A small group of plein air painters in the Catskill Mountains of New York are capturing buildings in paint before the wrecking ball gets to them.

Lead Image: “Abandoned House on Hwy 28, Arkville,” by Alix Hallman, 2015, watercolor on handmade paper

About one year ago, four members of the East Branch Delaware River Plein Air Painters gathered at a house in Arkville, New York, to paint the structure before it was demolished. Now, their work is on display at the Commons Gallery in Margaretville, New York, preserving the memory of a structure that is long gone.

"Dry Brook Road and Rte. 28," by Robert Axelrod, 2015, oil
“Dry Brook Road and Rte. 28,” by Robert Axelrod, 2015, oil

“This building had been derelict and an interesting eyesore at the busy corner for years,” says Alix Hallman, one of the painters. “When we heard it was scheduled for demolition, it was a natural that we wanted to get there first. As usual, four painters found four different ways to see the building.”

Hallman painted three paintings of the house that day, by accident. The town code enforcement officer and a gaggle of contractors kept asking her to move as they discussed the new building that would go on the lot. Each time she moved, she started a new piece.

"Just Before Demolition," by Margaret Leveson, 2015, oil on panel
“Just Before Demolition,” by Margaret Leveson, 2015, oil on panel

The artists were all business. “We have been painting together once a week in the summer since 2007, and our routine is established,” says Hallman. “On this day, as on all other paint-outs, there was almost no talk, no greeting. Each painter walked around, selected his or her spot, set up the easel, and began painting. Only after the paintings were finished did we gather and talk. It did not rain, as it seemed it would.”

"There No Longer," by Linda Lariar, 2015, watercolor
“There No Longer,” by Linda Lariar, 2015, watercolor

This wasn’t just a one-off opportunity. The painting group keeps an eye out for changes in the landscape in their area. “Two weeks ago we painted two more buildings scheduled for demolition — a casualty of the devastating flood of Hurricane Irene in 2011,” says Hallman. “There are more ruined and about to be razed from that flood.”


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