Art Form (General)

Art Form (Specific)

Place

Ethnicity

PROFILE

Gerard Burke is a lifelong resident of Elmira, minus the years he spent at Boston University. Much of his early life was steeped in music — lessons at an early age, his parents’ record collection, and Elmira’s Soul and R&B music community in the ‘70s. For nearly the last 20 years, Burke has performed as a solo delta blues guitarist throughout the region. Hear in his own words about his upbringing in Elmira’s Black community and his journey to become the deeply emotive player he is known as.

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I’m a longtime resident of Elmira, and I define long term as being the major portion of my life. Major portion of my life. I have only been away from Elmira to attend college. I graduated from Boston University with a degree in Journalism. I returned back to the area to work for our local newspaper, and I’ve been here ever since. My family on my mother’s side has been in Elmira since before the Civil War. We’ve traced it back that far. On my father’s side, his family originated in Burke County, Georgia. He and his siblings were the first generation of that part of the family to move to Elmira. We grew up on what is known as the East Side of Elmira. But when I was in sixth or seventh grade, the city razed that whole section to make room for the Chemung County Health Department. From that neighborhood, we moved a couple blocks down the street from Woodlawn Avenue to a street called East Thurston. I went to junior high and high school from there. My father started working at Harding Bros. It was a family-owned machine shop business. He eventually was able to save enough money and purchase a bar on the corner of East Clinton and Madison Avenue. That bar was called Dub’s. As he worked that bar, he was able to expand it by including a diner on the backside. Then he branched off and bought a neighborhood store a couple blocks down from the bar. He and another friend of his also started a janitor service. My mother graduated from local high schools [Elmira Free Academy] and she went to work for the State Department of Corrections at Elmira Reformatory, where she was a receptionist.

Burke describes the musical backdrop in his home growing up.

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I’ll lay that blame at my mother’s feet. We had a piano in the house. As a matter of fact, most of her siblings had musical instruments in their houses. She played, all of my sisters played. I took lessons for saxophone and clarinet lessons in grammar and junior high school. I picked up the guitar right the time the Beatles came out, and I’ve been playing ever since. I stopped for maybe five or six years, maybe even longer, while I was in college. But when I returned to Elmira, I still kind of tinkered around. But I really got seriously back into it, oh, maybe ten or fifteen years ago. My mother was a music fan. She had lots of albums. And it was pretty much the same for my father. Both parents enjoyed recorded music. I distinctly remember my mother having and playing a Billie Holiday’ album, Lady in Satin. And I remember it specifically because of the cover of the album. I also remember a tune by the Isley Brothers called “Shout” from back in the ‘50s that was another one of her favorites. My father was a blues and rhythm & blues fan, and I remember mostly from him James Brown.

As a teenager, Burke immersed himself in the city’s music community. One of his bandmates at the time had a large family living in Elmira and Rochester. When the family got together, Gerard’s band would play.

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That band was called Gary and the Blazers. We were all pretty much on the same level as far as music goes. But they had a huge family, and they were always having parties at what used to be Jones Court. So we had a lot of opportunities to hone our skills by playing in front of people. They weren’t paying us, but they wanted to have some live entertainment, so come one down. “Okay, we’ll do it.” The type of music was mostly soul music and dance music– that kind of stuff. We did stuff by Kool and the Gang, Joe Tex. In junior high we had a bigger band– more horns. The name of that band was called Raw Soul, and we were doing anything you could dance to that had horns in the band. There were a lot of high school dances and church dances back then, because I guess there were a lot of kids starting bands. So with the second band, we had a lot of stuff to do. It was sponsored by a theatrical organization based in the Neighborhood House. They had the sound equipment, so we were able to use their sound equipment for our musical stuff. The bands back then: Mom’s Apple Pie was one of them. The Puzzle was the original group I played with. There was a band called the Kaselles. They played a lot of stuff by the Young Rascals. There was a group called Jack and the Diamonds. There was a group of older gentlemen who played at my father’s bar called The Star Upsetters. Since we were too young to go into the bars, we couldn’t go listen and get stuff from them, but I’m aware of their existence.

Decades later, Burke found the blues.

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My wife and I were visiting my sister down in Charlotte. We went into a pawn shop, where she was looking for cheap jewelry, and we ended up getting a cheap acoustic guitar. I picked it up and I started playing again. That when I switched genres to blues. I decided that if I was going to start playing again, I didn’t want to be in any groups because sometimes personality stuff can get in the way. I decided to do blues because I felt it was more appropriate for a solo artist– an African American solo artist as opposed to singing folk music or any other solo guitarist performances. If you believe—and I’m on the fence about this—that there are different types of blues, my style is what they call Delta blues, which originated in the Mississippi Delta, which is actually in the Northwest corner of the state, as opposed to being farther south where the Mississippi Delta is actually located around New Orleans and what not. It’s more percussive as opposed to intricate finger styles. That’s why I liked it. There are other styles: Texas blues, or East Carolina blues. But as I like to say, and I’m quoting one of my favorite artists, Son House, “There’s only one type of blues, and that’s what consists between male and female.”

Burke describes his approach to building his musical repertoire and his pursuit of feeling in the moment.

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If I’m hearing a song, and I might not like the lyrics, or I might think a chord change would go better than the place the original artist placed it, I do that sort of stuff. When I really do the songs that I play I call them hybrids because most of them, it’s my music with someone else’s words or vice versa. I’ve never been able to put them both together because who needs another blues song. They’ve been playing those since the 1900s. There’s enough that’s already been done that I can adapt to my own purposes and style. All types of music are really improvisation, but some styles take that improvisation and formalize it by writing the notes down on a staff. It all comes from the mind. I just happen to not be able to write down the notes, so I play what I feel. Jazz is basically an improvisational art too, and in some cases you can transfer that to blues as well because it’s all about feeling, I believe. Sometimes you might feel a different way — and I know this from experience — I’ve played the same song different ways depending on how I’m feeling, or how I’m thinking the crowd is reacting to it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOno69RV-VEhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATI9Ghsp-bkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUwjzfQaXOQ

Gallery

Photo: Chris Walters PhotographyPhoto: Chris Walters PhotographyPhoto: T.C. OwensPhoto: T.C. OwensPhoto courtesy of Gerard BurkePhoto courtesy of Gerard BurkeBillie Holiday's Lady in Satin (1958)Courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society

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PROFILE

Ira Heyward (1938 – 2019) was a saxophonist and drummer that spent the majority of his life in Elmira and Pine City, NY. A husband and father of four, he was an active participant around the Neighborhood House, Notre Dame High School basketball team, and baseball fields throughout the Elmira area. He was also a veteran and worked for Corning Inc. for 40 years as a skilled laborer, tradesman and member of the United Steel Workers local 1000. The following profile focuses on how he and his family came to Elmira from Charleston, South Carolina and some of his experiences as a local musician in the band the Star Upsetters. Hear Ira share about what it meant to him to perform with the Star Upsetters at Green Pastures, his career working for Corning Inc., and more.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5HMohnw8G0

Ira describes his trajectory over 42 years working for Corning Inc. as a member of United Steel Workers local 100.


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I started out as a laborer. I swept floors, packed boxes, loaded a truck to take supply to Horseheads. I got a chance in ‘61 to go down to Big Flats. At that time Big Flats was booming. They had 3-4 shifts going. 1,300 – 1,400 people working. Outta sight. I had a job there after I started bidding on jobs to improve my income. I learned to etch glass. What you do: cylinders, pipettes, beakers. The girls would wax them, and they’d put the numbers on them, and they had a machine that turned them. And there was an acid room. I learned to run that machine. Acid will not eat wax. You put it in the hot water, the glass would melt off, and it would move to the next station. I worked that for a while. I decided I wanted to learn to blow glass. I bid on the lathe. When I got there, that was really interesting.

If you took high school lab, the equipment you made if they were glass, they were made in Big Flats: erlenmeyers, extractors, so forth. I learned to seal the necks on them, learned to blow them. I got really good. I ended up at Steuben Glass for a while. Then I was on the floor making animals, Ferris Wheels, and all that stuff. I even made some Steubenware, and I engraved some too over 20 years. And I did all of that in the first 22 years working on the lamps. In 1979 Corning was going to convert its tanks to oil. I was afraid if I got laid off what would I do. So I took a trades test. Basically when I took the test I forgot about it. I got in an argument with the plant personell director, and I said, “I’m not coming back here. I’m going back to the main plant.” He said, “You’re not going anywhere. I’m gonna keep you here in Big Flats.” I walked out the door and I was angry. He and I had some discussion that really upset me. By the time I got home, I was living– new house in Pine City, new car. I’m there in Pine City in my home sitting on my bed. I get a call from some people in Corning, and they wanted me to come up to Houghton Park. The man told me, “Ira, you came in second or third on the electricians test. It’ll probably be 3-4 years before we put an electrician on. We have a pipe fitter job coming on.” I had no idea what a pipe fitter was. So I went up there and talked to the man anyway, Mr. Andrews. In doing that, he explained the job to me. “You can do whatever you want. You will learn plumbing, you will learn welding, AC if you want. You can go to Honeywell in Rochester for 3 years and learn that if you want.” Cleaver Brooks– I did 2 years training there for building roof-mount boilers and AC units.

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The old Neighborhood House had 2 gymnasiums, big and small. We converted the small gym on the weekends to dances and roller skating for the kids. Where the skates were, we made it a canteen. The kids could do hamburgers and sell candy. It kept escalating. Supposed to be the weekends. Then I had 5 days of work. I enjoyed it.

In those days, the Neighborhood house was the place to be. You could play basketball, get on a boxing team, roller skate. The lower are had a wood shop, build airplanes, carpenter’s shop. If you wanted a license for hunting or fishing, you could go down there, shoot and qualify for your license. I think it cost $2-3 for a membership for the whole year. Now if you got kicked out of the Neighborhood House, that was like cutting your arm off. Because you wanted to be with the rest of the kids, party. I had no problems. I kicked 2-3 out and that was it. We’d have dances. We’d have Mr Jennings come over. He was one of the area’s outstanding boxers. I saw him hit a man so hard, he tore the ring down. The kids had so many things to do. That’s why I stayed there after the ‘72 flood.

Gallery

Ira Heyward with his saxophone at Patricks in Elmira. Courtesy of Julia HeywardThe Star Upsetters with Ira on drums. Courtesy of Julia Heyward.The Star Upsetters reboot. Courtesy of Julia Heyward.The Star Upsetters at Patricks. Courtesy of Julia and Christa Heyward.Press clipping fo the Star Upsetters reboot. Courtesy of Julia and Christa Heyward.Press clipping from when the Star Upsetters regrouped. Courtesy of Julia and Christa Heyward.Portrait of Ira Heyward after becoming a journeyman plumber through USW 1000 at the Fallbrook Plant. Courtesy of Julia and Christa Heyward.Basketball at the Neighborhood House. Courtesy of Julia and Christa Heyward.Ira Heyward with a young player he coached. Provided by Julia and Christa Heyward.

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PROFILE

The John W. Jones Museum commemorates the life of John W. Jones, born enslaved on July 21, 1817 in Virginia and fled to Elmira in 1844 along the Underground railroad when he was 27. In 1851, Jones became the station master of the Elmira stop of the Underground Railroad en route to St. Catharine’s, Canada. Working closely with chief Philadelphia Underground agent William Still and Elmira abolitionists Jervis Langdon, Simeon Benjamin, Thomas Stanley Day and more, Jones helped nearly 800 enslaved Africans reach freedom. In 1859, Jones also became the sexton for Woodlawn Cemetery, burying just under 3,000 confederate soldiers, keeping records so meticulous that in 1877 the US Federal Government declared the burial site a national cemetery.

John W. Jones Museum president, Talima Aaron describes the selflessness and moral fortitude it must have taken Jones, a formerly enslaved man, to bury in such a dignified manner confederate soldiers.

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Because of how he interred them with respect and dignity, with as much of their belongings with them, when the widows came from the South and they wanted to take their dead to the South, they were resting so peacefully they said leave them where they are. He personally supervised each one of those burials, even though he supervised a crew of twelve. It’s a story that needs to be told all over. On the other hand he is still helping, he’s still reaching back to help those like him to escape the institution of slavery and help them on to freedom.

By 1997, Jones’ home had transferred hands many times, had fallen into disrepair and had been condemned by the city of Elmira. Aaron describes how this historic home was saved from being bulldozed.

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Lucy Brown: she is the founder and president. Here was a working mother, and African American lady who worked in corrections, she was active in the NAACP, and very active in the leadership of her church. So when you’re talking about people standing in their truth, and living a life that really stands up— Lucy started with some Black history programming she was doing at a local high school. She felt that if maybe she could introduce the youth to some figures from history, they’d have a connection. She felt we were losing a lot of our young people– our African Americans especially. They were going to college and not returning, the service, or just finding an Aunt in a bigger city. Just not here. She was talking about John Jones and other figures. She was notified that his house was being demolished. It had been condemned by the city, fell into disrepair and it was a rental. So I guess after there was no family connection, it had been a rental, rental, rental, and it had been infested. It was really an eye sore. So they were going to tear it down. And Lucy actually sat in front of the house with another friend, saved this house, got some attention through the paper. And because of that, concerned citizens that saw this also got behind her. It helped bring up the history of John Jones again. It was known in the ‘50s. He was recognized as being a significant African American contributor, and they named the first projects in the 1950s after him, Jones Court. After that, not a whole lot was said about him. And I think that until Lucy started talking about him again, people didn’t realize that they had this gem here and this legacy here. She sat in front of that house and she saved it. The board of Trustees was born in 1998, and they began meeting in the basement of Monumental Church. That original Board of Trustees was able to secure funding and buy the house. So they bought the house. She is a pretty phenomenal woman; she’s in her 90s now.

Aaron again describes the significance of Jones’ legacy today, and the responsibility she feels to honor that story in a way that is tangible for African Americans in Elmira and all community members.

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When I’m able to enlighten young people or adults—people that lived in Jones Court that didn’t know it was named after a Black man are just amazed. Jones Court was the first projects built in the ‘50s and they named it after John Jones because of his legacy of respect and living his life in service. It was in the African American community and they tore down a lot of the old neighborhood, and some important landmarks to build it, including the original AME Zion, other churches, houses. There were a lot of African Americans there, but it also had folks of other races there, so it was a mixed race community. But it was a very tight community. People that lived there have such fond memories growing up there. But a lot of them did not know who it was named after. I know that we—the African American community, or African Americans in general– really did a lot to help build the country. A lot of stories for African Americans, because so little was saved, becomes a story. But here you can physically come and see his house. So we are the stewards, and so is the community. We have had that relationship with the neighbors. The community in which we live, they are looking out for the museum. That makes me feel good. It’s more than just a building. It becomes a presence. And if we’re honoring the legacy of someone who is so honorable, respectful and so on, I think it’s the least we can do to continue to push that story forward. He lived a life that can be used as a guide to others. And something for young kids to look up to. Quite heroic. He was quite a big character.

To learn more about the life and work of John W. Jones and Elmira’s abolitionist history, visit www.johnwjonesmuseum.org.

Gallery

John W. Jones Museum. Photo: Chris WaltersJohn W. Jones. Photo courtesy of the Chemung County Historical SocietyHistorical marker commemorating Jones' life and work. Photo: T.C. OwensTalima Aaron, current president of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensInterior of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensInterior of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensInterior of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensInterior of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensPortrait of Lucy Brown, founder of the John W. Jones Museum. Painted by local artist Ronald Hills,Jones' house ca. 1901. Courtesy of the Chemung County Historical SocietyInterior of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensInterior of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensInterior of the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensTalima Aaron outside the John W. Jones Museum. Photo: T.C. OwensFrederick Douglass AME Zion Church ca. 1930s. Courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society.Jones Court construction, 1951. Courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society.Jones Court construction, 1952. Courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society.Marker commemorating Jones' house as a historic place. Photo: T.C. Owens

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PROFILE

I am a storyteller. The earliest storytellers were those who did cave drawings. I like to tell stories about history. I think one of the easiest ways to learn about history is to ask someone who was there at the time what it was like. I grew up in New Jersey in a household of makers and doers. My world was filled with working-class folks who claimed and expressed themselves through work, out of necessity and through creative exploits for joy. As a child I was surrounded by gardening, hat and dressmaking, flower construction, leather working, and a myriad of other pursuits. Hands were rarely still at our house. My folks would not have called themselves artists, but I see now they were that and more. To a person, they had amazing singing voices and big personalities. I thought it was normal but now understand how remarkable they were. I was an only child, so I spent a lot of time listening to Elders’ stories about their lives and how and where they were raised.

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I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in the city. What my friends and I loved to do was play street games. We had so many neighborhood games that I don’t ever recall being bored. Few families had telephones. Fewer still had televisions. Most often, younger boys and girls played together. There were street games like hopscotch, marbles, jump rope; ball games like three flies, dodge ball, baby-in-the-air; and porch games like jacks, school, paper dolls, shoebox. We had song plays like Little Sally Walker, Punchinella, Zudio, London Bridge, and many more. Some days we would play one game all day like cowboys or storefronts. We made up our own rules and everyone was allowed to play. To be sure there were fights, but by the end of the day, it was mostly over and the next day started fresh.


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When I wasn’t playing, I was often in the service of older women in my family as they prepared food for canning or gathered to make quilt pieces and quilts. I would be called upon to fan flies, fan the ladies, collect and tote (carry out) unwanted or unusable scraps, and other small duties. If I dragged my feet enough (behind a closed door) and stayed still and quiet I would hear the best stories. Stories that kids my age rarely heard because these stories were meant for grownfolk sharing. I think this is how I began to love storytelling. It was exciting! The ladies were expressive in their ways of telling, so much so that for me, their tales took up lives of their own and played out before my very eyes.

Some tales were sad and spoke about slavery and hard times and some were very funny. I always learned something about how to live life from these stories—how to get by in this world. As an adult, one of my greatest joys has been the privilege of interviewing many elderly Black women. Their stories have been jubilant, painful, expansive, instructive, insightful, and hopeful all in turn. But, I feel their voices are fading. I feel useful filling in the gap and telling their stories or stories like theirs. I don’t want them to be forgotten.

With historical research, I craft dialogue and narratives of their lives. I sometimes express stories in poetry, sometimes as monologue. I love to try to take an audience with me, back to a specific period with the happenings of the day acknowledged for context. Then I paint pictures with words, music, and often costumes and props that allow the audience to lean into that reality.


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Finally, I encourage the audience to ask and answer questions about the lives and times of the character(s) they experience with me. I generally concentrate on elderly everyday Black women in the years between 1845-1960s in the U.S. I feel framing story snapshots in this way allows us to explore valuable old/new lessons history is holding for us.

I call what I do “Framing the Past in the Peace and Possibility of the Present.”

This profile was produced through the Local Learning “Culture, Community, and the Classroom” professional development for teachers and artists.

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PROFILE

Named after Elmira College’s president from 1987 – 2012, Thomas K. Meier, Meier Hall is a residence hall on Elmira College’s campus. Completed in 2012, it was designed by QPK Designs and constructed by local company Welliver. Designed in a traditional collegiate gothic style, it is meant to match the other buildings on Elmira College’s campus built in the late 1850s.

Adorning the exterior are many limestone relief and three dimensional carvings completed by master stone carver Wayne Ferree, based out of Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. Wayne describes how he started carving on the college’s campus back in 1993.

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When I first came here, I met an architect at the University of Scranton and got a few restoration jobs. I used to drive around with little sculptures I made in the back of my van. I’d go around and sell them anywhere I thought might want them: garden centers, architects. I sold something to one architect, and another was looking for a stone carver at Elmira College. He had my carving on a wall and he said, “I know a guy!” They contacted me and we went to the college. I met with the President and his team, and I gave them some ideas and some drawings, and I sold them. I got this contract to do the carvings on the buildings. They kept using me and using me. Every couple years I’d get a nice contract from them. The last contract I had was with a residential hall called Meier Hall. Meyer was the president’s name. My son helped, too. That was from 1993-2011 or 2012. He’s retired now. He was a special kind of man, the president. That was really fun because after the 20 years prior experience that he had with me, he just showed me the spaces and said, “Do what you want.” The parameters were include the college logos: the iris, octagon and golden eagle. As long as those symbols were in the design, we were good to go. The gargoyles were 3D, and there were other 3D things in other buildings. But it was mostly 2D, high relief, carved 3” down. I like to carve really deep, especially on high buildings, because it really needs to stand out. That building had gargoyles, portraits.

Wayne’s journey as a stone carver began when he was 22, working with pen knives and exacto knives on soap stone. After about a decade he bought his first hammer and chisel set from Sculpture House NYC. Shortly after, he and his wife moved East, where Wayne apprenticed under Vincent Palumbo at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, learning how to architectural limestone carving in a gothic style. Later, raising a family in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Wayne worked with Julius Tomasetti of Tomasetti Cut Stone in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Wayne discusses his experiences learning his craft:

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My wife and I were offered jobs out east. While I was out working a job. Horrible. Locating cables for cable company. My wife heard about the Cathedral. They were hiring stone carving apprentices. 4 months later I got the job. That’s how I learned to carve on an architectural level: Gothic design, crockets, angels, gargoyles. Lots of fun. Not much money. Start at 7:00 am. Carve from 7-3. Run home and shower, then wait tables til 10 or 11 at night. I paid a lot of dues back then, but I had a family to support. You do what you have to do. That was about 3 years.

From the first day I was just going. I had already been doing it. I was like a kid in a candy store. All of a sudden I was able to produce stuff really fast. I had the whole 3D thing down. The pay was commensurate to productivity, and I had a family to support, so I was in there going to town, producing the best work I could as fast as I could. And I was doing it.

When Wayne isn’t creating architectural sculptures, he makes statues, benches, moldings, entryways and more for homeowners. He describes what he considers when beginning a new project:

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I really like traditional things. Renaissance things I grew up with and aspired to. I can and do modern design, but I tend to really like – Trained in Gothic at the cathedral. Always intriguing to me, but probably out of style now. Probably never was. I like things that are graceful, easy, and fun to look at.

Depends on the situation: what the application is? Site looks like? What client wants? I use my design skills to come up with something that they like that still pleases me. There’s gotta be enthusiasm. It’s a creative process. In order to do it well, you’ve got to be into it.

For more information about Wayne Ferree’s stone carving work visit www.ferreestudios.com

Gallery


Meier Hall, Elmira College. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Gargoyle by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Relief carving of Mark Twain by Wayne Ferree. Photo: Chris Walters


Wayne Ferree with gargoyle at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Photo provided by Wayne Ferree.


Sculpture by Wayne Ferree. Photo: T.C. Owens


Doorway by Wayne Ferree. Photo: T.C. Owens


Wayne Ferree outside his studio in Tunkhannock, PA. Photo: T.C. Owens


Wayne Ferree. Photo provided by the artist.


Relief carving by Wayne Ferree at Meier Hall, Elmira College. Photo: Chris Walters.

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PROFILE

Sue King’s paternal grandparents, the Gladkes, were founders of the first Jewish house of worship in Elmira, Temple B’Nai Israel, in 1862. Sue was raised in Scarsdale with her mother and stepfather, returning to Elmira every summer to visit her father, and finally settling in Elmira as an adult with her own family in the 1970s.

Sue’s early exposure to food was influenced by her Grandmother, an Austrian woman who came to the United States to study art in the early 1900s.

“My mother was an excellent cook and in large part I learned from her. She learned from her mother and the family’s Hungarian cook, Anna. Anna was the first person I knew who had survived the Holocaust. Though I did understand at age three, I have always remembered seeing “A” and the numbers in pale blue ink tattooed above her wrist. Anna was a survivor of Auschwitz — a wife, a mother and a loved member of my grandparents’ home.

In the late 1940s, my mother, brothers and I lived in New Rochelle with my grandparents. I remember very well all of the delicious food which were part of our daily meals. One of my favorites was wiener schnitzel. How i looked forward to the tender, golden brown pieces with the bone and the marrow within! Heavy cream, sweet butter, fresh fruit, crusty and flaky breads and rolls, vanillekipfel, linzer törtchen, strudel, rolled pastry with nut filling, marzipans… So many delicacies which were once a part of our daily menu. How times have changed.”

In the early 1970s, Susan and family were active in Temple B’Nai Israel in worship, social gatherings, and education. The sense of self-sufficiency in the Jewish community was born partly out of necessity. Elmira was located far from the center of urban Jewish life such as Philadelphia, New York City and Rochester. Jewish families could not simply run to the grocery stores and bakeries particularly if they were kosher, so they made their own. Sue recalls how the simple act of making matzo balls was not so simple.

Shortly after moving from New york to Elmira, I was preparing to make my first Rosh Hashanah dinner on my own. I went to Super Duper, the locally-owned supermarket, to buy the familiar glass jar of chicken fat. Not finding it, I asked the dairy manager, who led me to a little blue and white box… Ah, chicken fat! I thought that if butter was in a box then maybe chicken fat could be as well. So, I called my mother and told her what I found. With a smile on her face that I could “hear” over the phone, she told me that in order to get the smooth pale yellow liquid which I needed for my matzo balls and chopped liver, I had to “render” (fry) the pieces of fat. Not a good smell! It was during this adventure that I had a huge appreciation for the amount of work that Anna, and all who came before us, had to go through to do all of that exquisite cooking and baking in the past.

Originally the Jewish neighborhood was on the lower Eastside of the city. Organizations in Elmira such as the City Club and Elmira Country Club were not open to Jews. So many activities centered around the synagogues, the Jewish community centers and the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association). The Sisterhood and Brotherhood also fostered camaraderie in Temple life.

The Sisterhood met every month for a luncheon and a program. Eight to ten women each month took turns planning the luncheon menu and a program. Lots of fun we had in the kitchen and beyond! We planned art auctions, antique shows, a yearly consignment shop, a kar klub, a progressive dinner and more. We cooked and held holiday dinners and celebrations for both the youth group and the congregation. As life cycle events came we helped one another in the planning and catering: bar and bat mitzvah, weddings, graduations. Holidays were all important in Jewish life.

Oneg Shabbat happened every Friday night following Sabbath Services. It was the time to gather and observe the end of the week’s end.

One of the unique things about living in Elmira’s Jewish community was that we essentially made almost all the food that we served. The Sabbath, observed Friday night at sundown until Saturday night at sundown, was a special twenty-four hours. The Sabbath dinner at home was observed by lighting candles, challah, wine and lovely dinners. The table was often set with a tablecloth, niceties making it a bit different from the busy week’s activities. Then it was off to the Temple for services and the Oneg Shabbat to follow. Desserts, coffee and tea in the social hall set on a long, white-clothed table, silver urns at each end for hot drinks, and silver trays and bowls for the baked goods and fruit. And, together as a congregation, we chanted the blessings over the wine and the challah (bread).

As Sue says, the chicken fat is a key ingredient of matzo ball soup, which she makes in gigantic quantities for the Jewish Food Festival every year:

Each year the community hosts the Jewish Food Festival. It was conceived about twelve years ago as a way to invite the community-at-large into the building, the Temple, and familiarize the non-Jewish community with ‘all things Jewish.’ It is a huge labor of love, very hectic, hugely organized, and involves most of the congregation. We have hosted the event each spring on a Sunday from 11:00 on until 3:00. In those four hours we serve between 800 – 900 people! Originally while planning our whole menu, I offered to do the chicken soup and have been doing it ever since. Each year the quantity of soup and matzo balls increase. At last count we made about 87 quarts of soup and over 240 matzo ball!

And so it goes, into the future while preserving the recipes from our past… Tradition! L’chayim, to life.

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PROFILE

“My Passion is Cooking and Baking.”

Born in Yonkers and raised in the Bronx, Suzanne Hesselson moved to Elmira in 1976 with her husband and Elmira native Tom Hesselson. Suzanne had dreamed of having her own restaurant, but instead, she formed a catering committee with fellow members of Shomray Hadath Synagogue, Loda Golos. Together, they made food for events at Congregation Shomray Hadath and Temple B’Nai Israel, serving food and making money for the Jewish community. When the Sisterhoods of both Jewish congregations collaborated to create the Jewish Food Festival in 2009, Suzanne was asked to help, and she quickly became the leader of the bakery team.

On Managing the Bakery for the Jewish Food Festival:


“So then when the food festival came up, I was asked to come in and be part of the committee. I don’t even really remember, but I remember saying, well I’ll do the bakery. You know you’ve got to have a bakery. And we came up with Bubbie’s Bakery, but in Yiddish, Bubbie means Grandmother. And in the old Hester Street days, that’s what they spoke mostly, was Yiddish, not so much Hebrew. And I was recently a Bubbie – a grandmother – so that’s how the name came about. And it just grew. The first year we made twenty five challahs and you know five babkas, fifteen babkas – we sold out in an hour, hour and a half.”

Suzanne’s passion for food is deeply embedded in her Jewish identity. Though she was not particularly religious growing up, she found a passion for Judaism and cooking while working on a kibbutz in Israel as a young woman.


“It actually started in Israel when I was on Kibbutz. I worked in the kitchen. And I just was – I don’t know, they’re cooking for thousands of people, depending on what kibbutz you’re on. And I worked in the kitchen as one of the jobs, and I just became very interested in it. My mother never cooked. If you didn’t open a can, or you didn’t broil it, she didn’t know how to make it. She never cooked. In those days it was just canned vegetables not frozen. And I don’t know I just started experimenting. I loved baking bread [….] I just taught myself. Went to classes in New York. And Always said I wanted to open a shop. But I think this community has given me that purpose, and I feel very good about it. So it’s just grown with me, the catering committee and trying different recipes. I make it for my family. And they love it.”

Yeast breads are Suzanne’s particular love. Here, she describes the aspects of the baking process that she finds most exciting, and how she has honed her technique over many years:


“Well bread – I love the whole process of. You make the yeast and you watch it rise, and the smell of the yeast. Watching the chemistry of the gasses. And then it comes into this beautiful bread. So I really do enjoy that. Over the years, I’ve tried many recipes to get to where I am, and this is the one that I really like the most – the challah that I make here. And in fact we’re doing this year – for Rosh Hoshanna and Yom Kippur, we are going to sell them for the holiday, and we’re going to make them round.”

Some of her baking is influenced by memories of the foods and institutions that made up her Jewish childhood in New York. One particular bakery, Ebingers, held the memories of stolen indulgences and influenced a recipe Sue used for the Jewish Food Festival:

“This year I added crumb buns, which is a form of babka. It’s also a yeast. And that was something that I grew up with, in New York. And it’s not crumb cake, so it’s very different. And I looked and looked for recipes. And I found Ebingers, which was a big bakery in Brooklyn, Very famous. Had Blackout Cake. Kosher. You know it was Jewish. And I found their recipe, so that’s the one we use [….] we used to go visit my grandparents in Brooklyn, because then we were out in Yonkers. And my mother sent us one day and said – buy the coffee cake from Ebingers. And we bought it and then proceeded to eat the whole thing before we got home. And it was raining, so we told her we dropped it in the water.”

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Suzanne Hesselson. Photo: Maria KennedySuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Chris WaltersSuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Maria KennedySuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Chris WaltersSuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Maria KennedySuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Chris WaltersSuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Maria KennedySuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Maria KennedySuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Maria KennedySuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Maria KennedySuzanne Hesselson. Photo: Chris Walters

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PROFILE
Green Pastures Jazz Club

From 1932 to 2011, Green Pastures was the place to hear live jazz and blues music in the Southern Tier of New York while enjoying some of the finest fried chicken, potato salad and collard greens in the region. An African American business owned by Beatrice Johnson, known affectionately as Ms. Bea, and her husband Richard, Green Pastures was situated in the heart of Elmira’s Eastside neighborhood, a multi-ethnic neighborhood where the majority of the city’s African American community lived. In the 1930s, Howard Coleman, a young boy living across the street from Green Pastures, began working alongside Ms. Bea, eventually becoming manager.

Howard Coleman shares his early memories of Green Pastures at its original location at 5th and Dickinson.

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I worked at Green Pastures all my life. Even as a kid. 670 Dickenson Street. Where Ernie Davis Center sits now. Where the gym is, that’s where Green Pastures sat right on that corner. Across the street was the neighborhood house. On the other corner was a grocery store. I started working when I was eight years old. When I was nine I was tapping beer kegs. Doing the grocery shopping, then I did the banking. I did the money, the bookkeeping, I hired the people that worked there.

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Ira Heyward an Elmira-based jazz saxophonist and drummer shares his recollections of Ms. Bea, Howard and an extraordinary afternoon in the club as a young man.


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Mrs. Bea Hodges was the original owner of Green Pastures. If there was a band there on the weekend, I’d go there, stand outside and listen and go on home, because I knew my mom would want me home. What I like about Ms. Bea, she had a nice voice. She had a great love for children. I’d come in there, she’d sit me in the corner, she’d give me a glass of orange juice and apple pie with a piece of cheese on it. I knew Howard because he was the bartender for Ms. Bea. As a boy that was great. One time I went in on Thursday night. Jimmy Smith Band was playing before he was famous. His drummer was late, but the set was set-up. Mike was there talking to Howard. Band was ready to start, but no drummer. Mike said, “Let that kid play.” It was the first time I played a real set of drums. I was overwhelmed. The guy said “Let me hear you play.” He kicked that organ off, and I fell right into it as a drummer. I had no real drum experience. I went home and told my mom what I had done. She was overwhelmed. She said, “You played with them?” I said, “Yeah, Mom. it was great.”

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Jimmy Smith wasn’t the only big name that played Green Pastures. Green Pastures was a well-regarded stop for what later became giants of jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Max Roach, Joe Venuti, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Cobb, Jimmy Heath, Hank Jones, Larry Young and many, many more. Howard describes how the club developed a reputation amongst musicians as a place with receptive audiences, great food and exceptional hospitality.


Most of the musicians that we hired here were Black. But there were some white musicians who would sometimes come and play with them. Back in those days when we had an act or a show or a band or a group, they stopped in Elmira on their way to New York to polish up their act and get it ready for New York. Green Pastures had music six nights a week. We had a fellow by the name of Gordon Ashford. The Ashford Brothers. Gordon and Jerome Ashford. And Gordon was the bassist. They called him Gordon “Bass” Ashford ‘cause he played the bass fiddle.

See when Bass Ashford came up that’s how we got into traveling bands. Because Bass Ashford would tell people, “You got to go to Green Pastures. They got a dynamite club and it’s only 9 to 1. You don’t have to be up all night. You live upstairs and Howard feeds you”. And then he would tell this guy, “Where you going?” “I’m going to Green Pastures. Tell Howard to give me a call ‘cause I’ve got these dates open.” So, it got to the point where I didn’t have to call. They would call me and tell me open dates. They’d call, “I understand Clarence and the Cyclones are there. Well I’m following them in Cleveland then I’m coming to Elmira.” And that’s how they would come.

Green Pastures opened doors to talented young players in the community and broader region. It was a place for area musicians to gather, learn from one another and perform. Howard Coleman describes the communal aspect of the club for local musicians


We used to have on Mondays in the Green Pastures it was called Blue Monday. That was the day that most musicians in the area were off. We would come to the Green Pastures from Ithaca, Binghamton, wherever and assemble and they would play in sets.


Ira Heyward shares what a transformative experience it was to play Green Pastures as a young local musician.
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In 1958 after I came home from the army, one of the things Alvin at that time had a Mercury with a sunroof. We’re driving around singing and harmonizing. Lee Said, “We ought to put a band together.” I thought they were kidding. We put that band together, and we were practicing in the Neighborhood House, Ms. Bea came over and made her statement, “I’ve had men coming in town from Philadelphia, Buffalo and so forth, and you guys are as good as them.” Green Pastures was the first place I ever played. It was a legend. To be able to say you played there, man you did something. You were exceptionally well. With the beginning of Mrs’ Hodges and Green Pastures, it opened a door for us. And we immediately took off.

In 1971 Green Pastures moved to its second location at 723 Madison Ave., after the 5th and Dickinson location was bought and demolished by the Urban Renewal Agency of Elmira to make way for new developments. During this era much of the thriving African American community that made up the East Side was displaced throughout the city, and many of the physical landmarks of the community were destroyed. At that point, Howard Coleman became the owner of Green Pastures and stewarded the club until its closure in 2011. From then on the club continued to be an inspiring place for musicians of multiple generations and backgrounds to come together and build a tight-knit musical community.

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Dinorah Peters of Lowman, NY came to the Southern Tier from Tamaulipas, Mexico in the 1980s. A fabulous cook who began learning how to cook traditional Mexican dishes at the age of eight, Dinorah has been an ambassador for Mexican foodways and the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos in our region for a number of years.

“I was born in Xicotencatl (Xico), Tamaulipas, Mexico, and live in Lowman, NY. I have five brothers and four sisters. My childhood was beautiful in all the memories I shared with my family and community. Some of my fondest memories centered in the kitchen or around the family dinner table.

From the early age of 8 I practiced cooking. My parents gave me a small kitchen and cookware set. It was a game to cook. They would show me and I would mimic what I saw. So began my love of cooking. I loved watching my mom cook. I paid close attention to the ingredients and spices she used and do the same with my toy cookware. I practiced and practiced. Little by little I perfected what I saw. One day I presented my mom my first dish made in my little clay pot, a simple savory rice dish. She loved it. From then on she had me help her in the kitchen. At times I thought showing her I had learned to cook was a bad idea, but that was when I wanted to be outside playing.

I loved learning the basics because I could experience all the aromas, flavors, and colors of the food. My mom was the queen of the kitchen. If she saw something that intrigued her, she made it. The dish I remember most vividly is orange duck. I admire my mother and all she taught me. I miss her every day, and her memory is passed on in every dish I cook.

Famous chefs, like Bobby Flay, dedicate themselves to learning about Mexican food and bring that knowledge to millions on television. There is history behind each dish. They may contain the same basic spices but adding just one ingredient changes the dish. Many Latin countries have the same dishes but they differ in name and flavor. For example, Mexican empanadas are essentially tortillas stuffed with different various food combinations. If you go to Puerto Rico, empanadas are pastelillos (cakes) filled with ground meat. I have learned the differences from the people I welcome into my house: Colombians, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Peruvians, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. Through them I have learned that food is a universal language.”

In her work with The Rockwell Museum, Dinorah has educated many people to the significance of making sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto at the museum’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration.


“Making sugar skulls and pan de muerto, allows me to share my culture with the community. I appreciate showing that the passing of a life although sad can also be celebrated. Each year we come together as a family to honor and remember those we have lost. On Dia de los Muertos we cook the favorite foods of passed loved ones. As a family we go to the cemetery to clean their resting place, share a meal with them, and tell their stories to the next generation, keeping their memories alive.
To me, there is nothing more wonderful and beautiful than sharing a meal. It is a time when a family can come together to share the day’s events, memories, and hopes for the future. It’s a time to laugh, cry, and create lasting memories. Food is not only a good meal to fill one’s belly,it also allows us to share great company and conversation, soothe the soul, and fill ourselves with happiness.”

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This profile was produced through the Local Learning “Culture, Community, and the Classroom” professional development for teachers and artists.

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Location: Lowman, NY, USA

PROFILE

Vani has been dancing since she was three years old. One of her most vivid memories as a child is attending a staged performance by revered Indian dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy and copying the performance in the aisle of the theater. Following the performance, her father took her backstage to meet Srimati Krishnamurthy, who enjoyed seeing Vani dancing during the performance and encouraged her parents to train her under a guru. Thus, her formal dance lessons began in Odissi, one of the eight forms of Indian classical dance. Eventually, Vani began studying Kuchipudi, another classical Indian dance which originated in Andhra Pradesh.

Later in life, Vani moved to the U.S. and began working in Maryland and eventually came to work as a software engineer in Corning. In the U.S. she continued studying Kuchipudi under Mr. Sastry Bhagavatula. Currently, she continues to blossom as a dancer under the guidance of Srimati Bala Kondala Rao, a master Kuchipudi teacher in India.

For the past seven years, Vani has taught Kuchipudi and other Indian traditional dances to adults and young people in the Southern Tier of New York. The dances her students learn cover a range of genres, from Kuchipudi and folk forms to western and eastern fusion mashups. She and her students have performed throughout the region at annual Diwali and Holi celebrations at 171 Cedar Arts, the Clemens Center, and the Arnot Mall with The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes. Vani is a dedicated dancer and visual artist committed to passing along these traditions to Indian American youth, and educating the wider public on the rich field of Indian dance.

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