We’re Glad she Never Played the Flute: Leyla McCalla

For some, heritage and ancestry is a minimal part of life – my great-grandparents are from Ireland, so mom makes corned beef and cabbage. For others, delving into who and where they come from is a large part of examining who they are as an individual. Leyla McCalla would most definitely be the latter, detailing her heritage and interpreting what she finds to see how it fits into the bigger picture. I was lucky enough to ask her a few questions; read on to learn more about her journey and what she’s found so far!

Your debut album was a tribute to Langston Hughes. What got you into Langston Hughes?a3004908863_10

Langston Hughes was a writer that I became familiar with, first through my parents, and second through school. For my 16th birthday, my dad gave me a book of Langston Hughes’ poetry and that’s when I really got into his poetry and started to understand his work in the larger context of American history and racial politics.

You released Vari-Colored Songs in 2014. What makes the poetry of Langston Hughes relevant today?

The New York Times recently published an article featuring Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too, America” questioning whether a poem could affect the course of the upcoming election. To me, that is great example of how Hughes’ work continues to be relevant. His poems ask us to question what our real values are, to be honest about that and if our values really benefit the good of the whole and even what we consider the whole to be. His work asks us questions that we’re still stumbling over as a society. He was an extremely insightful and visionary artist and I think we’ll be talking about his work for centuries to come.

What’s it like having your family on the road with you?

Headed to France on Bastille Day! My daughters last free trip across the pond. First up Nice Jazz Festival!! 💥

A photo posted by Leyla Sarah (@leylacello) on

Having my family on the road with me is intense! I love it, I’m so grateful for it! But it comes with its challenges. Continue reading

Fred Pohlman, van Gogh, and All That Jazz

In order to get into an artist’s head, sometimes it takes a good friend of the artist – they’ve heard it all before, and consequently they know just the right questions to ask! Take another glimpse into Fred Pohlman’s world of history, passion, and creation, lead by none other than Carolyn Bennett. I enjoy all of her interviews; I think you will, too.


When and how did your fascination with Vincent van Gogh begin?

Well, I was well aware of van Gogh’s works since I was quite young, but my first real fascination with the ‘artist’ himself came after I began to read his letters. I had read fictional accounts of Vincent’s life previously, but it was those letters that took me over the top.

Can you give me a brief description of what your Musical ‘Starry Nights, The Life and Times of Theo and Vincent van Gogh is about?

Well I could go into a long dissertation here and give a detailed description of my Musical, but I feel that the words of the opening Song of the Musical serve to convey the overall message and ‘emotional tone’ of this work. Anyone who has read Vincent’s letters will ‘immediately’ connect with the imagery I am conveying here. The song is related ‘directly’ to the audience and is sung by the character of Theo van Gogh’s widowed wife Johanna…



There is a space beyond your windowpane Continue reading

Post-everything Poetry: an interview with Kirby Olson

It’s no secret that at the Catskill Mountain Foundation we’re working to expand our literary programming. This month, our program has grown to include Kirby Olson, poet and professor of philosophy and humanity at SUNY Delhi. I was lucky enough to catch him for a quick interview, in which we discuss several movements of poetry, politics, and the intersection of religion and art. I realize that the title of this interview may not make sense, since we didn’t really talk about post-anything; the idea comes from a review of Kirby’s book by Andrew Tully (which, by the way, you can and should read here). So scroll on, dear reader.

Trust me. He’s an interesting guy.


When did you study with Allen Ginsberg?


Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg had opened a Buddhist poetry college in Boulder, Colorado in 1976. It was called Naropa Institute.  I went there in the summer of 1977 and the summer of 1979.  Had I been able to finish my Evergreen State College degree there, I would have remained.  Although I was from the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, my guidance counselor at East Stroudsburg University suggested I go to Evergreen State College, which is a non-traditional college in Olympia, Washington.  However, while there, I found a catalog for Naropa Institute, in the student lounge. I recognized all the poets in the Naropa Catalog. I wanted to study poetry. That’s about all that I knew at the time.  I studied with almost all of the Beat poets and lived in the same housing complex. In addition to Ginsberg, I talked daily with the poet Gregory Corso, and with Philip Whalen, and many others.  There were some New York School poets there, too. Kenneth Koch was there, and Kenward Elmslie, for example.  I met all of them, and found them all quite fascinating.

How much influence does surrealism and the New York school still have on your work?

While at Evergreen State College, I had begun to read surrealist and Beat and New York School writings, even though none of the professors at that time were poets.  I found their work in the library.  It was much better to study with the Beats and New York School writers in person.  This summer I met the poet Peter Schjeldahl, who was a New York School poet in the 1960s and 1970s, but gave up his poetry in order to write art criticism for The New Yorker.  He no longer writes poetry, as he didn’t apparently feel that there was much of an audience for his work. His poems were really good New York School work.  He’s like Frank O’Hara, to an extent, but with a more honest feel, a more Lutheran feel. He’s from Fargo, North Dakota, and was raised as a Lutheran.  There is a certain honesty in his poems that I feel in general is missing in the New York School poets.  I had sent him my poetry book, and he expressed an interest in me, and in a painting I had been trying to show him in a local church.  While sitting on his porch, he smiled and said, “There is a New York School aspect to your poems!”  I think he meant in particular, “Data from a Doorman,” which appears on page 17.  There is an insane rushing breathlessness in that poem.  We spoke for a couple of hours, but on many different topics, including the schism between the Sophists and Plato and Socrates, so we didn’t get back to talking about our poetry.

The fact that you’re a Christian poet is interesting considering your roots of surrealism and such. Were you always a Christian poet? What makes you one?

I was raised as a Lutheran in the Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania church on 9th Street.  I dropped it when I went to college, as it seemed that no one then was a Christian.  Everyone everywhere appeared to be dropping out of Christianity. It was time right after Woodstock, and just after the War in Vietnam.  It seemed that America was a hostile, occupying nation, and everyone was smoking dope, and experimenting with new sexual arrangements, and joining up with foreign religions such as Buddhism and Sufi and Gurdjieffian lineages.  Naropa Institute was one of the first Buddhist colleges.  Today there are about five.  I was interested. I participated.  I listened to Choygam Trungpa, and read many Buddhist texts.  olsonThe French surrealists had been raised as Christians.  They were mainly Catholic.  They, too, were reacting to their empire, and to the national wars they had been fighting.  I don’t think any of the major surrealists remained involved with traditional Christianity.  They, like the Beat generation, and the New York School poets, moved toward Buddhism in some cases, and toward mysticism along the lines of very far-out things such as Voodoo and whatever it was that Carlos Castaneda was involved in.  I studied all that, and was interested in it, but felt lost. I met a Christian woman when I was teaching in Finland.  When I met her, and we had a child, I began to talk with the local pastor in Finland.  At our daughter Lola’s baptism, I heard the same Lutheran songs I had grown up with.  I felt at home in them.  I went back into Lutheranism, and began to even become evangelical. My daughter is 17.  I date my rebirth in Christianity with her birth.  Together, we have been to the Lutheran and to the Episcopalian churches in Delhi.  Lola and my wife and I share Christianity.  There are three other kids in the family, too.  They are all Christians.  Our life is Christian.  The highwater marks of my life have been in Christian churches. My poems celebrate this, and are grounded in this. When I began to write my first real poems, they all came after this conversion. Before that, I consider myself to have been a postmodernist, but not a convinced one.  My convictions came from the overwhelmingly emotional feeling of marriage to my wife, and my link to my children, and to our heritage.  

Where do you come from?

Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania is about an hour from New York City.  It’s in the Pocono Mountains, which are the same as the Catskills from a geological standpoint.  The only difference is the border. They are part of the Appalachian chain.  My New York School friends were often Jewish.  They were lapsed Jews.  I never really understood their cavalier hilarity, or their hipness. I always felt that I was an Appalachian, and a Lutheran, but I loved their sensibility and feel even now like a yokel compared to them.  I feel close to the Nordic States, and to Minnesota, and the work ethic of the Protestant Reformation.  I like the simple clarity of Lutheran churches.  I like the simple aesthetic of straight, clean, white lines.  I am a sincere person, and am not joking at five levels at a time like my postmodern Jewish friends.  I can do that, but as Bartleby said, I would prefer not to.

If you could punch one “classic” poet in the face, who would it be? Why?

I have never had a fist fight in my life.  Not one.  I am not physically violent.  However, I am intellectually violent.  I fight with things like Post-Its.  I love poets.  I don’t hate any of them. However, I don’t understand why Ginsberg didn’t tell us early on that he was a practicing pedophile.  He admits as much in his last book of poems, Death and Fame. I can’t bring myself to retype any part of those awful poems.  I wish I could write a Post-It to him, and ask, “Was this what your whole revolution was about, jerk?”  I wouldn’t want to punch him in the face, or kill him.  I just feel now that the Beat-surrealist tradition is false goods, and that it’s a portable vomitorium. I still accept their style, but the content?  No.

What’s your least favorite song?


Kirby Olson

“What are we fighting for?  Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn.  Next stop is Vietnam, and it’s one two three…” It’s a song by Country Joe and the Fish, who played at Woodstock.  We are fighting for universal human rights, including the right to freedom of inquiry, and a free market, and freedom of religion, all of which are negated in today’s Vietnam.  I feel we let down the Vietnamese.  We want freedom worldwide, now and forever.  The greatness of the Lutheran and Christian ethos should not be narrowly left to the Nordic states.  It should be a universal legacy.  At any rate, that’s what I’m fighting for – Post-it by Post-it, or poem by poem.  We fought for Japan and South Korea, and compared to the nightmare of North Korea, you have the light of the free market, and the light of Jesus Christ, compared to the infamous horror of socialism under Kim Jong-On and his cult of personality, or Ho Chi Minh, and the horror of Vietnamese, or Cambodian communism, and its horrid poster boys, such as Pol Pot.  We are fighting for literacy, and freedom of inquiry, and the right to knowledge.  It’s an endless fight, and I see the Lutherans as the light of the world, with Jesus Christ as our colors.  My favorite song of all time is the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but then I do also love Erik Satie.  Music is a minor part of my aesthetic interests. I prefer painting.  I like everything from Andy Warhol to Italian Renaissance such as Pietro Lorenzetti.  In real life, I love Lutheran hymns, and it’s the only thing I look forward to in music.


Kirby will be reading at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery on Saturday, September 10th, from 1-2PM. This event is free and open to the public, so come on down! For more information visit catskillmtn.org or call 518-263-2063.

Guest Blog: Fred Pohlman’s “Vistas”

Sometimes getting multiple points of view is the only way to explain just how great something is. So – here’s a short guest blog by Heather Martin, reviewing Fred Pohlman’s current exhibition in the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery.

“Vistas” by Fred Pohlman

“From the darkness springs ethereal wisps of light and bursts of intense color. This painting evokes the atmospheric  splendor of such Hudson River School painters as Frederick Church and Thomas Cole.

Unlike the Hudson River School tradition, Fred Pohlman’s paintings are not painted with a subject in mind. The content emerges subconsciously as he works the paint. He captures subtle nuances of color, shape and tone directly onto the canvas. Although these paintings have a layered look, and fine, cloud-like details, Pohlman accomplishes this with paint, not additives. His black tones are mixed from colors on the painting surface. The subtlety of this painting is highlighted by its gloss finish which adds to the appearance of its layered depths.



You can see this painting and more of Fred Pohlman’s work at “The Emerging Self: Psychological Abstracts” a solo exhibit of Pohlman’s works on view at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts Gallery through September 25th. The Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery is located within the Village Square Center at 7950 Main Street, Hunter NY. Gallery hours are Friday and Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, and Sundays and Mondays 10 am to 3 pm until Labor Day, after which the gallery will be closed on Mondays. For more information call 518-263-2060 or visit http://www.catskillmtn.org .”     – Heather Martin

Night and the Emerging Self: in Conversation with Fred Pohlman

Next up in the gallery: Fred Pohlman! His show, Night and the Emerging Self, will be in the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery from August 13th to September 25th. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and ask some unexpected questions – read on to find out how he handled that.


From where do you draw inspiration?


“Trial of Job”


Experience as in…

Experience is just what happens. For example you read the book of Job, and you have a dream that says, “you will know the trials of Job.” The next thing you know you’ve got a painting that you can’t stand, so you put it down and leave it for two years. All of a sudden you pick it up, add something, and it’s the trial of Job! Then you wind up writing a song and you realize it’s also about the trial of Job. I have the painting and the song – but where do they come from? You read the book of Job, and it had more magnetism than you thought. It starts to invade your dreams, your artwork, everything.  

I have this painting, “The Road to Kandahar” – where is it coming from? Then I realize it must be from my fascination with scheherazade and The Arabian Nights. You produce something out of it, it just comes out of your hand by accident. All of this stuff comes from the love of something.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up mostly in New York City; in lower Harlem and the Upper East Side. I spent my summers out in the country, in Pattenburg, New Jersey. I lived in a home for kids for a few years, too.

Who is your favorite painter?

My favorite painters are Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Do you have a favorite painting by either of them?

Do I have a favorite painting? Well.

Hard question, right?

It’s impossible. Depends on my mood. But I love Braque and I love Picasso; in fact I love all of the cubists. If I say I love Diego Rivera most people will think oh, he did murals. No. Continue reading

Rory Block…on Rory Block!

Rory Block is crazy busy…seriously. She’s been touring for 34 years, and touring AT ALL makes for a very busy musician. Lucky for us, she made some time to say a few words about herself and the upcoming New York Blues Hall of Fame Concert & Ceremony. Did we mention that she’s one of the inductees? Well, now you know. By the way, you should probably get your tickets for the show – it is this Saturday. But we’ll let Rory tell you all about it:

This special event at the Orpheum Theater in Tannersville comes at a very exciting time for me. I have just completed the sixth and last recording of a project I call “The Mentor Series,” which will eventually be released as a boxed set. This series is my life’s work in a box, consisting entirely of tributes to the rediscovered blues masters who I met in person as a teenager growing up in New York City. In retrospect, who would have thought that Greenwich Village was the place to be to meet people like Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Reverend Gary Davis, Bukka White and others? Now I understand more than ever how lucky I was to have been in the right place at the right time. Today it seems ever more precious, fleeting and almost magical. The inspiration I got from this face to face, personal experience has lasted throughout my life, and the Mentor Series is my way of saying “thank you.” I will have my autobiography, my Robert Johnson teaching dvd, and the first five of the Mentor Series with me at Tannersville, and we await the sixth release by fall.

LFDplate6-hr crop

Credit: Shonna Valeska

During the last 34 years of touring, I have enjoyed each and every place I have performed. There are great people everywhere, and I think music really brings us together like almost nothing else can. I like to say that my biggest problem these days is that I am having “too much fun.” In particular I love telling stories about the history which has unfolded for all of us who love and value American roots music, and I weave these tales and perspectives into the show.
After years of struggling and trying to get a handle on slide, I have finally come to terms with it, in particular after an inspirational nugget I gleaned from the playing of the wonderful Bonnie Raitt, and I love to squeeze a little bit of a guitar workshop into every set just for fun. I am looking forward to the night and being there with the other wonderful artists on the show.
With gratitude,

The New York Blues Hall of Fame Concert & Ceremony is this Saturday, July 16th, at 8PM in the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center. Get your seats NOW before time runs out: call 518-263-2063 or visit our ticketing website.

Ruth Sachs: “Culinary” Clay Arts

There’s so much going on in the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery that we’re having a hard time keeping track of it all! Some of the latest news is from Ruth Sachs:

(cropped) 13495585_1657652091219959_4217067191434564867_o

Ruth’s work in the gallery

Her newest work that is a series of large bowls which Ruth enjoys making on her potters wheel in her Long Island studio or her Studio in Jewett, New York. The brighter interior reds and purples contrasted with the colorful exteriors will enhance all of the tables of the Catskill for their summer menus. Ruth adds incised decor, decals, and underglazes as well as scraffito to the outsides and some interiors of her bowls.

“I enjoy making pottery that is functional and useful for everyday occasions. It is made to be touched and used by all,” says Ruth.

The summer season brings on adventures in the form of cooking, some of which include wonderful recipes for salads and pastas. A big salad or pasta bowl is just right for summer barbecues and outdoor lunches and dinners. Ruth is a potter who loves to cook, so she even shared her recipe for summer salad!


Ruth’s Summer Salad

Corn, Tomato, Asparagus Salad

4 Cups of Corn ( lightly saute’ just until the kernels turn brown)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin ( mix with corn)
4 large tomatoes ( diced or cherry tomatoes cut in half, about 2 cups)
1/4 C Cilantro ( or parsley if you don’t like Cilantro)
2 Cloves of fresh Garlic – diced and sauteed with the corn
1 Red bell pepper – chopped
12 stalks of Asparagus – cleaned, chopped and lightly sauteed (or roasted in 450″ oven for 7 minutes)
1 Shallot- minced
1 Tablespoon good olive oil
juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients together in a large ceramic handmade bowl , drizzle with olive oil and serve, correct spices as you like.



Royal Imperial Agate with ceramic beads, SS clasp, rondells and matching earrings


Ruth also makes jewelry with a ceramic theme . One of her latest creations (pictured left) will be in the silent auction at the Catskill Mountain Foundation Annual Benefit!


Stop by the Kaaterskill fine Arts & Crafts Gallery to pick up the perfect bowl today! The gallery is open Friday, Saturday & Monday 10 am-4 pm; Sunday 10 am-3 pm.

Fugues: a Surprisingly Lively Interview with Ilona Sochynsky

From the Ukraine to the US, everyone seems to be in agreement that Ilona Sochynsky is a great painter. With an extensive career involving both countries – from a commissioned mural in Atlantic City, to the State Museum of Lviv in Ukraine – Sochynsky has quite a bit of experience in the art world. Read on to see what she had to say about the evolution of her career, her hobbies, and what has influenced her along the way.

You’ve certainly been in the art world for a while; your career spans more than two decades. How has your art changed over time?

 Over the 20-year span that you reference, my artwork has progressed from hyperrealism to abstraction. Influenced by Pop Art of the late 70’s and early 80’s I used my own photographs as source materials to create paintings. Very soon I started to split the images into large fragments, recombining the sections and thereby creating a new painting. This deconstruction process continued over the years and resulted in compositions (often kaleidoscopic) where the fragments were no longer recognizable.

 You obviously have experience in painting, and you’ve taught graphic design at a


Fugue No. 9

college level. Do those two mediums ever intersect?

 I studied and worked as a graphic designer before resuming and dedicating myself to painting. Both professions deal with visual communication and the formal elements of art and design such as composition, form, color, texture space, etc. The graphic designer’s goal is to please the client. As a painter I have only myself to please, unless the artwork is a commissioned one, such as the large mural I painted in Atlantic City.

The idea that as a painter you only have yourself to please is an interesting point. Do you ever paint with an audience in mind? Continue reading

From the Vaults: Vicki Thompson on “In Process”

When you’re working for such a busy organization with a million things going on all at once (hey, that sounds like the Catskill Mountain Foundation. Hint hint.), sometimes things fall by the wayside – they get lost, put at the bottom of the to-do list, buried under a pile of papers on your desk – but sometimes those things truly deserve to see the light of day…and while I’d love to print out this interview and leave it on the sunny sidewalk to catch some rays, I think the CMF blog will have to do for now. Anyway.

BEHOLD: back from the depths of unpublished Google Documents, my interview with Vicki Thompson on her October 2015 show in the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery, “In Process.”


This show was partially a result of you working for the Foundation, correct? How did you get involved with CMF?

Yeah, I would say it’s safe to assume. I worked for CMF as the Programming Assistant. I found out about the job through a great friend, Cara, who used to work there. I went over and had dinner with her and her amazing family one night, and the next day I had an interview and a job! It was great! I worked closely with Pam Weisberg and Carolyn Bennett. Carolyn had mentioned that she wanted me to have a show. I ended up leaving CMF but kept in touch with Carolyn and we set a date for the exhibit. The rest is history.

Your show was a huge success. Why do you think your work resonated so well with the community? Continue reading

Putting it Pleinly: An interview with Alix Hallman Travis

There’s a party at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery! Actually, there’s an exhibition called A Celebration of Community by painter Alix Hallman Travis, who recently had a talk with Carolyn. Read on, fellow party-goer! And just to be clear – Carolyn did this interview, but Maggie insists on being credited for the delightful pun in the title.

2. Parade_ Catskill Mountain Life, no. 6Travis


I’ll start with the proverbial “tell us a little bit about yourself” – when did you first come to the Catskills and why?

In 2003 while residents of Cleveland, OH my husband and I purchased a house in the Mid Catskills area of Margaretville in Delaware County to be nearer family that had a home here.  We were attracted to the area because of its beauty and I particularly because of the comfortable ease with which I could paint outdoors in the landscape.  I had just finished my study at the Cleveland Institute of Art and was an active plein air painter.  While I knew almost no one here I felt safe in stopping by the side of the road and setting up my easel—painting alone is not always possible in a large urban area like Cleveland.

You have a very interesting style, reminiscent in some ways—especially in your use of vibrant color—of the Bahaus Movement of the early 20th century. Can you comment on that?

While academically trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Art Students League of New York, I am an intuitive painter; using bold colors and sweeping gestures because I like the way they feel and they just flow from my hand.  My gestures are large.  I have difficulty signing a check because my signature is too large for the space provided—

3. Fireworks, Catskill Mt. Life series, no. 7, oil on c with lights,Travis

“Fireworks” (oil on canvas with lights)

don’t even mention putting my signature in the space provided on a credit card receipt!

In both watercolor and oil I use large tools that fill my hand:  big brushes require big pieces of paper or canvas.  I use palette knives instead of oil brushes because I like their feel and the resulting stroke.  I paint quickly and Continue reading