By ELIZABETH COOPER
The spirit of creativity that has defined the Cherry Valley for generations is being renewed and rejuvenated in a new venue, and its director has now been selected for a $10,000.00 state grant to expand her work this summer.
Angelica Palmer, who grew up in the village, is one of just 10 recipients of the New York State Council on the Arts’ competitive Rural and Traditional Arts fellowship. Her Cherry Valley Water Project is aimed at fostering a closer relationship between artists, community members, and Cherry Valley’s waterways, and will roll out over the summer.
“I am excited and honored to receive the NYSCA fellowship on behalf of myself and the sacred waters of Cherry Valley,” she said. “My hope is that through creative exploration with the water it will teach us its life-giving ways of connection, transformation and peace.”
Linda Franke of the Arts Council for Wyoming County, which facilitated the granting process in partnership with NYSCA, said her panel had been impressed with Palmer’s focus on her hometown.
“She loves where she lives and was celebrating that,” Franke said. “They really felt her energy and they liked that she was very thoughtful on the topic.”
The water project will feature artistic workshops and performances and will even include a walking map of the Cherry Valley Creek.
“I very much believe the water is alive and that a relationship can be fostered between the people and our water,” Palmer said. “And as such, what better way than to sit next to the creek and write a poem. I want to help people come out of their homes and connect with nature, with the water, and with each other.”
The Water Project is just one of many artistic and community oriented endeavors Palmer is spearheading as a way to give something back to the place she feels has given her so much.
Palmer’s father was Paul Bley, a renowned jazz pianist. When he died in 2016 at 83 there was an outpouring of support from the community Palmer had come to see as an extended family. Then, in 2019, her sister Vannessa and her two small children were killed in a tragic car crash in which a mentally ill man purposely caused a head-on collision on a California road. The love and support Palmer felt during that time sparked a deep desire to return the favor.
The Water Project is one of many endeavors underway at Palmer’s Telegraph School for Performing and Healing Arts, located on Alden Street, near the center of the historic village. The mission of the school is as much about community as it is about art.
“People are so isolated now,” she said. “And having a place to come together and be creative is very important for both individual and community health.”
The Telegraph School opened in 2022 and since then has hosted everything from dance and yoga classes to clothing swaps to women’s gatherings. At Easter time an egg hunt extending up and down local streets attracted numerous families. An open mic night held the first Friday of every month has become increasingly successful and now draws standing-room-only crowds. In addition to poetry and music, the open mic nights feature everything from juggling and puppetry to stand-up comedy.
“It is different every time and I love it,” she said. “It is beautiful and it’s a great expression of the vision I had for the space.”
Beat Generation Roots
Palmer, 42, grew up in Cherry Valley and attended local schools. Her family’s roots in the village hark back to the early 1970s, however.
Her father purchased property from one of the Beat Generation intellectuals attracted to the area by poet Alan Ginsberg and others in his Committee on Poetry organization. Underground publisher and writer Charles Plymell had purchased several properties in Cherry Valley, and in 1973 he posted an ad in New York City’s alternative “Village Voice” newspaper offering a building on Alden Street up for sale.
Though Bley wasn’t part of the Beat scene, and didn’t know any of the artists or writers already in Cherry Valley, he decided to buy without coming up and Plymell offered to throw in a second building at a low price. Bley agreed and that’s how he came to own both 81 and 83 Alden, Palmer said. At first he came to Cherry Valley for short respites from the city, but later moved there permanently.
In Cherry Valley, Bley and his wife, video artist Carol Goss, immersed themselves in the intellectual community they found and raised their daughters in the midst of it.
“The Committee on Poetry was not as active when I was a child as it was in the ’70s,” Palmer said. “But I definitely grew up in that culture here in Cherry Valley.”
Her own extended family was scattered across the country, but the vibrant family formed by those friendships was close at hand and supplied her with all she needed.
Palmer graduated from Cornell University, traveled in Eastern Europe and then lived in California for a period, but she always knew she would come back and raise her own family in Cherry Valley. She now has two children of her own and is glad to be back.
“The community is so supportive,” she said. “And the nature is so supportive.”
Old Friends and New
Family friend Richard Saba also bought a house from Plymell in the early 1980s, and though he didn’t yet know Bley, his presence in town was a big part of the draw.
“At the time, Paul Bley was kind of a demigod, he was so important in the jazz world,” Saba, an artist and musician, said.
His house was just a few doors down from the Bleys’ and the families became friends.
Saba noted that even as a child Palmer had a unique combination of free spiritedness and a “rigorous mathematical mind.” That pairing now makes her perfect for both developing and implementing creative ideas. When she returned to Cherry Valley and wanted to be involved with the Cherry Valley Community Facilities Corp., which he is part of, he was overjoyed, especially when she took over the organization’s bookkeeping. He said he looks forward to seeing her focus even more of her talents in the village.
“She has become very much part of the cultural core of life here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Karen Kremer got to know Palmer more recently through her work in the community. She said she noticed that Palmer was either involved with or spearheading countless community events, from creative ways to bring shoppers to local businesses to managing festivals that include everything from live music to yard sales. The creation of the Telegraph School seems like the perfect extension of all this.
“I just loved the idea of what she was trying to do,” Kremer said. “[She is] creating a place for people to attend classes in meditation, yoga, dance, and other creative forms of relaxation and expression, a place that also serves, of course, to create community by making connections between individuals and generations.”
The Water Project
Palmer applied for the NYSCA grant because it could fund a project that would encompass many things she values. She decided to craft a series of workshops culminating in a performance to draw attention to local water resources.
“Creating a project that connects the people to the water here is very important,” she said. “Climate change and the role water plays in that, our developing relationship with water, its patterns and its needs will benefit us greatly in the future.”
Cherry Valley has an interesting relationship with its water resources, Palmer said. It was once famous for its lithia springs, which contain the mineral that makes the drug lithium. Some believe the Cherry Valley Creek to be the headwaters of the Susquehanna River, though Cooperstownians make that claim for Otsego Lake. The village straddles two important watersheds, the Susquehanna and the Mohawk. And from an environmental standpoint, Palmer noted, the village lacks a sewer system, so residents must use septic systems.
Workshops will include creative writing, music, dance, and puppetry, and will be free and open to the public.
Buildings with a History
The building the Telegraph School inhabits at 83 Alden Street is one of those her father purchased 50 years ago from Plymell, but it has an older history that is also tied to the school’s mission.
Once owned by the artist and inventor Samuel F.B. Morse, it housed a school of the same name from the 1850s until 1903. Morse lived in Cherry Valley for a period and taught students how to use the telegraph machine he had invented and the Morse code system it used. To Palmer, the story of the telegraph blends well with the spirit of the school she has founded.
Morse was in New York City when he received news that his beloved wife was dying in Connecticut. Though he set out immediately, he arrived too late.
“He had missed her because of the speed of communication and it became his life’s purpose to make it faster,” Palmer said. “What we do is we work in all these different forms of communication through performance, dancing and music.
The purpose is to communicate with our community and with each other. The distance can be very small or it can be further, but it’s about connection and innovation.”