Chairman of the Board
My dad was an artist. He was a commercial artist, what we would now dignify and call a graphic designer. He was an aspiring painter who refused to go into the family fur business. He graduated from college in 1933, went to the Art Students’ League for a couple of years. He got work just after the war with an Austrian immigrant who had fled Hitler to New York, a graphic designer who had been a part of the Bauhaus. My father became his assistant. For him, this was a failure. He wanted to be a painter. So I grew up with this sort of frustrated artist, until they retired to Great Barrington and he started to paint again, and was a happy man for the last 18 years of his life. The artist’s lifestyle and the artist’s mentality was part of my upbringing.
I was here long before there was a Wassaic Project. In 1982, we were young professionals looking for a weekend timeshare. We would have ended up in the Hamptons but one of our friends had been visiting folks in Washington, CT and asked, if we would be interested in doing a house share up there. Seven of us rented this house and that became the first of a series of summer weekend places. I worked in Paris from 1991 to 1996, but when we came back, I called my mom and asked her to go out with Elyse Harney. She said, "Why don’t you move here, to Great Barrington?" I told her we wanted to be closer to the city. She found a house in Lakeville, which is as close to Great Barrington as you can get and still be in Connecticut. Then, ten years ago, we were looking for a school for our son, who has a learning disability. He went to the Maplebrook School here in Amenia, and from that point on we were here every weekend.
Now the Wassaic Project begins to creep into it. We became very friendly with a couple named Tom and Karen Robards. They are donors who also have two special needs kids and had founded a school called the Cook School, which Debbie eventually went to work for as a general counsel. Their circle of friends included a group that has been getting together every New Year’s Eve since 1976, and a very nice couple, Janet and David Offensend.
There used to be short story readings at the wine store in Millerton on Sunday nights, where I got to talking with a young woman who often attended these readings, and her husband, who worked at the Alliance Francaise: Kendra and Flo. Debbie and I started being their transportation back to the city every Sunday. Several months later, Kendra got pregnant and then we got our grandchildren. We really think of them as our grandkids now! When Lisette was 2 or 3, they met Jeff and Bowie and Eve and Josh, and that’s how I first got to know the Wassaic Project. And then out of the blue, Janet and David built this new house in Wassaic. While The Lantern was being renovated, Jeff and Bowie rented the house at the bottom of the hill, and got to know Janet. All of the sudden my friend is now the chair of the Wassaic Project. So there was this double connection and Janet asked if she could interview me for the board. The Wassaic Project connected a lot of things for me.
I stopped practicing law young. I was 58 when I gave it up. Now people make fun of me: they say I'm the Mayor of the Millerton Farmers’ Market and my office is at Irving Farm. I like people. I like meeting new people and making new friends. I spent many years practicing around the world, forming new relationships. My motto was always, "I refuse to make a friend into a client, but I love making clients into friends." That extended into the community. I was a city kid and there was no real community. If you live on the Upper West Side, you don’t go sit in a coffee shop and meet anybody. I got a tremendous amount of psychic pleasure in hanging out in Irving Farm for an hour or two and seeing people and hearing what they were up to. Corner store kind of stuff. That’s a big part of my daily life. I exercise a lot and I still do some work of various kinds, but just being involved in the community was very important.
The Wassaic Project was like a missing piece. It fit right into that need to be a part of a community, and to help people, and to share with them, and to understand what's going on in their lives. Do you have a good elevator speech for the Wassaic Project? It’s very hard to describe. It’s a complex, somewhat amorphous thing. It’s about art and it’s about community. Being here is part of the fabric of life. I haven’t actually tried to articulate this before, but Zen archers are the classic example: they practicing their credo by doing something. The thing they're doing isn't inherently philosophical. You can be an archer a farmer, you can make tea for people. But if you bring a certain mindset to it, you are practicing your art. I understand it that way.
The Wassaic Project was like a missing piece. It fit right into that need to be a part of a community, and to help people, and to share with them, and to understand what's going on in their lives.
Dan Sternberg, Wassaic 2017
Photos by Verónica González Mayoral