The art of love: reliving a Valentine

John Kleinhans and Paula Nelson.

John Kleinhans and Paula Nelson.

It’s a sappy question but one has to ask it, even though photographer John Kleinhans says he really should be shoveling his roof this snowy morning.

He’s talking about all that’s involved in asking his wife, artist Paula Nelson, to be his valentine again this year.

“I’ve thought about it a bit,” Nelson replies straightfaced. “It’s only been 30 years and every year we do have to decide these things.”


The couple recalls how they were introduced in the early 1980s by the late Bob Angeloch, who was Nelson’s teacher when she first came to Woodstock as an art student in 1966, and later befriended Kleinhans when he moved to town and headed immediately for the Woodstock School of Art in 1982.

“I had seen John’s resume before I met him, because he was interested in working at the school of art, and I thought he would be old and tweedy from all he’d done to that time,” Nelson recalls.

“In a week or two I’d become second vice president of the WSA under Paula, and things progressed from there,” Kleinhans adds. “We got married in ‘85.”

Nelson points out how the two had to court first…and get out of or totally free of previous arrangements.

“I knew, during that time, that if I was to stop at the bank or the A & P, there would always be this car showing up, and then a little note under the wiper on my windshield,” she adds. “I’d be at the Paradox Gallery and John would stop by. What do you call that now?”

“Stalking?” he replies.

“I’d gotten divorced in 1980 and I was enjoying being single with my own house, raising my son,” Nelson goes on.

“I arrived as a weekender up from New York in ‘79 and moved here full time in ‘82,” Kleinhans says. “I’d gotten divorced but it hadn’t quite ‘taken’ yet; I believe ‘complicated’ is the term we use for such things. We’re all good friends now.”

Was there a point of proposal between the two parts of this classic Woodstock couple?

“Basically, Paula did it,” Kleinhans says.

“Come on, you remember,” she counters. “It was the fish.”

“I won a goldfish at the Zena Carnival but they were out of fish and gave me a ticket to redeem for my winnings,” Kleinhans remembers. “Paula held it hostage until we married.

Which happened the day after Thanksgiving, 1985 in the Woodstock Lutheran Church on Mill Hill Road, even though neither bride nor groom were church goers. It just seemed a better place to get married than the civil situations they’d each been through previously.

Bob Angeloch was John Kleinhans’ best man; Angeloch’s wife Mara was Paula Nelson’s bridesmaid. Afterwards the two couples, who’d already vacationed and traveled together with families, had dinner at the old Topper’s restaurant in Kingston, with Paula and John then whisking off to the Auberge Des Quatre Saisons in Shandaken for their overnight honeymoon.

“There was a deer hanging from a tree in the back yard,” she recalls. “Hunting season had just started.”

“The sump pump went out back at home,” he adds. “We had a house full of family we had to get back to.”

Ever since, the two add, they take a short trip of several hours for their anniversary.

And for Valentine’s Day?

“A little dinner, maybe,” Nelson says. “John’s birthday is the day after our anniversary, which was the same day as my first husband’s birthday, as well as our grandson.”

How do they keep romance alive in their lives, their marriage?

“She has no idea the depths of my admiration,” he says.

“John is so easy to live with,” she replies. “He always says yes.”

“I respect her opinions,” John adds.

“We work together, make art with each other,” Nelson concludes. “We did a show several years ago of that we called ‘Working Together.’”

The couple talks about how much fun they’ve long had in Woodstock. She recalls being the youngest of an older art crowd when she first came to town; he remembers how well Bob Angeloch introduced him to everyone he knew. Together, the two have a deep sense of what the place once was, before people had the funds for going out, when the nights were taken up with dinners, long talks about art, shared chores, and a near-endless ping pong game played in various sites around town.

And yes, they do note how things have changed, from the art stores where Nelson worked as a young woman to the ways in which contemporary artists now congregate.

Do they have any words of wisdom about love, about sticking things out and deeply enjoying locally-lived lives like they’ve had?

“Recognize that you’re not going to agree on everything,” he says. “Neither of us is temperamental, but that’s just who we are.”

“We got married when we were older, in our forties, and we had had lives,” she says. “You don’t expect the same things”

“We knew we had something of value that we didn’t want to take casually,” he says.

“It’s always good to do something for the other person each day,” she says. “It used to be making the orange juice; now put out his pills.”

“You also set the mousetraps,” he adds.

John Kleinhans recalls meeting his wife, Paula Nelson, when she was working as the first manager of Catskill Art & Supply. He bought a pencil box. She notes that he still has it.

“Just say yes,” she adds.

“Right,” he replies.

“Yes, dear,” they then say in unison.