In the News: Easter Island on the Hudson’s Creator Passes Away

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Ted Ludwiczak, the artist behind a  fun art environment, Easter Island on the Hudson, passed away on May 25, 2016, he was reportedly 90 years old. I had written about Ludwiczak briefly when talking about the Hudson River Valley Art Environment Trail, here. Of all the places on the trail, his was the only one that was actually located directly on the Hudson River.

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Ludwiczak, immigrated to America from Poland when he was 29 years old in 1956. He had a optical lense grinding business for the next 30 years, retiring in 1986. Two years later, in 1988, inspiration struck him and he started carving faces into the rocks found on the beach along the Hudson.

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Every face is different. Most are happy. He started chipping away using the blade from a lawn mower, but ultimately transitioned into using power tools. As it stands currently the outside of his house is littered with hundreds of these carved faces. They are not nearly as big as their namesake Easter Island Moai, but there are just tons of them all over the place in his front, back and side yard. Ludwiczak’s property butts up to the Hudson and there are more rock heads along the shore for boaters to enjoy.

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Last fall I had the chance to visit his house. It was raining outside when I showed up and knocked on the door. Ludwiczak popped out and happily granted me permission to walk around his yard. Typically, in these situations, I like to talk to the artist a bit, but it was nasty out and I didn’t feel like hassling him. . It was a true pleasure walking around the yard; the sculpted smiles were infectious. You couldn’t help but smile back.

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Most of the environments I have visited have been around many decades and the builder has long passed. However, I have been lucky to meet several artists still building up their yard. With that being said, a large portion of environment architects are old timers. Many times, like this situation here, the artist started building after retiring from their day job. I have been now to three environments where the artist has gone off to folk art paradise after I have visited (and just to clarify, I am not murdering artists). This includes, Hamtramck Disneyland and Glenn Stark’s environment, both of which I have yapped about in this blog. Hamtramck Disneyland has recently been saved by an art collective (hell yeah, that is so great!), Stark’s statues were taken off his property and the city moved them to a local park.

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At this point, I have no idea what the future holds for this place. I hope that either Ludwiczak’s family or some art organization, like Kohler, steps in to preserve the place. But I really don’t see that happening. This was a pretty obscure site, and it never received the notoriety and appreciation that some other sites have. It would be too easy to auction off the faces and sell the property. So get your asses up there before it is too late. I will keep you posted.

So, here’s to Ted Ludwiczak, a self-trained artist, who in his later years for reasons completely his own, decided to gussy up the already beautiful Hudson river, by adding a few hundred more pretty faces and helping to make this world a slightly better place. Cheers!

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How to visit:

This is probably time sensitive. I am writing this in late May 2016, and who knows how much longer this info will hold true. Easter Island on the Hudson is located at 14 Riverside Ave, Haverstraw, NY, about a little over an hour drive north of NYC. It is on a residential street right along the river. Most of the statues can be seen from the street. I am not sure if they want people tramping through his back yard or not, but there is plenty to see from the front. If you have a yacht, you can drop anchor right outside his back yard.

Get going while the gettin’s good.

In the Area:

South of Haverstraw is New York City, a large wide-awake apple. There is a lot to do in New York City, it is an amazing place filled with some of the world’s most renown restaurants, night life, cultural institutions and museums. But honestly, I am more interested in what you find in the boonies, so skip it and head north instead.  There are some great museums and offbeat attractions in the Hudson River Valley.

 

About an hour north I recommend heading to the DIA: Beacon. The DIA is high-concept meta-art (art about  art) at its most artsty artyness. If there was an 80s movie set in the DIA: Beacon everyone would be clothed in black and wearing berets. Housed in an old warehouse everything, all the art, is huge. See the photos above for an idea. If you are a fan of the land art movement you will poop yourself in astonishment. It has pieces constructed by land art luminaries Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer (see the boulder in the wall above). Before heading there you have to read the Yelp reviews, they are hilarious, either people adore it and find it to be brilliant, or think it is ridiculously pretentious, or believe it  to be the dumbest museum ever. Personally, I absolutely loved this place, because they are all correct, it is a beautiful mix of brilliant, pretentious, and dumb.

There are two other nearby attractions I didn’t make it to, because as I mentioned previously, it was pouring outside. They were both very high on my “to see” list, and it means I have to head back out this way. I cannot personally vouch for ’em, but they look pretty awesome.

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Bannerman’s Castle lit by the first warm sun of late winter, 2014” by Peter licensed under CC by 2.0

First, there is Bannerman Castle, a deteriorating military surplus warehouse/ castle. It sits on an island in the middle of the Hudson and you can book a tour of the island.  I guess you can’t actually enter the castle as it is in pretty bad shape, but still looks like a pretty great opportunity.

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Storm King Art Center NY 2610” by bobistraveling is licensed under CC by 2.0

The other is the Storm King Art Center. It is a large outdoor sculpture park and is reportedly one of the biggest and best in the country. Seriously, go to Google and search, “best sculpture parks in America”, and open every dumb travel list of the best sculpture parks in America and it will be on that list.

And, if you haven’t already, please check out my dumb list about the Hudson River Valley Art Environment Trail, because there are some terrific ones nearby.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.