Tuesday, October 18, 2011


        Four moving vans arrived the other day at the former Elco electric boat factory in Athens.  Their drivers, and a lot of helpers, proceeded to load, piece by piece, section by section, a single work of art.  The vanloads were driven down to New York City, where they were unloaded at 212 West 83rd Street,  home of the Childrens Museum of Manhattan.  There, in a 3000 square foot space, they are now being reassembled.  When that job is completed, visitors will undergo a unique esthetic and educational experience.  The theme of the whole installation is “Eat Sleep Play.”  Under a ceiling dotted with Smallagtites, visitors will make their way through a series of interaction-sparking stations, or chambers, that are dedicated to cultivating appreciation for, and practical knowledge about, healthy living.  There will be a Decision Center that is in the form of a giant brain, which responds to questions about the consequences of various patterns of behavior.  A walk-in stomach.  A seven-foot tall heart.  A chamber for every internal organ, including, yes, the bowels.  A Consequences chamber, that promotes learning about such matters as the costs of clogged arteries.   A Play station, where visitors can do various kinds of exercises, such a pedaling a stationary bike, and see readings of how much energy they are burning per minute.  Twenty-five chambers, culminating in the Forterium. 
       This comprehensive installation, this constellation of forms, is the masterwork of two Athens-based artists:  Carol May (to whom I am not related) and her husband Tim Watkins.   It is not their first effort.   They won the commission, amid stiff competition, on the strength of a plenitude of previous works:  interactive, compound, permanent  exhibitions for children’s museums in Calvary and in Brooklyn, plus large-scale, moving (as in wriggling, waving, spinning, dancing) creations in Maine and Oregon and Florida and elsewhere.  You can get a sense of their artistic feats by dialing their website:  www.maywatkinsdesign.com  And for a bit more information about the Manhattan project, the web site is www.cmom.org

Delivery of the latest May-Watkins creation to its new Manhattan habitation, in time for re-assembly ahead of the November opening date, took place only because people showed up to offer help.  Hurricane Irene lifted the Hudson River, among so many other watercourses, to a new height.  The Elco plant was swamped to the extent of two feet.  The legs and other parts of “Eat Sleep Play” were soaked and bent.  Completion of some chambers was stalled.  The task seemed to be unmanageable.  But then friends (Tina, Doug, Joe…) showed up, unbidden, to lend a hand.  So did strangers.
That phenomenon—the turnout of volunteer helpers—occurred in place after storm-ravaged place.  Cumulatively, it’s the great GreeneLand story of 2011.  We know only fragments of cases:
*When flooding on Windham’s main street knocked out all the food retailers (cafes, restaurants), much to the consternation of locals and restaurant workers, Erica Reagan and some of her friends took the initiative of setting up a canteen in the town’s cultural center, the former church.  Mustering what they could find in the way of foodstuffs, they dispensed more than a thousand sandwiches in one day.
*Scores of mountaintop residents who were driven from their homes found  lodging, food and hospitality at Catskill’s Community Life Church (formerly called the First Baptist Church).
*Devastation in Windham from late August through early September placed in jeopardy the town’s traditional Autumn A-Fair, scheduled for the weekend of October 8-9.  But when scores of volunteers turned out to help with the restoration of stores and other buildings (as pointed out by Bryan Walsh in the TimesUnion, 10/10/11), the show did go on.
*In an effort to raise emergency funds to aid flood victims, M.A. Tarpinian and Sonny Rock (aka Clifton Anshanslin) organized, at the Michael J. Quill Cultural Centre, an October 1-2 “Concert for the Catskills.”  It was hard to get the word out in time.  Attendance and receipts were disappointing.  But Sonny’s call to fellow musicians yielded a turnout of some 35 bands, whose members paid their own way, played for no pay, and gave to Community Action half of what they took in from sales of CDs and other souvenirs. (See D.T. Antrim in 10/6/11 Daily Mail).
 *A van load of sub-teen girls arrived at the devastated site of Cone-E-Island in Catskill.  They set to work cleaning away mud.  Didn’t even ask permission. 
*On October 8, a hurricane relief benefit dinner and auction, sponsored by the Windham Mountain company, brought in, according to The Daily Mail (10/11), $171,000.
       *The downpour and the flooding washed away a 30-acre chunk of Windham Country Club’s golf course.  It also washed away the club’s maintenance machinery.  And it evoked help from owners of other GreeneLand courses—help, gratis, in the form of men and machinery.  In addition, members of the Windham club were made honorary members, for the remainder of the season, of most of the county’s other (“rival”) clubs.            
       *Last Friday (11/14), according to Daily Mailperson Melanie Lekocevic, members of Coxsackie’s Hose 3 firefighting troop  sold 400 pasta dinners, plus t-shirts and 50/50 raffle tickets, at a benefit for mountaintop flood relief.  That’s a riverside  troop, far away from the mountaintop.
       *There is a man in Columbia County who, according to Brad Poster (the United Way director), is “a real hero.”  In addition to contributing his truck and his labor to the task of salvaging Pratt Museum and Prattsville town hall pieces, for storage and restoration at the Columbia Ice plant in Hudson, Jeff Johnson “contacted me after hearing conflicting reports of peoples’ needs.”  Working “under the radar” from the first week of the disaster in Prattsville and Windham, dodging the complications and delays of applications, programs, he “tirelessly on his own and at his own expense” collected and delivered “relief materials.”  He would visit families personally, learned what they needed, and would return “with almost everything that has been requested.”  Jeff Johnson  “gives everything and asks nothing in return.”  [This item added 10/19, after original 10/18 post.  Ed.]          
       *The volume of food, clothing, and supplies that GreeneLanders and other donors contributed to the recovery effort reached, and surpassed, the point of saturation.  Further donations of clothing were politely declined.  Some non-perishable foodstuffs that had been trucked up the mountain were returned to established food pantries in our flatland communities.

       From the threatened devastation wrought by those rainstorms in Palenville, Highway Superintendent Alfie Beers extracted a benefit. Utilizing special authority that he was granted so as to cope with the emergency, he was able to cut through a maze of permit requirements and rush in crews and heavy machinery to the widen and deepen a bed on Kaaterskill Creek, thereby saving a couple of bridges from getting washed away—as had happened in the past, under milder conditions.  The long-targeted project had been stalled by permitting procedures.  (Other GreeneLand repair and improvement projects still are snarled in the regulatory maze).

       Geologist Robert Titus says rainfall this year is about 40% above normal here.  He said that last Spring.

   “The worst, however, has apparently gotten more bad.”  (Daily Maul, 10/15/11).

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