Chris Ramirez for The New York Times
True Colors, Shining Through. And Taste?
By JANNY SCOTT
(repeated from the NY Times article on line May 28, 2003)
TANNERSVILLE, N.Y., May 21 - After Elena Agostinis
Patterson painted her gray house orange (and purple and
yellow and green - with dentures in a glass decorating the
bedroom shutters and a toothpaste tube on the bathroom
ones), a funny thing happened to the traffic patterns in
this languishing Catskill Mountains village.
Drivers took to veering off Main Street onto Hill Street
and making a beeline down Cranberry Road onto Ms.
Patterson's winding driveway through the woods. There they
would stop to gawk at the Technicolor apparition before
them, some even hopping out to wander the property, ogling
Which got Ms. Patterson thinking: For years the burghers of
Tannersville had wondered how to revive the area's economy
and its lost tourism glory; if they were serious about
making the village a destination, why not do to
Tannersville, population 440, what she had done to her
Now plans are in the works to paint Skip Pratt's commercial
building on Main Street turquoise, lilac and marigold -
with a five-foot-high portrait of Mr. Pratt and his wife in
the style of <object.title class="Movie" idsrc="nyt_ttl"
value="1970">"American Gothic."</object.title> There is
talk of putting stars and stripes on the back side of Tom
McManus's pharmacy, and soap suds, tumbling clothes and a
water line on the commercial laundry's shutters.
The mayor of Tannersville, Glenn Weyant, is crazy about the
plans. He sees the prospect of Tannersville's economic
rebirth in Ms. Patterson's proposal to paint many of the
buildings along Main Street in colors like turmeric,
marigold and celery. Business owners have signed up, some
endorsing Ms. Patterson's color schemes, others
substituting their own colors.
But not everyone is thrilled. A delegation of aesthetically
minded residents of the village and neighboring hamlets
turned up at a meeting of the village board this month,
wanting a say in the process and asking that the colors be
toned down. Critics have confronted business owners, saying
that they find the proposed colors shocking and that they
fear Tannersville is going the way of Disney World.
"You know, in Latin there is an expression: de gustibus non
disputandum est - don't argue about taste," said Richard J.
Rem, the supervisor for the Town of Hunter, which
encompasses the village of Tannersville. "This is an
argument about what's artistically and aesthetically
appropriate for this village and this town. That's a tough
area to handle."
Hunter was a tourism center in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, the home of major resort hotels, including what
is said to have been the largest wooden hotel building in
the world. Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt vacationed
here, residents say, along with many members of the social
elite of the New York metropolitan area.
But the Depression, interstate highways and air travel took
a heavy toll. Then came the economic downturn in the late
1980's and early 1990's, followed by only a partial
Though more and more New Yorkers have been buying second
homes in Hunter, there is a dearth of well-paying jobs for
permanent residents and the poverty rate is relatively
"When things don't get better for 90 years, you don't take
risks with the one asset in the world that you have," said
Sean M. Byrne, a lawyer and fifth-generation area resident.
"And nobody knew Elena before she started this. It required
people to put their faith and trust into somebody that they
previously didn't know. And that's risky."
Ms. Patterson, a painter and sculptor who grew up in South
Africa and lives in Bronxville, first came to Tannersville
with her husband, Mark Patterson, an investment banker.
They began building a weekend house there in 1986. After
expanding it twice, Ms. Patterson decided the north side
looked boring. So she had the house painted yellow
marigold, periwinkle, orange blossom and split pea.
The stairs to her studio are painted in alternating
stripes. The shutters on the front are decorated with icons
of activities going on inside. Large boulders next to the
driveway have been painted, too. In the back, elaborately
painted columns tell the stories of the Patterson family's
roots in South Africa, time spent in Mexico and the
passions and adventures of their two grown sons.
Inside, the wooden bunk beds in one bedroom are upholstered
in pigskin. Another bedroom is decorated in bright red and
blue Masai fabric. Mr. Patterson's office is wallpapered in
When Ms. Patterson decided she was unhappy with two white
living room chairs covered in cotton, she took acrylic
paint and painted them in a cow-skin pattern.
"We had unbelievable traffic coming up to the house," she
recalled. "We had some people who walked up in the middle
of a rainstorm. We had convoys of cars coming to look at
the place. So I went to the mayor and the town supervisor
toward the end of last summer. I said, `Wouldn't it be nice
if we could have that kind of traffic in Tannersville?' "
Mr. Weyant, the mayor, who quit his job running an
aerospace-parts distribution center in Florida to run a bed
and breakfast inn in Tannersville, jumped at Ms.
Patterson's idea. He had already been recruiting prison
inmates to paint the village clerk's office and marshaling
volunteers to spruce up the sporting goods store.
As it happened, the village and town had applied for
several grants to improve the facades of stores and houses
in the village. At the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on
Main Street, Mr. Weyant mentioned Ms. Patterson's proposal
to Mr. Byrne, who is chairman of the Hunter Foundation, a
nonprofit organization that is helping pay for some of the
Mr. Byrne then met with Ms. Patterson at her house. He says
he was struck by her skill at blending colors "with
impeccably good taste." The house reminded him of "a living
Andy Warhol picture."
But he says he never imagined she would be able to convince
business owners with the ease with which she since has.
"That was what I saw as the big challenge," he said.
There are now about half a dozen buildings on Main Street
scheduled for Patterson-influenced paint jobs as part of
the facade project, and another group that will be painted
independently under the aegis of the owners themselves. And
Ms. Patterson is working with the owners of another four
businesses on plans that might go into effect later this
year when another grant comes through.
Word of the plans trickled out. Carol A. Vannuchi says she
heard about it in the Quickway market and made a point of
going to this month's village board meeting. Also at the
meeting was Dede Terns-Thorpe, a resident of the
neighboring hamlet of Haines Falls, where she serves on the
board of the library and is a member of the ladies' fire
"My personal feeling is these colors should be staying more
historical," Mrs. Terns-Thorpe said. "They make like a sage
green and white."
She added: "Stay with the yellow but go with a historical
yellow. The colors were fine but they should be tamed way
down. You know, a very pale yellow is pretty."
Maggie N. Landis, the owner of a 133-year-old Victorian
building in the center of town that houses Maggie's Krooked
Cafe, said she had worked with Ms. Patterson to come up
with a mutually acceptable color scheme. She said she had
wanted colors that she felt fit with the historic nature of
the community as well as with the natural environment.
And Mr. Rem, the town supervisor?
"You're throwing me
into the cauldron here," he protested, chuckling, when
asked his opinion. "Yes, I have an opinion. I think Elena's
got a good idea. And she certainly has demonstrated the
energy and ability to make this happen. I think at the same
time we do need to keep within certain traditional colors,
and that there is a place for a marriage of the two."