(Carol Zaloom has done a wonderful cover illustration for The Pocket Guide to Woodstock, as she did for Walking Woodstock: Journeys into the Wild Heart of America’s Most Famous Small Town. And who is Carol Zaloom? Read on!)
Has the cyberage claimed my favorite holdout? Carol Zaloom, of all people, now has a website, carolzaloom.com, though not yet, she reassures me, an e-mail address. To reach her, you still need to phone 845-246-7441. Together with her partner, the irrepressible poet and comedian, Mikhail Horowitz, who leaves his e-mails at work, she likes to say that she practices Slow Communication from her historic stone-and-timber house built by an Irish quarryman in 1852 which stands at the end of a long dirt driveway that barely rises above the surrounding woods lush with swamp ferns. A good beaver pond could cut them off from civilization entirely. Like a rustic rebuff to lawn ornaments, there’s an old Chevy step van backed into shrubs before the final driveway turn that has alchemized into rust seemingly thin as paper. In its heyday it was a musician’s touring vehicle that carried speakers and instruments. It belongs in an Elliott Landy photo of Bob Dylan or the Band circa 1968 dressed up in dark suits and brim hats like a Nineteenth Century railroad gang, the counter counter-culture that put aside psychedelia for vintage Americana.
I fancy Carol as a back-to-the-lander from the Sixties. With Chris Zaloom, her musician husband at the time, she bought this place in 1971 from a fellow in Florida who’d won it in a poker game. It had an outhouse. It didn’t have electricity or running water. To their friends in Woodstock fourteen miles away it was in Siberia. One drove out to visit in a VW bus. The rest wondered what had become of them. But soon enough other friends from New York City and Ohio moved to the area, establishing a community. Before dark, Carol recalls, they’d carry water for the evening and wipe the soot out of the glass chimneys of their kerosene lanterns. It was an appealing life, a hearkening back to simpler times, made possible by the fact that she didn’t work a nine-to-five job. Forty years later, the house has modern conveniences after renovations but hasn’t lost the old country charms of a place with low white ceiling beams and metal bells that ring from the front doorknob. As I sit down to the bench at the long wooden table where I’ve enjoyed dinner parties over the years—Slow Communication at its finest—Carol serves a bottle of homemade seltzer processed from her well water, the tastiest around. “I might like to live in the 1890—somethings,” she says, “but I’d want penicillin.” In fact, she’s scheduled for a knee replacement in a few days so that she can finally shed the wooden cane she has kept near at hand. She’s not a purist for the past, not like her friend Peddler, a craftsman who attends buckskinners’ rendezvous as if still living in 1840. (For her illustration of Peddler in his hat, beard, and animal hide clothes, see page 176 of Walking Woodstock.) Her cordless phone keeps her busy. She’s a friendly, young grandmotherly-like woman not afraid of the gray appearing in her thick red hair.
Now I learn that her fascination with the past stems from her girlhood in Atlanta, when her family, originally from Gettysburg, spent their vacations visiting Civil War battlefields, In particular, she had a great uncle, who as a twelve year old had been one of the first tourist guides at Gettysburg at the turn of the century and had collected plenty of war memorabilia from the woods. Though he now lived in a brick townhouse in Gettysburg, Carol and her cousins loved to visit the old carriage house in back where in the upstairs loft they unpacked his storage trunk filled with canteens, buckles, and rifles. She was fascinated by these artifacts that brought history back from its dull exile in schoolbooks. Now when she watches “Antiques Roadshow,” she thinks of what a treasure chest her great uncle’s trunk would be today. “They’d go crazy,” she says. In fact, his collection was given to the Gettysburg museum.
From my first poetry book onwards, I’ve commissioned Carol to do my cover illustrations and been delighted by every one. Some of her fans were surprised by her 1950s pulp cover of the dangerous blonde in a red dress for Love in the City of Grudges, a departure from her nature scenes with elements of myth about them, but I wasn’t. I just consider her damned talented. Self-taught she has a style that’s immediately recognizable. “Everybody cuts differently,” she says, as if the practice is an individual as handwriting. What she especially likes about this art form are the surprises inherent in the process that begins with transferring a drawing onto the linoleum tile that feels like hard rubber, then cutting, inking, and printing with a rolling machine that presses the paper against the linocut. The finished print that she lifts off the tile is never a replica of her initial drawing. There are great surprises, usually quite pleasing to her. Not having full control is what she finds exciting about her work. Once when she showed me her collection of cut tiles shelved by the dozens in her upstairs studio, I was surprised to see that they didn’t look like photo negatives, the reverse of a printed image. They looked like abstractions made by burrowing beetles. How could she know that such gouges would produce a tree or a cloud? But she did, adding to the mystique of her work. Many times people browsing the books have asked me about her work. Now, at long last, I can direct them to carolzaloom.com.
* * * *
The Mother Grouse Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges available on-line.