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.