Nyack Sketch Log: NAACP President Dr. Frances Pratt

by Bill Batson

NSL87_Frances Pratt Sketch PortraitElegant hats have become the symbol of local civil rights icon Frances Pratt. But when she arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City 62 years ago, she wore a borrowed dress and shoes too tight for walking. On Thursday, April 19, Pratt will officiate the 59th annual Freedom Fund dinner for the Nyack branch of the NAACP at the Pearl River Hilton. From head to toe, France Pratt’s personal story is as bold and compelling as her sartorial style.

Frances Pratt

Frances Pratt presiding over the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Pilgrim Baptist Church on Jan. 19.

Pratt grew up with her mother, four sisters and two brothers in rural South Carolina. An incident from her early childhood shaped her future activism. “I walked into an ice cream parlor with my mother and the clerk said, ‘You can buy the ice cream, but you have to eat outside.’ I had never seen my mother demeaned in that way.  If she had spoken up, the clerk would have called the police.”

In May, 1955, Frances, who was attending Friendship College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, learned that she would not be returning to school. “My mother sat me down and said ‘you are going to have to go to work for a while,’” Pratt recalled. “My brother Billy Powell and my mother were not well.” With the support of a teacher, Pratt found a potential employer in New York who would pay her $40 per month that she could send home to support the family. She first had to travel to Clover, South Carolina to pick peaches to raise the $17.50 for her bus fare.

Bill Batson describes the Nyack Record Shop Project at the 34th Annual Interfaith Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration. Video by M. Diaz

Two years after arriving in New York City, Frances moved to South Nyack into the home of new husband Marshall Pratt. “I met Marshall in Mount Morris Park in Harlem while I was on a field trip with a group of children,” said Pratt. “I was working for a nursery school founded by Dr. Thelma Adair, the first women to serve as an elected Moderator for the Presbyterian Church.  Marshall declared that he wore out four tires circling the park trying to see me again. When he found me, we made a date.”

When Pratt came to Nyack, she dreamed of attending the missionary program at Nyack College. “I wanted to go to Addis Ababa in Africa.” But responsibilities to family required that she find a way to serve the world closer to home, so she enrolled in Rockland Community College where she obtained her degree in nursing. Pratt went on to work at Nyack Hospital for 53 years, holding titles including Head Nurse of the Emergency Room and the Office of Employee Health.

NSL87_NAACP Symbol This week’s sketch is based on a photo that currently hangs in the emergency room lobby of Nyack Hospital. The lobby as well as a scholarship and a Peace Rose Garden were named in her honor when she retired.

With her typical combination of candor and comic timing, Pratt remarked at the dedication ceremony, “What I appreciate most about this recognition is that it is not about the late Frances Ethel Powell Pratt. I can actually read the plaque and smell the roses!”

In 1981, Pratt was elected President of the local branch of the NAACP. On Thursday night, April 19, Pratt will host the organization’s annual fundraising gala at the Pearl River Hilton.  While all eyes will be focused on this year’s keynote speaker, Pastor Stephen A. Green, Pastor of Heard AME Zion Church in Roselle, NJ, people will find it difficult to turn away from Pratt, who always appears in a hat more spectacular than the one she wore the previous year.

NSL87_Hat CollectionPratt credits her husband Marshall, who passed away in 2002, for her memorable hats. “My husband designed all my hats.  He was a talented artist and would always design my hats and coordinate my outfits.” Pratt’s collection of 250 chapeaus were on display at RCC in 2005 for a fundraising event for the NAACP.

One of Pratt’s greatest legacies might be the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program that has taken place at Pilgrim Baptist Church for the last 31 years. The interfaith, racially diverse event is consistently a standing room only affair.

Nyack Record Shop Project

The Nyack branch of the NAACP joined with the Hopper House and the Nyack, Rockland and African American Historical Societies to collect oral histories of the African American community. Once recorded and transcribed, these stories will be permanently available at the Nyack Library.

Our project was inspired by Carrie Mae Weems, an African American photographer who is one of the most celebrated artists in the nation. Weems interviewd the black community in Beacon, NY in a record shop in 2003 for an exhibit that is currently on display at the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center through Feb. 25.

You can give an oral history by visiting Kiam Records between Tuesday and Saturday.

Tues, Wed, Thurs: noon – 7.
Friday and Sat. 10a – 10p.

“Frances Pratt is one of the most decent, thoughtful people I have ever known. Her fight for the rights of all and her clarity and fairness in pursuing those rights is astounding,” said Nyack Mayor Jen Laird-White.

Pratt’s organizing style is as subtle as her fashion sense is striking. Most people who organize large public events always include themselves on the program, but that is not Pratt’s predilection. But even as she reserves the limelight for others, for many, Pratt’s aphorisms are as memorable as her accessories. When Pratt sets the agenda, her guests get the last word.  Today, however, this Nyack Sketch Log will end with a few classic Prattisms:

If you see a turtle on a fence, you know he didn’t get there by himself. None of us got to where we are without help from someone else.

Your pennies you got to watch, the dollars take care of themselves.

You ain’t never seen a U-Haul following a hearse.

Public remarks should be like a lady’s dress…short enough to be attractive and long enough to cover the subject.

Special thanks to Doria Hillsman for the hat photo and Dr. Lori Martin and Paul Adler for sharing some Prattisms.  

Hat collecton photo credit: Lloyd Stansbury 

France Pratt photo credit: Paul Adler

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: NAACP President Frances Pratt” © 2017 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.




Nyack Sketch Log: A New Way to Commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Bill Batson

When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 50 years ago this April, the assassin was not just trying to silence a man, but a people.  A people who believe in freedom, and who will not rest until it’s achieved. A people who are proud of their ancestry, despite being called inferior and indolent by the dominant culture in America and Europe. But ultimately, it will not be the infamous act of a murderer with a fire arm that might  silence the voice of the generation who endured and overthrew the tradition of Jim Crow racial discrimination in America. We could be the culprit –  if we fail to record the life story of our elders before they depart.

Would you ever throw out your cell phone without down loading all the memory: phone numbers and photos, password and personal information? That’s what we do when we let our elders go to sleep without down loading their memories.

In some communities, Martin Luther King Jr’s national holiday is commemorated through public service. Starting on January 15, 2018, the Nyack Record Shop Project is hoping that our collective story-telling summit will elevate the practice of recording the personal history of our elders to the status of an essential and routine civic undertaking here in Nyack and other places. I am serving as the director of the project.

We are inspired to preserve the memories of our elders by the work of Carrie Mae Weems.  Weems’ work is currently on exhibit at the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center at 82 North Broadway in Nyack through February 25. She is the first recipient of the The Hopper Citation, a legislative award that was authored by New York State Assembly member Ellen Jaffee.

Weems collected oral histories in a record shop in Beacon that informed her large scale photographs. In Nyack, we will spend several days conducting interviews at Kiam Records as homage to her. The use of a store front window on Main Street is a powerful symbol that the stories of a community that were once marginalized are now taking center stage.

The African American community is being asked to consider telling their stories, or reaching out to family members, and neighbors, co-workers, who have lived a life of struggle and substance that deserves to be preserved. Let them know about our project. 

Father Owen Thompson of Grace Church in the pulpit during Pilgrim’s King Day service in 2016. Nyack NAACP President Dr. Frances Pratt, who organizes the annual event, in the seat of honor.

Participants are invited to give oral histories at Grace Church at the corner Franklin Street and First Avenue on January 15, at 4pm.  Many of the organizers and participants will be attending the Interfaith Commemorative Martin Luther King Service first at Pilgrim Baptist Church at 80 North Franklin at 2p.  Grace Church is directly across the street.

If you can not attend the session on the 15th, oral histories interviews will be conducted at Kiam Record Shop at 95 Main Street from Tuesday thru Saturday.  The hours from Tuesday – Thursday are noon – 7p.  On Friday and Saturday some one will be there from 10am – 10pm.  A typical oral history will take 30 minutes.

To register visit edwardhopperhouse.org

Working to make the historic records representative of our village’s demographics will insure that when future scholars write the history of Nyack, the black community will be one of the main character. Every January 15, let’s make mass oral history collection a new way to commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Oral histories will be transcribed and archived by the Historical Society of the Nyacks and made available to the public.

 The Nyack Record Shop Project is an initiative of the Edward Hopper House and the Historical Society of the Nyacks, supported by the Historical Society of Rockland County, the Nyack Center, Kiam Records, Rand Realty, Alex Cabraie of Planet Wings, Clare and Bill Sheridan and South Mountain Studio.

This week’s sketch is a drawing of a sculpture entitled Non-Violence by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd that is on display on the grounds of the United Nations in New York. Reuterswärd made this piece afterJohn Lennon was murdered by a gun.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: A New Way to Commemorate Rev. Martin Luther King” © 2018 Bill Batson. 



Nyack Sketch Log: Warts and All

NSL_Warts and Allby Bill Batson

In 1884, Nyack, NY was a bustling river community and the commercial heart of Rockland County. This sketch is from a widely circulated map made by L. R. Burleigh. The bird’s-eye view rendering depicts a jumble of homes, businesses and churches. When you take a closer look at this historical document you’ll discover that our 19th century republic on the Hudson was not as indivisible as the promise made in our pledge of allegiance.

The 1884 map has a legend that designated 42 places of interest including ten churches. Eight of the churches are identified by denomination; the last two are listed by sect and by race. When I noticed this detail for the first time, it took my breath away.  St. Philip’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, which stands today on the corner of North Mill and Burd Street, was listed in the legend as “Zion’s M.E. Church (Colored).”  The church now known as Pilgrim Baptist and located at the corner of High Avenue and Franklin Street was identified as “Second Baptist Church (Colored).”

Twenty Five years ago, I travelled to rural Georgia to help a legal team exonerate a death row inmate named Curfew Davis. Needing the exact street address of a Baptist Church where we were expected for a meeting, I called information. When I asked the operator for the listing, in a deadpan drawl, she surprised me with her own question: she wanted to know which Baptist Church. I said I didn’t

Bitter background of sweet bag

Tote bag modeled by Bonnie Timm

My drawing of the L.R. Burleigh map adorns one of my first pieces of Nyack mechanize. Every time I see the tote bag, I experience a kind of cognitive dissonance. I loved this map, was pleased with my drawing of it, and the tote it inspired, but I can’t shake the ice-water-in-my-veins-feeling I got when I saw that the map’s legend constrained the religious choices of the people of Nyack in 1884 by race. Sometimes I see a sweet drawing. Sometimes I see the old Jim Crow.

know. She asked again and I got her drift. Even though it was 1990, the ghost of Jim Crow ran through the phone and down my spine. When I replied, “the black one,” she gave me the phone number.

I felt the same chill when I noticed the legend of the 1884 map. Was the distinction “colored” made as a boast; a proud assertion that the village accommodated two black churches?  Was it a warning to prevent someone from walking into a congregation of clashing complexion: or something more ominous?

I was more saddened than shocked when I confronted the legacy of segregation in the South in the 1990’s.  I knew that the removal of overt signs of discrimination, like those posted on water fountains and bathrooms in the 1960’s hadn’t ended racism, but it was sobering to consider that members of the same religious denomination still required separate houses of worship for each race.

When I observed a Jim Crow distinction on a map of Nyack, it was the geography that stunned me. I adopted the hubris of many Northerners, believing that the sins of human bondage were relegated to the South. Nyack should feel proud of our role in the 1800’s Underground Railroad network that helped slaves escape to the North. But if we believe that our landscape is not stained by slavery and segregation, we would be wrong.

As you uncover the more sordid aspects of a particularly contentious period of history, it is easy to think of the people of that era as characters in a period movie. But when the events took place where you live and the characters that navigated the social turbulence were your ancestors, each new detail is like a faint body blow.

My great-grandfather, George T. Avery, was a spokesperson for the black community and a member of Zion’s M.E. church at the time this map was drawn. From our vantage point today, the notation “colored” is an awkward relic of past discrimination. For the members of these two churches, the fact that the distinction was made in such a public fashion was of enormous social and material consequence.

My great grandfather, George T. Avery

A more noble aspect of our democracy is that we keep these ugly details of our evolution in our documents. We do not pretend that the abhorrent customs of American apartheid never existed. We resist the temptation to destroy the evidence of our troubled past.

You do not need to read far into the Constitution to be reminded that when apportioning congressional seats, black people were counted as three fifths of a person. It would be a profound injustice if some well-meaning printer sanitized copies of the Constitution, or the map of 1884 and removed these examples of racial discord. We honor the progress our society has made, the burdens of people like my great-grandfather and the members of St. Philip’s and Pilgrim, when we publish the unvarnished map of 1884, warts and all.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Warts and All” © 2018 Bill Batson. 


Nyack Sketch Log: Farewell to the Arts Mayor, Jen Laird-White

by Bill Batson

On Thursday, December 21, outgoing Mayor Jen Laird-White will swear-in Mayor-elect Don Hammond at 6:30p at Village Hall. In a time when democratic norms and constitutional necessities, like an independent judiciary and the freedom of the press are under attack, we need to celebrate the smooth transition of power from one administration to the next. The public is welcome to witness Nyack’s changing of the guard.

During 8 years in Village Hall, (six as Mayor and two as a Trustee), White proved to be a natural as a candidate and public servant. She was also familiar with the topsy-turvy dynamic that incoming Mayor Hammond recently described this way: “first they’ll swear me in. Then they swear at me.”

As a former broadcast journalist, Jen White has been as champion of the arts throughout her tenure. As Mayor, White was instrumental in the founding of the Nyack Art Collective. She helped founding Collective President Tracy Anders-Kachtick establish the First Friday Arts Festival, locate meeting space at Village Hall and manage the growing pains of a nascent non-profit.

When I organized a Flash Sketch Mob of over 100 artists in 2012, Mayor Jen yelled the magic words “Veni, Vedi, Sketchi” into a bullhorn to strategically deploy the art makers along Broadway to create a crowd-sourced portrait of the village.

One of Jen’s first visions for Nyack was a plan to have artists adorn vacant storefronts. Now three year’s into its run, Holiday Windows invites world renowned and local artists to transform a dozen windows into pop-up street level exhibit spaces.

Nyack Bench Chairman Bill Batson, Nyack Mayor Jen Laird White, Committee Member Anngela Vasser-Cooper. Photo Credit ©2015 Elijah Reichlin-Melnick

Jen helped welcome Toni Morrison to the village to install one of the author’s Bench by the Road monuments in Memorial Park in 2015, honoring 19th century abolitionist and entrepreneur Cynthia Hesdra, she worked with multimedia artist Kris Burns to create a drive-in movie theatre in the Main Street Municipal artist, supported Paulette Ross through Art Walk’s continued growth as a Father’s Day cultural destination for over a decade and, just last week,  she appeared at the Edward Hopper House to support their collaboration with The Historical Society to collect oral histories, the Nyack Record Shop Project, a companion piece for their Carrie Mae Weems exhibit.

Kris Burns produces

a video tribute

Working with Melody Partrick, the village’s Recreation Director (a position created by Mayor White), multimedia artist, Burns edited together short video farewells from Jen’s constituents. The video was recently projected ala Burns, on the side of a building off Main Street. Enjoy the hearfelt goodbyes here.

Before her tenure, Nyack’s reputation as an arts center rested on the laurels of past achievements. Now, Nyack is a mecca for artists and art lovers, a trend that Mayor Elect Hammond can work to cement.

In 2016, Nyack Sketch Log spoke with Mayor White during Women’s History Month.  Here are some of the thoughts of Nyack’s third female Mayor on the eve of her departure. Farewell, Jen Laird White and thanks for your service to the village and your support of the arts.

Are there any particular blessings or burdens for women in public office?

Holding public office is no different for men or women today.  It’s equally tough for everyone because there has been such a breach in the public trust. This is, however, an exciting moment to be in public life because everywhere you look women are taking on leadership roles in business and government.

Are there any women in politics that inspire you?

Recently, I have had a chance to work closely with our member of Congress, Nita Lowey. I am amazed by her work ethic, passion and fearlessness. She is a total inspiration and we are lucky to have her representing us in Congress.

The Village Board recently passed a resolution in support of Governor Cuomo’s gun control legislation that drew some loud criticism from some people. Were you surprised?

Our gun control resolution seemed important to pass. Doing nothing was no longer acceptable. I have been to Newtown. It is a place much like Nyack. I know families that knew some of the children killed in Newtown. I watched them head off in deep grief to funerals for seven years olds.

It is complicated and difficult to safely own and operate a car and there are many requirements that must be met to do so. It should be that difficult to own and use a gun. So when you consider that in 2015, gun fatalities are predicted to surpass deaths caused by traffic accidents, there is a clear need for responsible policy reform. As a Village Board, we all agreed to support our Governor’s attempt to stop the escalating violence.

(L to R) Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart, Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty, Fire Inspector Vincent Fiorentino, NYS Senator David Carlucci, Nyack Mayor Jen White speak to about 150 Nyack residents from the steps of Village Hall on Oct 31 about the response to Hurrican Sandy.

The backlash has been quite depressing. My office voice mail was filled with profane vaguely threatening statements about our homes and our children. It made me wonder if people who call a municipal office to make profanity laced threats should have unfettered access to automatic weapons.

Ironically, I grew up in a family of hunters; I am a reasonably good shot myself. I am not opposed to guns. I am opposed to guns whose only possible purpose are mass casualties. I am opposed to guns being in the hands of those who are not qualified to keep them from causing harm and I am opposed to criminals who use guns not being prosecuted to the full extend possible.

Was that the low point in your term so far?

No. The low point was Hurricane Sandy. The devastation was stunning, we still have twenty families without homes. In the immediate aftermath, relief was not easy or forthcoming. During the storm and in the horrible days right after, we lost power, we sustained substantial damage as a community and we lost a life. It was a terrifically difficult time. But our community spirit and resolve was kept afloat by our first responders who tirelessly and without complaint went about saving lives and working to maintain order and restore services.

What has been the high  point?

There were actually many high points during those bleak days.  The Village Hall steps provided a gathering spot for everyone. One neighbor was more generous than the next. There were guys from Georgia who left their homes and families to patrol our streets to restore power. Even as people suffered their own loss and anxiety, they reached out to others during those meetings. The selflessness was incredible.

How is your family surviving your public responsibilities?

Patiently. My rather quiet husband Richard has had to learn to gab a bit more and my boys Jack and Luke can’t really get in trouble because everyone knows their mother. It’s awesome!

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Farewell to the Arts Mayor, Jen Laird-White“ © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.