By Judy Carmack Bross
Artist Reeve Schley, left, with Jack Geary and painting of the rocky church beach on the St. Lawrence River, Murray Bay, Canada
Just two hours from New York City, Dutchess County beckons visitors to tiny towns filled with Hudson Valley history, outdoor adventures, discerning chefs and hash-hearty diners, boutiques and antiques, and a art trail from Albany to Garrison. Lying right in the middle of a weekend’s worth of gallery crawling is Millerton, New York–voted one of America’s favorite small towns–which features through December 17 at Geary an exhibition of the atmospheric and evocative landscapes by contemporary artist Reeve Schley whose work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Gallery, his alma mater Yale, and museums in his home state of New Jersey where he runs a working dairy farm.
Dolly Bross Geary at Millerton, New York’s Geary gallery
Among guests at Geary’s opening recently of Reeve Schley, By the River, an evolution from early paintings rooted in realism to more abstract and expressionist work later in his career, were friends from Murray Bay, Canada and Martha’s Vineyard who knew the sunbathers and picnickers set in scenes executed on-the-spot at beaches and riversides. They swapped stories of shining shared summers and recalled how Schley always heads to the rocky beaches along the St. Lawrence upon his August arrival, returning there or to the “Tru,” nearby on the Malbaie River with his sketchbook almost every day.
Tru Picnic, 2005 by Reeve Schley Photo: Walker Esner
As Saul Ostrow writes in the catalogue’s introduction: “Schley—by distilling things into their basic shapes, rather than actualizing the immediacy of the moment—captures the tranquility, serenity, sense of introspection as associated with summer homes and their environs.”
Schley, who came up to Millerton with his wife Georgie from their farm in Whitehouse, described what it was like walking into the Gallery opening night.
“My wife and I had had Covid and missed the initial hanging at the gallery. I walked in and was caught by surprise, seeing paintings I hadn’t seen for years which Dolly and Jack had found in my studio storage. I first showed at the Graham Gallery that exhibited watercolors. The custom in those days was to paint all summer and then exhibit your most recent at a New York gallery in the fall. Seeing some of those watercolors I did long ago was a thrill.”
Gallery owners Dolly Bross Geary and Jack Geary had travelled to Schley’s working dairy farm to choose paintings from across the decades for the exhibition.
Reeve Schley with Geary’s Dolly Bross Geary
“Reeve has been working for a long time and has a very impressive body of work—from early landscapes to portraits to more contemporary landscapes, in both watercolor and oil painting. We wanted to show the breadth of his abilities and how his work has evolved and changed,” Dolly Geary said. “Initially, we first saw Reeve’s watercolors and were struck by how he could capture the essence of a place with just watercolor and paper. And then we saw his oil paintings we were just enchanted with his brushwork and use of color, and how both were used to render a place so beautifully.”
Studio View of Island Farm by the River, 1975 Photo: Walker Esner
The Gearys told us about their visit to Schley’s farm in the Raritan river valley:
Reeve Schley and Jack Geary choose works for the Geary show in Millerton
“Each time we visited Reeve and Georgie it was a lovely experience. Pulling up to their beautiful modern house behind many fields of hay and horse farms, crossing the little river and then turning into their driveway. The house has many of Reeve’s paintings, including an incredible large fresco work that takes up one wall of the living room. Reeve’s two studios are a short walk from the house, along a beautiful wooded path following a creek, and this is where many of his paintings are and where he works. Both studios are full of natural light and are connected by a porch. Their dogs run around outside as we would move from one studio to the next, looking at various works—old and new, and selecting what would be in the show.”
One of Schley’s beloved dachshunds napping Photo: Walker Esner
Many opening night guests stood in front of a painting of a red-tail hawk on the farm, painted in 1992, a bird that was the subject of Schley’s first painting.
“I walked from the farm to school, and one day I found a red tail hawk dead on the road. I picked it up and took it to my fourth grade teacher, Madame Wadlow, who also taught French, and told her I wanted to paint it. I was having trouble getting the eye right and she did it. We were lucky to have art every day at school,” Schley said. “After prep school I went to Munich to play ice hockey before I went to college. My serious painting began there. I painted all day, three days a week, with the artist Josef Buchty. I was really immersed in that, working in both watercolors and oils. When I entered Yale I would spend time at their art school as well.”
Red Tail Hawk at the Farm, 1992 Photo: Walker Esner
Schley said that from the first he always wanted to paint outdoors. “I love nature’s colors and part of the excitement of paining is relating colors, what one color does to another when they are touching. It’s my science side making it happen.”
Gallery guests identified the children relaxing on the beach, now grown up and returning with their own families to Murray Bay. Schley told us: “I love sketching children because they never sit still, they are literally walking in and out of the painting.”
Twins, 2012 Photo: Walker Esner
The Gearys shared more about what visitors should anticipate on a getaway to the area:
“The Hudson Valley and NW CT have always been centers for artists but they have been growing in popularity of late, and definitely since the pandemic. Artists—and collectors- have always been inspired by the natural beauty of the area and that is truly a draw for visitors. The area is full of beautiful little towns that are connected by winding roads, with breathtaking views of the Taconic mountain ranges and fields and wooded hills, so the drive from one town to the next is really a pleasure.
“And little gems pop up throughout: for instance, Stissing House, in Pine Plains, just named one of the 50 most exciting restaurants in the country by the New York Times; Ancram Opera House—that was a cool surprise for us. https://www.ancramoperahouse.org and the Sharon Playhouse has excellent theater in the summers, along with Tanglewood in the Berkshires for excellent music; the Clark Museum and Williams College Art Museum in Williamstown and MassMoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts.
“There is beautiful hiking and the Sharon Audubon Center is wonderful—tons of birds up near us. I would also direct you towards the Upstate Fall Gallery Crawl Map for a listing of many upstate galleries https://twocoatsofpaint.com/hv-gallery-map.”
The 1903 Moviehouse in Millerton
We asked the Gearys about creating a gallery on Millerton’s Main Street, where neighbors include Oblong Books, an independent bookstore offering great advice, the boutique Demitasse next door, and Moviehouse, a former 1903 community center now featuring independent and first run movies.
Geary in Millerton, New York
“Our goal with the gallery is to create a welcoming spot that fosters creativity; a place that supports artists and offers a space to take creative risks in order to make important work. We want visitors to the gallery to feel that they can be part of this experience and we hope that people will come to openings and our other events –performances, artist talks; art fairs–and be a part of this incredible artist community. And maybe even find work to buy and bring home with them!”
Reeve Schley in his Whitehouse, New Jersey Studio
With the Reeve Schley exhibition up until December 17, we asked Dolly Bross Geary what to look for in a Reeve Schley painting whether you are visiting in person or online:
“Reeve has the ability to capture the essence of a place with his incredible use of color and line. What is exciting about this exhibition is that it has work from many decades of his career, so the viewer can see the evolution of his style.”
For further information about Reeve Schley, By the River visit: www.geary.nyc
The Schley home abounds with river paintings
Photo Credit: Walker Esner