Painter/poet Julie Hedrick & Church des Artistes

Hedrick rented a loft and showed her work in the studio and various galleries, while Wetzler, who’d lived in the City after graduating from Princeton and a brief sojourn in California, composed experimental music for downtown dance companies. Unlike Toronto, New York felt like home, and the couple had a blast. “There was a warmth and genuineness in New York. You always knew where you were at with New Yorkers. If I made work, people would say they loved it or they hated it.”

In 1985, a Toronto art gallery offered her a one-woman show, and after dropping off the paintings in a borrowed, graffiti-covered van and heading back to New York, the couple pulled off the Thruway at Exit 19 to get gas. Curious about the place at which they’d landed – the City of Kingston – they drove around, charmed by the historic streetscape but a little spooked about the lack of people. Down on lower Broadway, the buildings were abandoned and a huge empty lot still marked the teardown of buildings from urban renewal 15 years before. They drove up Spring Street and spotted an abandoned church, which triggered in Hedrick “a kinesthetic response. My toes got hot and I started hyperventilating.” She added, “It was perched on a hill overlooking the river, and I saw the future of this whole community. I saw the possibility of an art center.”

They found out that the church was for sale, and three weeks later, they bought it, putting their small savings from two large paintings that Hedrick had recently sold and Wetzler’s sale of his first movie score into a mortgage held by the former owner. The nave, in the church proper, “had 10,000 pounds of pigeon poop, no water, electricity or heat,” although the adjoining chapel building did have minimal utilities. The couple came up from the City whenever they could to work on the property.

In 1991, Hedrick moved up to the church full-time with the couple’s two children, commuting back to the City to be with Wetzler on the weekends. “I was in Heaven. I had so much space to make art,” she said. They carved out two rental lofts in the front of the nave, leaving the remainder open for a performance space, and created a recording studio for Wetzler in the place where the organ had been ripped out. They invited the community in for performances. Their friend Pauline Oliveros christened the performance space by blowing on a conch shell in the empty, windowless hall. Oliveros’ partner Ione “brought a huge crystal, and everybody burned sage.”

Ironically, it was through a Kingston friend that Hedrick made the connection with her 57th Street gallery. An acquaintance who owned 100 acres in Esopus brought gallery-owner Nohra Haime over for coffee one day, and she and Hedrick instantly became friends. Haime signed Hedrick on in 1997, and Hedrick has been represented by the Nohra Haime Gallery ever since.

Haime sometimes places benches in front of Hedrick’s works, so that people can spend time contemplating them. “There are people who can’t stand still and don’t want to engage. Others engage and find they have these inner experiences they didn’t expect. Art is always about that exchange. If we were to really analyze our inner environments, they’re abstract,” Hedrick said.

Haime also exhibited Hedrick’s work at Art Miami and showed her blue series in Cartagena, Colombia in an “extraordinary space flooded with light off the Caribbean Sea.” Two of Hedrick’s works were recently acquired by the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY-New Paltz. She has designed sets for dance and film and was the subject of a film, Julie of the Spirits, directed by the Venezuelan-born filmmaker Isabel Barton.

On Saturday, June 7, Hedrick and Wetzler will be collaborating on a sound installation at One Mile Gallery, based upon her black-and-white series of paintings. Wetzler will score two poems of Hedrick’s, one inspired by white and the other by black; it’s suggested that visitors be blindfolded, in order to experience “a visual world without eyes,” Hedrick said. Pauline Oliveros will also participate in the event, which is titled “Listen to the Sound of Your Art.” The One Mile Gallery is located at 475 Abeel Street; call (845) 338-2035 for more information.

Hedrick and Wetzler eventually sold off the church portion of their complex, retaining the chapel for themselves, and in 2011, after their kids had left home, they talked about running a bed and breakfast. “I was interested in going away, and Peter was interested in bringing people here,” Hedrick said. “Within an hour of talking about it, somebody booked.”

The bed-and-breakfast venture has been a big success, with guests arriving at the Church des Artistes Guest House from as far afield as China, Paris and Amsterdam. One German couple who stayed with them were paying homage to Holocaust historian Hannah Arendt, who’s buried at Bard College. Some visits turn into an artist’s residency: A writer “came for a week to begin a book, and then came back a year later to finish it. Then she gifted her editor a stay here.” Guests “are very curious to meet this painter and composer and to learn about the community and its history. They love to be able to walk down to Armadillo or Mint on the Rondout or sit in the courtyard with a bottle of wine.”

Much like her art, Hedrick said that running the inn is “improvisational.” Lately she has been “curating these extraordinary breakfasts of locally sourced food” obtained through the couple’s membership in Field Goods, which is supplied by various food co-ops and local farms. She’s also foraging in the forest, and recently served a strawberry knotweed crisp and a frittata with nettles and garlic mustard.

Some of their guests are so charmed by their stay that they’ve pulled up stakes and moved to Kingston. One example is Theresa and Michael Drapkin, who opened up the Kingston Wine Company on lower Broadway a few months ago after staying at the church on a visit from New York City. “I keep real estate agent cards,” said Hedrick. “Many young people are finding it more difficult to live in New York because it’s so expensive and you can’t make a living wage. But in Kingston you can afford it. The best thing about the city is the diversity. There’s financial diversity, and people who have huge families live next door to single people. It works. It’s a real place.”

For information on artist Julie Hedrick, see https://juliehedrick.com; for info on musician Peter Wetzler, log on to www.peterwetzler.com. To learn more about the Church des Artistes Guest House bed and breakfast in Kingston, go to https://www.churchdesartistes.com/. For info on Hedrick and Wetzler’s June 7 performance at One Mile Gallery, call (845) 338-2035 or visit https://onemilegallery.com/.

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