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September 1, 2012

Arts encompasses so much more than visual, performing, musical things

The Daily Star

---- — This column was due when I was in the throes of our season at The Glimmerglass Festival, when all we are thinking about is the arts — how to make people more aware of the arts, to engage in the arts. And — what exactly do “the arts” entail? 

As much as these thoughts were circulating, I still couldn’t pinpoint a topic for this column. So, I turned to the bright-eyed summer interns that we employ at Glimmerglass. 

“My column is due; I need some topic ideas,” I said. 

I thought they wouldn’t take me seriously, but instead I received a barrage of ideas. 

“What about carpentry as an art?” our photography intern suggested. “There is this really cool shop in Cooperstown that makes custom furniture.”

I find William J. Ralston’s website, and it’s true — his shop is pretty cool. So is his story. Mr. Ralston started as a high school science teacher before working for eight years under a German Master Craftsman. He reproduces high-style 18th-century American antiques, among other specialties. 

So, carpentry as an art? 

“Well, maybe you focus on sculpture,” the photography intern said. “Carpentry is like a cousin to sculpture, right?”

Well, there is the sculpture trail in Cherry Valley. A juried sculpture exhibit is on display until Oct. 7 throughout the historic village, thanks to Cherry Valley Artworks. And what perfect timing — the fall is an ideal time to explore art outdoors. I’ve written about Artworks before; the organization is always presenting interesting projects.

The sculpture trail could pair well with the elephant sculptures found on The Glimmerglass Festival campus. Elizabeth Schoonmaker of the town of Plainfield created the “Aida Elephants” in honor of the festival’s production of “Aida.” Constructed of grapevine and willow over a rebar frame, these two sculptures — one adult, and one calf — made their home on The Glimmerglass Festival campus through the end of the season. The elephant sculptures took three months, 40 truckloads of vines and 12 pairs of dollar-store gardening gloves. Definitely a feat! I’ve heard tell of her many other roadside attractions, and apparently her front lawn is a veritable grapevine menagerie. 

“What about architecture, then?” the photography intern asked. “Each town in this area has really interesting architecture. Think of all the different monuments you see in every town.”

“What about the art of food?” the public relations intern asked. “The Taste of the Catskills is coming up.”

A little skeptical, I look up the festival, which bills itself as a family-friendly event on Oct. 6 and 7 at Maple Shade Farm in Delhi that showcases the food, beer and wine of our region. It definitely sounds delicious. And, each day’s events culminate with a dinner prepared from local ingredients, a bonfire and a barn dance. 

The idea of food as art encouraged some serious discussion about what counts as “the arts.”

The public relations intern suggested “the art of growing food” as a topic. 

“That’s not art,” the photography intern said. “There’s the arts, and then there’s the art of doing something.”

Well, that’s interesting, I thought. What do we include in “the arts”? Anything created with skill and talent? Farming? Landscaping? For some, the arts are a more exclusive category.

But, we are all artists in a way, whether our talent is cooking, crocheting or cultivating the perfect tomato, wine or beer. “The arts” tend to make us think of the performing or visual arts, but in reality the arts can often encompass so much more.

Brittany Lesavoy is secretary of ArtsOtsego, the alliance of Otsego County arts organizations, and director of public relations for The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown. Column ideas may be sent to ‘Around The Arts’ columns can be found at