In 1792, Olivebridge artist Kate McGloughlin’s ancestor Asa Bishop moved from the Nine Partners Patent in Dutchess County to a hamlet called Olive City, where he built a gristmill and flourished. A little over a century later, his descendants were evicted from the mill so New York City could flood the land to create the Ashokan Reservoir.
“Every time I hear the story about the 90 miles of pipeline and how the reservoir was the greatest engineering feat since the Suez Canal, I think of all those people who lost their homes,” said McGloughlin. “Nowadays, people are forgetting the sacrifice that was made. I want to tell that story.”
McGloughlin will have a solo exhibition at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum (WAAM) entitled, “Requiem for Ashokan — The Story told in Landscape,” June 3 through June 24, with an opening reception Saturday, June 3, from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. The show will include mixed media paintings, solarplate etchings, maps with audio files, and an artist book depicting the loss of home, community, and landscape that took place during the construction of the reservoir.
“This is not a guilt trip,” said McGloughlin, “but I want people to remember where the city’s water came from.” Her own relationship with the reservoir is complex. She makes a living by painting landscapes of its scenery, and her father’s Irish ancestors were among the immigrants to New York who multiplied the city’s need for clean drinking water in the early 1900s. Two of her great-grandfathers worked on the construction project, one as a supervisor and one mowing the slope of the dam with a team of horses. But the memories of loss are embedded in the emotional life of her family — the legacy of the Bishops, Boices, Davises, and Winchells.
“I grew up with my great-grandmother, whose home was taken from her,” McGloughlin said. “The family farm was gone. There was never a time I didn’t know about this story. It’s a generational hurt. This thing was passed on that you could lose your home, that you need to grab onto everything.”
At Boice family reunions, every Labor Day, she had the role of trying to cheer up a relative whose melancholy was still palpable. “They watched their land get burned and grubbed,” she said. “Some of my family were paid to move their own dead people from the cemeteries. They did it because they couldn’t make a living any more.”
The work in the show was created to honor the past and to facilitate an emotional purging the artist felt she needed. Three events triggered the project. “First I heard something on NPR about generational traumas,” McGloughlin recalled. “Then I ran into a couple from Brooklyn who were talking about the reservoir but had no idea about the towns that had been lost.” The final prod was an interview with author Gail Straub, who lives near the reservoir and was collecting stories for a book she’s writing about its creation. When McGloughlin started talking about her family, emotions welled up and made her realize she had work to do.
As she began to research her ancestors, said the artist, “A muse became a mandate.” She read the testimony of an ancestor who was arguing in court to get a fair value for his orchard, since the city was supposed to reimburse people for their land. “They asked him, ‘How do you know you would’ve had a good year?’ He said, ‘This is my living.’ If a property was worth $5000, the owner would get about $250. That hurts me. And lot of families have been affected by this.”
At a residency in Provincetown, she created heavily textured black and white pieces about loss, despair, and anger, a departure from her usual serene landscapes. She wrote poetry and made etchings that mingle old photographs with documents such as census records and a yellow cloth notice announcing that a family had 10 days to leave their property. She often takes a sketchbook to the reservoir, and prints of her sketches are included in the show, as well as maps and a recording people can hear with headphones. Jay Unger and Molly Mason of the Ashokan Center gave her permission to use their music in the recording.
McGloughlin expects the art will be relevant to many Olive residents. At a seminar about the reservoir at the Ashokan Church in September, an engineer offered statistics on the construction — the 123 billion gallons of water that took a year to fill the two basins, the two-year process of building the underground tunnels that would carry the water downstate — but McGloughlin heard people in the audience discussing the other side of the story. They wanted to hear about the moving of the Glenford Church, which took five days’ work with a team of oxen to drag the building to its new location. The engineer didn’t know that part of the history. Said McGloughlin, “People are longing to have the stories told.”
Kate McGloughlin’s “Requiem for Ashokan — The Story told in Landscape” will be on display at WAAM, 28 Tinker Street, Woodstock, from June 3 through June 24. An opening reception will be held on June 3 from 4-6 p.m.