Prepping for the Rapture: Prophet Isaiah Robertson’s house

New York is a really big state. A few weeks ago I blogged about several sites along the Hudson River in the southeast corner of the state, so for no really good reason this week I have decided to yap about a really colorful site, with a really interesting mythology, in the northwest corner of the state – Prophet Isaiah Roberston’s house.

Prophet 1

Prophet Isaiah Robertson was born in Jamaica and after living in Canada moved to Niagara Falls, NY in 2004. A few years later he started building a true “visionary” art environment surrounding the exterior of his humble abode. In interviews Robertson, a self-trained artist, has said that this environment is the work of god and not of man, and that prophecy guided his hand. As you can see from the photos, the site is very colorfully painted and includes some really terrific and intricate woodwork. Prophet 2

What at first, looks simply like a rainbow of painted crosses, opens up into a myriad world of symbolism. Wifey and I were taking photos and talking to the Prophet’s neighbors, who happened to love the site, when Robertson drove up in his big black pickup truck. He was extremely friendly and gave us a little background on the site and also went into depth explaining the symbols that he crafted into his house’s vivid facade. There are, as to be expected a lot of crosses, but also identifiable iconography from other religions besides Christianity, including Stars of David and Islamic symbols.

In a video interview, Robertson points to his house and says, “So everything here my brother is a reading of the old testament prophecy and the new testament prophesy.” And it is all in there, from the seven seals, to the Ark of the Covenant to the crucifixion. For a self-trained artist, who is motivated by vision to create, he has crafted a site rich in conceptual metaphors.

Educator, photographer and fellow folk art environment enthusiast Fred Scruton has done an amazing job of documenting the Prophet’s site over the years and all the symbols. Please check out his website, for a really detailed and thorough overview of the place.

Prophet 3Robertson is the first “prophet” I have ever met and this title stems from a fascinating and dense mythology (prophecy) that he has weaved through his environment. He foretells that during the end times, all souls will pass his house on their way to the Falls, which will be turned into a pit of fire. Here , your soul will be judged. On Goat Island, a small island on the American side of the Falls and part of the State Park, god will separate the sheep (baaaa) – the followers, from the goats – the rest of us. The goats will be tossed into the burning pit (booooo). Although he figuratively spouts fire and brimstone while touring the house, he does it in a friendly, matter of fact way. I would probably fall into the goat category, yet at no time did I feel unwelcome, or uncomfortable. Just the opposite, Robertson was kind, welcoming and very pleased at being able to share his artistic creation, his prophesy and his ideology.

Prophet 7
The cross that all souls will go by during Ragnarok

Of note, Robertson prophesized that the end of the world was going to take place in 2014… Woopsie. But just in case he is on to something, I recommend visiting his house while Niagara Falls is still a beautiful series of waterfalls and not waiting till Armageddon, when your soul will fly by the site on its way to judgement. At that point, you will probably be too preoccupied to take nice photos. This is a good one folks, it has really beautiful craftsmanship and a great story, so don’t skip it.

Prophet 4
If it’s good enough for this guy, it is good enough for me

How to visit:

The Prophet’s house is located at 1308 Ontario Ave., Niagara Falls, NY. The environment is completely viewable from the sidewalk. Prophet Isaiah does enjoy sharing his stories and his art with people so feel free to knock and see if he is around. As always, this is private property so be respectful.

Niagara Falls is about thirty minutes from Buffalo and an hour and a half drive from Toronto, Canada. It is about four hours from Detroit, MI (you have to drive through Canada) and is actually farther, over six hours, from New York City.

In the Area:

There is a giant waterfall about three miles down the road.

While in no way is the waterfall a lost wonder, or the type of place I babble on about on this site, it is rather magnificent. There is city of Niagara Falls in Canada and another in USA, divided by their namesake Falls. It is funny, because Americans are typically known for being gaudy, obnoxious and loud and the Canadians are shy, pleasant, every day people who live in harmony with moose and bear. But at Niagara Falls the script is flipped and the Canadian side is a big flashy tourist trap and the American side is a well groomed, understated state park. That’s right Canada, SHOVE IT UP YOUR DUMB MAPLE LOVING BUTTS. America has out-pleasanted you!

On the American side –

I recommend checking out the state park. Both the Maid of the Mist boat tour, where you wear a cheap raincoat and go almost under the large Horseshoe Falls and the Cave of the Winds, where you walk along a set of wood stairs almost directly under the American Falls, are fantastic. The namesake cave is long gone, but Wooden Stairs of the Wind does not sound as cool. Both have been tourist attractions for over a century and both give you free rain ponchos (a rare treat for poncho collectors).

Niagara 2
Cave of the Winds

On the Canadian Side-

They also have the same boat trip under the falls, but it is operated by a different company. While they do not have Cave of the Winds, they have a similar attraction named Journey Behind the Falls.

The attractions at the Falls (either side) are about as touristy as you can get without there being a giant Mouse strolling about, but don’t let that deter you, this is a pretty amazing area. You’re not too cool to enjoy a giant perma-rainbowed roaring waterfall, are you?

On the Canadian side there is an area called Clifton Hill – several square blocks of wax museums, fun houses and Tim Horton’s doughnut shops. This is the area that really gives the Canada side the bad rep as being Americanish. But wax museums are cool by me, so check the area out. A little museum history: before museums got into actually trying to be educational collecting institutions many were what were called “dime museums.” These dime museums were composed of freak-shows, cabinets of curiosities, wax museums and also they put on simplistic morality plays (about subjects like the dangers of alcohol and women getting the vote). I see wax museums as a link to the old, weird America (even when in Canada). Sadly, many of Clifton Hill’s wax museums have gone out of business in the last decade. Support your local wax museum.

Niagara 1
Daredevil Exhibit

People for years have been making containers, getting in them and going over the side of the falls. Some die, others get a modicum of fame that is worthless in this internet era. You can see a handful of these crafts at the Niagara Daredevil Exhibit. Although small, I highly recommended this place for fans of spectacle.

Buffalo –

Niagara Falls is only twenty to thirty minutes away from Buffalo, NY, which is a pretty rust belt city with some cool things to do. Having grown up in the Detroit area, I can really appreciate a city like Buffalo. This is a city that was once a major industrial boomtown that went to seed and is now slowly going through a rebuilding phase.

As far as attractions go, they have a history museum, car museum, an art museum and a nice Frank Lloyd Wright house, but there are two stops I highly recommend.

First off, City Hall in downtown Buffalo is a beautiful art deco building (I am a sucker for art deco, so you may have to endure me yapping about it from time to time). Guided one-hour tours are available every weekday at noon.

Also, I am a sucker for World’s Fair and Buffalo had a big exposition (fancy way of Niagara 4saying World’s Fair) in 1901. In fact President McKinley was assassinated at the fair by an anarchist (which I was surprised to learn was not a punk rock kid from the mid 1980’s who wore combat boots, listened to the Exploited and drew scratchy letter A’s in their trapper-keepers). The Buffalo History Museum has a nice exhibit about the expo, they even display the gun that was used to shoot the president. But, and here’s the catch, the exhibit is not located in the normal museum, it is located a mile away in their Resource Center. You have to make an appointment to view the exhibit, but people work there during normal business hours, so just give them a call a few days, to a week ahead.

Niagara 3
Anchor Bar

Buffalo is a killer regional food/ road food stop. Their main claim to fame is their Buffalo wings, which were invented at the Anchor Bar. While it may be a tourist trap the wings at the Anchor Bar were great and there is a ton of history. There are bunch of other places known for their Buffalo Wings in town, one of the more popular is Duffs. True Buffaloeans (is that right?) also love their grilled hot dogs at Ted’s, and an item I am partial too, a sandwich called beef on weck. Beef is roast beef, weck is a salty roll, and together they make for a delicious sandwich (just add a little horseradish). The two most popular places are Schwabl’s (awesome old-school ambiance) and Charlie the Butcher’s.

Go get saved in Niagara.

 

 

 

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Here be Dragons : I have added maps

There will be no new environments this week, instead I am letting you know I have gone back and added maps to all my posts as well as a big overall art environment map up top (in the pages section). As I have mentioned in my past ramblings one of the main reasons I have started this blog is to promote art environments and other unusual attractions to those seeking cool new places to check out. In order to facilitate people heading off the beaten path I feel it helps to create a beatable path.

The maps at the bottom of each post will highlight all the art environments, museums, restaurants and other attractions I babble on about in that post. To keep things simple the maps will stay regional, for example, the map associated with all Wisconsin environments will be the same. I will keep adding places to the map when I talk about them in the blog posts. That means you have to check back often and tell all your friends about the blog or your life will be meaningless…or more likely you may miss something.

Also, I have added my personal all encompassing Art Environments of the USA to the pages section. This big map will not include restaurants and non-art environment museums. It is a work in progress now with over 175 places.

There Must be Something in the Water: The Hudson River Valley Art Environment Trail

Some areas are ripe with art environments. I’ve already mentioned in previous posts that Wisconsin, the California desert and Kansas all have a sizable population of known, established art environments. Keep in mind that four or five art environments over a 200 mile range is a veritable bonanza. Many states, including Nebraska, Utah, Idaho and Kentucky have only one or two existing, documented, environments in the whole state. Of course, there may be a few more lurking about, just not well documented. This is why it is so exciting that in just over 100 miles, as the crow flies, in New York State, there are at least six art environments in small communities neighboring the Hudson River. It is really beyond me why there are so many environments in such a small area of the New York countryside.

The Hudson River runs through Eastern New York, roughly from the Adirondack Mountains down to NYC. If you start in the big apple and head north, you hit one small town after another and the area is really breathtakingly beautiful. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by quaintness, fudge shops and trees. This trail would make for a killer one or two day road trip from either NYC or the New England area. If you turn this into a trail and hit all six sites, you will cross the Hudson a few times and the majority of the drive is on curvy country roads, off the interstate, so you really get a great view of the surroundings.

I plan to go into more detail for each environment at some point and pinpointing other cool stops along the way, but for now here is the short of it, starting in the south and heading north.

Hudson2Easter Island on the Hudson – 14 Riverside Ave, Haverstraw, NY

Located roughly 40 miles north of Manhattan, you find Easter Island on the Hudson. As the name implies this environment butts up right to the Hudson river and like its namesake in the Pacific, it is chock full of giant stone heads. This site was created by Ted Ludwiczak (born in Poland in 1927). His front and back yard are swimming with faces carved into large boulders. This is private property and not a museum or tourist attraction. Be respectful. We knocked and Ludwiczak was super friendly and gave us permission to wander around his yard.

Hudson3Wing’s Castle – 717 Bangall Rd, Millbrook, NY

65 miles northeast of Haverstraw, crossing the mighty Hudson, you will find Wing’s Castle.

A terrific homemade castle built by Peter Wing and his family. Sadly, Peter Wing passed away in 2014; however, his wife and son are still working on the castle. They offer tours of the place seasonally and also run it as a bed and breakfast.

Check their website for hours.

The next two sites are about 45 minutes away, nearish to the town of Woodstock. A little trivia for ya – the famous Woodstock hippie-sex-fest was not actually located in Woodstock, but was 45 miles away in Bethel, NY. This does not mean that you will not see old people wearing colorful wizard garb wandering the streets of downtown Woodstock – plan accordingly.

Opus 40 – 50 Fite Rd, Saugerties, NY

Opus 40 was built over a 37-year period by artist Harvey Fites starting in 1939. This place is incredible and has quickly found a spot on my top ten art environment list. It falls somewhere between folk art environment and land-art/ earthwork (basically, it is a little “artsier” than the typical environment). It is not made up of a bunch of little sculptures, but is really just one super giant, understated sculpture that you can walk on. This place is not to be missed, it is really like nothing else. Opus 40 operates as a museum, with posted hours, gift shop and admission fees. They do close for the winter, so check their website for the latest times.

Hudson6Steve Heller’s Fabulous Furniture – 3930 NY-28, Boiceville, NY

About 20 minutes west of Opus 40, you find Steve Heller’s Fabulous Furniture, a  furniture store with a gaggle of whimsical sculptures made out of welded reclaimed materials out front. Heller’s sculptures include robots and giant strange vehicles. The store is open 9-5, but you can easily see all the statues on the front lawn anytime during daylight hours. We happened by early in the morning before they opened. Check out their website.

Hudson9Taconic Sculpture Park – Stever Hill Rd, Chatham, NY 12037 (some places the address shows up as Spencertown, NY)

About a one hour drive northeast of Opus 40 you cross the Hudson again and make your way to Stever Hill Road in Spencertown. At the end of a dirt road is the residence of artist Roy Kanwit, who has covered the front yard and hilly side of his property with some really terrific and strange sculptures made out of marble and cement. The site is open on weekends seasonally and is located on private property. This place is a little tricky to find so make sure to use the google map at the bottom of this page to help plot out a path.

Hudson9bThe Circle Museum – 10985 Route 22, Austerlitz, NY

Only a ten-minute drive from the Taconic Sculpture Park you will find Bijan Mahmoodi’s Circle Museum. Mahmoodi has slowly been filling up his property over 25 years with welded abstract sculptures. Technically open year round, if the gate is open during day light hours you can venture inside. There is a donation box by the gate and if he is around Mahmoodi may invite you into his studio to see his paintings.

All in all, this is a cool art trail through the New York countryside. I have just covered the art environments in the area and have not even begun to detail all the other interesting museums and old, dead rich people mansions/castles, that you can explore in the area.

Go buy a new car, you have a lot of driving to do.