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Exploring the Hudson Valley Brick Industry Through Contemporary Art

"Brickhead: Please Stop" by James Tyler
"Brickhead: Please Stop" by James Tyler

When the Erie Canal was opened in 1825, it fueled an era of prosperity that was ignited by the brick industry in cities and towns along the Hudson River. This industry is the subject of ArtsWestchester’s current exhibition, Brick by Brick: The Erie Canal & the Building Boom, which remains on view through January 19. Installations of large-scale contemporary artwork will be on view, alongside historical materials, archival and commissioned photographs, and the personal narratives of individuals who witnessed the region’s once vital brick industry. Together, these elements tell a story with complex intersections of immigration, industry and innovation. Explains ArtsWestchester Director of Folk Arts Aaron Paige: “This exhibition connects the materiality of brick as a historic and aesthetic object to the intangible stories that local residents construct around it.”

For 12 artists, Hudson Valley bricks are the subject and material for artworks that create a narrative about the function, meaning and durability of these objects. For instance, photographer Christopher Payne was commissioned to capture the brickyards’ legacy through sites like the Old Croton Aqueduct and ruins of the castle on Bannerman Island. Artist Julia Whitney Barnes created A Hudson River of Bricks, a twenty-five-foot installation that incorporates hundreds of historic Hudson Valley bricks to form a scale version of the Hudson River from New York City to Albany.

A series of related programs will also take place in ArtsWestchester’s gallery. On October 13, three generations of Westchester bricklayers will discuss the history of bricklaying, explore brick bond patterns and lead participants in a hands-on wall-building project. During a November 3 event, which includes a brick swap, the region’s leading brick hunters and collectors will tell stories of discovery and adventure along the Hudson River. The following weekend, on November 10, spirituals singers and storytellers will narrate the tale of bricks in Haverstraw’s African American community.

For more info, visit artsw.org/brickbybrick.

A version of this article first appeared in the October issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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