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.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Every Friday night there are fireworks over the New Hope - Lambertville bridge. They start at 9:30 and will continue through September. It's quite a big show for two little towns.
The Artists' Gallery is just a half block away at 18 Bridge Street in Lambertville, and we're staying open late for the fireworks so stop by and say hello.

Hidden Gardens

For the past few years, the Artists’ Gallery has supported the Kalmia Club by joining them in their annual tour of the Hidden Gardens of Lambertville. The town has many small backyard gardens that people have transformed into wonderful little spaces that most people just don’t get to see.

Every year the Kalmia chooses a number of these gardens to be on the tour, and the members of the Artists’ Gallery paint or take photos of the gardens. The finished pieces are for sale later in the gallery, with a portion of the sale supporting the Kalmia Club. This year, the sale will be in December.

Some pieces, however, might make it into our September show. It is part of NJ that one does not usually get to see, and the gardens are unexpected. They sometimes include water features, topiary, exotic plants, and artwork. They are always beautifully arranged spaces.

This year I liked the exotic passion flower that is only in bloom a short time, and the mud maiden that will be covered in greenery as the summer progresses. One of the gardens features some works by local artist Bee McDonald Burke who does little wooden constructions comprised of colorful lines.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lakota Wolf Preserve

Our exhibit is in September, not that far away and I'm starting to freak out. I thought I better get caught up on some things I've been meaning to post and get out there and shoot!
The Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia NJ, near the Delaware Water Gap, really fits our theme for this exhibit – a New Jersey hidden treasure that you will only find when you get off the main highways. Other than the safari at Six Flags Great Adventure, who knew these kinds of wild animals were in New Jersey?

I shot there this past winter, and found the wolves separated into packs in large fenced areas. The operators Dan and Pam Bacon along with Jim Stein have been committed to saving wolves and providing a safe place for them in New Jersey.
Wolves are actually native to New Jersey, although they are long gone from the area. The preserve is home to relocated Timber, Arctic, and Tundra wolves, as well as foxes and bobcats.

Visiting the preserve is a bit surreal, as you travel through the forest to find the ever-vigilant wolves are awaiting your arrival. The pack misses nothing, as the eyes and ears are constantly alert for motion and sound. The guide explains the pack hierarchy and there are constant challenges and rebuttals by the leader. The challenger either backs down immediately or risks being killed, so the confrontations are short and violent.

Although these beautiful animals look very much like the loveable husky dogs in your neighborhood, the wolves are wild animals. They are socialized to be around humans, otherwise they would stay out of sight. That does not mean they are friendly, or that they will not bite or attack without warning. Another photographer I was with was not paying attention when one of the wolves got his snout under the chain link fence and bit the photographer’s foot. There were teeth marks on his heavy boot, had he been wearing sneakers the teeth would have left more than a scratch.

Visitors have two chain link fences between them and the wolves, photographers can pay $300 for access to the interior chain link fence, which has openings for unobstructed shooting. These access windows are large enough for a wolf to get his head through when open. Needless to say I used a long lens and kept aware of my surroundings. Still, I was often surprised to find a wolf closer than I expected.

This is an unforgettable day trip, and will remind you just how wild this state really is. Learn more at

Bed, Bath, and Beyond the Horizon

Posted by Rich- A long time ago, so long ago it was before we had use of the internet or owned a cell phone (we’re talking 1993 here) my young family took a vacation. We traveled by car from Syracuse, NY, to Cape May, NJ. We loved the place, and have returned often, especially once we moved to Bucks Co., PA, only a 100 or so miles away from Cape May.

This initial trip in 1993 involved a full day of travel time; my two daughters were 5 and 3 years old, respectively, and we had to stop often. I found myself getting pretty weary as well towards the end of that day of driving, and we took one last rest stop just North of the city of Cape May in a small hamlet named Rio Grande.

Rio Grande was originally known as Hildreth, named after the family that built a General Store there around 1850. The area was located within a large plantation owned by the Aaron Leaming family, and the vicinity acquired the name “Leamings”, in deference to the owners of the land. Eventually, a direct descendant of the original land owner, the seventh Aaron Leaming, thought “Rio Grande” had an attractive sound and christened the crossroads with that name. Apparently, others liked the name as well, because despite the fact that there is no river running anywhere near the small town, the name stuck.

Although you could feel you were close to the ocean, Rio Grande wasn’t a seaside resort town; it wasn’t much of anything, actually, except a Wawa convenient mart* at the crossroads of Rts. 9 and 47, a few other structures, and acres of open farmland. Rt. 47 runs East/West between the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, specifically to Wildwood, only about 5 miles or so away from Rio Grande. Rt 9 runs parallel to the Garden State Parkway, with an exit for Wildwood where the Parkway intersects with Rt.47 on its way to the Ocean. Given the quietness of the place when I first stopped there, it seemed that most people must take the previous exit on the Garden State Parkway for North Wildwood onto Rt 147 a few miles back, or just decided to step on it and keep heading South until they reached Cape May and the very Southern tip of the State of New Jersey. Rio Grande felt like a sleepy pit stop you could choose to make before you entered the carnival atmosphere of Wildwood, or a place to stop and double check you indeed had secured the cooler chest and beach chairs to the roof of the car after you left Cape May and headed North.

How it used to be: A reconstruction of the Rio Grande train station ca.1900, in Historic Cold Spring Village, about 4 miles South of Rio Grande on Rt 9. (Image borrowed from

At least that’s what it seemed like in 1993. 17 years later, it would appear most of the area has been paved with black top and marked off into rows for automobile parking in front of tremendous strip malls. The transformation of the area was a bit shocking to me at first. The Wawa is now a Super Wawa; the older, smaller scale regular Wawa building stands off to the side of the Super structure awaiting it’s fate, or perhaps a new tenant (a Super Duper Dunkin Donuts, perhaps?). Buildings that made the acres of black top necessary stretch from the Super Wawa on the corner of Rts. 47 and 9 to a point so far North on the horizon that you can no longer make out what exactly the business is, despite the large signs adorning the outside of the corniced facades of each retail store.

The Stores down the Shore: the big picture from behind the Wawa.

Perhaps it is a Target? Wal Mart? A Super Target…? Whatever it was, apparently enough people needed to stop there before entering Wildwood or Cape May to make this concentration of retail outlets necessary and viable.

In our case, it was the new Starbucks that made us stop at Rio Grande. Along with the Lowe’s, Michael’s, and Famous Footwear storefronts stretching out well over a quarter mile, Google maps had located the Starbucks for us in an adjacent strip mall. Apparently, neither Cape May or Wildwood has a Starbucks, and after a few days at the shore my wife Laurie was feeling the need for a coffee fixed the way she likes it. “Roughing it” to her is getting a hotel that does not have room service. Although Starbucks is a large chain of franchises, she knows she will get her coffee prepared exactly the way she likes it, whether in our home town in Pennsylvania or where she worked in Manhattan.

I’m not a coffee hound myself, but I can empathize, as I would drive a distance to get a hoagie prepared the way I like at a Wawa . The Wawa that had been in Cape May itself was shuttered and the building put up for sale, perhaps as a result of the Super Wawa a few miles away in Rio Grande. Crazy couples like us, craving caffeine and lunch meat prepared in a specific manner and willing to drive out of our way to get it, probably accounted for the big changes in the retail businesses here. I guess the developers felt confident that once we were in Rio Grande and satisfied with our deli and designer coffee selections, we’d stick around and buy some famous foot wear or select items for our bed, bath, and even beyond.

After getting the usual hot drinks at Starbucks ( A Grande, Soy, No Foam, No Whip, Two Pump Mocha for the lady, and a Tall Earl Grey Tea for me; I didn’t feel the need for a hoagie that particular day), I had to drive down the parking lot of this tremendous retail zone to see exactly what store was anchoring the other end of the parking lots. The far building turned out to be a Wal Mart, something of an anti climax, but I wasn’t really expecting anything unusual. It was a SUPER Wal Mart , though, the kind with a grocery store AND a McDonalds included within. We chose to enjoy our drinks in the car, however, and didn’t venture inside.

In it’s banality, I found the complex that seemed to have devoured the small crossroads community of Rio Grande fascinating. As we drove up the parking lot and past the ornate entrances of the chain stores on our left, we noticed a green patch of property about an acre in size jutting into the paved parking area and surrounded on three sides by parking places. It was an old cemetery with an ornate iron gate entrance, a preserved sacred plot of land that was evidence of a slower, simpler time in Leamings, when the residents still made their own coffee in the morning and probably never dreamed of something called a frappacino made with soy milk.

Saying that there has been a lot of growth and development in the area since 1993 is an understatement; the addition of the Starbucks and the improvement to the Wawa virtually guarantee that I’ll continue to stop at Rio Grande for coffee and hoagies when we make our trips to Cape May and Wildwood. If this of rate retail development continues , however, it might be known as SUPER Rio Grande by the time I make my next visit.

*For those who do not live Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virgina, or New Jersey, a Wawa is chain of great convenience stores with very good service and a good selection of food and sundry items. The corporate headquarters are located in Wawa, Pennsylvania. The name for the town is the native American Ojibwe word for the Canada Goose, and a goose in flight is featured as part of their logo. While a 7-Eleven tends to be more snack oriented, you can get a pretty good meal at a Wawa. Its just tough to say the name without thinking you’re talking like a baby.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More on Chuck's Farm

Rich certainly captured the spirit of Chuck's farm in the previous post, I don't have much more to add other than some photos. I was able to visit recently for the first time and was greatly impressed by Chuck's ingenuity. He is very comfortable coming up with engineering solutions that are aesthetically pleasing, and this is evident all over the farm. It is also evident in Chuck's glass sculptures.

Whether it's the smart-looking goat barn, or the guest house that feels a bit like a chic tree house, everything here is recycled or reused with a touch of style. Even the outhouse has stained glass panels.

Of course, it's the animals that steal the show. The goats are already quite a bit larger than when Rich visited. They were a little skittish and I didn't want to chase them around, so I didn't get a lot of pics of them.

They are living in a goat paradise with a nice barn, lush pastures, and plenty of piles of wood and things to jump up on. They seem very content and happy here. I also met one of the tortoises, but he was gone when I went back to get a pic.
The towering pine forest was impressive, it's not easy for us on the east coast to think about pine tress as a crop to be harvested. It must have been amazing for Chuck to watch these trees mature on the farm during his lifetime.