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Steve Schapiro, Martin Luther King Jr. (with Flag), Selma March, 1965 © Steve Schapiro & Fahey/Klein Gallery
Steve Schapiro, Martin Luther King Jr. (with Flag), Selma March, 1965 © Steve Schapiro & Fahey/Klein Gallery

What you cannot see is always there when you look, and it is by our inner compass that we are drawn to an understanding of the world. For Nick Hand, that understand was to be found along five hundred miles of the Hudson Valley in New York. With a bicycle and a camera, Hand traveled over the hills and mountains and through the countryside, much of which is still raw, rugged, and wild. And it was on this journey that he set forth to connect with the artists and craftspeople that continue in the traditions of an earlier age, an analogue era that reminds us of how much the world has changed.

As Hand observes, “On a bicycle you take everything in, you can stop anywhere, you don’t miss a thing, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation.” The result of his travels is an intimate volume that reminds us of the pleasures of connecting with people whose pasions inspire us. Conversations on the Hudson (Princeton Architectural Press) presents the photographs and conversations Hand had with the artisans of a time and a place that reminds us of an America of the agrarian past, of a generation committed to  cultivation of the craft. Whether a seed librarian or a sheep farmer, a boat restorer or a stone sculptor, the people featured in this book give us a window into their beautiful and charming worlds.

Hand’s photographs are lyrical prose, sweet quatrains and delicate odes to the people he met along his journey, each image providing a delicate caption of life in one day. Each photograph is a snapshot of a larger story, a story of the place where the eye and the hand meet the mind and the soul, and what results is something essential to our experience on this earth, the creation of deeply fulfilling work. 

It is this work that Hand explores in his photographs and interviews, conversations that are as casual and comfortable as they are enlightening and informative. John and Janine Stockin, maple syrup producers based in Accord, Ulster County, explain of their work, “There’s a camaraderie that comes from the family doing it together, or the individual, like John, who decided that he wants to make maple syrup. He loves to go into the woods in winder, tap the trees, run lines, work hard cutting wood to boil the sap on a gross production level, This is his vision, his dream. It’s like soul work or something.”

Indeed. It is the soul that is evoked with every turn of the page, as Hand takes us up and down the Hudson Valley, from town to town. Perhaps it is something of the spirit of the place as well, something of this world that once fueled a movement in American art history, the Hudson River School. Perhaps it is the energy the great waters rushing south, towards the Atlantic Ocean and out into the world. As Julie Hedrick, painter and poet living in Kingston, Ulster County, observes, “I feel very connected to the Hudson Valley, the landscape and the river running through the middle of it. I usually spend every morning visiting the river. Walking along it first thing, that sort of sets the tone for that day. I bring that quality and energy into the work that I do. It’s a combination of grandeur and magic in the smallest details as well.”

“God is in the details,” Mies van der Rohe famously said, and it is here, in Conversations on the Hudson, that we are reminded of this. The sublime sensations of the countryside are echoed in the exquisite attention to the craft, both of the artisans themselves, and of the work of author, Nick Hand.

Conversations on the Hudson
Nick Hand
ISBN 9781616892241
Publication date January 2014
5.3 x 6.6 inches (13.5 x 16.8 cm), Hardcover
112 pages, 81 color illustrations, 24 b/w illustrations