Story: Mary Gallagher Photos: William Wooby
Day one. A bit of overambitious planning on the part of two crazed art zealots and my soon-to-join-them-self forced us into a marathon ride in search of culture. The big buzz these days in all the art world news is Dia: Beacon. Here under one roof, you’ll find 240,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, just 85 miles north of Manhattan on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, New York, the southern point of historic Duchess County. Easily accessible by train or car but if you’re going to explore more of this beautiful area a car is a necessity.
I picked up our video/photo man and art connoisseur, Bill Wooby, at 5:00am in DC on a Saturday morning and we drove to Bethesda for Francoise Yohalem, public arts consultant, who had our rental car for this adventure. After super gluing her hands to the wheel we took off for New York State at 6:00am. In real life, this is the time of day best seen as you end a great party with eggs benedict and mimosas.
Who ever decided to cut up the traffic flow of trillions of cars on major highways with multiple toll booths? Give a class of first graders this problem and they could figure out a more efficient way to collect taxes. I thought we were going to become less dependent on gasoline but think of the increased consumption from all that slowing – then speeding. All in all a complete example of how inefficient our highway systems are and emphasizing that not one elected official feels the need to make a change.
After one coffee break midway, we soon had covered about 300 miles and were entering Beacon about noon. Our directions said to the train station and then Dia but that is just a little too vague. Luckily, Bill had ventured up a few weeks earlier and had an idea of the location. There is one small wooden hand painted sign hanging on a tree or bush – it was quite amazing to think that one would spend $50 million and not worry about directional signs. Perhaps one of the artists featured could donate a piece? Well they’ve only been open a few months so perhaps it’s coming.
It is a bit of an uphill walk to the museum from the train station and could be strenuous especially if it’s hot and humid. Then a healthy bit again into the town. The Dia parking seemed quite organized and we decided to grab a bite at the little café and eat outside. The real air was welcome after so long in the car. The food was upscale casual but tasty and fresh.
The building is low to the ground and deceptively small looking as you walk up but once inside the space is GIGANTIC. Fully touring is a lot of walking but the opportunity to view these huge works of art at a distance, up close and in some cases inside looking out was wonderful. Now we are three people who spend mega time in museums and galleries so it takes a lot to wow us but we were.
The astonishing natural light streaming in is also wonderful and my skin never looked so good.
I’m not a great art reviewer like the admirable Michael O’Sullivan at the Washington Post but I do know what I like and don’t. I also believe in a lot of freedom of speech, print and other expression. Some of the works reminded me of trash piles outside urban apartment buildings after a few rains; others with a mishmash of metal or plastic construction are truly beautiful sculptural pieces. I’ll be honest; a lot of subtle messages tend to fly by me especially in contemporary art…..
It was an eclectic crowd of multi-generational families, a slight mingling of foreign visitors and many young couples. I took this as a good sign that the audience is a broad prospective of viewers from many places and categories. This is the type of audience that keep a museum alive and a similar aspect that I appreciate at the too often overlooked American Visionary in Baltimore.
Speaking of crowd, I’m not sure how many people it would take to pack this structure but doubt that it will ever seem so. The main floor galleries fill up first and perhaps some people fade out before getting to the lower levels. It is a little confusing but the very nice young people that act as guards and guides are quite helpful. These are hard pieces not to touch as they gently reminded us. The grounds and surrounding parkland are beautiful if some of your group needs to take a break and enjoy the view outside.
To help in gauging your time to visit Dia, we spent less than 2 hours including snack time in viewing the entire space but at a fairly consistent pace. Now our schedule said it was time to race off to see Beacon, a little town under going its renaissance.
Beacon is basically one main commercial street with residential neighborhoods behind it. The street is being taken over and restyled into that “cute” little old historic town with nice galleries like Collaborative Concepts and, chic coffee shops, antique emporiums and more. It’s adorable with a great history and unfortunately I don’t have another way to tell people to do this type of restoration so it won’t look like every other renovated historic main street in America. Maybe they could leave a few tacky stores and a questionable restaurant or lunch counter here and there for authenticity. Dusty old used book stores are good. When the year round Christmas ornament shop opens is when it goes off my must stop list.
Beacon was in serious decline for many years and perhaps this is why the main street and many of the houses remained “authentic” like countless other cities. Unfortunately this type of revival doesn’t bring the jobs back to small communities like a big factory as the Dia buildings originally housed. Little shops and tea rooms don’t employ, at livable salaries, the locals. But after that soapbox lecture is it better? Yes, another part of our history, our art and that of many other individuals has been made more available to the general public.
Everyone always enjoys glassworks with their hot ovens and the seemingly magical demonstrations turning blobs of molten glass into beautiful objects. Here at the Hudson Beach Glass Studios they are renovating the gorgeous two story brick fire station to provide exhibit space, classes and demonstrations.
Running through galleries and shops, we grabbed espresso and cold juices at the Chthonic Clash coffee house but that was all that time allowed. Back on the road for short drive to Poughkeepsie and the Grand Hotel right in the heart of downtown.
When I was growing up and even now, just say a word like Poughkeepsie and it makes me laugh. We did a quick drive around a few streets with totally intact blocks of historic homes, nice park areas, river views and just a block or two from our hotel is the Bardavon 1869 Opera House. The Bardavon is the oldest continuing operating theater in New York State. A leading performance venue that has consistently presented touring artists of the highest quality in theater, dance, music, opera, and other performance genres. Like so often, I say maybe next time we can stay longer – it looks interesting but today the clock is ticking.
For years the tourism people have been inviting me to come and explore various areas of New York state and I’ve always heard about the Hudson Valley but until this visit had no idea of the magnitude of things to do and see or just lay around and enjoy the magnificent scenery and best of all watch the river.
We have about an hour or two before dinner so forget a nap let’s take a quick run to Locust Grove, the Samuel Morse Historic Site. We circled the home designed by A.J. Davis and walked the extensive gardens checking the river views.
The next stop was the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. One of the many homes of Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt was built between 1896 and 1898, representative of the “Gilded Age.” We had time to walk the spectacular gardens and drive by the house.
Oops well maybe we can just make it to the restored home of Eleanor Roosevelt where they have a film biography of “First Lady of the World,” guided tours of home, 180 acres of grounds, hiking trails. We took a few minutes to drive by and back on to the main road.
We used to call these windshield appraisals when I was in the real estate business.
Light is fading and so are we! I think we’ve been up and moving for at least fourteen hours and there is still a dinner surprise we’re looking forward to. The check into our hotel is smooth and efficient with adjacent free parking. The Poughkeepsie Grand is an interesting property in the center of a typical downtown that virtually shuts down at night. But as we discover now at 6:30 pm and later the place is hopping! Purchased by a successful caterer they specifically seek wedding receptions and I over heard one older man say that it was the third time he had been there for a reception in the last few months.
The lobby is jammed with statues, flowers – real and artificial, plants, a piano, dramatic lighting and women in some of the most incredible evening dresses, I could ever remember. They raced around like a flock of excited birds dealing with one crisis after another while very young girls tried walking in big clunky high heeled shoes.
Gazing at the exterior, the Grand looks like the old block beige on beige Holiday Inn but we were amazed at the spacious rooms that had everything. Microwave, refrigerator, big closet with lots of mirrors, iron and bright lights! The hooks on the back of the doors were at a normal height, lots of towels, the room was clean and very quiet. The hotel has a variety of suites including Bridal.
A quick cleanup and we jumped back into the car heading for dinner at the Brass Anchor Seafood Restaurant and Marina located directly on the eastern banks of the Hudson River to our delight. You come down this little road, cross over these scary train tracks, follow a single dirt lane and find a parking spot amongst a lot of cars. Obviously a very popular spot!
Owned and operated by the Vanikiotis family since 1989, situated on 12 acres of beautiful Hudson River shoreline, the Brass Anchor has a history dating back to 1965. With its expansive outdoor decks, spectacular views of the Shawangunk mountains and its cozy fireside dining rooms, The Brass Anchor creates an atmosphere of relaxation and comfort. Open year-round, guests can enjoy cool summer breezes on our outdoor patios, take in the dazzling display of fall foliage or sit by the fireplace and watch the ice flows traveling South. Of the 12 appetizer items on the dinner menu primarily seafood – we shared an order of calamari. I eat calamari everywhere it is my favorite if prepared correctly without turning to rubber bands. The Brass Anchors was in the caliber of the best and it didn’t take this weary starving group long to finish it off.
A glass of wine, good calamari, softest of breezes on a beautiful warm night watching the sun go down as the Hudson River Valley darkened and bridge lights started to twinkle – it was going to take at least two sticks of dynamite to get me off this deck.
Large green salads, potato and vegetable accompany all entrees. Bill went for the filet which was take a half home for lunch tomorrow size, Francoise and I went for fish specials. All the portions are enormous and the staff is very attentive and professional. The run from the kitchen to the furthest out deck looked like a mile and they carried fully loaded trays! Well I may exaggerate slightly but it was impressive. The entire operation is well watched over by the three brothers and we struggled back down the ramp loaded with food and fading fast.
A few minutes later we were back at the full but quiet Grand. Soon tucked in our beds.
Watch for day two. …soon to follow.
Beacon, New York
Dutchess County, New York
3 Beekman street
Beacon, NY 12508
Information on Hudson Valley
The Grand Hotel
40 Civic Center Plaza
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Reservations Only: 1-800-216-1034;
35 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Samuel F.B. Morse Home
2683 South Rd., Rt. 9, Poughkeepsie.
May-Thanksgiving, 10am-3pm. Year-round by appt.
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
Rt. 9, Hyde Park.
Eleanor Roosevelt Historic Site
Rt. 9G, Hyde Park.
May-Oct., 9am-5pm, Nov.-Apr., Thurs.-Mon., 9am-5pm.