GEORGE BALLANTINE AND MISIA LEONARD -The Power of Connecting – April 2007

By Brenda Reeser

Misia greets me at the door of her country home on Ruff Road in Andes with her usual easy smile. I am always struck by her dexterity and gracefulness. When she moves, she flows. She was born in Warsaw, Poland four years before the start of World War II. She was a child of a well-to-do family, always artistically and politically active. Everything changed with the war and she and family had to leave their country and all their possessions behind. She considers herself a “war child”, and has become a political activist because of the horrors she experienced during the war.

In l991 she bought a farmhouse in Andes and became a weekender. “It has echoes of southern Poland,” she tells me. Later, Misia met George in Decker’s store and the rest is history. It’s a blustery winter day and I am happy to be inside. I take a seat near the wood stove, opposite George, whom I’ve known for many years. He’s a handsome man with a strong, square jaw. He has a striking presence; capable of so many emotions, and he is unafraid to express them.

Because she cares for old buildings, Misia has renovated her home without ruining its farmhouse appeal. There is no pretense. Only interesting clutter: books, textured throws and pillows. George’s paintings hang throughout the house. Others are stacked and lean against the wall. There are books on the side table and the latest copy of “The Sun” magazine. A cast iron pot of soup sits on the stove.  And there is a kettle on the large round oak table.

I’ve always admired this couple for their ability to be accessible and real to one another so I want to learn more about how these two artists live together. George is a landscape artist and painter. To make a living he was a farmer for a time and operated heavy highway equipment along the reservoir and on Route l7. Misia is an architect focused on historic preservation. She is a potter as well. There is solidarity in their relationship, in their aspirations, their joy and sorrow.

Every day George visits his studio on lower Main Street in Andes giving both artists their creative, private time. Each one needs space and they respect the fact that each needs plenty of room. George enjoys his time painting, listening to music and meditating. His studio used to be a gas station he tells me. Farmers gathered after delivering milk to the creamery. “I can still smell manure on those farmers’ boots,” he smiles. “That smell triggers so many wonderful memories.” Time is also spent reflecting on friends who have passed away, the possibilities for the future and what he perceives as the successes and failures of his life.

“As long as we can come home to one another, after being apart…” Misia says as she puts another log in the stove. “And one way we express what we are together is through George’s paintings, and paintings should be looked at.  If someone likes a painting of his, I am happy to frame it to help with the sale.” They are currently working on getting another art exhibit ready for the summer of 2007. Stay tuned.

Misia spent 22 years working for the City of New York, and the last eight years as the Director of the Historic Preservation Office for the Department of Design and Construction in New York City. She also taught a preservation course for architects at City College of New York, for which she wrote the curriculum. She conducts workshops on architectural conservation methodology, including one recently in Poland. Now retired, she does volunteer consulting work, for the Andes Public Library and for Chapel Hall in Franklin. She is also Chapel Hall’s official architect and project coordinator, one of her “for pay” projects.

I tell them that I had read that poet Rainer Maria Rilke thought, in order for us to truly see the landscape, we must detach or distance ourselves from it. George’s face becomes stern and there is deliberate concentration and an urgency to respond. “You have to become involved and close with the landscape. Enter into it like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. I observe it up close and from a distance. To separate yourself from it is to miss it; the sights, the sounds and the smells aren’t there for you because of that distance. We are a part of nature. We are not separate from it!!”

George is a plein air painter, surrounding himself with the outdoors. He has his personal way of seeing landscapes. He removes himself from academic conventions and comes face to face with nature. There is depth to his landscapes and great colors of bold greens. Vital, dynamic colors. George also considers the contouring work that he does with his bulldozer to be a form of earth sculpture. Both the farm now owned by Judd and Diane Maze and Ballantine Park bear testament to this talent.

Misia also believes that the essence of who we are is that we are part of nature. “If we keep taking ourselves away from that we begin to create real problems for ourselves. We deny who we are: temporary residents on the planet, dependent on its life-giving forces.”

It’s time to end our talk, yet I want to linger and be with them a little longer. Misia suggests that we all look around us and truly notice what our day is like.  She and George enjoy their morning coffee together, watch the birds and stay focused to the details of the day. “These are the real moments in our lives,” she suggests. “And I want to delete longing.” George says. “It’s a sweet pain. But a pain.”

I leave having learned more about the interconnectedness in this couple. Each person stands alone, yet each person enriches the other’s life. And I realize that Misia and George are living the gifts and the talents that are in them. How fortunate we are to have them here, making contributions to the community of Andes. I look forward to visiting them again. ~