Valley of Art

This past weekend, I took an extraordinary glass mosaic workshop with mosaic artist Cynthia Fisher. Ms. Fisher, a former wildlife biologist and children’s book illustrator, has come full circle with her mosaic art, incorporating children and animal themes in her playful and colorful murals. She does public and private commissions, and works with school groups, as well. Her “Voyage” mosaic, pictured at left, is in the Children’s Hospital of Boston emergency room.

As do so many who write or illustrate children’s books, Ms. Fisher leads a charmed life in Buckland, Massachusetts. Her photographer/carpenter husband built her studio using hay bale construction. Ms. Fisher, at 52, is an enthusiastic athlete and outdoorswoman, and rode her bicycle through the woods of Peter’s Valley before and after class.

Peter’s Valley itself is a magical place in the Pocono Mountains. My parents had a summer home just outside of Milford, Pa., about 15 miles away, and so I’ve known about Peter’s Valley Craft Village forever. For many years we visited the Peter’s Valley Craft Show at the Sussex County Fairgrounds, and it was only this past weekend when I finally had the chance to take a workshop.

My parents had sold their Pocono house over 10 years ago, so that’s how long it’s been since I traveled to that neck of the woods, and I was dreading seeing how it had been developed in the decade, as so many other places had. Happily, it looked pretty much the same, and I recognized many of the landmarks, such as the Pathmark my mother always shopped at — it offered so many more options than her city grocery store (this was the 1970s, before fine-food supermarkets colonized the world). There was the Chatterbox restaurant (in my memory, waitresses came to cars on roller skates), Yetta’s Diner and the charming Dingman’s Ferry, the last privately owned toll bridge on the Delaware and one of a few remaining in the country. To this day, a person still stands there to collect the toll, $1.

Peter’s Valley, on a 40-acre campus, is celebrating its 40th anniversary providing craft education in a retreat-like atmosphere. How the land came to be so beautifully preserved is an interesting story.

Tocks Island, located upstream from Delaware Water Gap, was the controversial site of a dam, proposed in the 1950s, that would have created a 37 mile long lake between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with depths of up to 140 feet. Although the dam was never built, 72,000 acres of land were acquired, which became the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

In 1955 a flood caused immeasurable damage to the Delaware River basin and the loss of many lives. To prevent future floods, a proposal was made for the construction of the dam. The Tocks Island National Recreation Area was to be established around the lake, which would offer activities such as hunting, hiking, fishing and boating. In addition to flood control and recreation, the dam could be used to generate hydroelectric power, and  the water stored in the lake would be pumped to  New York and Philadelphia. But a good idea went sour.

The government began seizing land from residents that lay within the boundaries approved for this recreation area. Residents were offered a fraction of what their land was worth and, if they refused, their property was condemned. Today, there are few existing structures from the original town of Dingman’s Ferry, right near Peter’s Valley.

The project collapsed after protesters, whose land had been acquired, raised the issue of unfair acquisition of land.

Financial problems also contributed to the demise of the project. With the United States funding the Vietnam War, the allocation of $60-70 million needed to fund such a large scale project was not feasible. Finally, the geology of the area was too unstable to build the earthen dam. The bedrock could not support what would be the largest dam project east of the Mississippi River.

In 1992, the project was rejected and 10 years later, after extensive research, the Tocks Island Dam Project was officially de-authorized.

Today, the land is preserved by the National Park Service as the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The weather during the weekend workshop was just the right temperature and humidity to keep the mosquitoes and ticks at bay, although I did come home with a few black fly bites as souvenirs.

We used the indirect method, and started with a sketch. Over the sketch we placed contact paper, sticky side up, placing the tiles on top. We used nippers to cut the glass into tiny pieces. The tinier the glass, the more interesting the pattern. The next day, we spread thin set on a board, then flipped the work over and, after dry, applied grout.

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2 Responses to Valley of Art

  1. cindy fisher says:

    thanks for the article. finally got around to reading. Great to have memory refreshed on the Tock’s Island Project. Curious though, the statement, “A good idea went sour”… Is that your statement or was it from another source?!? In that it doesn’t seem like it ever was a good idea!!!!

    So our car broke down this week – I’m SOOO glad it didn’t happen while to or fro NJ!! Our van also is out of commission, good thing I’m a cyclist and can bike to my mosaic school project. ANd it was commute to work by bike week, how appropriate!
    perhaps our paths will cross again someday, CIndy

  2. What a wonderful piece of art to have at a children’s hospital emergency room. Bravo.
    Hope you were inspired enough to keep it up. Would love to see any results, Ilene.

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