TRR photos by Jonathan Charles Fox

Outside Institute founder Laura Silverman, center, Bethel Woods’ Laura E.J. Moran, and the Thoreau Society’s Michael Schleifer presented an interesting program on the connection between the Woodstock generation, the natural world and civil disobedience.

Cell phone potpourri

While many think of dried flower petals and spices placed in a bowl, others mistake it for a midnight snack, usually discovering their mistake too late. When I use the lyrical word “potpourri,” I mean what the dictionary describes as a “mixture, assortment, selection, assemblage and variety,” which sums up my week nicely. Even though I was fully prepared to stay in for the evening and snuggle on the couch with the Wonder Dog last Thursday, my new cell phone reminded me that I committed to a few hours in Monticello, where members and friends of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce were gathering to welcome new president and CEO Jaime Schmeiser. While Jaime has been taking meetings and shaking hands all over the county, the mixer served as an opportunity for her to relax a bit and schmooze with the locals like myself out to snag some terrific hors d’oeuvres, and raise a glass in honor of Schmeiser officially taking the reins as of October 1.

I chatted with like-minded individuals and snapped a few photos before taking my leave, dog, blanket and couch on my mind. Now that I have a schmancy new phone, it seems as if it can do “everything but wash the dishes” as my mother would say. So I asked it (out loud) to find me the rest of my schedule for the week, and he did (you heard me) reciting it in a proper, British butler sort of way. God bless technology, though it will surely be the ruination of us all. Off I went the next afternoon to Liberty, NY, where Cobalt Studios (like ‘em on Facebook) artists were exhibiting large-scale pieces, titled “Scenery-Student Works.” “They learn how to paint anything and everything,” scenic artist and studio owner Rachel Keebler told me as we toured the gallery, “including fabric, wood and yes—even glass” she said, pointing to a larger-than-life clear cup and saucer, replete with lipstick imprint.

While several of the artists were on hand to discuss the studio, the classes and techniques learned during their freshman year at Cobalt, they all (duh) wanted to meet Dharma more than talk to me. So I was left on my own to admire the beautiful theatrical backdrops, which are (IMHO) amazing in detail, realism and sheer scope. Each year, the studio accepts five students into the two-year program. Only student Kendall Davila was unable to attend, so her cohorts insisted on a group photo in front of Davila’s stunning backdrop, in order to include their fellow student. Nice, right? Cobalt Studios work has been seen in productions of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, the Twyla Tharpe Dance Company, and the Moscow Ballet and Puppet Theatre, to name but a few of the internationally known stages where this incredible art has been featured. Oh, and right here at home at the Liberty Museum and Arts Center, Saturdays, through November 10.

“Not to be rude,” my electronic butler said when I plugged him into the car, “but you’re due to learn something today Jonathan, about Henry David Thoreau. Oh, and take a hike with Laura Silverman, too.”

“Not to be rude,” my electronic butler said when I plugged him into the car, “but you’re due to learn something today Jonathan, about Henry David Thoreau. Oh, and take a hike with Laura Silverman, too.” Thinking it sounded like an odd pairing of events, I checked my antiquated notebook when I got home for lunch, and sure enough, both Michael Schleifer’s program about Thoreau and Silverman’s hike were on the same bill at the conservatory at Bethel Woods. Arts and Humanities Education Manager (talk about schmancy!) Laura E.J. Moran connected the dots for me before introducing Schleifer and Silverman. “Let’s not forget,” she said to the packed house, “that Woodstock was a music and arts fair, and since Thoreau was a naturalist, we invited Laura to guide us on a short hike and share her love of the natural world, while we search out the original ‘Bindy Bazaar’ trail where (non-conformist) artists displayed their wares back in ’69.

Silverman led her first group outside, where she pointed out hemlock, beech and birch trees and discussed mushrooms, violets and ferns while I hung back to hear Michael chat with those who remained indoors. Schleifer, who has served as president of the Thoreau Society and is an expert on the famous essayist, poet and philosopher, was quick to point out that he (and most of the world) has been mispronouncing the author’s name since discovering Thoreau in college. “Apparently, it rhymes with ‘thorough’” Schleifer said with a chuckle. “Who knew?”

The amusing, anecdotal and interesting “lecture” that followed was interesting, educational and timely to a fault, as Schleiffer shared his knowledge and passion for the man probably best known for his book “Walden,” and the essay “Civil Disobedience.” That seemed like a natural fit with Bethel Woods where 450,000 young war protestors gathered at Yasgur’s Farm nearly 50 years ago and secured its place in history.

“Cell phone potpourri,” I said to the dog after turning the not-so-silent butler off, finally making it to the couch. “Good name for a band, right?”


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