Photos by Lauren Thomas
“Picturesque” is one of the first words that leaps to mind when people try to describe Huguenot Street with its original stone houses. And this past Saturday, 14 professional artists were on hand at various vantage points around the historic neighborhood, creating concrete proof of that exact quality in a matter of hours. The second annual Artists on the Street plein air paint-out, sponsored by Historic Huguenot Street (HHS), attracted some of the mid-Hudson’s finest painters to participate, as well as a steady flow of curious art-lovers and heritage tourists to watch and ask questions. Some of the artists even managed to sell a few paintings in the course of the day.
Working in oil, gouache, watercolor and pastel, this year’s participants included Marlene Wiedenbaum, Kevin Cook, Ray Curran, Howard Miller, Carolyn Edlund, E. S. DeSanna, Mark Simmons, Janet and Keith Gunderson, Mira Fink, John A. Varriano, Marsha Massih, Richard Greener, Warren Hurley, Rose Gennaro and Jim Adair. The challenge placed before them was to arrive at their appointed stations no earlier than 8:30 a.m. (though some had scoped out the scene and made preliminary sketches the day before) and bring at least one, preferably two completed paintings to the big white tent set up next to the Deyo House no later than 5 p.m., to be displayed at a free wine-and-cheese reception for the general public.
And rise to the challenge they did, taking advantage of the clear, sunny day to portray Huguenot Street’s historic buildings and surrounding landscaping in luminous works that anyone would be proud to hang on a wall, not one betraying the haste with which they were executed. Some artists reported having to move their easels to stay in the shade and escape the heat, and adapting their pictures to the changing angle of light throughout the day required some exercise of imagination.
“It’s tricky in terms of the light, because this I actually saw at 8:30 in the morning, and by now of course the light is all on this side,” said Ray Curran as he was hanging his finished watercolor depicting the Jean Hasbrouck House with a costumed reenactor passing in front. “So you have to kind of make your commitment and hold onto it.” Curran, who lives on Huguenot Street and has served as a HHS board member, explained that “Some of the great Impressionist painters…painted scenes at different times of the day on different canvases for that reason,” switching from one to another as the day progressed.
Another very locally based painter who participated was Kevin Cook, who actually rents one of the properties belonging to HHS across the street from the French Church and describes himself as the organization’s “unofficial artist-in-residence.” The plein air event was originally Cook’s idea, inspired by a similar paint-out hosted by Sunnyside, the Washington Irving estate in Westchester County. He estimated that in both of the first two years, about 600 people had turned out to watch the artists at work: “I saw 200 to 300 at my easel all day long,” he said, in spite of the fact that he had been stationed at the southern end of the street, away from the center of the action.
New for Artists on the Street 2014, according to Cook, was the fact that an outdoor party tent had been substituted for last year’s rather crowded reception inside the DuBois Fort. New programming had been added as well: “We had a special art-themed tour… It’s a nice blend of art and history.” “We hope to keep building this event,” HHS president Mary Etta Schneider chimed in.
Outside the Fort, clipboards with “Find the Flags” scavenger hunt sheets and colored pencils for decorating them were made available as a children’s art and history activity. Inside the building, visitors could view a continuous audiovisual presentation about Huguenot Street and check out a display of artifacts dug up by participants in this summer’s HHS Archaeology Camp, including delicately painted ceramic fragments.
“I actually really love plein air. It’s the first thing I did when I started painting at the age of 11,” said Poughkeepsie-based artist Carolyn Edlund as she applied finishing touches to her oil painting of the DuBois Fort, magically dappling its walls and lawn with shadows. Although she has mostly worked in her studio in recent years, she said, “I find this extremely fulfilling and refreshing…This is such a pleasant place to be. I think I’m going to have to come back often.”
All the artworks produced during the Artists on the Street paint-out will remain on exhibit in the DuBois Fort through September 8, and all are up for sale, with prices mainly in the $300 to $800 range. The visitors’ center is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.huguenotstreet.org.