Remembering the Beginning of Art Omi

Francis Greenberger painted by Richild Holt
This picture of a painting, done by Richild Holt of Francis Greenburger represents to me the real beginning of ART OMI. I realize that Francis, Linda and John Cross, Sandi Slone and others in New York City, and up here, had spent months planning. They had to somehow find and choose and invite 21 artists from around the world to spend 3 weeks working in a barn, where they each could do “their own thing.” They had to arrange for supplies, food and drink, living quarters, on and on. Somehow they thought of everything. Even bicycles for transportation from Ledig House and other houses to the Barn. They also put together an impressive list of visiting artists, gallerists, collectors and a critic-in-residence.

The part that I was involved in was watching the construction, and listening to it. It was very noisy. And Henry and Jon David were busy building tables: much cheaper than buying them. I also remember taking Francis to a closing-down furniture factory to buy, literally, dozens of very sturdy, not bad looking chairs for $20 each.

But the arrival day to me is represented by this picture of Francis. Richild, obviously started working immediately and Francis was a very busy man. In fact when I looked at the painting the first time, I said to Richild, “that is a great painting of Francis, but that is not his hand.” She asked why I said that. I responded, “because it isn’t.” She said “do you know whose hand it is?” I didn’t. She said “It is your son Carl’s. I couldn’t keep Francis still any longer.”

Linda Cross at Omi International Arts Center

Linda Cross at Omi. She always looked like this, calm and collected

Linda Cross and Henry Schools are a very unlikely pair. But I think that they were each what the other needed for this first workshop to work. It looked like an insurmountable task. Linda was a class act. She was always calm, cool, reassuring and pleasant. Henry, on the other hand, was Henry.

From the minute the artists arrived everybody had questions and everybody wanted things. Some questions could be answered and some things could be provided. Some could not. Linda tried her best to accommodate but occasionally the answer just had to be no. Henry had no problem with that. It was an interesting and sometimes hilarious day and week. It gradually calmed down. Some of the hammering stopped and some of the artists relaxed as there was less noise and activity. They also seemed to find they required less silence. Good thing.

The very first day Richild captured the spirit of the place and Francis’ total commitment and involvement. I was amazed at her ability to capture the very primitive beginning on her 1st day there. In just a very few days she captured Henry’s spirit. This painting is the way his grandchildren remember him.

Henry Schools painted by Richild Holt

Henry Schools portrait by Richild Holt, 1992

I have been in the real estate business for what seems like forever, and two very important things that we never forget about are location and foundation. As far as location it couldn’t be beat: it was near the Pink House, an easy ride to the train and absolutely perfect for expansion. Volker Blumkowski from Germany asked me one day if I could take him to see some luxurious properties. I agreed and took several people on a little tour. It just so happened that one of the places was what is now The Ledig House and THE FIELDS and even the Charles B. Benenson Visitor’s Center. So you see, I did not forget what is important as far as real estate is concerned.

We started out with a new concrete floor. We had to have a good foundation. I also believe that Francis, Linda, Henry (where is Ross? He must be at the train station!) all gave so much more to this BIG JOB and BIG IDEA, way beyond what any body could have expected. It was a long time before I realized how much Sandi Slone with her extensive knowledge, experience, connections and talent added behind the scenes. They were the real foundation. Absolutely as sturdy as a rock. They gave this mission a send off as if it were headed for the moon. Maybe it is. It doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

But Art OMI itself is the result of Francis Greenburger’s charitable inclinations, his vision and his ability to recognize the people around him who can espouse it, dig in, and help him do it. He is amazing and if you look at it as it exists today he is obviously still attracting that kind of people. How great a privilege it was for me and my entire family to be a small part of its beginning. I will always remember the total dedication of this diverse foursome Francis, Ross (who did everything that needed to be done), Linda and Henry. It is a picture indelibly imprinted in my mind.

The Beginnings of Art Omi

Recently, I was presented with a copy of 20 @ OMI Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity and Community. It is a beautiful book. It is hard to believe that ART OMI has been in Ghent for 20 years. As I started to read, the memories came flooding back.

My youngest son Jon and I had been talking to Francis Greenburger (the father of it all) about Triangle, an artists’ colony near Pine Plains. He sounded like he wanted one of those. At that time Jon was in the real estate business with me and, like Francis, once he got an idea in his head he could not let go of it. He and I went down and studied Triangle and came home with Jon’s idea for the perfect place: the old Bozik dairy barn on Omi Road at Letter “S” Road.

The barn and silo at Omi International Arts Center, Ghent, NY

Francis bought the barn and we had all kinds of ideas about how this could, and would work. It was a huge two-story Quonset-style barn, 130 feet long and 62 feet wide. The ground floor was filled with stanchions, a milking parlor, and gutters the full length of the barn for removing manure. The first job was taking out the stanchions with jack hammers. Then they worked for 24 hours, day and night pouring and troweling a beautiful new concrete floor (a job you can’t stop in the middle of). That was the biggest expense of the renovation.

The huge upstairs was easier to deal with. They put sky lights all over that roof and the light was amazing. Sinks for the artists to use, two bathrooms, and a sort-of kitchen were all the amenities to start. Every year something more was done.

Who knew that every year the artists would fight over the silo for their project. Many beautiful things were accomplished there during the 20 years that followed. One year there was an artist (I think from Australia) who, at sunrise every morning would play music on a didgeridoo in that silo. My husband, who at that time was the studio manager, made me get up and go listen. I am so glad he did. I went often. It was a haunting sound in the stillness of daybreak, and the acoustics of the space made it indescribable. I will always remember it.

There are so many things I will remember. I remember Joanna Przybla from Poland, who wanted to do a huge outdoor sculpture with an enormous dead tree, roots and all. She and I wandered up and down all the streams, brooks, and creeks, looking for exactly what she wanted. It took days, but we finally found it. We talked the Gardina Brothers into bringing heavy equipment over to pull it out of the Kinderhook Creek and haul it over to the barn.

My husband, three sons, a couple of nephews, and anybody else I could find were at the beck and call of the artists. Between them there wasn’t much they couldn’t do. At one point Joanna said to me “how do you expect me to do my work with all of these wild men around?” I said, “get used to them, Joanna, they are the only kind we have.” She learned quickly to appreciate them. They were an interesting group, and so were the artists. They came from all over the world. During their time together they started cautiously, gradually became comfortable and most of them cried at the end, when they parted. I think most of them became diplomats in their own countries. I am sure they learned a lot about “crazy Americans”, country folk, and the cultures of so many other countries.

I realize there is so much to say about the transformation of that old dairy barn into ART OMI International as it exists today. I think I might be tempted to write another installment. One thing I know for sure – when Francis Greenburger takes something on, it works!

The Van Salsbergen Home in Greenport

Van Salsbergen House, Greenport, NY
I took this photo last week at the Greenport Conservation Area, showing the back of a house off Joslen Boulevard which is among the oldest in Columbia County. It is often referred to as the van Hoesen House, but most people associate that name with the 1729 brick house on Route 66 that is now the sad mascot of the Dutch Village mobile home park.

This house is earlier, from 1700 or before, and built with two-feet thick stone walls and timbers. Owners in the mid or late 1700s extended the length of the house, rebuilding the North wall in brick and adding the dormer windows.

Jan Frans van Hoesen died in 1704, leaving his daughter Catherine and her husband Francis Hardick thousands of acres along the river from the center of Hudson north towards Stockport. Jan Hendricksen van Salsbergen purchased some of this land and may be the original builder of this house. In more recent times it was known as the Julia Black house. Julia bought the house in 1943, but by the late ’60s it was vacant and deteriorating until Ruth de Haan bought and restored it in the late ’80s.