CGP Community Stories

Richard Kathmann, December 6, 2013

Title

Richard Kathmann, December 6, 2013

Subject

Hanford Mills Museum
Landscape painting

Description

Richard Kathmann was the first director of the Hanford Mills Museum, originally called the Old Mill Museum. After training and working as a landscape painter, Mr. Kathmann decided to look for more consistent work. At the time, Mr. Kathmann was living on his family’s farm in East Meredith, so when Hanford Mills advertized for leadership positions within the museum, Mr. Kathmann saw his opportunity and took it. Once employed there, he assembled a team of intellectuals, museum professionals, and community members to gather the best possible advice and support as he built the future Hanford Mills.

Mr. Kathmann began his career at Hanford Mills in 1975, a time when preparations for America’s 1976 Bicentennial were in full swing. Along with this patriotic fervor came a desire to highlight and support local history, in addition to regional and national history. This environment of public support, along with the rich collection of experts Mr. Kathmann had enlisted, created the “perfect storm” of favorable events that contributed to the museum’s successful opening. Locals in East Meredith and the surrounding communities felt proud of the museum, and they exhibited a sense of ownership over the museum in its early days.

Mr. Kathmann discusses the people involved in the launch of the Hanford Mills Museum, his role in the museum’s development, and where his career has taken him since. He closes with a summary of his split career. Having spent twenty years in museums and almost twenty years in his studio since then, he refers to his time in museums as his “twenty-year mistake” and speaks of his work as a painter in spiritual, reverential terms. A collaborative thinker and lifelong learner, Mr. Kathmann dove into each of his works with intention and excitement.

I interviewed Mr. Kathmann at his home and studio, the Sap House in East Meredith, New York. We sat in this small cottage, immediately surrounded by his landscape paintings and by the forest on his land. Mr. Kathmann’s intense emotional connection to the forest is evident not only in his artwork, but also in his choice of home. The Sap House embodies his philosophy as an artist and as a learner, to “get to the mystery of what’s behind the landscape.” In his art as well as in his museum work, Mr. Kathmann looked deeply and acted intentionally.

Creator

Kirsten Swartz

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York - College at Oneonta

Date

2013-12-6

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
11.12mB
audio/mpeg
11.1mB
audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
21.4mB
image/jpeg
2.2mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

13-12

Coverage

East Meredith, New York
1940-2013

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Kirsten Swartz

Interviewee

Richard Kathmann

Location

Saphouse Studio
623 Hanford Road
East Meredith, New York

Transcription

RK = Richard Kathmann
KS = Kirsten E. Swartz

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

KS:
This is the December 6, 2013 interview of Richard Kathmann by Kirsten Swartz at the Sap House in East Meredith, New York. It is 10:30 am.
What did you do before working at the Hanford Mills Museum?

RK:
I was a landscape painter with a studio first in New York—if you can do landscape painting in New York—and then in West Kortright. Then I got tired of starving so I began to look for work and I looked in museums and found Hanford Mills looking for a chief curator and an administrator, all of those things.

[TRACK 1, 00:52]

KS:
And how did you get involved with the museum?

RK:
Well, I was in this neighborhood, which I had grown up in. I had moved here from New York City after being burned out of my studio. I was living temporarily I thought, but that temporarily turned into months and I couldn't find work because of the oil embargo. You can commute weekly to New York and I had been, but I couldn't find anything. So I said, “I want to eat,” and I began organizing first a grassroots effort to preserve the West Kortright Center, an abandoned 1862 Presbyterian Church. That exercise, going door to door and talking to people, began to give me a sense of the community. I knew they were looking for an administrator at the Hanford Mills. I sensed that I knew who to ask for the job, who was the County Treasurer. Not Dr. Frank Cyr. He was the retired administrator of a BOCES center. Yes, I had asked the right man. He had charge of federal funds for economically depressed areas and so he had the authority to put me to work right away.

[TRACK 1, 3:04]

KS:
And who led the museum before you arrived?

RK:
There was no professional staff. The founder of the museum, Ken Kelso, had basically been doing everything, from maintenance to interpretation to his version of site development. He continued working there, but he had sold the property to a consortium of community interests: the Delaware County Board of Supervisors, the Catskills Center for Conservation Development, and it seems as though there was another entity. They had helped him in this effort. If you look back at that period there were lots of folks around who look like they're giving advice rather than working. I moved in, and it was my job to figure out what a small museum needed in terms of a curator, administrator. And I went at it. Do you want me to say how?

[TRACK 1, 4:36]

KS:
Sure.

RK:
So first of all I was going around seeing the principals. I went to see Peter Borelli, at the Catskills Center for Conservation and Development. He was the Executive Director and [was] very involved in Hanford Mills Museum for a number of years. It was then called the Old Mill Museum. Of course I went to see Cy Schoonmaker, the treasurer of Delaware County. I don't think I went to see Dr. Frank Cyr right away. I did go to see Leonard and Dorothy Ryndes who were part of the other organization. I don't think they had a property stake or capital stake, but as directors of the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts, they had a big presence. Of course I went to see them and then very quickly I went to see Minor Wine Thomas, who was the director of the Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum, and I think maybe even president of the New York State Historical Association. He was, of course, ideally positioned by his long experience and knowledge to give advice and it perhaps was he, although I went to see another person. I was in my car a lot. I went to see Bruce Sherwood. Actually, Bruce Sherwood dropped in on me. Bruce was the then director of historic preservation for New York State Parks and Recreation, and I think he dropped in on me. Meanwhile, I'm assessing these contacts: what help am I going to get here? What can they give? I'm good at synthesis and I was thinking about that. But I think it was Minor Wine, or it could have been Bruce Sherwood, that sent me to the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway and that was, should we say, the big brother outfit around doing preservation of the industrial past and doing industrial archaeology. I had known about archaeology, having studied archaeology at the University of Chicago, but I didn't know there was industrial. I knew there was historical. They at Troy, the Mohawk Hudson Industrial, or Hudson Mohawk, they sent me right away to Edward Roch who was an industrial archaeologist and principal of his own consulting firm called Heritage and Conservation, probably inc. or something. And he dug right in. He was a very busy man. [Phone rings] He had contracts all over Upstate New York and Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but we went right away to work and his advice and presence on the site was fantastic. I think one of the things to say is that the environment was perfect for Hanford Mills Museum, in that there had been federal legislation passed in the early seventies saying you can't take down any structures, historic, industrial or whatever, with federal money without having assessed their historic value. So there was really an intellectually rich, culturally rich environment that I walked into. And I was a painter. I had studied art and art history and the social history of art, and of course I studied studio. I had worked for a short time in Chicago at the Encyclopedia Britannica. The University of Chicago people worked there, and if you needed a job and you could write and research, you could get a job, or that was my impression. I worked there on a project called The Annals of America, which was nice preparation because it demonstrated I was a good researcher and I could get into material pretty fast, thanks I think to the training I got at the University of Chicago. So, there I am needing to get into a lot of stuff that I don't know anything about. When I lived in New York as an artist and worked various project work, I was very aware of the architectural preservation movement on an urban scale. But coming here was kind of this whole world to be entered and that was very exciting. It made me not even miss my studio, which was not a good thing for me, but it was very exciting—the contacts, the new fields, and industrial history. I went to work reading. I read Elting Morison's, I’ve forgotten what it's called, but it was an early 1970's book. Can I interrupt?

KS:
Sure

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

RK:
So it was a very interesting, this early seventies text. I think it was early seventies, certainly sometime in the seventies, by Elting Morison, about American industrial technology. Whether Minor Wine sent me there or Ed Roch sent me there, I don't know, but I got to the right sources, and it was very interesting. After five years at Hanford Mills, I went to Canterbury Shaker Village in Central New Hampshire doing the same type of site development, site assessment, and Elting Morison's brother John Morison was on the board there. That was a terrific coincidence. What I had learned in five years at Hanford Mills I began to apply to Canterbury Shaker Village, because part of their park had technology history and a business history. And then of course there was forest history and nearby was a retired man by the name of... his last name was Kernan. I can't remember his first name, but he had been a forestry consultant for the UN all over the planet. He helped us think about interpretation. So we had this rich intellectual environment of people, people bringing in their fields. It was just very exciting. Then very shortly, I can't remember when she arrived or how she got there, but a woman by the name of Beth Parkhurst, who was jointly enrolled at MIT and Brown University in the History of Technology field, came to work for us part time or on a project basis. It was just rich daily and [we began] the investigations of mill fabric and preparing the historic documents, a documentation report with an architectural firm from Albany, prominent then and perhaps still, but I don't remember their name. So, it was as exciting here in the country as an urban project in terms of the concentration of intellectual resources. Then we had to start thinking about financial resources. So that was further training for me to think about that.
[TRACK 2, 03:29]

KS:
How did you go about hiring a staff?

RK:
The same federal jobs program, I guess you’d call it a make work program or something, was available too. For example, the first summer there were certainly two if not three or four interns or interpreters who arrived with no training. We trained them. Ken Kelso was very helpful with them because he knew the mill and what historical data we wanted included in the interpretation, we being the existing staff and all of these people who were coming in and out, leaving their reports and opinions. We had young college students who were very interested in the process. We had older people in the community who had lived in the area and part of their life history was connected with the mill. They mainly volunteered, rather than being paid. Then eventually you need a secretary, office support, telephone and communications support. I don't remember too many of the details except that the office manager would have come directly from the immediate community, convenient for us, convenient for that person. There were a number of them in the five years I was there.

[TRACK 2, 05:33]

KS:
What would you say your leadership style was like?

RK:
I was an entrepreneurial leader and I was a demanding person, but I was also very present and full of praise for a good job and suggestions to make a job better. I was, I think democratic. I think some people found me arrogant. I'd heard that word before, but partly because I wasn't shy about my methods or going about it and said what I was thinking. Another thing, which I laugh about now since I sometimes can’t think of words, was I was never short of words; although, I don't think I was too talkative. I enjoyed leading. I enjoyed putting those parts of the puzzle together. Because, in a way, even though I'm working for the board, you have to lead the board. Not that I solely did it, but you have to think about how the roles have to develop and how certain skills are required for certain tasks that we can all see. It wasn't just me seeing it. Of course I had Bruce Sherwood dropping in frequently, because he had family property in the area and when he was checking on it he would drop by the office. There was Minor Wine Thomas whenever I needed an interview and had a question. He was always available and I have great thankfulness for that situation that put me in working with him, because often as a novice entering a museum, you're not speaking to one of the best in the nation. I mean, he had come from head of archaeology and collections at Historic Deerfield, and before that he had been at Colonial Williamsburg as head of archaeology. To have access to that level of experience in that, and he was always very focused and always very positive. In fact it's nice to think of that, such a rich exchange and a rich opportunity. And I would say with Bruce Sherwood it was similar. I learned a lot about preservation just by sort of like a tutorial. I mean, it was a social situation and an information exchange, but I learned a great deal quickly. Learning so much, it also made me aware of how much I didn't know. So after a couple of years I began to think of where would I go, do I really want to stay in this profession? Because after all I had trained as a painter. I wasn't missing my studio yet. I said, “What am I going to do? If I'm going to stay in the museum, I have to acquire even more information.” So I began looking at the Hagley Museum Program, which I did apply to and was a finalist, but not selected for a fellowship. And then I applied for the Cooperstown Graduate Program and I assume I was a finalist. I don't know, because at the same time I had applied for a job opening at Canterbury Shaker Village and they came through with the interview offer before I heard from the program at Cooperstown. In a way it would have been ideal at Cooperstown. I could have kept my job, reduced my hours, and by reducing hours… anyway it was obvious why it would have been a great situation I think for the museum and for myself, but the prospect of going to work at Shaker Village seemed to be a great thing.

KS:
Do you need to get that? Ok.

[START OF TRACK 3, 00:00]

RK:
So that change… I was at Hanford Mills five years and maybe two months before I went to Canterbury. Going to New England I was thinking, “oh, this is an adventure, there's a history here that I don't know.” The property was very beautiful. [There were] 650 acres, I think nearly two dozen structures, most not in very good shape, but from the 18th century or from the early 19th and from the late 19th and even a few from the early 20th century. I thought, “Wow, this is a package” and [there were] two mill ponds. But I'm getting away from Hanford Mills. Should we get it back to Hanford Mills?

[TRACK 3, 01:17]

KS:
Sure. How did you go about getting financial backing for the museum?

RK:
My first memories are of that, you don't call it a conglomerate, but that coalition of places, like the board of trustees. Well, let's call it the board of trustees, couldn't meet their mortgage payments. There was a big one coming up, so what was to be done? And the museum, per se, was just not off the ground yet. So my memory is that those elements from [the] Ryndes, from Schoonmaker, and probably others, the county board of supervisors and from Peter Borelli and Mr. [Sherrett] Chase, I’ve forgotten his first name. Anyway, they asked Ken Kelso to come down in price, and I think they were able to do it by offering some tax savings to him, showing how there might be some tax savings by that thing. So, that immediate crisis then, not really diffused but kicked down the road, we began to form a membership, an organization. We began to do proposals with the new documentation that we had from the architect and from the archaeologist. We went with our proposals to continue and to address some of the, not startling, but the difficult situations that needed addressing. We went to the local foundations. Already we had good professionals having described the case. And of course we had Minor Wine Thomas and Sherwood and Borelli and Chase, who were all expert in preparing grant applications. I'm thinking they trained me in the same way. It went fast and we got money because of good opinions and a cogent, or coherent, plan based on those opinions. It seemed to be realistic, given the social and economic environment of the mill and of those times. Remember this was the Bicentennial, so there was a lot of enthusiasm about saving local history, preserving it. So all of those local foundations, which we're very lucky to have in this area, and they still give money. That would be the O'Connor Foundation and the DOER Foundation from Oneonta. There was a foundation from Stamford, which is now referred to as the Broadhurst, but at that time I think it had another name, but maybe it was the same entity. Not just the museum, but this area was lucky to have those and still is fortunate to have those entities giving millions of dollars a year to a place with a relatively small population base. I think this is an extraordinary situation where all you have to do is demonstrate that you have a good plan prepared by knowledgeable people. I don't think we were competing with other museums at that point in their development in this area. We were lucky, I think, in that sense. That gave us a certain privilege. So it was, to use a term of today, it was a perfect storm, but all positive, all of those things combining. I'm trying to remember other things. It turned out we went to see a Hanford descendent, because everybody knows those histories. It turned out that he wanted to support the effort. He approved, and given his enthusiasm and of course the history of the site, the name was changed from Old Mill Museum to Hanford Mills. He also had his father's glass plate negative collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century views of the property and the village so that was an incredible cache. C-A-C-H-E. Mr. Hanford, Ralph, was generous. So it was an exciting time. To keep having the needs identified and then identify people who would assume the financial load—people, organizations, foundations. I'm trying to think if there were any other donors. The pleasant relations I had with the Hanfords and others made me really feel very positively about fundraising. And I still feel that way today and enjoy that exercise. And, in terms of my own studio I use a variant of it for selling paintings. It's about cultivation; it's about listening, and asking at the right time and not asking for too little, and then carrying through. At this point I’m running around the countryside delivering sales. Not that there are that many, but they were good sales: one to Philadelphia, one to New York, and one is local. But there's effort. There's always support chores with fundraising that need to be done, otherwise you look sloppy and a donor does not... You can't afford to show any signs of disorganization or lack of follow-through.

[TRACK 3, 09:52]

KS:
Could you talk a little bit about how the mill transitioned from a working mill to a museum?

RK:
Well, first of all, by the time Ken Kelso had decided it should be saved and he acted quickly enough, there had been no activity in the mill except grain milling and maybe not even milling. Maybe it just came in either on trucks or whatever and then was dispersed to farmers. I think there was some kind of large gasoline engine running the sawmill, but again these were not high volume things so basically the era of the mill was over. At mid 20th century it was over and they just continued as a depot, passing on goods rather than making goods. Is that enough answer? Ok.

[TRACK 3, 11:17]

KS:
Could you talk a little bit more about the research strategies you used in the early days for interpretation?

RK:
I think first of all I've been out of the field for twenty years so you could probably even be more articulate about it. But what I will say is that we were using those wonderful practices that were being established at places larger than us like Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway: how you go about protecting an historic site and the materials while you go through that labor of collecting data and measuring eventually and just assessing it, what the cultural resource is. So, I would just say that we, which I've always liked to do in museums, we tried to practice what our larger big brothers and sisters were doing. We just imitated them. They had their documents that were there for us to look at and they shared; there was a real sense of sharing intellectually. It sounds a little rash to say, but we were using very up-to-date methodology. Because it was shared with us and because the people we pulled in who had been recommended were in fact those top practitioners, whether it be in architectural preservation or industrial artifact and industrial site protection. Then of course we have Cooperstown, the Cooperstown Graduate Program. I don't remember having a lot of interviews or meetings, where you would think that would have been, [to learn] how to do stuff. But I think there were, for example, about how to manage an archive, because Minor Wine is not going to sit down and tell me. There must have been stuff about collections management and archive management coming out of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, partly because of course that's of course what they're teaching and partly because some of their students and their faculty would be contracting. But I don't have specific memories, partly because Minor Wine overshadows that. But as I think about it, it wouldn't have been possible without that. Again, [it was] an incredible resource in this community.

[TRACK 3, 14:58]

KS:
What role did the board play in the development of the museum?

RK:
That's very interesting because they weren't as agile as I thought they should be and not only I, Bruce Sherwood and Minor Wine Thomas. But [it was] because they hadn't had the experience of working or leading a cultural resource preservation and interpretation [project]. So how did we address that? The Catskills Center would have been very familiar with those issues. Sherrett Chase was the president's name. I'm sure they had suggestions. I don't have a memory of a board retreat. I do have not specific memories, but people coming to talk to the board. People making a short appearance at a board meeting, whether it would be Bruce or it would be the architect from Albany. I’m sorry, I don't know his name. He did wonderful work. It would be on the drawings. Another person appeared who was Jane des Grange who was head of the… so this is all about how is the Hanford Mills getting its board together. Jane des Grange was head of the museum at Hartwick, and she came first as an interested neighboring institution, and then she came on the board. She was a master of that, so she would have been giving advice to everybody, that is to board members individually, to the board as a group, and to me as I would go and sit with her and ask questions. That was again, to have someone of her experience and interest, she was also probably instrumental in the fundraising part, especially where we began to think about individuals who might give other than through their own foundations, because of her situation in Oneonta and her reputation. She was a member of a very prominent New York family, the Houghton family. She had lived that probably from the time she was a youth, how people of means make their decisions about what to help, when to write a check, and how to give their opinions and feedback. So that's very interesting. I hadn't thought of Jane in a long time. I'm trying to think of who else there was. Like any organization, you're always trying to get that right person on. And that right person could be because of their intellectual resources, because of their financial resources, or because of their connections. I do remember in the beginning it seemed slow. Partly because we were out of the chute so fast, thanks to Minor Wine and Bruce and Sherrett Chase and Peter Borelli. I think it stunned people how quickly things began to happen, like the water. And then what do you choose to do when everything needs done. Every roof needs it. You do the water wheels, you repair the water wheel, you repair the water empondment system so you’ve got some action. We documented it and it was high on the list of resources to be protected. But it's also high on the list because people want to come and see something dramatic. That effort also put us in touch with the community. There was a manufacturer in Sidney that did laminated beams and laminated… I'm sure not many people were making pulleys in [the] 1970s anymore, but they could make one. I'm trying to think of how we were... and then what else we were doing. I remember rebuilding dry masonry walls. We were lucky [that] within the community [there was] a great dry wall mason. Almost to the thing, we would number, take it apart and put it back. I don't say it was perfect, but there was an effort to imitate the rhythm, to put the stones back where they were and to use the same technology, if you can call it technology. I loved working with those craftsmen. Basically the assignment was given by the pros from the architectural office and the archaeology office and coded within the historic structures report. I was just the go-between. It was a nice communication challenge: how do you get in touch with these people? Another person we got in touch with is… I'm trying to remember Mr. Howell's first name. Anyway, he was a millwright from England, and he had been working at historic Tarrytown and probably Ed Roch was our contact. But he came first to come look us over and then came I'm sure as a paid contractor. Then there's that skill level of handling historic materials; that was very exciting to learn about. I was in a lab and appreciated being there.

[TRACK 3, 23:28]

KS:
What was visitation like in the early days of the museum?

RK:
I think there was a burst, partly because we made a point of getting out press releases, and partly it was the bicentennial, 1975. I'm sure there were consortiums within the state setting about the business of letting the world know that these historical resources were there. I can't give you numbers, but I think it was a promising growth in that period. That didn't hold on, but not because the mill isn't interesting, but because times changed. It was no longer Bicentennial fever [with] local history being as important as regional and national history. So that was encouraging to all parties, especially funders, that we could say people are interested. Everybody was involved in that on the board and in the neighborhoods. I think there were a lot of referrals and a lot of shepherding people in the direction of that mill yard. And of course we got the classrooms there, which was an interesting exercise to take a class of, I'm not sure which classes they were if they were junior high, probably not elementary schools, so junior high. That was also a way. I don't remember our public relations strategy. We did a couple of public events as a way to get… You know, I used to think and I think everybody thinks if you can get editorial coverage you don't have to buy commercial ads. We would first of all report what we were doing and secondly create events. We had a thing called the Artisans and Mechanics Day. And there was Old Engine Day and all of that. I think Ken had already established the Old Engine Day, Ken Kelso. But just doing those things and then you send off a press release. But as I say, I remember being involved and being interested. It didn't bore me; nothing bored me there. It was just fast paced and an academy to learn. Which is why I think I wanted to go to… I have a MFA in studio work, but that's why I thought I need to learn more about museums and I was interested in doing it.

[TRACK 3, 27:24]

KS:
What would the museum do with the school groups?

RK:
Basically we would start them at the water wheel and then probably in good time a few of the secondary processing machines. I don't think we were sawing. I don't think we were doing primary processing, but a couple of the secondary machines like molding machines or a box making machine or something. Did we have demonstrations going on? We could have, but I don't recall. I guess we wanted to show the youngsters first of all a good time, and secondly that a part of the area's commercial business history had happened there and that there was some interesting technology. So we wanted to introduce them to concept of power production and power transfer. How do you get energy from one place to another? We would talk about hydro mechanical and we would also talk about hydro electrical. That seemed kind of magical, that the place that had done primary, secondary, mainly wood processing—although there was some grain processing earlier for feed and food—that they could be lighting the town. That was a nice concept I think to give to the young people, that this mill and this action of waterpower was producing lighting. And what else would we have been...

[START OF TRACK 4, 0:00]

I think we tried to introduce labor and management issues, but I don't recall how we did it. Right away we had photographs—by right away I mean by ’77, ’78. We had pretty good prints of the Hanford glass plate negative collection, so those would have been somewhere and the youngsters, I think, would have been marched by. Not like [a] museum exhibition, but some of those images were there. I think we tried to do forest history, but what we did I don't know. I know we did a wonderful poster, thanks to Mr. Kernan. What was his first name? I don't remember. He's still alive, although not in good shape. We did a couple of beautiful forest history posters. Basically, he gave us the contents of that and then we used what we learned from him.

[TRACK 4, 01:28]

KS:
How has the museum’s mission changed over time?

RK:
I think it didn't change until recently, and in some ways it still hasn't changed. The mission is to preserve that collection and that history and that, shall we say, narrative of steam and waterpower, running small-scale machinery, doing small commercial lot stuff. Adding the new issue of energy and sustainability, well energy was always there, but sustainability I think is new. And I like it. I must say when I hear the phrase, “we run an authentic, or we run an authentic water and steam power,” well, so there isn't as much emphasis on the artifactual quality. Maybe I don't know, because I haven't gone on a tour in a while. Maybe [they touch] on the business history or the business of a mill being at the center of a community and being related to agriculture, related to other livings made. I'm sure they don't neglect it, but it's not [as central]. I'm interested in where they're going. That's the only change, but the mission isn't changed. Fortunately they got most of the archive collection organized; physical objects always need care. I'm sure they have good maintenance programs for that. I'm also sure, like anywhere else, you have to choose what you're going to do this year because you don't have enough money to do everything. So I would say they're remarkably focused. That would have been now forty years, a little more than forty years. I'm very proud of them and their stewardship. It's nice to go down. A couple of years ago I went. A friend that I maintained over this forty year period who had been one of the students, he's now a traffic control engineer or something in the greater Washington DC area, anyway he visited me with his two sons and we went there. This would have been within the last four years, could be five years. I think we were both very proud of how the place looked and how it was being interpreted and preserved. So it's nice to see that, nice to see that effort and to see good people there engaged in it.

[TRACK 4, 05:42]

KS:
How would you say the museum fits into the community?

RK:
I think there was an era when the museum was our museum. That is, people had that sense of possession and pride: we have a museum; we have this historical resource; we have this educational resource. I don't know if that's as strong anymore. I might not be connected enough to the greater community; I'm very focused on my studio life. My sense is that imperative ought to be energized, or reenergized, of making the museum the community's possession: we own this; we're proud of this. I go to a barbershop—nowadays a barbershop is an endangered resource—and so it's fantastic what is said. Not that you want to hear everything that's said there, or can agree with it, but I feel like there's a little negativity about the museum. I don't think that's the museum's fault. It's the museum's fault if they don't address it and think about it, but you know people like to bitch and moan. But that was also true when I was there. The guys up at the garage at Peterson's Garage would say, "What the hell are they doing down there?" But you have to engage that, even if it's a negative force. I remember learning in the conversation there… This was an era, those five years, where a lot was happening. It suddenly kind of exploded. In that conversation in Peterson's Garage, I was referred to as the mayor of East Meredith, partly because we had so many people working there and we were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your question is reminding me to be more alert to how the community is, shall we say, cherishing the place, and to see if the new thrust of sustainability is… what impact that is having. And I think they ought to find out too, but I can, just as an old alum, can be a little more tuned in.

[TRACK 4, 09:37]

KS:
What did you do after leaving the museum field?

RK:
I went back to my studio on exactly twenty years. I went to work at Hanford Mills on April 15, 1975, and I left my job at Oneida Community Mansion House on June 1, 1995. I had been working my way back into my studio. That appointment as Director at Oneida Community Mansion House where there were no artifacts. There was just history, not artifactual history. I had worked four days a week, and I'd had a studio for those other days, whether I was always there I'm not sure. I went back to work full-time in the studio in 1995 and I thought that in five years I might be a force. Well it's now going on twenty and I'm beginning to get some recognition as a workshop leader for mostly plein air, but I can do it in the studio, painting. As a landscape painter who goes very deeply into his subject and has skills to do description, but goes beyond that. So it's been great. When I look back, my god, I've had, let's call it twenty, we're going [into] 2014, I've had twenty years in my studio. Fortunately, my health is good and I'm very excited about what I'm doing. This year has been a terrific year for sales. Because I love to make jokes about myself, I said I was going to have my memorial exhibition. So I went and did it with a catalogue and did it in Fable Restaurant, which has very beautiful architecture. Do you know the interior architecture of that place? Anyway, it's what I call postmodern Frank Lloyd Wright. It's steel, concrete, stone, glass, and laminated wood timbers. And my work looked great there. I had what you would call a smart cocktail party and sold the work. Since then, I've sold quite a bit of work. It pays to have a memorial exhibition now and then. For myself, it was good for me to assess. I called it “Fifty Years, Ten Studios,” and it gave me an historical perspective on what I've been doing in the work. I invite you to the website. If you go to richardkathmann.com, the news page will have that digital catalogue of the Ten Studios. It's so nice for me just to be engaged in the life of thinking about this planet that we're on. My motto, motto is not the thing, but it appears on my website on the first page and it appears in some exhibitions: “the earth is not outside of us.” That's a statement from a philosopher, an aesthetician, and he was a priest too. To be engaged in thinking about the crust of this planet and what to do with it. I only do what I do with it. I'm concerned with what others do with it, so it's a real privilege.

[TRACK 4, 14:47]

KS:
How would you describe your artistic style?

RK:
Right now I would say I'm treading a nice line. I think there's lots of energy there, where I do description, but I'm looking for some energy that's beneath that surface. Part of that is what we have learned to call abstraction, those forces of abstract art that are beneath it, and part of it is also the spirituality of just being engaged in the landscape. I have a few teachers whose work that I… There's a fantastic man by the name of Belden Lane, and about every decade he does a new text on landscape and spirituality. He, himself, is a PhD in religion. I mean, religion is such a wide field, but what he says about not only the landscape and whatever, but how he summarizes what everybody else is saying. You get the literature list for the last ten years of what people are writing. He's an important force in my assessing what it is that I do. In a way, you ask me, I guess I'm still a student, and I'm still looking. It feels exactly right to do that, and it feels great to do things that I think are beautiful. Not everything I do is beautiful, but I'll say a very prominent British sculptor, who is a dear friend of mine for decades, recently said about me, "Richard's a good painter, sometimes he's a very good painter, and sometimes, when he . . . he didn't say when he gets it right . . . he's an exceptional painter, who gets the mystery of what's behind the landscape." So that's how I operate. Sometimes I really get it and sometimes it’s just good.

[TRACK 4, 17:44]

KS:
Do you paint in this area mostly?

RK:
Yes, mostly by virtue of living here. I paint mostly in this forest right here. I'm always looking out these windows and thinking, so some of my compositions come from my yard and some… that lithograph over there is from up in the woods about a thousand feet away. I'm really content doing what I call painting the seasons here and really looking and feeling. I was privileged to know for almost two decades a very famous poet by the name of Hayden Carruth, or to me he was very famous. He described me as being very accurate in my feeling in response to what I was seeing and encountering. We generally think of people, Are they being accurate in their observations? Well I'm concerned with being accurate in feeling. So that's where the content is, in the feeling, and I think I'm much of the time there. It has that feeling; it has something that can be shared by viewers of the work.

[TRACK 4, 19:28]

KS:
Is there anything else you’d like to add either about Hanford Mills or about what you’re doing now?

RK:
No, but I'll close. This isn't adding anything, but I’d like to do it. I like to make fun of myself, like when I said I'm presenting my memorial exhibition because I want to make sure it's done right so I’ll do it myself. I referred to that time at Hanford Mills. I was at three places, Hanford Mills, Canterbury Shaker village, and Oneida Community Mansion House. I referred to it as my twenty-year mistake. It was a very rich time, and it was a mistake only that I wasn't in my studio and it was a mistake when I am, seduced is not the right word, but calculating about money and power. That's a necessary thing to do, but it needs to be done in a very balanced way, and it's very easy, I think, to lose one's balance at that. So that twenty-year mistake was full of rich people and rich learning. It was only a mistake in that parts of my being I permitted to go in directions where it wasn't the best thing for me to be concerned with the acquisition, in a very rudimentary way, a very small way, the acquisition of money and power. And so it’s great to be back in the studio, to be concerned about another kind of [unclear]. When I went back to the studio I took a vow of poverty, because that was, I better love it, because that’s what it was going to be.

KS:
Good. Well, that concludes our interview. Thank you very much.

RK:
Well, thank you. You have been great on these two occasions that we’ve talked at length, and I appreciate your skills and how you go about your job.

KS:
Thanks.

Duration

11:41 - Part 1
11:32 - Part 2
30:00 - Part 3
22:19 - Part 4

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Kirsten Swartz, “Richard Kathmann, December 6, 2013,” CGP Community Stories, accessed November 17, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/160.