Here’s the thing: I’m of a certain age. When I was a kid, there were no cell phones, there was no internet and we only had three channels on the TV—which was “strictly …
Here’s the thing: I’m of a certain age. When I was a kid, there were no cell phones, there was no internet and we only had three channels on the TV—which was “strictly off-limits” for me and my sister most of the time. Television viewing was not encouraged and, if I whined about being bored, my mother had an answer to my woes: “Go outside and play,” she’d say. “You never know what you might find.”
Growing up on the banks of the “Mighty Susquehanna” river in Binghamton, NY stimulated my imagination and instilled a great love of the outdoors at an early age. My affinity for Mother Nature and all that she provides has remained a constant throughout my life, eventually leading me to set up Camp Fox here in the Catskills, where I write about playing outside with my dog while photographing the array of flora and fauna that dot the landscape of the Upper Delaware River region.
It’s that same love of the natural world that inspires writers and artists today, so when I heard that there would be a small group of “plein air” painters in my neck of the woods, I whistled for the dog and grabbed my camera, intent on seeing what they were up to. But first, as usual, I did a little bit of homework.
“Plein air painting is about leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape,” my internet search revealed. “The practice goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists. Their desire to paint light and its changing, ephemeral qualities—coupled with the creation of transportable paint tubes and the box easel—allowed artists the freedom to paint ‘en plein air,’ which is the French expression for “in the open air” (www.artistsnetwork.com).
Sure enough, I spotted a roadside sign with the words “Peace. Love. Plein Air.” and several artists with box easels scattered throughout the fields of Max Yasgur’s old farm in Bethel, NY. While the dog scampered ahead, I met up with Karen Meneghin, who had organized the event. Meneghin, the founder of Zane Grey Plein Air, gave me a little background information.
“This is our third year of events,” she said. “I [originally] brought the concept to the National Park Service at the museum because it seemed to be the most ideal place to sponsor an event. Zane and his wife, Dolly, lived at Lackawaxen for a 20-year period and it was their artistic haven and a respite from New York City. They felt that to be surrounded by nature really nurtured their instincts. That’s what I believe to be the spirit of Zane Grey Plein Air. We’re following in their footsteps,” she continued, “and really tapping into the vibe of being on that amazing location on the Delaware River.
“Landscape artists are environmentalists at heart and derive their creativity from being in these amazing locations,” she said, referring to where we were standing—in the shadow of Max Yasgur’s now-iconic barn, visible from route 17-B in Bethel, NY.
The barn, emblazoned with the Yasgur name, is world-famous for being the home of the 1969 Woodstock Music festival. “I’d like to also wed history [to the experience], and that’s one of the draws [of painting] here,” Meneghin added. “The environment and historical significance have a creative basis as well.”
Wondering aloud if painting outdoors has been more significant this year because of the pandemic, I asked Karen’s opinion. “We’re socially distanced by nature and we’re always out of doors,” she informed as the light and shadows continued to shift, playing across the barn and silo that the artists were busily capturing on small canvasses.
“We do events in Pennsylvania and New York, and we’re very closely monitoring the day-to-day guidelines. Our original sponsorship comes from the Zane Grey museum, but we picked up additional sponsorship this year from the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum. Because of the situation, they could not open [indoors] but they were able to open their grounds to us and we kicked off our season with a workshop [led by plein air painter Jay Brooks] on the grounds. We’re a community,” she added, “and have a lot of shared artistic pursuits, including a ‘Paint Sullivan County’ event, which is happening right now. Ideally, I’d like to see all of the townships represented,” she said of the months-long project. “We want to encourage people to explore their own local communities.”
As I observed the artists at work and my dog chasing butterflies, I photographed the bucolic scene and considered my mother’s words. “Go outside and play,” she would advise. “You never know what you might find.”
Founded in 2018, Zane Grey Plein Air promotes environmental awareness by hosting public art events for artists and the community in partnership with local sustainable businesses and conservation organizations in the Upper Delaware Region.
For more information about Zane Grey, “Paint Sullivan County” and a complete schedule of events, go to www.zanegreypleinair.com and www.nps.gov or call 570/685-4871.
Fun fact: Pearl Zane Grey was a Western-genre author and dentist best known for his adventure novels and stories that idealized the American frontier. “Riders of the Purple Sage” was his best-selling book.