By Judy Garrison
The Egners welcomed me to their country kitchen where we chatted about the weekend just ended. They’d enjoyed it with their daughter, Juliana, a Cornell student who studied in Italy last semester, and her visiting friends. They got a particular kick out of the outdoor music the young people made. Having known the Egners for years, I looked forward to filling in some of the blanks about their lives. I learned that John and Linda bought their country home, part of the former Ike Fletcher farm, on the Tremperskill at the State Road junction in 1986, a decision they’ve never regretted. They enjoy summer evenings on their enlarged rear deck which overlooks farmland and the stream, mindful that former occupants could see the train go by from that same vista. The authentic feeling and charmingly decorated late 1800s farmhouse, with John’s art from many eras hanging on the walls throughout, has benefitted from John’s repairs. I toured Linda’s perennial and vegetable gardens—she gifted me with a huge turnip!– and was amazed at her gorgeous perennial morning glories climbing a trellis up one barn side. The former dairy barn houses a rustic semi-outdoor porch, John’s extensive wood-working studio and a large, airy painting studio which John generously turns over to the barn swallows during their high season (their spatter patterns are interesting, but not quite art!).
The Egners spent one winter here, in 1989, during the first 6 months of daughter Juliana’s life. Juliana later learned to swim at the Andes pool and, starting in childhood, was part of a coterie of girls who were comfortable going house to house and sharing activities. Linda and John likewise have long-term, solid friendships in the area. Early on John was a volunteer for the Andes Fire Department and received a 5-year pin, but later realized his schedule didn’t permit a further commitment to volunteering.
John, who is showing his wooden in-laid reliefs at the gallery 61 Main in Andes and selections from a recent show, Evolutions, at the Slate Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from Wayne State University where he taught for 21 years. His family lived in Germantown, Philadelphia until he was 13 when they moved to the country-like outskirts. John worked on area farms until he was old enough for a job in the clubhouse at the local country club. With a father who was a layout designer John undoubtedly had a model for viewing the world visually. Later, while teaching at Wayne State, after college, and graduate school at Yale, he grew enamored of the ferment, particularly the downtown music scene, in Detroit, and spent virtually every night in clubs and bars listening to blues, jazz and rock. In 1979 while on sabbatical he rented a studio in NYC, where he could concentrate on his painting, large abstract oils at that time, and from then on he commuted to Detroit to teach his classes.
Asked about the seemingly wide diversity of art he has produced over time, John explains that he has worked in and out of painting and wooden sculpture over the years: the sensibility stays intact while the medium changes. When in Andes he has worked in his woodworking shop almost every day for the last year and a half. Having a well-equipped shop also enables him to fix and fabricate many things out of wood.
I had to ask him about his golfing. With characteristic off-hand modesty he explains he started late, at 40, and claims to be “flat-out untalented”. But he does love playing golf: being outdoors, getting that sense of total focus. And he enjoys the people. At the Delhi College Golf Course he is in a Tuesday night league, partnering with Bob Cole. He sometimes plays mid-week, and has a regular Saturday group when his pals are up from the city.
Like John, Linda grew up in an atmosphere of art and design with a father who was an art director in advertising. Born in England, she was raised by her British Mom and Irish Dad in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Right out of high school Linda started work at well-known Cranbrook Academy, and climbed the ladder to museum administrator. At 30, with a yen to try branching out geographically, she took at job at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, housed in the former Andrew Carnegie Manion on upper Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in the summer of 1983, and worked there for 19 years as Managing Director. John and Linda were married on Christmas Eve in 1983. This was a year of happy incident for her! In 2002 she moved to the Folk Art Museum on 53rd Street in Manhattan (next door to the Museum of Modern Art) where she is Deputy Director. She responded to my curiosity about the job by explaining that she oversees finance and budget, facilities, human resources, projects, exhibitions, special events, working closely with the Board of Trustees, an immensely encompassing responsibility, requiring a full range of expertise. Knowing Linda’s all-around competence, groundedness and congeniality, I can imagine that she is tremendously good at what she does. She feels lucky to have her employment and acknowledges that in today’s world requiring advanced degrees it would be highly unlikely for someone to be able to work their way up they way she did. I asked her if she learned on the job. She credits the great mentors she had all the way along, and the mandatory training procurements required by the Smithsonian for enabling her to do just that.
Linda looks forward to an upcoming show to be put on by the Director of The Drawing Center. Currently the Museum is showing Women Only: Folk Art by Female Hands and The Private Collection of Henry Darger. Linda showed me a book illustrating Darger’s drawings and collages. He was a janitor, living alone, whose huge stash of work, much of it patched together from objects found on the street, was discovered when he died.
Because Linda had solid employment, and success in the art world is touch and go, she became the primary breadwinner and John the primary caretaker of their daughter, an arrangement I know they have handled with grace and mutual respect.
John and Linda exemplify a creative, hard-working couple who are equally at home in their loft in SOHO in the city and their outdoor life in the country, people of enthusiasm and good cheer. So glad to have you as neighbors! ~