My Family on the Hudson River

What the heck are these musicians doing on my art blog?

For anyone who spends time over Thanksgiving with relatives they don't often see, this holiday is fascinating. We went up to the Hudson River Valley just north of New York City to spend a few days with my wife Alice's nieces and their families. The arts run deep through this family.

On Saturday night we went to party honoring our nieces' dad, Dave Herman, on his 75th birthday. Dave from the '60's up to the '90's was the leading rock DJ on the radio in New York. On the left is Buddy Booker, the husband of our niece Melissa, playing with Melissa's brother Rich Lerner on the right. (Buddy sports impressive dreads that unfortunately don't show in this photo). I don't get to see live music all that often and listening to these two play I was knocked over at how talented my relatives are. Buddy and Rich are both professional musicians.

Watching live music up close you realize some similarities between musicians and visual artists. Painters and guitar players both have a physicality to their work you'd never guess just listening to a recording or standing in a museum. Playing guitar is a dance for the fingers and ears, while a painter's efforts lean more towards hand and eye. But both really have to work their bodies to translate the art from something immaterial to something that has a powerful physical presence. I left the evening infused with their generosity and energy. I'm lucky to have them in my family.

But there's a family of another sort up there for me too. Way back in 1970 I entered my graduate painting program at Indiana University feeling more than a little lost. I was struggling to do surreal paintings of imaginary planets and was pretty much going in circles. Then I discovered the 19th century American painters of the Hudson River School. Though I'd never seen them before, they felt immediately familiar as their paintings looked so much like woods along the shore of Lake Ontario where I spent my childhood. They painted the wilderness along the Hudson with the same sense of attachment I felt toward my boyhood forest. It gave me the courage to paint something directly out of my own experience. It was like going home.

Above is a photo of the Hudson showing the mountains coming right down to the riverbank. Below is a picture I took last Friday of my daughter Louisa walking along the west shore of the River just below Nyack, New York. As you can tell, it was cold.

Here below are two oils from the area by Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School. What I learned from Cole was that you should love what you're painting. He certainly did.

And below is a beautiful oil by another member of the School, Sanford Gifford. Gifford was extremely sensitive to light and atmosphere and he grafted that onto the vocabulary Thomas Cole had popularized. I've learned from this man too.

You discover your family by spending time with them. With these departed 19th century painters, that's not possible. But you do have their work. And you can come to this amazing area along the Hudson River and see for yourself the landscape that inspired them. I'm not a Hudson River School painter, but I'm supremely aware of the common thread that runs through both their work and mine- a delight in the mystery of the deep forests, and awe in the face of nature's vastness. Coming up to the Hudson River Valley was a means to visit my painting relatives. They said to say hello.

My niece Jennifer's son Willie plays in a new band (ROLF) and performed Saturday night in Nyack (the birthplace of Edward Hopper, one of my other painting relatives. Hopper grew up just a couple of blocks from the Community Center where Willie played). That's Willie on the guitar in the blue t-shirt.

And (below) later that night Willie played again with his uncles Sam (center) and Max (right). They are amazingly musical.

My other niece Melissa is a jeweler. Her company is called Indivijewel Designs. Below is the table in her studio holding some of her collection of beads. Standing over the table it's hard not to become mesmerized by the patterns and hues of these tiny beads. You realize how much like a painter's palette this collection is. It's a huge table and she needs every inch of it to give her enough choices for scale, rhythms, and colors to pull together into a necklace or bracelet. Like painting in oil, it's a slow cumulative process putting together a coherent piece of jewelry. And just like a painter, she's methodical, moving forward through many trial-and-error steps. Artists of any kind at bottom are putting things together. We're searching for those unanticipated combinations that set a unique and authentic mood.

I could have spent all day in her studio, but I was too scared I was going to knock something off the table. Please, nobody give her a kitten for the holidays.

And here's Melissa the jeweler.

And here's some of her work-

Melissa is having a holiday open house of her jewelry Tuesday, Nov. 30 from 5-9:30 in the New City, New York. She's partnering with a nonprofit that will send a pair of shoes to a needy child for every piece of jewelry purchased ( For more information you can contact her by email-


  1. You write so beautifully about our trip. It's great to hear and read about the same trip I was on from a visual artist's perspective. As a radio reporter I think of experiences in terms of sound... and words as well since I also write. But the connections you make between Melissa's jewelry... Rich, Buddy, Willie, Max and Sam's music and your own work is fascinating. And it's lovely to see some of the great masters' renditions of area. It was such a beautiful getaway- both the view along the Hudson and the loving people we got to walk next to exploring it. And you're one of them!

  2. Hi Lou, good to hear your thoughts. Yes, it was a great trip in lots of ways.


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