Horst and his Brittany Spaniel Emma…

… work on our little upstate NY house.

The night after UD returns to ‘thesda …

… an amazing storm approaches

the Soltan upstate NY house.

The row of evergreens marks
our driveway.

Photo by Joanna Soltan.

On the Anniversary of Woodstock.

UD and her sister (at the wheel) driving into Woodstock NY two days ago.

Camera: Frances Eby.

The Aesthetic of the Ruined Garden

He loved our corner of the deep country, and with his framing hands he set about creating one bounded garden after another on his big sunny acres.

After his death, they’re
still beautiful –
still bounded – barely –
in ruined abundance.

****************

He, the prior owner of the gardener’s
acres, loved their massive true dark
skies, and he built himself an observatory
in the field across from the house.

Fascinating Fascism

During intermission yesterday at the otherwise way gloomy Siege of Calais at Glimmerglass, UD was amused to see a woman wearing this t-shirt.

UD’s Birthday in the Countryside

Family, cat, birthday breakfast.

View with cupcake.

Chinese goodies, a gift from Ashley,
a student of UD‘s from China.

The Glamor of the Country House

Today the guys came over to
deal with our septic tank.

Joanna Soltan’s Cat Mounts Riding Mower…

… to clear the front fields.

**************

Taken this afternoon at our upstate house.

UD will be there for her birthday this August.

Mud Season, Our Upstate NY House.

The driveway.

Mr UD’s sister’s car.

**********

UD will celebrate her mid-August birthday in NY.

The Fourth of July in Upstate New York.

photo

Photo by Joanna Soltan.

View from the house
in Summit.

Polish Radio Interviewed UD This Morning…

… about Wojciech Fangor, the Polish painter, who has died at age 92. UD knew him in the 1990’s, when he lived in upstate New York.

The interviewer turned out to be more interested in my describing our collection of Fangor paintings than in my memories of him; but in preparation for the interviewer, UD made some notes about Fangor, which she offers here.

*******************

FANGOR ON THE FARM

Back in the 1970’s, Wojtek Fangor and his wife Magdalena Shummer-Fangor bought an 1887 farmhouse with 105 acres of land in upstate New York, about an hour from Albany. It was a big white rambling house with a very large porch overlooking a pond.

Wojtek, who had been living in New York City, bought the farm and moved there not long after his one man show at the Guggenheim Museum.

My father in law, the architect Jerzy Soltan, was an old friend and artistic collaborator of Fangor’s, and when some acres and a house adjacent to Fangor’s property became available, nothing could be more natural than for Soltan to buy it. So our family now had a house down the lane from Fangor.

This is an area so remote – by American standards – that only in the last ten years or so did our houses have addresses. It’s a very beautiful place, with dairy farms, lakes, and rolling hills. Wild turkeys, eagles, deer, coyote, and bears live in the hills. There are not many people up there. The Catskill mountain range can be seen in the distance.

Fangor was a very big, very masculine man with a low gruff voice – though this gruffness had nothing to do with his personality, which was extremely warm. He was always adopting stray cats, giving them ridiculous names, and treating them like royalty. He called one of them – a black cat – Stalin.

Fangor loved working with his enormous hands. The house had originally been a summer camp, and Fangor first tore down all the little cabins, and then got to work gutting and re-doing all of the rooms in the house. One of the biggest rooms became a studio for his artwork.

In the studio hung enormous paintings in progress – I remember heavily dotted images inspired by the television screen. I remember he also had gymnastic equipment in there – swings you could climb onto, and hang upside down from.

Fangor liked to sculpt the land as much he liked to design artistic canvases. He enlarged the pond in front of the farmhouse and shaped the hills around it.

One warm sunny day he took a bunch of paper towels out to the banks of the pond and twisted them into the form of an enormous rabbit. He had a wonderful sense of the absurd, a wonderful sense of humor. I remember one evening going to Wojtek and Magda’s room to say goodnight, and they were lying together on their bed laughing their heads off at some stupid American beauty contest.

Fangor’s most amazing building achievement was his observatory. This area of New York has true dark skies, with incredible views of planets and stars, and Fangor was fascinated by astronomy. So he simply built himself an observatory and got a telescope and spent many evenings gazing at the galaxies.

Magda, a superb cook, would prepare delicious meals for all of us in her kitchen overlooking their back acres, and after dinner Fangor and other guests at the table (Jerzy Soltan, my husband Karol Soltan, and visiting artists – I remember Jan Lenica, and various American artists who had houses in that area) would walk and talk together along the beautiful lanes around his property.

Fangor’s generosity was immense. I spent ten days alone at our neighboring house one year, reading and writing, and it was an excellent break from my routine. I had no car, however, and was quite isolated. I expected occasional visits from the Fangors and nothing more. But from the moment I arrived they took me into their lives. They brought me along with them on their many trips to country auctions in that area (this is where they found the fantastic old American furniture in the farmhouse), they fed me dinner every night, and they visited constantly to make sure I was okay.

From that time I got a very strong sense that Wojtek and Magda were at that point in their lives living an extremely happy, balanced, and enviable life. They loved each other deeply. Fangor owned so many acres that he was able to think of this portion of the earth as truly his, and he used his skill as an artist and a builder to make the place exactly what he wanted. Magda at this time was working on her own remarkable art, and it was delightful to watch them both, in that beautiful setting, engrossed in their craft and their visions.

Fangor knew what it was like to live in a politically unfree environment; here, he was radically free.

The main problem with life in the hills was the winter. Winters are long and harsh up there, and Fangor had to spend a lot of time chopping wood in order to have enough heat during the very cold days and nights. He shoveled the snow himself. He got too old for these tasks, and I think in general life became too difficult up there for him. He was such a strong man – he planted a long row of evergreens for us, for instance, on the road leading to our house there – but his strength was not as great as it used to be, and the rigors of country life were beginning to get to him.

After the Fangors left, we kept our neighboring house – we still love to go up there – but the feel of this beautiful corner of the world was very different. Less laughter and love.

Morning Mist, Front Field, Upstate.

This morning, UD asked her sister-in-law,
who is spending time at their house in
New York, how things are. In response,
she snapped a picture.

photo(28)

“His interests, in addition to his upstate garden, included high-diving, a pursuit he took up when he was in his 40s, practicing every day and even winning a national competition when he was around 60.”

The New York Times remembers UD‘s upstate neighbor, Yasuo Minigawa. He and his wife bought the Fangor house (constant readers know that Les UDs inherited their upstate house because Mr UD‘s father, Jerzy Soltan, was a very close friend of Wojciech Fangor’s, and Fangor asked Soltan to buy some acres adjacent to Fangor’s place).

Snapshots from Summit

UD‘s sister-in-law starts her summer stay in
the upstate NY house she shares with Les UDs.

She sends two pictures.

budyhorst

Our neighbor – the guy who showed UD
how to shoot a gun – cuts the front field.

budypond

The pond.

Click on the images for a bigger view.

Drones with my Scone

Longtime readers know that UD has a little house in the wilds of upstate New York. (Here’s the area of the house, in all its glorious back of beyondness.) Not much you’d call an event ever happens there. On the evening of July 4, you can sit in the front field and watch silent fireworks pop over the Catskill range. On other evenings, you can watch galaxies and satellites and shooting stars in a true dark sky.

Soon, maybe, you’ll be able to see and hear drones.

The new central NY drone test area doesn’t yet reach as far south as our place; but it’s not that far, as the drone flies.

UD understands that “all the pieces appear to be lining up for the eventual introduction of routine aerial surveillance in American life, a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States.” She is in fact very interested (as is her hero, Don DeLillo) in the fate of privacy generally in postmodern America. She’s old-fashioned enough to find it strange, thinking of herself stepping onto the side deck of her country house of a morning and looking up at a little whirlygig that might be transmitting to Fort Drum the number of chips in her chocolate chip scone.

God knows I’m a good target. There’s nobody else around – just Les UDs on the top of their hill, in their house at the end of a driveway edged by evergreens planted by our long-ago neighbor Wojciech Fangor. (“At the beginning of the ’50s, he started to work with architects such as Stanislaw Zamecznik, Oskar Hansen, Zbigniew Ichnatowicz and Jerzy Sołtan.”)

Les UDs hope to be there in August. Maybe it’ll be The Summer of the Drones.

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