Monday, October 15, 2012

A country escape

Sunday brunch on Amsterdam Avenue. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, October 15, 2012. Fair autumn weather here in New York, with some intimations by Mother Nature of rain that never came. Yesterday the temperature was an even 70, an autumn 70, sunny and bright with a touch of the brisk just around the corner coming off the river. A beautiful weekend in New York.

The man is the camera. Last Friday midday I drove up to Westchester to visit Larry Lederman and his wife Kitty Hawks at their country house. Larry has just published a book “Magnificent Trees of the New York Botanical Garden” (Monacelli Press with The New York Botanical Garden). A literary publicist asked if I’d be interested in writing something about it. My first reaction was “no.”

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Only because: what could I write about a book of photographs of trees? I love trees, and I look at trees from time to time, but I don’t know them, I can’t name the specimens, nor have I ever been curious enough to take the tine to learn.

However, two things. I’d met Larry several times – although he may not remember – because I know his wife Kitty. And, I’d heard they had a great garden at their house. I’d once seen a photograph of the land around them in deep autumn and it was spectacular.

So it occurred to me that mid-October might be a chance to see some of that sumptuous foliage that I grew up with in New England. Also a chance to get out of the city for a few hours.

The Lederman-Hawks, it turned out live in a beautiful garden, of their own creation, in collaboration with that genius of peace and beauty, Mother Nature. Knowing that Larry had photographed the trees in the Botanical for years, I was curious to see what his trees were like, and how he photographed them.

Walking around the property, much of which looks very subtly landscaped and un-garden-y, I asked him why he decided to photograph trees. Trees and water, he told me, have long fascinated him. He and Kitty had bought the property they were on because it had both in abundance.
Arriving at the Lederman residence.
The Mini properly humble amidst Mother Nature's abundance.
Looking from the house down toward the old reservoir and the gatehouse for the sluice. On either side of the pink rows along the edge, are the green of the forsythia that will be cut back to regenerate in the Spring, festooning a thick yellow border.
Larry Lederman's photograph of the water in morning before the change.
The spectacular photograph by Larry Lederman of his reservoir in full autumn foliage.
The falling brook that runs through the property down to the lake.
A path by the lake leading to the folly that sits lakeside. It was built by a previous owner exactly one hundred years ago.
An Asian bed set in the folly for contemplation and relaxation in the warm weather.
Larry had been looking at trees before he even thought of owning a camera. His interest led him to the Botanical Garden where he eventually became a member of the board of trustees. A number of years ago, he bought his first camera – a Leica – so that he could record with photographs what he was seeing. And so began the year long process of learning how to use it.

He claims the first photographs were not good. He read somewhere that one great photographer said the first “10,000 photographs” were never good. Larry was heartened by that. He pushed on with his project with the intention of simply photographing the trees and flora and fauna. After years of watching and photographing the trees in the Garden, it became apparent that he had documented the land.  Like the trees, it naturally led to the publication of this book which is an amazing record of the beauty of the Botanical in the first decade of the 21st century.
Looking toward the stone steps leading back to the house.
The pool, which also overlooks the lake.
Burning bushes along the path to the house.
The guest house.
These are Larry's photographs of their property in the different seasons ...
Who would buy this book? A horticulturalist? A gardener? A nature lover? All of the above of course, but its content promises something more for another kind of person. A reader. A man or woman who can use the stabilizing and calming effects of Larry Lederman’s journey.

The book opens with an introduction by Larry titled “Experiencing and Photographing The New York Botanical Garden.”

Its first paragraph:

Trees are marvels of nature. They invest any landscape with a sense of permanence and character. There are trees living today that are older than recorded human history, recording yearly their own life histories in concentric rings. In The New York Botanical Garden, there are huge and magnificent trees that were standing before the Pilgrims first came ashore. A landscape without trees is bleak, a desert. Their presence is always a comfort for they are beautiful and essential for life as we know it.

Mr. Lederman and Ms. Hawks, our host and hostess on Friday in Westchester.
Permanence, character, human history, comfort, beauty, essential for life as we know it. Then he explains how it was trees that brought him to photography. His passionate interest developed into “watching” trees. As I was reading on about his “experience” with the tree and the camera, I was aware of being transported, in a Zen sort of way, into the peace and beauty of nature, its vibrancy and its majesty. From there it was into this magnificent photographic portrait that Larry Lederman has compiled. What it is is restorative.

This is a storybook about life. Larry’s camera takes you through the lives and times (seasons) of these trees and their relationship to light and temperature, and how all their subtleties weigh on and nurture the specimen. When you finish his introduction to the why’s of the experience, and then move into the photographs, you will find yourself in a new place mentally. It is a brief comfort, alas, but one that you can return to.

Larry and Kitty are welcoming hosts.  Larry has a circumspect personality; soft-spoken but deliberate, he’s neither shy nor ebullient. He has the presence of what you might imagine a serious and prominent New York lawyer to be. Yet there’s also this intense alliance with the beauty of nature which surrounds him.

He gave me a tour of his and Kitty’s property. It was nostalgic because I grew up near woodland as a boy, and I love all the sense memories it evokes. I love the grey light drawing out the palette of the fallen foliage. This past weekend back in town, when I was looking at his book, I was taken back there.  You see what you’ve been missing. Even if it’s only for a moment, you are briefly transformed by it; the light and the camera and the tree.
Some of the photographs from "Magnificent Trees of the New York Botanical Garden," photographed by Larry Lederman in their different seasonal appearances on this remarkable canvas.
Back in town. This Thursday October 18th the International Fine Art and Antique Show opens for its 24th year with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as beneficiaries. This year’s benefit preview is being chaired by Eleanora Kennedy.

Charlotte Moss, the intrepid, industrious interior designer who is the Design Chair of the event, has completely redesigned the old café that is always set up at the rear of the armory by creating a stunning French garden where guests can nibble on the sandwiches and canapés and have a glass of champagne in between browsing.

They’ve covered the walls of the café with photographs of Charlotte’s of chateau gardens with vistas and perspective suggesting space and air — where guests can relax and celebrate or contemplate their purchases. The chateaux represented are Chateau de Hautefort, Chateau de Breteuil and Le Vieux Logis. Charlotte had visited them all and photographed them.
Artworks for the café: Grand Parterre Chateau de Hautefort.
Chateau de Breteuil.
Le Vieux Logis.
A collage of Chateau de Hautefort, which is featured in Charlotte's new book, A Visual Life.
Also, last Tuesday night over at John Rosselli’s show room on East 61st Street, John, and Bunny Williams, hosted a reception for interior designer Gil Schafer III and his new book “The Great American House.” Mary Hilliard captured the evening ...
The display of books.
Gil Schafer with John Rosselli and Bunny Williams.
Elizabeth Mayhew and Gil Schafer.
The author with Doug Turshen, Marc Kristal, Jill Cohen, and Kathleen Jaynes.
Newell Turner and Bernadette Murray.
Peter Pennoyer, Carolyn Englefield, and Ralph Harvard.
The author with Luke Siegel.
The author with Jill Cohen and Mary Randolph Carter.
The author with Miles Redd.
 

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