Artist Profile: Moira Kelly

“There’s an Olde Hotel”


Artist Profile: Moira Kelly

“There’s an Olde Hotel”

The Old Hotel at Maxon Mills is the new home for the Wassaic Project which is celebrating its 4th summer festival August 5 – 7.  The former railroad hotel has not been renovated since it rented single rooms to itinerant workers and railroad men before closing in 1924.  It was subsequently a novelty factory where single women were allowed to live.

The ceilings are peeling and the walls are cracked and have remnants of ancient wallpaper and paint.  The owners of the building like it that way. 

Moira Kelly is an Amenia artist, who paints floors and murals around the area, including the Saperstein’s colorful mural in Millerton.  She was inspired by the Old Hotel to create a historical installation of what it might have been like to stay there in the old days. 

“I tried to imagine the kind of people who might have arrived here by horse and cart to work in the iron furnace, the railroad or at Borden’s.  Perhaps they were hired skilled workers coming from farther afield and needed to stay in the area for the duration of their jobs.”

Ms. Kelly has depicted two of the men who might have shared the biggest room along the hotel’s dank hallway.  As models she chose two local carpenters, Will McCabe and Jimmy Griffin, who work for the timber framer, Bob Barlow, across Route. 22 from the Mill.  “I thought that two fellows might have shared the same bed with pillows at either end or sleeping in shifts.”

“It reminded me of an old English miner’s song about the fellows dreaming of beautiful ladies,” said Kelly, “It was about two miners who had to share a bed: ‘Keep your feet still, Geordie.  Though we may not be so happy through the day, keep your feet still, Geordie, lad, and don’t you drive my bonnie dreams away.”

Kelly photographed the two local carpenters, who she often works with, wearing their winter overalls and woolen jackets.  “I figured that the clothing hasn’t changed much since the ‘20’s for these kind of workers.”  Kelly drew life size portraits of the men in pencil on the walls: Will is six-foot eight, and Jimmy is five-foot six.

The room is a reproduction of what might have existed when the hired workers stayed there: a wash bowl, a period table (lent by Laliberte Woodworking) with an original 1930’s Scrabble game that she found in a woodworker’s box at the dump.  The game spells out the words “hook,” “clamp” and “bridle,”  words befitting skilled workers. 

“Will found three old lanterns from the railroad and I put some period books from my collection on the shelves: ‘Protective Clothing’, ca. 1930 and ‘Self Defense’ from 1920.  I decorated the walls with squashed rusty metal bottle tops, old license plates and flattened cans.  I also found very old wood working tools that I dug up in my yard.  All these things had relevance for me and this area.”

Kelly even created an authentic magic calendar with cobalt blue cigarette end papers marking off the weeks.  “I wish I had an old Borden’s milk bottle.  It would be nice if someone would find one for me.”

It took Ms. Kelly two days for each of the men she portrayed.  She drew close-ups of Jimmy while he was sitting on the porch of Maxon Mills.  “I had to lie on the floor on the lead paint to do the feet, and therefore the feet are rather sketchy.  I played country music on my cell phone, which I finally figured out how to use while I was there, and that helped me get into the spirit of the place.”

Kelly said it was a wonderful experience working with the Wassaic Project curators for the Old Hotel area, Ryan Frank and Raisa Shoup.  “I did not feel any age gap while working with the other artists and everyone was incredibly supportive of each other.  It was an indescribably amazing experience.”