January 2019 -- Tevet-Shevat 5779,  Volume 25, Issue 1

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A New Light Shines on

The Borscht Belt

With an homage to the past, Westchester Community College Fine Arts Gallery is featuring a traveling exhibition based on Marisa Scheinfeld’s widely acclaimed book, The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland {Cornell University Press}, on view until February 22.


The exhibition includes over 30 large scale color photographs and a selection of archival Borscht Belt ephemera including postcards, brochures, menus, soaps, paper weights and more from the authors own collection, giving context to the once famous resort hotels of the Catskill Mountain region.


Raised in the Catskills, Scheinfeld took her first black and white photography class at age 15. In 2002, she graduated from The State University of New York at Albany having studied under photographer Phyllis Galembo and photographer Abby Robinson at The School of Visual Arts.


“I look at photography as an act of preservation. You capture a slice of life and time,” she explains. “I worked at the Concord Hotel while I was in High School, so years later, when I was working on the book, I  wanted to celebrate  the Borscht Belt, even though things have  changed. Capturing the abandoned remains with my camera, I was mourning the loss but also cherishing it.”


As a photographer, she is highly motivated by her interest in ruins and the history embedded in them. “The remains of the Borscht Belt became an intriguing adventure as it was a place that had a huge impact on me and the community at large. Of the 50 or so bungalows in years gone by, more than one quarter are now eradicated. A majority of people stopped vacationing in the region and left crumbling buildings.


“You can’t recreate the past but you can preserve it. One of my recent favorite photographs from the book and the exhibit, is the picture with the fern growing out of the pool. It shows something new coming out of the past. The cover of the book was also very important to me. It was  taken at Grossinger’s  and it was just a picture of  a single lawn chair.  Today, many small Catskill area towns are being revitalized and the future is emerging.”


Her career path took her to California in the early 2000’s.  In 2009, she was accepted into the graduate program at The School of Art, Art History and Design at San Diego State University and over the course of her studies worked with Arthur Ollman, photographer and founding director of MoPA, photographer Kim Stringfellow and Dr. Carol McCusker, Curator of Photography at the Harn Museum at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Scheinfeld received her Master of Fine Arts in the spring of 2011 and relocated back to her home state of New York.


Currently, an adjunct instructor of Photography at SUNY Purchase and Westchester Community College, the Katonah resident is working on a second book. Interested in landscapes, history and folklore, she is tinkering with ideas she says, using a broad theme that involves New York State and the Hudson Valley.


When Scheinfeld had her book published in 2016 with 129 photographs. “I was very appreciative of the response it received. The Center for Jewish History helped develop the exhibit with me,” she mentions. “Even though there is a pathos that runs through the project, it has toured in many places.  And in 2020 the exhibit will be featured in the New York State Museum in Albany!”


Scheinfeld’s photographs have been exhibited widely and her work has been featured in various publications including Newsweek, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Her photographic projects and work as a guest lecturer, have taken her from the United States to Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, India and beyond.


To view the exhibit while in the County, visit Westchester Fine Arts Gallery in the Academic Arts Building, 3rd floor, 75 Grasslands Road, Valhalla. Gallery Hours are Monday through Saturday 10am-3pm and Thursday evenings, 4-6pm. Synagogue groups that wish a private tour with the photographer should visit borschtbeltbook.com



Staff Report