Nyack Sketch Log: Bibsy Author Brenda Ross

by Bill Batson

Meet Brenda Ross

Brenda Ross will conduct a book talk and signing on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at 1pm at the Orangeburg Library, located at 20 Greenbush Rd, Orangeburg, NY 10962.

Brenda will be introduced by Nyack Sketch Log author and illustrator Bill Batson

Women of Leadership & Vision Brunch

Brenda will present a memoriam for the Historical Honoree, Toni Morrison at the Nyack Center’s annual Women of Leadership & Vision Brunch on March 14, 2020 from 10a-12 (doors open at 9:30a). Hon. Nita Lowey, Ginny Norfleet & Jill Warner will be given this year’s honors. The Nyack Center is located at the 59 Depew Avenue at the corner of South Broadway. Click here for tickets.

Toni Morrison: a Retrospective

In her capacity as a Trustee of the Historical Society of the Nyack, Brenda is curating an exhibition on the life of Toni Morrison that will be on display from March 28 through July 25 at the society’s museum located at 50 Piermont Avenue, behind the library.


In Brenda Ross’  historical novel, Bibsy’s life changes forever when she falls in love after a chance meeting in a Harlem bar in 1952. The tranquil, free-spirited lifestyle she casually enters into with Jake Turner collides with intractable memories of a difficult past, a new community fated for development and heartbreaking loss.

This multifaceted and riveting historical novel gives greater insight into the complexity of African American lives. With New York State’s major road and bridge construction in the background, rural enclaves become casualties of suburbanization.


Imagine a writer so determined to attend a workshop to hone her craft, she’d accelerate the weaning of her child. Sometimes the backstory of a book has as many compelling characters, including the author, as the narrative itself. Brenda Ross’ first novel, Bibsy, would not exist without a phalanx of midwives and muses. The co-parents of her prose include her daughters who grew up along side the 34-year literary journey, the women whose lives inspired the storyline, and those who served as editor and academic advisor.

It will take another novel to tell the full story of the making of Bibsy. But for now, here is her Nyack Sketch Log treatment. For those who want to meet and speak with the author, Brenda will be at the Orangeburg Library on Saturday, February 29 from 1-2p  for a book talk and signing.

When did you know you were a writer?

In 1980, when I was standing in the hallway of Letitia Grierson’s campus dorm room at Skidmore College getting positive feedback from a few pages I had written that evening. Grierson was leading a writing workshop. Everyone at Skidmore held her in such high regard, so I figured there must be “something” there worth pursuing when she acknowledged my talent. She taught me the craft of writing, and to be constantly open to refining it.

How did you learn about the workshop?

I learned about the workshop through an ad in Ms. Magazine that I came across in the late 1970s. What caught my attention was the title “How to turn family histories into fiction.” The workshop title so resonated with me I knew I had to be there. The workshop was offered by Letty. I knew something was brewing inside me; I just didn’t know what.

Letty eventually became my editor, then my friend. We didn’t always agree, but more importantly, we respected each other’s opinions.

How would you describe Letty’s method?

Letty was first and foremost an editor, which is what I paid her to do from the beginning. I still have her correspondence including receipts for $15/hr. However we never worked with an outline. She was happy accepting whatever pages I presented each week. She wasn’t pushy and never “suggested” anything.”

Most importantly, throughout our years of working together, she only tried to steer the storyline twice. And because it had been so infrequent, l gave her suggestions careful consideration; I agreed with one suggestion and not the other. In both instances I believe I made the right choice.

Who else informed or inspired Bibsy?

Mayra Bloom was the other person integral to Bibsy because she saw academic value in the writing and research I’d done and helped me use it towards a BA degree in creative writing from SUNY Empire  State College.  She was also responsible for me being enrolled in the Sarah Lawrence College writing course where I was able to complete Bibsy.

Who was Bibsy?

Bibsy was the name of one of my aunts. She was one of my mother’s younger siblings who grew up in a Catholic orphanage. Because she was outspoken and opinionated and didn’t conform to familial or social norms for women of her period, as a child she commanded my attention. As a writer, I wanted to use the essence of who she was to explore a possible character.

How long did you work on Bibsy?

I worked on Bibsy off and on, mostly off, from 1981 until I took my sister Evelyn’s advice and self-published in 2015. I kept putting the manuscript down, including about 10 years after Letty died in 1991, but the story kept calling me back, demanding to be told and would not leave me alone. It stayed in my psyche.


What role did your daughter, Tasha, play in the creation of Bibsy?

In order to attend the Skidmore workshop, I had to find child care for Tasha, who was just six-months old and my eldest daughter, Nicole. (Mercifully, my mom held down the fort while I was away.) So Tasha and Bibsy are almost the same age. Tasha has lived with this story in the background her entire life, and thankfully has always embraced it and encouraged me.

Even to the point of arranging a reading of one of the scenes in the book at a downtown NYC cafe by a SAG actor, as part of a production requirement for her Masters in Playwrighting degree from Columbia University. She also has read several versions of the story and took the fabulous cover photo during a walk we took along the Hook Mountain trail.

Ross listening to Toni Morrison read in Nyack’s Memorial Park (to the left of the photogrpaher)

Who are some of your favorite writers?

I don’t have a “favorite writer” but there are some works of writers I admire for different reasons. Obviously I’m very interested in Toni Morrison’s thought process, character development, scene selection, and overarching themes. My favorite works of hers are Beloved and The Bluest Eye. That James Baldwin dared to write a love story choosing the setting of an abandoned building (If Beale Street Could Talk) influenced my daring to attempt to use The Beach in the same way. Afro-6 by Hank Lopez began my reading odyssey. I loved that he just jumped into the action and kept my attention throughout.

What were some of the books that informed your local history research?

Reading local history, incorporating the African American version, and conducting oral histories inform my writing. You have to meld them together because there’s rarely a single source in which it all resides. I belonged to the Rockland Historical Society for years and received their monthly South of the Mountains publications. I joined the African American Historical Society in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they met at St. Charles AME Zion Church in Sparkill. Spent a lot of time in the local history room of the Nyack Library. And I’ve conducted a number of oral histories locally, all rich in details that would have never been captured any other way.

l.-r. Evelyn Nichols, Nicole Ross, me, Mayra Bloom, Tasha Ross At my graduation from SUNY Empire, spring 2000 at RCC

What gets recorded matters, and it begins with our own family histories that rarely get into “official” documents. That’s why we must take responsibility ourselves and get it done.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

The best advice I can give to aspiring writers is to read. I believe avid readers become critical readers, and within that process if there’s a story burning for expression it will materialize.

Brenda Ross photo: Collette Fournier

Bibsy Cover Photo: Tasha Ross

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Bibsy Author Brenda Ross”  © 2020Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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

Nyack Sketch Log: Pilgrim Baptist Pastor Hairston Retires

by Bill Batson

The much beloved and indelible pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Willie L. Hairston, recently announced his retirement. A banquet in his honor, which also commemorates his 30th year in the pulpit, will be held on April 25th at the Nyack Seaport.

30th Anniversary and Retirement Banquet for Rev. Dr. Willie L. Hairston

The banquet will be held at the Nyack Seaport, 21 Burd Street in Nyack on April 25, 2020 from 1 – 5pm.

Tickets at $100 per person. payable to Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Deadline April 10, 2020

Mail checks to: Pilgrim Baptist Church c/o Anniversary Committee. 80 North Franklin Street, Nyack, NY 10960

For information on obtaining an ad in the journal contact Mike Roy at

If you have any questions call (917) 662-4969 or (914) 419-9097

Pilgrim Baptist Church has found a safe harbor at the corner of High Avenue and North Franklin Street for the last 59 years. The building has multiple slanted roofs and high arched windows that look like the peaks of cresting waves. The pulpit is on the north side of the nave facing south, under a series of massive wooden beams that shelter the pews as the hull does the precious cargo of a sturdy ship.  But the pulpit didn’t always face south and Pilgrim Baptist Church did not always rest at this spot. The spiritual voyage of this flock began in 1875 above a carriage shop on Burd Street.

Reverend Charles Mayo, Mr. & Mrs. Travis Armstead and Mrs. Kassie Whines were the souls that launched the first Pilgrim Baptist Church.   When the Armstead’s daughter Katie became the congregation’s first pianist, the sounds of wagon wheels being repaired and horses being re-shoed accompanied her musical selections.

By the time the spirit and size of the faithful outgrew their humble dwelling, the second floor above Spector’s Dry goods store on Main Street and Bridge was secured. Twenty-Eight years of patience and perseverance at this equally modest location was rewarded when a building at 187 Main Street was purchased in 1903 for $1,600 under the leadership of Rev. John Robinson.

Pilgrim Baptist Church’s first home on Burd St in Nyack.

Having their own building must have created a fertile environment for the growth of the church. In 1938, a mortgage-burning banquet was presided over by Rev. W.C Taylor. By 1955, before the parishioners could get comfortable, the Pilgrim family required a larger house of worship and the search began again.

On May 1, 1961 the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the State of New York laid a cornerstone for the congregation at a new church on North Franklin Street.  The dwindling attendance of a German Presbyterian parish provided Pilgrim this new sanctuary.  The chapel on Main Street was sold to Hollingswood Memorial Temple for $5,000.

First German Evangelical Presbyterian Church, N. Franklin St

After decades of temporary accommodations and transitions, Pilgrim had found a permanent home.  A program of reconstruction and renovation was undertaken to make sure that spatial limitations would not necessitate another move.  Some of those changes included changing the orientation of the pulpit from east to south and moving the entrance from Franklin Street to High Avenue.  In 1994 the church observed another mortgage burning celebration.  The sojourn was finally over: Pilgrim had its home.

(l.-r.) Nyack Village Trustee Marie Lorenzini, Hannemann funeral Director Keith Taylor, Rev. Dr. Hairston and former Nyack Village Clerk Mary White distributing turkey from Pilgrim this last holiday season.

A period of tranquility was further cemented by the arrival of a new pastor in 1990.  Rev. Dr. Willie L. Hairston first stepped into the pulpit at Pilgrim as a guest preacher from Mount Nebo Baptist Church in the Bronx, New York.  When the pulpit was later declared vacant, the membership of Pilgrim voted to make Rev. Hairston their leader. Rev. Hairston’s tenure has brought both dynamic programming and institutional stability to Pilgrim.

In a transcript of an oral history project at Nyack Library the late Hezekiah Easter, a prominent Pilgrim member, and Rockland County’s first African American elected official, described his childhood memories at Pilgrim. Easter recalled activities for young people that ran from early in the morning until night.  Today, Pilgrim continues to focus on the needs of its youngest members.  Children are supported in their spiritual education through Sunday school and choir, their academic development with scholarships and their professional aspirations with special services that encourage entrepreneurship.

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

Every January on the day that the Nations celebrates the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Pilgrim holds a service.  As the standing room only event, Rev. Hairston shared the pulpit with community leaders and local clergy including St. Philips AME Zion Church, and the Congregation Sons of Israel, presided over by Dr. Frances Pratt, president of the Nyack Branch of the NAACP.

African American churches have served as anchors for a community that has been buffeted by unpredictable and unforgiving political and economic forces.  Even when this congregation lacked a formal tabernacle, they continued to serve as an additional safe haven for generations of African American families in Nyack. This church building is a monument to the dedication and sacrifice of a small group of Baptists who gathered in prayer 137 years ago in a wooden clapboard walk up. They selected the perfect name for their congregation that would sojourn for almost 100 years before finding a spiritual home: Pilgrim.

Special thanks to Brian Jennings.

Photos courtesy of the Nyack Library

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Pilgrim Baptist Pastor Hairston Retires”  © 2020Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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


Nyack Sketch Log: Valentine’s Day Finds at the Farmer’s Market


Looking for something special for Valentine’s Day? Consider visiting the heart of the village, Nyack’s Farmer’s Market at the Nyack Center, this Thursday, from 8a-2p. Two women-owned small businesses and a local craft project might have something that will make your special someone happy. This week, Nyack Sketch Log interviewed Myriad Mirage, Ginamarie Engels and Annie Roberts of Rebecca’s Paradise to learn how they get their artisanal goods to the market. I also introduce Liz’s Folded Whimsies.

Ginamarie Engels of Myriad Mirage

When did you make your first piece of jewelry?

Technically, I made my first piece of jewelry when I was 14. It was with recycled paper and plastics and nail polish. Myriad Mirage jewelry began in 2013 at age 21, when I found a 17 yr cicada wing on the ground on Jefferson St in Nyack and was intrigued. Then I found out thousands of the Brood II were emerging that spring and summer, so I found wings on 6th Ave and High Ave almost every single day. I had to continue collecting. My soul depended on it! I still have a lot of wings left and have made hundreds of cicada wing jewelry..mind you, this is almost 7 years later! Google the 17 year cicadas if you’ve never witnessed, or noticed, an emergence!

Were you fascinated with nature as a child?

To be honest, I actually grew up petrified of insects! A lot of my family was pretty scared of spiders, so it kind of transferred over to me as a young child.  I didn’t spend as much time outdoors exploring as I would’ve liked to back then, which is possibly why things are the complete opposite now. I love entomology. I love honeybees, as I’ve become more educated! I’ve developed a fascination and peace for insects that I certainly didn’t have as a child.

When did you sell your first piece of Jewelry?

I sold my first piece of jewelry in 2013. That was really exciting.

How did you come up with the name of your company?

Oh, I love this question. For 2 months I was pondering and nothing came, people were like telling me what to name it and it just didn’t fit and so I let it go and I actually prayed about it for a week and woke up one morning  and Myriad Mirage came. I was like okay, that’s it. As time has gone on, I have been looking more into the meaning of each word and how they play together, giving the journey even more meaning than I would’ve even known when I first named the game! Haha. I’m happy with the name of my company. It also gives people a combo of distinct words to remember.

How do you decide what to pick up and work with?

So sometimes nature just appears in front of me if I’m paying attention, like a fallen autumn leaf, barnacle, some milkweed flying in the wind. I try to just keep an eye out for unique plants that also have some science background or medicinal properties that I can also share with others. Also, I love color and to have a variety of colors to work with and put in jewelry is exciting.

What is the strangest think you’ve been given to work with

Hmm… I’ve had people ask if I would do their wisdom teeth, but never followed through. The strangest thing I decided to work with in the past were raccoon toe bones, those were surprisingly a hit and I still get asked to make them. No raccoons or raccoon toes were ever harmed to obtain the bones! Myriad Mirage has changed their mission a bit so no more raccoon toe bone jewelry.

I’ve received deceased butterflies in the mail, that could be odd to someone else but beautiful to me! I am always willing to work on custom orders, locks of hair, specific plant requests, custom work is special.

How many markets do you attend?

Well, the past couple years or so, I started to pick up some local-ish farmers markets like the Nyack Farmers Market and NY Botanical Garden Farmers Market which added to the schedule. I’d say about 1 to 3 per week from spring to winter seasons for now. It may increase or decrease in time as I scope out which shows to attend!

What’s harder, making it or selling it?

99.9% selling it is harder. There is an abundance and array of jewelry out in the world, which is actually an incredible thing! We all have a place, a niche and gift to share. But that being said, it means a lot to choose from and to filter. With lower priced and mass produced factory-made jewelry out there, sometimes handcrafted jewelry and its concept can get lost in translation. Also, a small percentage of people seeing Myriad
Mirage in person for their first time, it takes some chatting for them to realize there are real plants inside!! Sometimes people don’t realize at all and will sometimes come back to see the jewelry again and eventually it sinks in thus interests them further.

What’s next?

More exotic plant and herbal jewelry, hoping to start accepting bridesmaid and wedding floral jewelry & keepsake orders, traveling around to new and further places. Encouraged by Martin Luther King Jr which federal holiday just passed this month I have a dream… to one day have a flower farm although it’s a joy to support others tending to gardens and laboring seeds to produce beautiful plants for all to appreciate and learn about. I have a dream… of teaching workshops someday. I just have some kinks to work out. I have a dream to support more charities and local organizations somehow, somewhere, someday through Myriad Mirage.

When do the cicadas return?

So, there are many different species of cicadas, there are cicadas that are annual and we hear or see them every year but just not in abundance like the 17 year cicada. And they look quite different. The annuals are mostly dog-day cicadas and are black-ish green, they have green veined wings and the 17 yr periodical cicada has red eyes, orange veined wings! So, from my knowledge, the 17 year Brood II cicada will be back in Nyack, NY around in 2030, I hear we can get some stragglers here and there though! One more full decade till we see them in the area again!

Liz’s Folded Whimsies

Liz Rodgers Maldonado will be creating and selling her “folded whimsies” at the Nyack Farmers’ Market on Thursday. February 13. These handmade playful paper objects come in a variety of romantic shapes and alluring colors.

Between Myraid Mirage, Rebecca’s Paradise and Liz’s Folded Whimsy, you can find a unique expression of your undying affection.

Annie Roberts of Rebecca’s Paradise

Where did you learn the secret of health skin?

From my grandmother, who got her knowledge in Jamaica. She went on to attend a technical college where she became a professional skincare specialist. I am a certified chemist, which is how I am able to create our products!

What else from Jamaica inspires your brand?

Growing up around nature, in a place I called paradise!  After years of using, exploring and living the organic and natural lifestyle, I was inspired to created cutting edge spa-quality handmade skincare for customers like myself!

What was your first product?

Brighten My Day Creamy Cleanser.

Are your products as gentle on the environment as they are on skin?

Yes, all ingredients that I use can dissolved into nature without damaging or accumulating waste on  the place we call earth! The packaging is super easy to recycle!

How do you ensure that your products are eco friendly?

The ingredients used to create the products are sourced from an NPA guideline. The are eco-certified, from local organic farmers and organic certified.

What are some of your most popular products?

The best-sellers are: Brighten My Day Creamy Cleanser,  Make Today A better Day Body Butter and Antioxidant face coverup.

Do you have items for men?

Yes, most of my products are men friendly

What would be a good Valentine’s Day gift from you collection?

Rose Face serum and Himalayan Rose body exfoliator

What are some of the challenges of running a small business?

Keeping up with inventory! It can get very expensive and overwhelming at times.

What’s next for Rebecca?

Expanding my skincare line and venturing out into an adventurous mud spa!

Visit Rebecca’s Paradise at rebeccasparadise.com

Visit Myraid Mirage at myriadmirage.com

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Valentine’s Day Finds at the Farmer’s Market”  © 2020 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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

Nyack Sketch Log: Grandmother’s Chair

I live in a house on the land where my grandmother worked as a maid. Frances Lillian Avery Batson spent decades as a domestic for the Jewett family in Upper Nyack.  Several years ago, my fiancée and I moved into a cottage on property the Jewetts once owned.  We have placed my grandmother’s favorite chair in a place of honor over looking the Hudson River, facing the view I am certain her work ethic never allowed her to enjoy.

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 trash 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 MohamedMahmoud 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 Mohammad.  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

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, Mohamed 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 Mohamed’s gaze, this earnest and honorable man intercepted me and said, “It’s your chair, come and take her back.”

Items from Mohammad 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, Mohammad. 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, and 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 doubled 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 must 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. 

The home on Jackson Avenue, where her chair first settled, was bulldozed in the early 1960’s. She was able to take her meager Urban Renewal compensation and with her wages as a maid, buy a home near Central Nyack, no small feat for a mid-century African American woman.

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.  

Her chair now faces the river she never watched as she scrubbed and fussed over some else’s stuff so that her grandchild could sit watching the water.

Rockland County Legislature’s Black History Month Celebration is being held tonight, February 4, 2020 at 6:30 pm sharp.  Fellowship of Reconciliation Director, Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, and Officer Reginald Anderson are also being honored. The Rockland County Legislative Chambers is located at 11 New Hempstead Road in New City. Please call (845) 638-5773 if you have any questions.

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Grandmother’s Chair”  © 2020 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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

Nyack Sketch Log: Exhibition Shows the Seeds of Modern Art Sowed in Rockland Soil

by Bill Batson

A current exhibit on South Greenbush Road in West Nyack  features the work of a group of Rockland residents who introduced America to radical new ideas in expression, including impressionism and cubism in 1913.  This 2012 Nyack Sketch Log tells the story of how Rockland County has long been the home of major figures in American culture, leaving us a living institutional legacy: Rockland Center for the Arts.

In the contest to draw an audience for the arts, Rockland County is David to the Goliath of New York City. But when it comes to attracting artists to take up residence, the region has assembled a pantheon of American cultural deities worthy of Mount Olympus. Figures like actor Helen Hayes, composer Aaron Copland, painter Edward Hopper and writer Ben Hecht, to name a few, made their home in our neck of the woods.

American Modernism: 20th Century Influencers in Rockland

On view through February 23rd this exhibit features the work of men and women who broke from the norm and forever changed visual art in America. Artists include Maurice Heaton, Richard Pousette-Dart, and Mary Mowbray-Clarke and Arthur B. Davies, organizers of the pivotal 1913 Armory Show.

RoCa is located at 27 South Greenbush Road, West Nyack.

One Good Story

with Bill Batson

photo by Kris Burns

On Tuesday, February 11, from 6:30 – 9:30p, I will be filming interviews with local artists and community members inviting them to share their favorite story in front of a live audience.  Witness first-hand the interview process with the hope that you will replicate the format and tell your own stories. The interviews I record on the 11th will be looped together and shown in The Media Space during RoCA’s spring exhibit, Perspectives, which opens on March 8. Workshop participants will be encouraged to send in their interviews to be looped onto RoCA’s website. All ages are welcome, open to the community.

In 1949, Hayes and her talented contemporaries helped erect a temple to the creed of culture, staging  a benefit performance of the Glass Menagerie at Nyack High School. The play’s author, Tennessee Williams, drove from Manhattan to attend the performance.  On his way, he picked up his friend, author and South Nyack resident Carson McCullers. Joining Hayes on stage was the young actress, Julie Harris.

The performance funded the work of the Rockland Foundation (the organization would change its name to Rockland Center for the Arts or RoCA in 1970). Hayes was joined in this effort of cultural institution building by some of the most celebrated names in the arts including Copeland, Paulette Goddard, Kurt WeillMaxwell Anderson and Lotte Lenya. Mary Mowbray-Clarke, who with husband John Fredrick and abstract artist Arthur B. Davies organized the 1913 Armory Show in New York City that introduced French Impressionism and launched the modern art movement in America (and included the work of Edward Hopper), described their mission in a 1946 essay:

  • “To share with their neighbors whatever insights and power of expression they possess,
  • to help in the quickening of talent among children,
  • to take advantage of the presence in Rockland County of so many creative people”

The energy released by this big bang of talent continues to propel RoCA.   For its first few years, the organization operated from the basement of a building at 35 North Broadway. The group found a permanent home when Ms. Anne Emerson bequeathed her property in West Nyack to RoCA in 1949. The parcel included a stone and clapboard house dating from the late 1800’s, a small barn, and a chicken coop situated on 10 acres. Hayes headlined a fundraiser in 1970 at the dedication of a new building for RoCA, designed by local architect Charles Winter to accommodate galleries, studios and offices. The sprawling grounds have been transformed into the Catherine Konner Sculpture Park, which currently features 14 pieces of outdoor and site specific sculpture.

RoCA employs 45 instructors who offer 200 arts classes annually for everyone from the advanced practitioner to the hobbyist.  For 56 summers, RoCA has offered a day camp style arts program for children ages 5 – 12.

The face that frames the building in my sketch is part of an installation titled “Red Faces” by Monica Banks. This work was part of a series of dozens of faces exhibited in Times Square from 1996 – 2009. Like many of the sculptures that are on display in the Catherine Konner Sculpture Park, the Banks installation was made possible with the cooperation of New York City’s Public Art Fund.

Henry Varnum Poor

One of Monica’s sculptures was discovered in the yard of local blacksmith James Garvey, who fabricated the works for Banks.  RoCA was able to re-purpose Red Faces thanks to the generous contribution of talent and material from welder Peter Artin, who built the stands that support the sculptures.

With a 260-slot summer art camp, children’s winter classes, a year round Sculpture Park, an art school and a seasonal schedule of world-class exhibits, RoCA continues to honor the legacy of Hayes, Copland and their contemporaries.

We need to continue the tradition of investing our creativity and philanthropy in the local cultural organizations that were inspired by the world renowned artists that called this place their home. When we do, we can harness the brilliance of these luminaries, attracting cultural tourists and audiences from around the world to Rockland County, enriching our lives and rejuvenating our local economy.

Rockland Center for the Arts is located at 27 South Greenbush Road, West Nyack (just south of the intersection of routes 59 and 303) 845-358-0877

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Exhibition Shows the Seeds of Modernism Sowed in Rockland Soil” © 2020 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.


Nyack Sketch Log: Manufactured Minstrel Mascots


The Golliwogg Circus, 1903

by Bill Batson

When the American economy could no longer benefit from African slavery, companies found a way to continue to use black bodies: manufactured minstrel mascots. From the 1880s through 1930s, derogatory images of blacks were casually used to sell everything from household wares and souvenirs. A panel discussion on Thursday, Jan 30 at 7pm at the Nyack Library will explore the hurtful practice of racist branding.

Sadly, the commodification of negative stereotypes persists. Just last year, a company based in Verplanck, New York called Harry Hutter, had its “Feel Good Doll” recalled. The black cloth doll, with red, black, green and yellow hair, large eyes and a big white smile came with the following alarming instructions:

“Whenever things don’t go well and you want to hit the wall and yell, here’s a little ‘Feel Better Doll’ that you just will not do without. Just grab it firmly by the legs and find a wall to slam the doll and as you whack the ‘feel good doll’ do not forget to yell ‘I feel good. I feel good.'”

After wide spread outrage, the dolls were pulled from shelves, but the world, and African Americans in particular, were placed on notice. There are still companies who believe they can profit from trafficking in blatantly racist stereotypes, and stores that willing to sell them to the public.

Most African Americans can recall the gut-punch feeling of seeing the first object that denigrates your identity. In 1990, while visiting England, I spotted a book in the home of the family that was hosting me. A minstrel stared back from the cover of a children’s book. I examined the copy of The Golliwogg Circus, published in 1903. Golliwogg is a doll, in black face, with exaggerate features and thick, unkempt black hair. When I told the family how offended I was by the material, they apologized and told me I could dispose of the book as I saw fit. But as offensive as these images are, the thought of throwing out the book never occurred to me. I knew that this book had to be included in the historical record.

Dr. Cora Wilder

Nyack Library Trustee Dr. Cora Wilder has lived in South Nyack for over 55 years. In 2002, she retired from Rockland Community College, being the first African-American to achieve the rank of Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Her collection of nearly 100 Black Collectables of American Stereotype inspired a Nyack Library panel discussion on Thursday, January 30, @ 7pm.

African American Memorabilia as Cultural Symbols features Dr. Lori L. Martin, Louisiana State University & Dr. Tracyann Williams, The New School.

Moderated by Bill Batson

This panel is presented as part of Nyack Library’s Black American Culture & Art Series: The Legacy of Toni Morrison.


Examples of the racist origins of our nation, like the clause in the Constitution that apportioned votes by counting African Americans as three-fifths a person, must never be deleted. Every shred of documentary and physical evidence of how African have been treated in the Americas must be preserved. These fact can be used to educate the public, lest we forget and Feel Good Doll’s proliferate.

The panel on Black Memorabilia was inspired by the collection of Nyack Library Trustee Dr. Cora Wilder. Although Dr. Wilder can not participate in Thursday’s, panel discussion, much of her collection will be on display in the library later this year.

Nyack Sketch Log spoke with Dr. Wilder to learn more about her collection.

What inspired you to start and maintain your collection?

I didn’t start as a “collector.” I’m inclined to be more interested in items that reflect me, my culture, and who I am.

What was the first object you acquired?

I don’t recall the first item I acquired. It may have been the “Jolly N—-r” bank.

What is the most objectionable piece in your collection?

The most objectionable pieces in my collection are two postcards, each entitled “The Sleeping Beauty.”

One is the stereotypic Aunt Jemima and her mate.

Your objection?

“Sleeping Beauty” is sarcastic and demeaning. Also, household help were at the beck and call of everyone in the house. They worked from sun up to sun down.

In these postcards, both are asleep, invoking the notion (wide spread) of  being “lazy.” A deceased friend from Alabama told me this story. Her family were share croppers. They started work at 6am and everyday at noon a truck arrived with their lunch – warm cokes and saltine crackers. They had 15 minutes before returning to work.

Where do you search for these objects?

I have purchased many of these items and some have been given to me. The Pygmy dancers (in all the obscene positions) was given to me by my mother-in-law; a neighbor from England had given them to her. Several pieces were purchased from antique dealers on Broadway, Nyack. One “Jolly N—-r” bank was purchased in upstate New York;  A second was purchased in Bath, England.

How many pieces have you collected?

My collection is small – maybe 100 items – including books.

Where would you like this collection to be placed, ultimately?

I would like the ultimate placement of these items to be decided by my daughters and granddaughters. The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian has amassed many items.

My offspring represent Howard University, Cornell, St. John’s School of Law, the US Naval Academy, etc.

They can deal with this issue. I’d be happy to see them divide it among themselves.

Did you ever encounter any of African American stereotyped objects as a child?

I don’t recall seeing any of this as a child. I am a Washingtonian (from age 6) by way of South Carolina. I realize now that our parents tried to shield us from overt forms of racism – ie, We never went to a movie house where Blacks sat in the balcony.

Have you seen other similar collections?

I have not seen a similar collection in the homes of either family or friends.

Do these images still disturb you?

Yes, these images still disturb me because they are so deeply ingrained in American culture.
They represent the truth about the African-American experience.
They are reminders, too, of both a painful history and great triumphs.

I truly believe that knowledge of our history and roots can provide the self-esteem and ego so necessary to becoming
a good person.

What are some of the most prominent America brands to use stereotyped imagery?

Aunt Jemima pancake mix
Gold Dust Twins
Cream of Wheat

Did you hear about the Feel Better Doll? Are you surprised that stereotyped objects are still commercially available?

I’ve never heard of the Feel Better Doll? By no means am I surprised that stereotyped objects are still available commercially. Recently, I received such an item from Turkey advertising Rum. Making money seems to be the goal.

What do you think people should come away with when they look at these pieces?

I suppose people will come away with varying feelings – guilt, shock, anger, disbelief …

I would hope that many leave with the concern that the history of the USA is, in may respects, distorted and ugly.

This has never been “the land of the free and home of the brave, ” neither for Black people nor for many white people.

Special thanks to Tracy Dunstan, Head of Reference, Nyack Library

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketch logs in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Manufactured Minstrel Mascots” © 2020 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 

Special thanks to Laurie Seeman, Peggy Kurtz, Jacqui Drechsler, Rick Tannenbaum and Susan Hellauer



Nyack Sketch Log: Watershed Moment for Provocative Suez Proposal

by Bill Batson

A hearing to consider a provocative proposal from Suez Water, that includes a parking lot for its fleet next to Lake DeForest reservoir will be held on Wednesday, January 15 at 7:30p at Clarkstown Town Hall. The hearing occurs as a facebook group “Suez Stinks,” has gathered 985 members, all worried about the cause of malodorous tap water and a case against a 18.6% rate hike request by Suez makes its way through the courts.

Members of the public, who have the wherewithal to attend this sixth round in this public policy skirmish, will witness how much oversight the Clarkstown Planning Board will exercise in this urgent matter. The board deadlocked at their last meeting in August.

Maybe the spirit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on January 15th in 1929, will be present in the meeting room, helping reasonable people join together to hold the multinational corporation that controls our water supply to account.

Urgent Public Hearing

Clarkstown Planning Board

Wednesday, January 15
Town Hall Auditorium
10 Maple Ave, New City

Many residents in Rockland County have a bad taste in their mouth, not only from the drinking water, that was recently described as “Earthy” by some, but by the water giant’s efforts in the last decade to open a desalination plant on the Hudson River in Haverstaw. In December 2015, the NYS Public Service Commission agreed with the activists and said the plant was not needed, directing Suez, the company formerly known as United Water to focus, on conservation instead of desalination. Rockland ratepayers still had a hard pill to swallow. The never-built project’s planning expenses of $62 million were passed on to consumers.

The reservoir of goodwill for Suez has been poisoned on both sides of the pond.  In 2009, Paris, France said au revoir to Suez, and another private company that operated the city’s water resource. In 2016, County Executive Ed Day filed of an Article 78 lawsuit in NY State Supreme Court against the PSC and Suez-NY, relating to planning costs for the desal plant. “Rockland ratepayers are being hosed,” Day added.

A flyer circulated by local residents to mobilize turnout for the January 15 hearing accuses the company of failing to follow regulations to stabilize silt fences that protect the reservoir from contaminants.  Inspection site surveys’ from October, 2019 through Jan, 2020, provided by Clarkstown, reveal that Suez consistently ignored recommendations, failing to implement runoff and sediment control practices.

If this is how complaint the company is while under scrutiny, how will Suez behave when the public and inspectors are not looking?

Approximately 12% of Americans get their water from the private sector.

According to the website Rapid Transition Alliance, “between 2000 and 2015, there were 235 cases of water ‘remunicipalisation’– the process by which a city, region or national government terminates or refuses to renew water concessions, leases or management contracts with private companies, in order to bring water back under public control.” Two of those cities included Atlanta, Georgia and the previously mentioned, Paris, France. The company that they flushed: Suez.”

Maybe water is too urgent a need to trust to a private, profit-driven entity? Maybe we must reconsider the very notion of a privately controlled water supply?

“In an emergency, you can survive without most utilities—electricity, gas, garbage pickup and, yes, even the internet,” observes Earth Matter columnist Susan Hellauer. “But without one basic utility—potable water—you can count your remaining days on one, maybe two hands.”

Read also:

Nyack Sketch Log: Lake DeForest, Where Eagles Have Landed, May 2019

Nyack Sketch Log: The Source of Our Water, July 2019

Earth Matters: The Suez Saga and Why You Care, June 2019

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketch logs in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Watershed Moment for Provocative Suez Proposal” © 2020 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 

Special thanks to Laurie Seeman, Peggy Kurtz, Jacqui Drechsler, Rick Tannenbaum and Susan Hellauer