By Jane S.
If after browsing
through the Smith-Telfer collection of old photographs at Fenimore
House you rushed home to dust off your camera, viewing the group of
portraits by Lady Ostapeck now on display at the National Commercial
Bank and Trust Company will inspire you to call for a sitting at the
Most people, I
suspect, have at some time in their lives imagined, even wished, themselves
to be of another time, perhaps another country or a different profession.
Certainly there are parts of our personalities, which remain hidden
from our friends, even our families secret desires, dreams,
fantasies. In short, there is a romantic, fanciful strain in even
the most realistic and pragmatic of us, and there are few acceptable
ways to express it. Lady Ostapecks Whimsy Hill Studio in Fly
Creek offers one.
Let me say before
going further that I have formally met this unique artist only once-five
years ago-- and although I have read bits and pieces of news about
her since that time, and seen her at many an auction and flea market,
I have not interviewed her nor visited her studio. Friends who have
been photographed by her call the process, simply, an experience,
and it is something I mean to pursue. This, then, is the first installment
of what I hope will eventually be a more in-depth report.
The current display
at The Bank is entitled The Men in My Life, and it is
made all the more enjoyable, I suppose, by the fact that some of the
subjects are friends of mine as well. The treatments they are given
are as varied as they are unexpected. This is a photographer who gets
right to the essence of the individual, a photographer with soul,
as she puts it, and if the person she portrays is not exactly the
one we see every day, never is the setting incongruous or inappropriate.
A good example
is her study of Jesse James. aka Carter Morris. To be
sure, it takes a certain kind of imagination to see the proprietor
of a gas company as defiant outlaw, but when the props are assembled
it all seems perfectly natural. The same can be said for Dr. Bruce
Buckleys lago, or for Ladys portrait of The
Gypsy, as posed by former Cooperstown physician Robert Henretig.
The artists philosophy seems summed up by her brief note to
this picture: who cares if he is a doctor; he in now a
In other captions,
Ladys obvious preference for the romantic over the more prosaic
is evident. We see The Gambler or, if you wish, Mr. Hubbell,
the baker of Cooperstown, and Sir William Wallace of Edinburgh,
or if you wish, Lavinder Wallace of Cooperstown.
Some of the portraits
are more straight, yet still conceived in what would be
referred to as an old-fashioned way, as a picture would
have been staged and painted 200 years ago. Here too we see the fruits
of many hours spent at auctions and flea markets: the draperies, the
hats and ruffled shirts, the candlesticks, statues, paintings, even
a small globe. These are ancestral portraits, which show the man in
the surroundings, the trappings, of his profession: a brooding. Schubertian
Charles Schneider, conductor of the Catskill Symphony: the kindly
old general practitioner, Dr. Phelps: Wendell Tripp of the New York
State Historical Association: Tom Malone, proprietor of the Hotel
Pratt. Even the pictures of flutist Harvey Sollberger and guitarist
Ron Soodalter are more an artistic view of the public man than a study
of a hidden or different identity.
pleasing and fun though they are, it seems to me that Lady Ostapecks
portraits offer far more insight than may first be apparent: at least
several of the pictures struck me in that way. Whether or not this
is because I happen to know the subjects I am not sure. Perhaps it
also reflects the fact that Lady seems to have captured an aspect
of the individual I have long felt to be essential, though somewhat
obscured. I refer to the portraits of Paul Kellogg (Young Man
at Cannes) and of Peter Macris, Hoffmann-esque director of the
Glimmerglass Opera Theatre. I will be no more specific than that,
but you could say that these two are my favorite pictures in the exhibit.
In any event, the display deserves more than a passing glance. It
is a treat to see so many Ostapeck works exhibited in a single location,
and a local one at that.
As a closing note,
I feel that thanks are due the National Commercial Bank for providing
space for the display, Such locations are often overlooked, and despite
the fact that the lighting is less than ideal for glassed pictures,
a start has been made. It is to be hoped that the Ostapeck exhibit
is the first of many.
Jane S. Johngren
is a free-lance writer living in Hartwick.