Thursday, June 21, 2018

Up-and-coming excellence

By Kevin Conroy
There comes a point when a million can become a singularity of experience, as with the Honesdale art installation Paper Caves, as with the town of Honesdale itself.

Original sketches for Paper Caves culled influences from nature and architecture, but the work evolved on its own into the surging masses of paper cones sculpted into cerebral folds, or cave walls; perception builds upon how one immerses in the experience.

Brainchild of Samuelle Green, a Parsons School of Design grad who specializes in internet-based prop sets and commercial murals, Paper Caves inhabits the first floor of a building at Basin and Main Streets in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Green, tired of the Brooklyn life, returned to her native Honesdale and corralled a group of artists into creating this massive work comprised of paper. “It’s nice to have it in an unexpected place,” she says.  

Green formed an undulating structure from wire mesh, and artists supervised by Greene came to cut the bindings from old books, books of different ages and age colors from almost whites to antique sepias, twisting individual pages into long, elegant cones set into place. One is struck by the fact that each page contains the expressions of some human mind in print; it is almost as if they whisper to passersby.

One of the great beauties of this work is its accessibility. Children love it, recognizing flowers and beehives in the wall patterns; adults are amazed at the cumulative effect of the cones, estimated to be at one million. “Here people can see art for art’s sake,” says Green. “A lot of people aren’t able to access an immersive installation.”

Paper Caves, at host building Basin and Main (eponymously named for its address) is open from 1 till 4 on Saturdays, and groups are welcome with prior reservations. The easiest way to make contact is through the Facebook page, Basin and Main at Lot 21. Keep an eye on the web page, too,  for upcoming BYOB music events. Green has stated the work will remain intact through this summer before it is dismantled.

And when that happens what a pity for Honesdale.

But Honesdale is tough. Before America’s late 1800’s influx of immigrants, before the City of Scranton, before Honesdale itself, the location was a muddy, rough-and-tumble hub where the D&H Gravity Railroad traveling from Lackawaxen coal fields met the D&H Canal that transported coal to the Hudson River, from there to America’s newly forming industrial centers. All of this is explained and displayed at the Wayne County Historical Society Museum.

More than Honesdale’s attic, the museum also houses a large collection of Native American artifacts, including a dugout canoe circa 1600. The stunning cut glass displays from local industry are worth a look. You can’t miss the Historical Society, it’s the only building on Main Street with a locomotive in the window.

Take some time to wander around Main Street. It’s worth a day.
Bloom, at the corner of 10th and Main, is a donation-based shop filled with colorful scarves, handcrafted jewelry, beads and artwork. All proceeds from Bloom, including monies from group jewelry-making parties, support programs for women and children battling cancer. It is part of a larger organization established in 2000,The Portable Playhouse, a nonprofit that provides art therapy programs for women and children in wards and outpatient cancer centers.

“We are in the process of building a new retreat center for women and children fighting cancer,” says Bloom proprietress Maryann Corey. “It will be completely free of cost to our guests.” The project name LonaKana means “Gift from Heaven” in the Hawaiian language. Conceived by Corey, the facility is intended to provide a peaceful environment to promote healing and brighten spirits.

Half a block distant is a narrow passageway squeezed between two 19th century buildings that leads to several shops and a secret garden: this is Maude Alley, an unexpected find bounded by 10th and 11th streets on Main. The Mount Pleasant herbary grows botanicals in nearby hills and meadows, their shop perfuming the Maude Alley courtyard. Bā&Me Vietnamese restaurant serves up soothing pho, the classic Vietnamese soup of rice noodles, cilantro and mint, ginger and garlic in a clear vegan broth of flavors subtle and impossible to pinpoint. The pork spring roll is a burst of freshness wrapped in clear rice paper displaying rice noodles, cucumber, herbs, and pickled carrot set off with complex peanut dipping sauce.

Honesdale traffic stands on its brakes the instant a pedestrian steps off the curb onto Main Street. And both sides of the Street are cool.

We’ll get to coffee in a second, but first a word about Black & Brass’s chocolate bars. One variety, made with Black & Brass French roast, contains 72% cacao and salted caramel. Whoa! The coffee is great, too, their Arabica beans roasted in house. “Relax a hot minute,” says owner Travis Rivera. “Take a hiatus from the world – your job, the challenges of the day – to enjoy a good cup of coffee.” A body can’t help but unbend there the furniture is so comfortable, the atmosphere so sociable.

Tea your thing? Diagonally across the street from B&B is Loose Leaf Pages, an independent bookstore specializing in small press and self-published books. When you walk in the place smells nice from the herbal blend loose leaf teas they brew. It’s relaxing and stimulating, a place to cozy up with a good book and good cup of tea as the world goes by. That is, unless you have a train to catch, which is altogether possible.

Excursion trains run spring, summer and fall on the Stourbridge Line from Honesdale, like the hour-and-a-half Pocono Express taking in grand views of the Lackawaxen River, or the two Fourth of July trains leaving from Lackawaxen and Hawley that take you to downtown Honesdale in time for the fireworks, then back again. Avoid those parking issues.  

There are special event trains throughout the year: the WWII Troop Train, the Beer and Brat Fest, and the Ritz Theater and Dinner Train, and more. Much more. Calendar and tickets available at Check out the collaboration between NorthEast Wilderness Experience and the Stourbridge Line; it’s a half-day kayak trip down the Lackawaxen and a train ride back to town. No paddling upstream. 

When you disembark after an outing what could be better than some great eats and a great beer. Right next door to the Loose Leaf tea room is Here and Now. 

Here and Now brewery doesn’t bother with cliché farm-to-table labels, they’re hyper-local and that is who and what they are. Owner Allaina Propst has a huge respect for local farms. Actually, Chef Benjamin Cooper moved from Boston to work on a farm, then came on board at Here and Now. Cooper changes the menu to match ingredient availability; the ramp and parmesan soup is a good example: ramps are available wild for a short time in spring, then exit the menu when they’re done.

Propst set up shop in what was once Main Street’s Woolworth 5 & Dime to create an urban, minimalist feel of raw brick walls with patchy mortar and the original tin ceiling. The eats and brews amaze. Duck Fries, French-fried potatoes cooked in duck fat, are crisp, delicious, and served up with tangy homemade mayo. The Kelsey in the Woods Pizza of shiitake goat cheese, caramelized onion and garlic sausage will have you stomping your foot on the floor it’s so good.

The house porter, Bat Patterns, is a dark, complex roller coaster of bitter with tones of grapefruit and baking spice. Light and refreshing is Le Dale, the house saison, well rounded with a slight dissipating bitterness and a note of citrus. So have at it.

Have at all of Honesdale… the antique shops, the architecture, the friendly people. Check out The Cooperage. There’s always something going on there from the monthly farm market to live music and entertainment, their artisan craft show.

The best time to visit Honesdale is Thursday through Saturday. Unless you’re going to church the place is closed for business on Sunday. And you should really go see Paper Caves before it closes. You really should.