A SHORT BIOGRAPHY
During the period of winter 2007 to summer of 2009, Hermitage was run out of a small house in Beacon NY, just 60 miles north of NYC along the Hudson River. It took place in a small house on a side street alongside two former coal silos near Fishkill Creek. Railroad tracks ran through its backyards from an earlier time of travel through this area now attempting to recover from the removal of industry that once thrived. Founded by Jonathan Beacham and Christian Toscano, and run solely by Beacham during the last year, it operated as an artist run alternative space. Its primary focus was a small select bookshop consisting of a rotating stock of books usually running between 750-900 volumes, with a heavy focus on post WWII American poetry. Numerous authors and small presses of that period were represented by groups such as Black Mountain College, San Francisco Renaissance and Beat Generation, the New York School and others revolving in and around, and operating independently. A selection of 20th Century literature and art, amongst other odds and ends were also included amongst the collection. The idea of this kind of bookshop was to handpick every book to be a part of a larger collection of books. Five catalogues were issued during this time under The Brother in Elysium. Eight exhibitions took place there, most notably were “d.a. levy (can we hold hands out here)” and “Zephyrus Image – A Grouping”. The levy exhibit consisted of a large amount of levy’s own publications, along with books he published of other writers under his imprints Renegade Press and Seven Flowers Press. Levy was a seminal 1960s poet from Cleveland Ohio, who remained there during his brief life (1942-1968) devoting all of his energy to promoting an underground poetry scene there, and through correspondence with other poets across the country. A small book of levy’s poems was published to coincide. It was handset and printed letterpress on a small tabletop press. It is now out of print. The other exhibit of special mention was on the press Zephyrus Image whose two founders Holbrook Teter and Michael Myers did what no one had done before or since. During the decade of the 1970s in San Francisco CA they created a vast body of work consisting of letterpress ephemera and small books completely outside of the ways people were making books and distributing paper. Their work was politically charged, humorous, and up to the minute in its cultural critique. The style and form in which their works were executed using type and handcut linoleum blocks were of superior quality while also going against the tradition of “fine printing” which many other presses tried to emulate. Their style and what they chose to create was a direct reaction to that lineage. And it is something extraordinary. Alastair Johnston’s bibliography of the Press –“Zephyrus Image: A Bibliography” Poltroon Press, 2003 tells the complete story. This exhibit on Zephyrus Image was the first gathering of their work for display outside of CA. More than 40 original works were exhibited.
Hermitage also ran a film screening series (that is still ongoing) projecting 16mm prints of experimental filmmakers. Films were screened inside, but more memorably outside in back of the small structure. An outdoor theatre was assembled and dismantled for these screenings on that day to not draw attention from the landlord. Next to the defunct railroad track, and alongside the two decaying coal silos, films by Robert Frank, Harry Smith, Nathaniel Dorsky, and Bruce Ballie were screened under the stars. Other filmmakers shown include Larry Jordan, Rudy Burckhardt, John Cohen and Wallace Berman. The intention behind this series is to show important works that are hard to see, and project them on film.
The final key structural element of Hermitage was the letterpress studio that rested in the large room facing the street on the ground floor of the house. Two books were printed out of this room along with a large amount of ephemera documenting the activities of the space. Broadsides were issued for events and for the sake of putting poems to paper. The proximity of the print shop to the books for sale in the next room put in context how many of those books offered for sale came to be.
Hermitage’s location of being 60 miles from NYC was intentional, and its design was integral to that decision. One had to make a journey to visit the space, and with that journey from NYC or from another location, a certain type of mind opens up. One could experience a dropping off of ones habitual context through making this journey, and an opening up of a different mind to a new habitat enclosed within the structure that we associate with home, that of the house. The combination of the bookshop, the printing studio, the ongoing events and the space in general was a project that continually grew and shifted. The layout of the space and its programming of activities were changed frequently and drastically based on the nature of what its founder found his current state to be. This was the joy of running Hermitage. That an idea could take immediate shape, and that anyone could walk in at a given time. The door was open not just to a bookshop or a gallery, but to a lifestyle. This was above all else the function. It has since moved on, and the foundation in which it was built has grown into new forms of art & life making practices. The series of photos alongside give a visual record of the space and some of its incarnations.