Annual Grist Mill art show celebrates a place local artists hold dear

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Rensselaerville artist Susan Story hangs her painting of the historic grist mill over a photograph of the mill. The town’s annual art show will be held there.

RENSSELAERVILLE — Nobody really knows why there are so many artists in Rensselaerville, but there they all are, so why not make a show of it? 

That’s the thrust of the town’s annual art exhibit, which this year will feature 44 of the town’s creatives, including nine(ish) children in its emerging artists series, and will be held at the historic grist mill. 

It’s somewhat ironically put on by a non-resident — musician and retired orchestra director Doug Riter. Although he lives in a suburb of the greater Rochester area, Riter has roots in Rensselaerville through his grandparents, the late Warren and Henrietta Riter, both artists who studied at the Pratt Institute. His grandmother was once executive director of the historical society, which hosts the event. 

Riter told The Enterprise this week that the show technically began seven years ago as an exhibit he made out of his grandparents’ work exclusively — seventy-five pieces total — and then it grew in concept to include various artists from the town, including the likes of David McCain, whom Riter said spent a year as Andy Warhol’s photographer. 

“It’s really fascinating,” Riter said of reading the artists’ pedigrees. “The art is of extremely high quality and that’s the thing that amazes me, that you find that many people of that caliber in a small area.”

Rosemarie Kuhar, who handles much of the coordination of artists for the show and has lived in the town for decades, told The Enterprise that she doesn’t know what draws creative people to Rensselaerville, at least not with any certainty.

“It’s just a very unique community,” she said, “and it’s not just artists but we have musicians, we have writers.”

Kuhar posited that that, according to an “old-timer” in town, Rensselaerville is the only one of the Hilltowns that didn’t have fires destroy its original buildings, allowing it to retain its charm and attract people from New York City and elsewhere who are looking for a place to get away and find creative inspiration. 

“But your guess is as good as mine,” she said. 

The first year the show was opened up to artists besides Riter’s grandparents, there were around 16 who participated, Riter said, adding, “It’s pretty much grown every year, both in the number of artists and the people that come to see it … It’s been a really neat thing to do.”

He said that it’s been cool to figure out how to show art in the grist mill, which, with its wood walls and the original equipment still in place, doesn’t have the neutrality of a traditional gallery. 

“You have all sorts of interesting challenges in how to put all the art up and make a show of it, but it always seems to work out,” he said. “I have a friend who helps me with it and, whenever we start out he’s like, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do?’ … You take the first bite and you just keep going.”

Susan Story, a master pastelist who has participated in the show for a number of years, loves the atmosphere that the ad hoc gallery creates. 

“The architecture of the space itself is very natural,” she told The Enterprise. “It has not been updated or changed over the years, so the works are just hanging on the wood with the beams and the original flooring. It’s a very special and different venue.”

Story has four works in the show this year, which she created specifically for the event. One depicts the mill; another shows the Presbyterian church in town; a third painting is a perspective of Main Street; and the other is of the Ten-Mile Creek, which runs behind the mill and once powered it. 

“I thought it would be nice to keep it local to the hamlet where I’ve lived for 30 years,” she said. 

Story also doesn’t quite know what the big draw is for artists — she herself moved to Rennselaerville from Westchester with her husband somewhat by chance. The couple were looking for a historic home surrounded by nature, and had searched throughout New England before selling their Westchester home sooner than anticipated, which sent them to live with her husband’s parents, in Freehold. 

Several houses happened to be for sale in Rensselaerville around that time and they found one they liked, so they got it. It’s a home that will be handed down to their daughter, who grew up in the hamlet and now lives in Manhattan. 

As for the other artists, whom she said largely came after her, she thinks that maybe they were attracted by institutions like the Carey Center for Global Good and the Huyck Preserve. “Maybe that drew an audience and brought different people up here,” she said. “I don’t know. It’s just that [certain] type of person that chose to live here, that was drawn here. And it continues.” 

Whatever the case may be for why each individual artist found themselves in the exceptionally artful town, Riter is proud to have the opportunity to give them a space to come together and show and sell their art, and to honor a community that Riter and everyone else there holds close to their hearts. 

“I wrote it as a lyric in one of my songs, that you bring new memories in a place you hold dear,” he said. “[The show] is creating new memories in a place for me that was always very special and very wonderful for me creatively … I think [my grandmother] would be thrilled that somebody in the family was continuing to be a piece of the town and doing something artistically and historically, especially with the mill.”


The Rensselaerville art show will be open to the public between 1 and 3 p.m. on July 30 and 31 and Aug. 6 and 7; it will also be open on Aug. 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The address is 5052 Delaware Turnpike, Rensselaerville,12147.

An artists’ reception will be held on July 29 from 5 to 8 p.m. 

There is no charge for admission.

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