Hot and cold: art-making in the Catskills’ harshest months

Burning wood to keep warm is a tradition that dates back to the earliest civilizations of man. It wasn’t only necessity, though, that motivated American pioneer settlers to build an open fire; in Americans and Their Forests: A Historical Geography, Michael Williams explains that, “to the pioneer, the open fire meant more than necessary warmth; it was a cheerful thing to contemplate at the end of a hard day’s work.” Anyone who has ever gathered around a fireplace knows this feeling well.

But for Catskills locals, this cheer requires work—the entirety of a mountain winter requires work. As fall comes to a close, locals prepare for winter by splitting and stockpiling firewood, tearing apart bales of hay to lay around the perimeter of their home, and wrapping windows tightly in insulation. They are preparing for what feels like the longest season and, historically, the most difficult. Catskills living caters to a specific mentality, and for artists, it’s inevitable that this method of survival will affect their creative process.

During the summer months, the Catskills fill with travelers looking to escape their less-than-rural living arrangements. Tubing, ziplining, fishing, hiking, swimming, camping—the list of activities one can do here in the summer seems endless, almost overwhelming. Then, when the summer ends, the leaves transform the picturesque landscape into a spectacle, drawing visitors from near and far to witness the stunning beauty of nature.