken by her son Carl Sundivk.  The structure still stands off old mill road and should have a plaque.

As much as one might find a strong influence of the father in June’s life, Old Mill Road it self became her mentor.  A litany of creatives seems to gravitated to the spot that the Lindberghs found so alluring.

During the last 50 years these extraordinary artists live on Old Mill Road:

Clement and Maurice Heaton
Clement Heaton was born in England to a family of glass makers, and decorators and had connections with William Morris. He works were sold in London, Paris,Vienna and Berlin. He bought mill house he was able to build the framework for his stained glass windows, and there he was able to make important windows for St John’s Cathedral in New York.

His son Maurice continued the art of glass making and develops a method of enameling on glass. With a group of fellow artists he founded the Rockland Center for the Arts, and even had a studio named for him. He was honored by the Smithsonian by having a piece of his work in their glass collection.

Robert Pinard
A renowned stained glass maker, moved from France to the US in 1951. Pinart transformed darker stained glass images by creating new glass scenes that allowed light to enter the churches. His works can be seen in the National Cathedral in Washington.

Thomas George
George was an artist who studied in Paris and Florence. He was fascinated with the mountains in Norway and spent many summers there, painting them. He was the son of the famous Rube Goldberg, and while living on Old Mill Road had a large celebration for his father’s 80th birthday in the field across the stream from the house

Noel Sickles
Sickles shared a studio with Milton Caniff who was working for the Columbus Dispatch. Both men moved to New York City and worked for the Associated Press, where they worked together for two years, often drawing each other’s comic strips. He had an impressionist style of inking and proved to be adept at using a shading called zipatone. When LIFE published Hemmingway’s Old Man of the Sea, Sickles was the illustrator. Some say he was the best illustrator ever.

George MacReady
George was an actor on Broadway and Hollywood. He was a good friend of Vincent Price, and at one time they had an art gallery together. George was well known for his part as Rita Hayworth’s husband in Gilda.

There are too many stories that surround us and not enough story tellers. From my experience sketch logging in the effort to preserve and animate local history, I met June and more recently 16 other Rocklanders who are telling their tales full of the pathos and profundity at the continuing education program offered by the Learning Collaborative at the New City JCC. I was invited June to speak to the group on six occasions, but she had to cancel each visit because of her health, and a book talk at Valley Cottage Library because of ill health.  I am very hopeful that they will all attend her Wednesday, November 15 talk at 2p in the Valley Cottage Library.  I am hoping that June’s example will encourage others to liberate their family photos from dusty albums, dare to scribble down some thoughts, or sketch out some memories and cook up some books full of the recipes for living that we all inherit or invent, but often fail to pass down.

Not as skilled as I am in “getting out of the way,” I’ll let June have the last word:

“Every road and every house has a story, which is ongoing, and what I have written is only a small window into the lives of the neighbors that lived on Old Mill Road starting with the early settlers of the 1850s and through the changes that were made and homes that were added for the next 100 years to the time that the reservoir was built. Much of this information came from old records, and the fact that I knew many of the families, as we were a neighborhood, often depending on each other.

I consider myself lucky to have been part of these creative people, who helped me develop interests far beyond everyday life.’

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: 1st time Author at 88 Chronicles Old Mill Road”  © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored each week by Weld Realty.
Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final

Nyack Sketch Log: Shipwrecked Friend

by Bill Batson

A friend, poet, photographer and sailor shipwrecked along the coast of New Jersey last week. His sister has come to his aid and established a go-fund-me page. In the blunt prose of urgency, I ask that you consider donating some money to return his sailing vessel and home, Evening Light, to the waves. In the more nuanced language of a sketch log, let me introduce our waylaid sojourner, David e. Bell.

But first, the facts: according to his sister Robin’s appeal, David’s sailboat hit the jetty at Barneget Bay. The Evening Light began to sink.  Fortunately, the Coast Guard arrived quickly and installed pumps and towed the boat to shore.  Sea Tow moved the boat to a shipyard across the Bay.

David lives on the Evening Light. His insurance is covering the hull repairs and David has been working persistently to clean and repair the boat.

The good news is the giant gashes have been repaired and she floats again!

The Problem: Sea Tow claimed salvage and charged $6,300 for the tow and the insurance only covered $1,000.  Ouch. (Hence the go-fund-me figure of $5,300)

The funds will be used to help David cover the expense of the Sea Tow salvage claim and the other losses he incurred (everything from the engines glow plugs to most of his socks!)

I met David through his sister, who as a climate scientist, and was the subject of a sketch log about Earth Day in 2013.  One day she saw me at my booth at the Nyack Farmers’ Market and said, “you should meet my brother, David.” These words, as mundane as they may be, have always been portentous for me.  They were uttered by Zev before I met one of my best friends, Jerry and by Tracy before I met the love of my life, Marisol.  They not only vouch for a person, but imply that you will meet a bird of your feather. Robin (Zev and Tracy) knew my flock.

Here’s how Robin described her brother to me recently:

David Bell was born in New Hampshire where he dreamed of building a sailboat to sail over the horizon.  He and I poured over the plans of boats together. We learned to sail Sunfish at our great aunt’s house on Nantucket. We tipped over a lot.

You could always tell a Bell family member because there was a camera around their neck… so there are not lots of picture of the family— lots of planes, flowers etc.

He studied film at Hampshire College. Boats were always part of his life — he proposed to his son Shane’s mom while flying a catamaran on the Long Island Sound.

In Nyack, he built a boat in his apartment and only managed get it out by cutting it in half. Living on the Evening Light has been lifelong dream

When I met David he was searching up and down the Atlantic seaboard for an aquatic abode. Evening Light, a Saturna 33,  pilothouse sloop was found in Nova Scotia. I was invited to crew her back to Nyack. A leg of the journey included the length of the Erie Canal, so the historian in me was intrigued, but I was in the grip of publishing my first book Nyack Sketch Log: Volume I.

Before David left to buy his buoyant bachelor pad, he was instrumental in helping me finish my book. Each week at the farmers market, before he purchased his quiche from Concklins and coffee from Mostly Myrtles, he would advised, cajole, opine and profess. While he mentored me, he wrote. He has since finished his third novel, Fly Fishing in Russia.  He has psyched me into keeping pace with his prolificacy.

Also while on land, before he gave up his apartment above Pickwick Book Shop, to ride the waves in between the Nyack Boat Club and compass points north, west and south, he helped found the River River Writer’s Circle.  There he helps writers do the extremely difficult thing that only writers do and that others talk about doing, but seldom actually do…write.

David fixes things like sentences, computers and engines.  David gives generously and unselfishly of his time and energy.  David, as a father to Shane, is an exemplar of those qualities embodied in the terms scholar and gentleman. David is now stuck just short of the current, in a lagoon after colliding with an immovable object where there should have been none, off the coast New Jersey. He is now seaworthy, but he’s waiting for a part to restart his stalled engine.

My drawing is of his vessel’s halcyon days in Petersen’s boat yard. Vessels that are designed to float are referred to as “on the hard.” when they are on the blocks above dry land.  No longer weightless and swift, they are cumbersome and sluggish.  At this point, David’s southernly migration is “‘on the hard.”

David would be the first to say that of there are greater needs in the world. He would argue that shoring up the floating studio of a poet and photographer is not at the top of the triage chart. But Robin and I and many others beg to differ.  I want to live in world that stops to aid the poet warrior shipwrecked on the Jersey Shore. Because when they come back from their voyage, plumbing the depths of human experience they share their catch and our souls are nourished:

The wind whispers to the boat, and the boat speaks through the wheel, point up, a little more, now down, follow that puff, there you go. An hour or so of this and even your thoughts go quiet and just drink in the world around you. The desert mirage like mirroring of trees, distant floating above their reflection with imagined sky between. The dome of the sky, white becoming blue, over head. The whisper of wind over feathers, osprey soaring somewhere under the blue. Even the fish are silent.

David e Bell from his blog sveveninglight.com. And yes, the “e” is lower case, like e.e. cummings I guess.

Visit go-fund-me to help David continue his nautical and literary journey.

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Shipwrecked Friend”  © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored each week by Weld Realty.
Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final

Nyack Sketch Log: Grandmother’s Chair

My grandmother, Frances Lillian Avery Batson worked as a maid for the Jewett family in Upper Nyack. My life-mate and I recently moved into a cottage on the property near the “big house” where the Jewett’s once lived. My grandmother would often bring her daughter, Adeline and her granddaughter, Sylvia with her to work. Sylvia would play piano and violin at parties. My grandmother and aunt would prepare meals, provide table service and clean up.

We have placed my grandmother’s favorite chair in a place of honor over looking the Hudson River. She fought the good fight, she finished the race, she kept the faith and now she has a cozy seat with a view near where she once toiled.

Like many prized possessions of families without abundant means, this chair was almost lost forever. Few can afford to maintain or store furniture from previous generations. These items are lucky to be given away or sold. Most often, they are literally dumped on the thrash heap of history.

In the constant shuffle of expanding and contracting families, grandma’s chair was sent off to be reupholstered and got abandoned at the antique store.  I have Muhamad Mahmoud of Antique Masters to thank for its salvation. With one broken arm, sagging underneath the weight of threadbare fabric, the weakened chair was no longer suited for seating. So I brought it to Mohamad.  I was lured by his sign “Bring me your broken chair, old lamp and your damaged table, and I’ll fix it and save you money.’

I paid for the service, but did not return when the work was completed.  We were in a very cramped apartment and could not find room for the precious piece of furniture.

Grandma is first from the left in the back row

In desperation, I tried to donate the chair to the collection of a local historic preservationists. I argued that the chair represented the middle-class black community in the center of town along Jackson Avenue that had been destroyed by urban renewal.  That this chair was the last thing standing. But alas they did not have the space for furnishings.

Despite my lack of retrieval of the chair (that I had by that time left behind for two years), it was not discarded or sold-off to cover the cost of storing it, instead Muhamad hung on to it for me. He understood the importance of the chair. One day as I walked down Main Street, on the opposite side of his shop in a  not so subtle attempt to avoid Muhammad’s gaze, this earnest and honorable man intercepted me and said, “It’s your chair, come and take her back.”

Items from Mohamad Mahmoud’s Antique Masters

It just so happened that Marisol and I had just moved into the cottage on the Jewett estate.  And suddenly, in a bolt of recognition, I realized that the stars had aligned for my grandmother to return to her place of employment. (Thank you, Mohamad. My family is eternally grateful).

Chairs were very important in our household, or any hardworking homestead.  Elders got special chairs that no one else could sit in. If you were cheeky enough to rest in one that was spoken for, you had to vacate from your surreptitious squat swiftly, when the rightful chair-heir arrived.  

The chair would face the window with the most bucolic vista, or be closest to the fireplace or TV, whichever centerpiece families would gather around.  In later years, with the advance in chair technology, the chair of honor would be the one that reclined. 

As one aged, one got closer to inheriting the chair.  The music of a funeral dirge would elevate you to that seat.  I took my dad’s chair when he passed.

My father loved his chair. As a working man, he would rest his Schlitz beer on the TV tray and watch the news. During his slow decline, he would recline and bounce his feet when we’d play the music of his youth. He looked so secure in his seat.  He was there for two meals each day and probably too much television watching and many naps.  His chair might as well have been at the helm of a ship that sailed seas or flew through space.  There, he was master and commander.

As supreme as my family may have felt at home, outside the house in the 30s, 40s, 50s, ad 60s things weren’t so sanguine for people of a darker complexion.  American custom and culture of racial hierarchy dictated lesser roles.  Even though my aunt had her own business, Batson Secretarial services, and my grandmother was a civic leader and a deacon, with as much power as any man or minister in her church, in the world of work, they were given servile parts to play.  

But even within confines of the oppressive order that relegated one gender and any non-white person to servitude or second class citizenship, (a state of things that is shockingly still in effect), the Batson family never bent the knee.  

My aunt rose close to the apex of public service as the Deputy Village clerk for the Village of Nyack and my grandmother most certainly was a competing matriarch in the homes that she visited dressed as a domestic. For example, in addition to her domestic duties she double as a Latin tutor.  As a child she would have me recite Cicero’s speech to the Roman Senate given in 63 BC: Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra! 

My grandmother, my aunt Adeline and my father Prime Batson circa 1930

On holidays, in the 70s, for as long as she had the strength, my grandmother continued to help her families with large meals.  As a teenager, I found the arrangement wholly unacceptable. She would stay up all night before Thanksgiving cooking for us, but then leave the family table on the morning of the holiday to help others find comfort around their hearth.

There must have been some intense compassion that drove her to leave those she loved so much to work so hard for others.  She most have found that the money that she received paid more than bills, but allowed her to share her love by deepening the security of her progeny.  She owned her home, but I’m sure she succumbed to the reality that houses always need fixing.

And the families that she visited must have treated her in a way that kept her from retiring her crisp white maid’s uniform. I had a public school classmate in Teaneck, David Geller who had family from Nyack. They were lucky enough to have my grandmother tend to their holiday table. When we made the connection that my grandmother worked for his mom’s family, I detected only a reverence at the fact and no superiority in his tone.

My grandmother’s chair came back to the Jewett estate in a trip that she bought and paid for with a life of service, dispatched without bitterness or contempt.  

I need to take to her chair more often. I will find something very important sitting quietly there.

 

 

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Grandmother’s Chair”  © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored each week by Weld Realty.
Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final