Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Jersey: The Movie

Tonight we are hosting a special event at the Artists' Gallery. Steve Chernoski, Writer/Director of the award winning New Jersey: The Movie will be on hand for a free screening. It's a fun documentary about New Jersey and the dividing line between north and south Jersey, which happens to be right around the Lambertville area. While this has little to do with fine art paintings and photos, it does fit in with our desire to explore some of the lesser known aspects of New Jersey in New Jersey Blues.

Now that the exhibit has been up for a few weeks, we've gotten a lot of great feedback from visitors. Many are familiar with the places depicted, and if not they are curious to learn more about them. Many of Rich's pieces look like very typical New Jersey scences, although you might not notice them so much as you travel throughout the state. By coincidence, many of the photos I selected are of things you might not think you'd find in New Jersey. I really like the mix of the two together. I'm glad we had the chance to put this exhibit up in our new space, the lighting and layout are a vast improvement.

I just finished a 40-page book entitled Lambertville, Photo Essay of a New Jersey River Town, comprised of images I've taken around Lambertville in the last few years, some of which are also in the exhibit. It's on display and available for purchase at the gallery for $45, and copies can also be ordered from me directly at the same price.

Rich and I will be at the gallery next weekend, it's your last chance to stop by and see the exhibit. Rich will be doing some painting, check for updates on the exact day and time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Days Grow Short When We Reach September

The Photographer and The Painter outside the Gallery on Opening Night...

Posted by Rich- When a gallery show is finally hung, it is amazing how brief the time seems where the work is actually on display all together. It seems especially short when I consider how long John and I have been working on developing the exhibition concept, and working on our individual contributions.

The reaction to the work on display seems to be mostly positive, although I found the attendance at the opening reception itself to be disappointing. Actually, “disappointing” would be an understatement. There were a few periods during the reception on Saturday night when the gallery felt like a diorama before the mannequins are installed. I arrived over an hour late, and John assures me that between 5 and 6 PM the joint was jumping, but attendance was pretty sparse after that. We did have well over a hundred visitors to the gallery that day, however, and both John and I sold work ( the little paintings of the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge went quick! Thinking I might do some more…)

Personally, I feel more at ease when there aren’t a lot of people milling around, and I have never felt comfortable being in the spotlight; the group show openings are much more enjoyable to me, or attending the opening receptions of the other members of the gallery. One of the reasons: I don’t think I am ever 100% satisfied with my work on display. I often want to keep working on it, and have actually taken work down off the wall during the week and spruced it up before the gallery re-opens on the weekend.

Like the previous exhibitions I’ve done at the Artists’ Gallery, I was working right up until the last minute to get the body of work completed on time for the show. This time though, it was really the very last minute, and I hesitated at inviting a lot of people to something I wasn’t positive was going to be at all worth looking at.

Fortunately, John had used his photo of Hot Dog Johnny’s roadside stand in Northwest New Jersey as a publicity piece, and the work struck a nostalgic chord in a good number of patrons who showed up to see it. I had considered doing a watercolor of the same place, but I’m glad I didn’t spend any time working on one; John’s photo of the place is so good, I think any painting would pale by comparison. As a matter of fact, after seeing the publicity for the exhibition, a nephew of the original owner of Hot Dog Johnny’s came in to look at John’s photo as well.

The concept for this exhibition will not end when we take the work down on October 4th; There are still a great many places in New jersey I want to visit and see what I can find to create paintings from. The Bendix Diner, of course, is still on my list, and I’d also like to see where Les Paul lived in Mahwah.

The time for the actual exhibition will end the first weekend of October, but I will be creating a lot more work based on New Jersey and hopefully have another exhibition of the New Jersey Blues with John in the future. One thing became evident as we worked on this show: the State of New Jersey is a lot bigger than it seems, and underneath the layers of four lane expressways, strip malls, and jug-handle left turns, it is also much more interesting than it appears.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hang Time

The "Big Letter" promo card for the exhibition.

Posted by Rich- Long days and nights in the studio the past two weeks became the norm as I got closer to the show and worked to finish the artwork. Finishing the painting is one thing; getting the work matted, framed, labeled, and generally cleaned up enough for presentation and hopefully a sale is another chore altogether, and one I am not particularly fond of.

As much as one of my previous blog posts seemed to be a complaint about the creative process I go through to complete each piece, it really isn’t all stressful tedium. Painting and drawing is really quite relaxing, and when I’m not doing any of either I find myself thinking about it, and what I would like to paint or draw when I finish whatever I have in my studio at present. To me, the nicest thing about finishing a painting is not displaying it, but being able to start another one that hopefully will come out better. If I could afford it, I’d much rather pay some one else to do all my framing and hanging while I just made more work in my studio.

I was able to finish eleven pieces for this exhibition. I had started a twelfth, a large watercolor of the Crossroads Diner. That particular one will have to wait, however, as I felt I could not give it the attention it deserves; it has the potential to be a very nice piece, and I really want to do a good job rendering the stainless steel and glass exterior. I was able to get it about a quarter of the way finished when I decided to concentrate on other compositions for the New Jersey Blues exhibition.

Besides the Crossroads Diner, other works in progress – “progress” meaning they are either started with watercolor, drawn in pencil on unstretched watercolor paper, or consist of a drawing transferred to a stretched canvas- include a 1951 Ford, front end view (I always liked the 1951’s , and I painted a similar one in acrylics a few years ago and sold it right away); a triptych of truss bridges spanning the New Jersey Transit rail line to Manhattan ( see the bridge post earlier on for details on my fascination with bridges of this type); two large canvases of railroad subjects, a tank car and a coal car, taken from photos snapped on a sunny winter day almost 2 years ago ( I like trains- not enough to have a large model train layout in my basement, but enough to buy and enjoy magazines like The Railroad Press); 2 separate paintings of old John Deere tractors ( I like tractors, too. I’d really like to try driving one. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many opportunities to try one out…no one offers a course on tractor driving) and a painting of an old Mack truck, a Model B. ( I had a metal toy of a Mack B Model when I was very small. The toy has long since disappeared, but the affection for the truck lives on; I’ve painted Model B’s several times over the years…)

A Mack "B" Model truck....

Frames and mat boards have been purchased, and a night devoted to measuring, cutting, glass cleaning, and labeling the works for exhibition took place. John and I also spent an evening hanging the work in the gallery, with John graciously agreeing to hang work the night before the gallery opens for business on Friday morning; I can always use every available minute, and then some, to get this work completed. I stayed until midnight or so after we got done hanging work to apply more paint to the Zega Farm watercolor.

This needed a lot more work...come by the exhibition to see how it looks finished, although unsigned.

John and I have exhibited work together before, and set a precedent with one of our shows by mingling the photography and paintings together in the exhibition space. Prior to this, the usual practice for the 2 artists exhibiting that month was to display on opposite sides of the gallery, splitting the space evenly. I like combining the work, since John and I both focused on the same subject, and since I feel like my eleven paintings- 3 of which are only 8 x 6 inches- do not take up much space on a wall when they are displayed by themselves, and I don’t want one side of the gallery space to appear lonely. Especially my side…

After we arranged all the pieces, it looks like we had more than enough work to fill the walls, with John's larger photographs looking particularly good.As a matter of fact, the entire gallery looks great. Unfortunately, I’m still not 100% satisfied with all the work I completed…sometimes I hesitate to sign my work if I feel like it's not completely finished, and I want to go back and add more to it.

We also created an announcement postcard that reflects the theme of the exhibition, a “big letter” design reminiscent of the postcards purchased as souvenirs or sent from resort locations like Atlantic City in the middle of the last century.

It has been the practice for members of our gallery to place art in the front window of the gallery, hoping to entice pedestrians on Bridge Street in Lambertville to come in and look at the current exhibit. John and I chose to have a large ( 44 inches wide) version of our big letter post card placed on an easel- hopefully the nostalgic appeal of the card will attract patrons in. Stop by Lambertville and see for yourself if it works!

The BIGGER "Big Letter" postcard in the gallery window...

artist in picture for scale comparison only!

The Opening Reception for the exhibition is Saturday, September 11th at 5 PM- I did not tell many people about it, mostly because I was buried in work and worried that I wouldn’t have many pieces finished in time…however, the Artist’s Gallery has a pretty good publicity mechanism in place, and John has been great at getting notices out to people, so maybe the Opening will be well attended.

…I’m already thinking about my next exhibition.

Got this one finished,and signed! It looks a lot better than this in progress piece.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Worst Thing I Ever Did...

Posted by Rich- Every time I start a new painting or illustration assignment, it always goes through a stage where it looks like it is spinning out of control and I should just start over. I make myself stick to it, and I usually am able to bring it in for a controlled landing, although there are ALWAYS portions of a piece I wish I had done better.
The stages of the painting usually go like this:
Inspiration…Sketching…Transferring sketch …line painting, monochromatic line and under painting…
then self doubt, wondering why I chose this particular subject matter, and trying to convince myself that this painting is worth pursuing despite the fact that it looks like a complete train wreck at this point.

The train wreck stage occurs during the actual application of the color media itself to the surface . This stage usually includes various amounts of sweating, tedium, second guessing, mixing and remixing colors. Until I am about three-quarters of the way to the finished art, each painting I work on has an equal opportunity to win the title of The Worst Painting I Ever Did. All of the paintings in this exhibition looked at one point like absolute disasters in the making while I blocked in colors and worked on value transitions. I continually remind myself, several times, of what I tell my students:
“Everything I paint looks like the worst thing I ever did, halfway


Some of my progress pictures posted here will attest to that.

The watercolors are probably the pieces that give me the willies earliest on—they can really look like a mess during the first stages. Any mistakes on the acrylic paintings can be painted over pretty quickly, but the watercolors require letting the white of the paper illuminate the pigment, so I have to work with a layering process…


Painting of the 7-11 in West Cape May, at the very beginning stage, and halfway was scary.

I think I enjoy the watercolors the most though, despite the willies they give me. Number one reason: they’re fast, and I can stop working on a painting and pick it up a few hours or days later with no remixing of paints. Number two, they are portable; given my busy schedule, I can transport a watercolor with me easily and get a few colors added in between teaching classes or waiting for the train. I just need a bottle of water and a place to sit. I’ve worked on paintings in airport terminals, Burger Kings, mall food courts, and waiting for new tires to be installed on my truck at the garage where I get it serviced. I’ve even done some watercolor work while commuting on the train – you just have to time the bumps and bounces and make sure you work on an area of the painting that doesn’t require exacting detail.

Another Cape May piece; these clouds were great to look at, tough to paint...

Looks like I will be trying to squeeze in some more watercolor work where ever I can this week; It’s Tuesday, and the exhibition needs to have work hanging in place by 11 AM Friday. If I get a seat on the train with enough room, I think I can finish all the pieces by then.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A River Runs By It

Posted by Rich- Living a few miles from the Delaware River, you get used to having to use a bridge to get from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and back again. Some of these bridges are more mundane than others, with a four lane highway transversing the river so smoothly you barley realize you are on a bridge, while others that look so narrow and spindly you wonder if it will be able to hold up the weight of the cars driving across it.

As a kid growing up in Utica, NY, we lived adjacent to the New York State Barge Canal and almost always had to cross over it whenever we wanted to go someplace. Most of the bridges we drove over then seemed to be of the same vintage and design as the three bridges I now use to cross over the Delaware, but none had any of the charm; as a matter of fact, they were more of the spindly variety and looked downright scary as they were perched high over the canal to allow boats passing underneath ample clearance.
A surviving truss bridge over the New York State Barge Canal...

When my father would drive our station wagon up the incline and onto the steel deck of the bridge, it was always a crapshoot whether or not another vehicle would be driving up the opposite incline and also trying to cross the bridge as well. The bridge was just barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other; forget it if a truck was coming—either you had to back up, or they did. A game of slow-motion chicken played out high over the Barge Canal was not my idea of a pleasant ride to visit Grandama.

Some of my trepidation about crossing bridges stem from the news coverage of the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse ( over the Ohio River, and this 1940 motion picture of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge , also known as “Gallopin’ Gertie”( in Washington State. These images, coupled with the somewhat dark, ominous appearances of the old truss bridges we regularly crossed, contributed to my apprehension about driving over them. The quicker we got safely to the other side, the better.

The bridge between New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ is more of a “tourist” bridge, one you want to take your time driving and walking over. It has a broad cantilevered walkway on one side to accommodate pedestrians and allow for pictures to be taken without impeding the progress of others crossing between the two states. The bridge gets a good amount of automobile traffic, but despite the loudness of the occasional motorcycle group crossing the bridge, it’s relatively quiet; Trucks and busses are prohibited from using this bridge, and required to cross the river on the Route 202 New Hope-Lambertville Toll Bridge about a mile or so north . This section of Route 202 was opened in 1971 as a bypass for New Hope/Lambertville, taking all the trucks and thru traffic over one of those hardly-know-you’re-on–a-bridge four lane overpasses over the river.

The New Hope/Lambertville Bridge

The New Hope/Lambertville bridge itself is actually is a sturdy steel deck, steel truss structure made up of 6 individual bridges connected to each other at stone pilings spaced evenly across the Delaware. Constructed in 1904, the engineers and planners had the foresight to make the bridge wide enough to accommodate two mid-20th century sized vehicles passing each other comfortably on the span.

It’s an aesthetically pleasing structure, and I enjoy looking at the graceful order of engineering that makes up this bridge; what I don’t enjoy is driving over it from New Jersey into Pennsylvania and being dumped into the traffic and pedestrian crush of New Hope. On a Saturday or Sunday it can take a few turns of the traffic light to make a left hand turn onto the main street, with businesses on those corners attracting waves of individuals intent on ignoring the traffic lights patronizing those businesses. The corner hosts both a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Starbucks- I can empathize with the pedestrians crossing against the light signal and being focused on making donut and coffee purchases.

To truly enjoy this bridge at it’s fullest, I recommend driving from New Hope into Lambertville, then parking and walking back over the bridge to get your tall latte and jelly donut, if so desired. Lambertville can be a busy area as well, especially as you get closer to the bridge to New Hope, but there is generally a more relaxed, less touristy feeling there. And more places to park, as well.

Two other bridges I drive over frequently to get across the Delaware River and into New Jersey include the Washington Crossing Bridge and the Calhoun Street Bridge. Both structures are each over 100 years old, with the Calhoun Street Bridge being constructed in 1884.

The Washington Crossing Bridge... just hope a Nissan Armada SUV isn't approaching from the opposite direction...

The Washington Crossing Bridge has a more utilitarian feeling than the ornate Calhoun Street Bridge, and also feels narrower when driving over it. As a matter of fact, you get the feeling that your individual car can barely fit between the trusses, let alone pass another vehicle without scraping each others sides. Whenever I drive over it, I fold the driver’s side mirror of my pick up truck flat against the door, and breathe easier when I reach the other side without having to squeeze by a gargantuan SUV heading in the opposite direction.

The Calhoun Street's sturdier than it looks!

The Calhoun Street Bridge was originally intended to be a temporary structure, and connects Morrisville, PA with Trenton, NJ. It appears to get much more traffic than the Washington Crossing Bridge, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours. It was once part of Rt. 30, also known as The Lincoln Highway, until 1920, when Rt 30 was moved to the larger Lower Trenton Bridge. This bridge is more popularly known as the “Trenton Makes” bridge.

To me, the most intriguing thing about these three bridges are the Bridgekeeper structures that sit at either end of the spans, and the Bridgekeepers themselves. At different times driving over these structures, I have seen the Bridgekeepers at work, stopping larger than permitted trucks from crossing, walking onto the bridge and motioning the trucks that successfully snuck on from one side to pull over and face the music on the other, and even doing simple maintenance tasks like trimming the hedge and sweeping the sidewalk ramp to the pedestrian walkway.

Being a Bridgekeeper honestly looks like a neat job, and the although the small structures they watch the bridge from vary in appearance, they all look cozy and comfortable, especially the cottage like structures at either end of the New Hope/Lambertville Bridge.

Posted are some shots of some small New Hope/Lambertville Bridge paintings, in progress. I took two of the pictures as my wife Laurie and I waited for the Friday Night Fireworks to begin on the Delaware between New Hope and Lambertville. I’m not an expert at what makes a quality fireworks display, but I think this weekly event is excellent—well attended, well behaved crowds and spectacular pyrotechnics over the river. The third painting with the different angle is based on a picture I snapped last winter while taking a break from gallery sitting at the Artists’ Gallery.

Each painting is acrylic on panel, and smaller than I usually work, only 8 x 6 inches. Working on these smaller paintings has interested me in completing larger, more detailed watercolors of the same subjects in the future. But for now, these three images are high on the to-do list.

When you come see the exhibition in September, you can see the finished pieces in person.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Let's Put on a Show!

It’s fascinating to watch Rich develop the paintings he has posted here. I'm always asking Rich “How did you do that?” and seeing the paintings in various stages gives some idea of the techniques he used and the effort put forth.

As I look forward to the September show, I have different challenges as a photographer. Rich is looking to finish the works and increase the number of completed paintings. I’m largely done shooting, and am now in the post-capture phase. I need to pare down what I’ve shot to create the best possible exhibit.

This is a real struggle for me. I only want to present my best work, but often a series of photos tells a more complete story. There is a tyranny of vision if I only choose one or two images – that is all people get to see, and I can rarely tell a whole story with one or two images. That is why I’ve grown to really love this blog, as I can show more images and provide more information than I can at the gallery.

This exhibit is not a documentary, but rather a collection of fine art images around a theme. I do not therefore feel obligated to capture every interesting roadside attraction in New Jersey. I do feel obligated, however, to leave viewers with an overall impression of the some of the unusual and interesting things that make this state so unique.

When I mount an exhibition like this around a theme, I gather all the possible images on the computer to see how things look together. Sometimes I layout the images on a virtual wall, sometimes not. Last year Rich and I interspersed our work and it made for some very interesting juxtapositions. We will likely try this again this year.

Things get interesting when I have the images gathered and I see patterns and omissions. It’s not until this point that I get a sense of what the exhibit will really feel like. I may find, for example, that I have a lot of photos of buildings. Are they interesting enough? Too similar? Is it exhibit about the building or how it fits in the landscape? Are there people interacting with the building? Typically, when I’m shooting at a location, I’ve got close-ups, long shots, abstractions, and photos with people. The images I choose to tell a story determine what people feel.

I’m convinced the subject of the work is more important in photography than other mediums. It doesn’t matter so much if VanGogh paints a night sky or sunflower. Its how he paints it that people react to. But typically a photo of a night sky or a photo of a sunflower will first remind viewers of a night they spent outside or a sunflower in their grandmother’s garden before they react to the artistry. All photos start with light bouncing off a real object.

So, I believe the subject is important. And no subject is more fascinating than people. Photos of yourself are the most fascinating, followed by photos of those you know and then animals. Photos of people are so expected, in fact, that I find photo exhibits without a single person or even an animal to be rather stark, cold, and removed, although this is sometimes exactly the point.

Once I’ve settled on the images to include, I start to think about the final presentation. I don’t do a lot of after-capture manipulation, but I begin to think about how to crop the individual photos and whether I want them to be in black and white or color. And what kind of black and white and color? Bold colors, muted colors, sepia toned, stark black and white, or black and white with softer gray tones are all options. I usually have a very clear idea when I shoot, but sometimes change my mind when I look at a series of images later. It’s more about setting a mood or telling a story than it is about right or wrong.

I’m already struggling with one aspect of this exhibition, and that is the sense of time. I’ve got images that aren’t exactly timeless, but look like they could have been taken yesterday or fifty years ago. I’m trying to decide whether it’s more interesting to emphasize this by giving the images a timeless quality, or whether it’s more interesting to make them look modern and hope people see “that the more things change the more they stay the same”.

Finally, the subject of scale comes into play. I’m always amazed how some images just seem to look right or wrong at certain sizes. Sometimes the size is dictated by technical factors like sharpness or details in the shadows. Usually, however, I print to the size that has the kind of impact I'm looking for.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Progress on a Few Pieces

Posted by Rich- Crunch time is quickly approaching as I work on pieces for the New Jersey Blues Show. I have everything at least drawn out on paper or board now, and have been concentrating on the pieces for the triptych. Here is what the individual parts of the triptych look like now; I’ll post more as pictures as I get more accomplished…

I usually work in watercolor on paper, but I thought it would be nice to render this particular subject in acrylics on board. I've been working on them while I teach a summer course on animation, and acrylics dry fast and are durable enough to carry back and forth on the train to Philadelphia. I like shooting the progress pictures and seeing the changes that take place; sometimes it's kind of shocking to see how they look when I've just started to how they appear now, even just halfway finished.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Decisions, Decisions…

Posted by Rich-It’s been about 6 months since I began driving around New Jersey, taking reference photos, and working on sketches for the New Jersey Blues exhibition; now it’s time to get some of the artwork finished.

It is always hard to decide exactly which images I want to pour my blood, sweat, and tears into… and the past few days it has been mostly sweat, with the temperature getting close to 100 degrees and no rain for a few weeks…

I have to make some hard decisions, stop visiting locales in The Garden State, and work in my studio ( near the air conditioner!) . The biggest problem is making a commitment to an image that I want to finish without getting distracted by other subjects, so a self-placed moratorium on getting new pictures is now in effect.

I hope I will not get “inspired” by an entirely new subject between now and September 1st, so I am leaving my camera at home and keeping my short attention span focused on what I have in my studio.

From my various reference pictures, I have it narrowed down to about 15 images I hope to get finished. The pieces I am working on for the exhibition are mostly watercolors, with many of the images already penciled faintly onto watercolor paper, waiting to be stretched. I am also working on a triptych using acrylics on board.

I like working with acrylics because they dry fast. The quick drying time of the medium irritates many artists who prefer the slower drying of oil paints, but the speedy drying time allows for portability of the work and lessens the chance that I will rest my elbow on a still-wet oil painting while working on it. I am teaching classes while working on these pieces, and often carry them back and forth on the train to Philadelphia with me; I think my fellow passengers may appreciate the fact that they also won’t risk resting their elbows on a slow drying oil painting as well.

The three works shown are the starts of the “Trenton Triptych” based on photos I took over time while riding the New Jersey Transit line to New York City. I am fascinated not only by the large structures that remain as a vestige of industry in the Rustbelt of the Northeast, but also by the houses and neighborhoods that surround them. I think of what it must have been like to grow up in a house that was one or two blocks away from a working factory; from what I have seen of the remains of these old neighborhoods, it appears that there were often several factories and industrial sites interspersed among the residential houses. I also wonder what it must be like presently living with a large, decaying structure like this on your street, or just a few blocks away. Is there a hope that it will someday soon be demolished, or perhaps revived into a working factory once again? Perhaps these buildings remain standing and await gentrification and repurposing in the future. It wasn’t too long ago when you could not imagine parts of New York City as safe residential and shopping areas, but some of those same sections are now quite chic and prohibitively expensive to live in. Hopefully, some of these old factory buildings will survive long enough to see another life as well.

Actually got the sky painted in on this one...

Lost and Found

In South Jersey, I came across a complex of warehouses that had some unusual writing on them. They were covered in folksy sayings like "A friend is one who comes to you when all others leave" and "Some people give and forgive others get and forget" Another building says "May you live all the days of your life" and "The door to the human heart can only be opened from the inside" One of my favorites is "A friend is one who knows all about you and still likes you".
I have no idea what they are doing here. We've been writing on our living spaces since we were cavemen, and it still serves the same purpose - to share what we think is important, and to convince others that they should consider it important too. In a time when we are bombarded with advertising messages, it seemed pretty wonderful to me that someone decided to put these on the side of their buildings.
This graffiti is worn and faded, but it was clearly applied with care and a sense of design. There is a Pennsylvania German feel to the lettering, in a kind of fraktur script. There is a recurring star design that serves as a visual anchor.
To me, this is no different than any spray painted graffiti one sees alongside the highway or railway. They are both attempts to change how people look at the world, and a scream that says "I was here, and this is the way I think the world should be" They are very much a protest against the status quo. A lot of thought went into the message and the execution.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

NJ: Where the Buffalo Roam

Last weekend I witnessed the buffalo herds crossing the mighty plains of Flemington. Readington River Buffalo Company has a small herd and sells buffalo meat here throughout the year. You can also get it at restaurants around the state.

The buffalo (or bison, if you prefer) are actually a bit skittish and ran away from me. I didn't think they were paying much attention once they were a safe distance away. But looking at the photos, I could see that most of them were keeping an eye on me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Big Black Dog To Bite Your Behind

…if they ever find out you’re not one of their kind.”
Or so go the lyrics of the tune “Friday Night at the Drive In Bingo” by Jens Lekmen. I heard the song on a compilation CD given to me by Jim Lindsay, a writer (author of the novel Brutal Music, available through Amazon .com) and an old friend from Syracuse who now lives in Boston. I depend on his musical knowledge to keep me up to date with what’s hip.

When you are driving around out looking for things to paint pictures of, you can be regarded suspiciously by the people who may end up as subjects in your next masterpiece. (See the older post “Nearly Night In Titusville” on this very blog) Some may take notice of you, suspecting potential criminal activity, but some perceive you as an even worse threat: The person with the camera and notebook is really a municipal codes enforcer or tax assessor, gathering evidence that will inevitably result in the property owner having to spend more cash.

As a remedy for this intrusion, some home and property owners keep a big barking dog on hand to alert them of the alleged perpetrator/tax assessor (what’s the difference, really?) and keep the visitor at bay and off the property. Gathering reference for photos, I’ve found myself being barked at by both man and beast, but sometimes I welcome the dogs alerting the homeowner to my presence. It gives me an opportunity to meet the owner, explain my purpose and hopefully get some information and reference images that aren’t just blurry pictures of a big dog running towards me from a house.

This was the opportunity a few weeks ago when I stopped on a sunny afternoon to take some photos of an absolutely beautiful farm. I kept my distance and remained on the road that ran along the front of the property, and did not see a soul around. It was a sunny spring afternoon with a sky full cumulus clouds against a bright blue sky, and I really wanted to get better pictures of the barn and buildings further up the hill, but the place appeared deserted…

Gee, it IS a nice view from up here...

I walked back and forth taking more pix, hoping someone would come to the front door of the farmhouse and inquire as to what I was doing. I suppose I could have just knocked on the door, but the lyrics from the song kept playing in my head…
“I want the people in the country to be open and kind
but most times I've met those with a narrow mind
with a big black dog to bite your behind
if they ever find out you're not one of their kind”

...sure enough, a large black Labrador retriever behind the farm house noticed me on the road, and came barking and running towards me, raising quite a racket; eventually the owner came outside to investigate what exactly his dog was barking at.

Just the break I was waiting for.

Fortunately, the owner of this farm turned out to be quite the opposite of the song lyrics. A very gracious, older, white-haired gentleman named Mr. Tony Zega (“Zega. It’s a Greek name”, he explained to me) was the dog’s owner, and he told me he had lived on this farm since 1939. I explained to him that I was an artist and I hoped to get some pictures of his place for a painting. His reaction was “Oh, yeah, artists are always coming around here painting this place. Walk up the driveway to the barn, turn right and go halfway up the field, that’s the best spot to paint from”. His reaction to my explanation was so casual, it was actually rather amusing. I thought if I followed his directions that afternoon and ventured up to the spot he pointed out, I might find a couple dozen other artists with French easels all busily painting away, all painting the same subject.

Mr. Zega told me over the years he had lived there, his farm had been painted hundreds of times by Bucks County artists, with several notable names among those he listed. I could see why: it was a classic example of a Bucks County Farm, with a field stone and white-washed stucco farmhouse, a small springhouse, and a beautiful collection of deep red barns and outbuildings situated on a grassy rise up behind the house. The only problem is, the Prettiest Farm in Bucks County, PA isn’t in Bucks County; it’s in Hunterdon County, State of New Jersey. It’s located just above Stockton on Raven Rock Road, close to where Raven Rock Road meets Federal Twist Road. I initially stopped to take a photo of an old iron truss bridge on Raven Rock when I noticed the Zega farm on the other side of the creek.

Fortunately, my truck us only a little over 6 foot tall...

According to a metal placard mounted on the bridge, it had been constructed in 1889 and bore the name of it’s manufacturer, the Lambertville Iron Works. It seemed to be holding up quite well for a structure erected almost 125 years ago, when the heaviest loads it bore was a wagon full of hay bales pulled by a team of horses. Mr. Zega did tell me the bridge originally had wooden planks for decking, and during the 1970s it was replaced with a macadam road bed. He did not mention how many times artists may have used the bridge as a subject matter for a painting, but I imagine with such a picturesque farm right next to it, more artists have simply used the bridge as a backdrop, or as a way to cross over the creek and get to the Zega property.

Mr. Zega mentioned to me he didn’t really care if artists came and painted his farm and buildings, but it would be nice if one of them would give him a picture once in a while.

I walked up to the spot Mr. Zega had suggested, and did not see any other artists, nor any one else, for that matter. His black Lab walked along with me and investigated the tall grass and surrounding trees for any thing unusual. I guess artists visiting isn’t that unusual on the Zega Farm; if I can, I think I will try to paint two pictures of this property, and keep one for the exhibition.-Posted by Rich

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hot Dog, Here’s Johnny’s!

Posted by Rich-
Way up in Northwest New Jersey, very close to the Delaware Water Gap, is a place that has been serving hot dogs since 1944. Situated on a scenic bend of the Pequest River in Warren County, it’s called Hot Dog Johnny’s and it’s worth the trip over blue roads to get there.

The day we traveled was a somewhat hot, humid last day of Spring, 2010. We drove up NJ Rt 31 from Flemington through Washington Township to Buttzville, NJ. I had hoped to visit Rudeville, NJ as well, but the map that had Rudeville located on it was left in my truck, and the map I had in our Chrysler didn’t show it. I still haven’t moved up to GPS technology, and rely on whatever folding map I have. It seems that I only recently mastered the art of re-folding a road map correctly to the way it looked when I first purchased it, so learning GPS technology and how to operate one of them while I drive at the same time seems a bit daunting at this time.

The advantages of new technology is appealing; but I have to confess the learning curve associated with how to operate the latest digital marvel correctly and to its fullest extent dulls my enthusiasm. History has shown that when I purchase a gadget or machine the next generation debuts quickly afterwards, or an entirely new technology is unveiled that pretty much makes what I purchased obsolete or laughable. I have boxes of 8-track and cassette tapes, floppy diskettes, zip drives, and 10 inch long cell phones that I’m not entirely certain what to do with. They all still work, they just seem more like what 78 rpm records were to us in the 1970’s: interesting relics, not obsolete enough to throw away but still too obsolete to use efficiently. So boxes full of 20th century technology sit in my garage, basement, and attic. I can hear it now: “Gosh, Grandpa, you talked on THIS phone?? This is so weird!!”

At least folding road maps have a useful life span of a decade or so before they too become interesting relics.

Without a GPS unit on the dashboard to guide our way, I inevitably took a wrong turn and was forced, with my wife’s prodding, to ask for directions…a universally humbling experience for a man, which probably accounts for the popularity of GPS units. You can get directions given to you while you drive without having to ask for them. If you make a wrong turn, the unit calmly recalculates the drive and advises you how to correct your route without telling you to stop and ask for directions at the next Mini-mart.

We stopped for directions at the farm market operated by Hensler Farms on the corner of Rt 519 and Brass Castle Road. A charming young lady quickly gave us the correct directions to Hot Dog Johnny’s ( just down the road and to the left on Rt 46) and while we were there we bought some rhubarb and sunflower plants. Great directions and great selection of plants and produce—I recommend it highly. You can visit their website here

Hensler Farm's produce stand-- a great place to get flowers, produce, and directions.

I suppose it would have been easier to use a GPS, but in this case it was a pleasant surprise to stop at this classic farm stand; when you pass a place like this it would be nice if the GPS voice could tell you “ You’re driving by a very nice place for garden supplies and vegetables… you should pull in and buy some flowers or something”. Even without the GPS, I think I will be stopping there again in the future. I marked the location on my folding road map.

So down the road we went to Johnny’s. Once you are on the correct road it is easy to spot the place: it’s the one with the huge hotdog billboard and all the cars in the parking lot. The classic appearance of Johnny’s immediately gives you the impression it has always been a roadside favorite; the type of place my parents would have stopped at with our family when I was a kid, with fond memories of stopping there with their parents a generation earlier.

Johnny's at last! When a place looks this cool, the food always tastes better.

Johnny’s started serving hot dogs in 1944, before moving to this larger location in the late Forties. I wondered how many people have stopped here since then, and how have many subsequently returned with their children and grandchildren. The genuine nostalgic appeal of the location and architecture make it hard to drive by without stopping. You can read more about the place here:
I’m not an expert as hot dogs go, and by the time we located Johnny’s, got our order, and found a place to sit at an outdoor picnic table, I was pretty hungry; I would have to rate their fare as excellent, because it tasted pretty good and was very satisfying. The comfort of the mountain atmosphere on a hot day next to the swift running Pequest River also contributed to the relaxed feeling of being in a another decade altogether.

Johnny’s is more than just an interesting relic from another time; it’s a genuine piece of Americana that hopefully many more generations will enjoy in the future. I can hear it now: “Gosh Grandpa, you used to eat hotdogs here? This is so cool!!”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Cowpokes, last weekend I went to the oldest weekly rodeo in the U.S. of A., right here in New Jersey. The Cowtown Rodeo in Salem County is held every Saturday night through September.

There was plenty of fancy riding to go along with all the events: Bull ridin', bronc bustin', calf ropin', and more.

Some of the cowboys are local boys, competing right up there with the best in the west. This was a great place to be on a hot summer night.


Indians in New Jersey describe themselves as being hidden in plain sight. The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribe claims to have been in New Jersey for 10,000 years (they are referred to by other Indians as “the Ancient Ones”) They have had a sort of diplomatic relation with Sweden for over 350 years, who they were in contact with before the English were in the area.

The Lenni Lenape do not support vices like drinking and gambling, and therefore are not involved with any casino activities. I’m kind of fascinated how a culture like this can preserve it’s traditions over such a long time, in face of oppression and relocations. The Lenni Lenape were put on a reservation in New Jersey before the country was even formed.

I recently attended a PowWow in Pilesgrove, which I found very inspiring. Although open to the public, it had a “for us, by us” feel to it. The participants seemed so proud to be doing their dances, and wearing their costumes, and singing their songs that it was great to witness.

Despite the Indian pride, they were more than accommodating in answering this outsider’s questions and posing for photos. I struggle with taking photos at times like this – what I see as a celebration of a culture can seem to others as bordering on exploitation. I hope that the photos inspire curiosity and understanding.