Photographs and text by Siobhan Connally

Wheat, rye, clover and corn still grow in the fields that surround the historic Ledig House in the rural northeastern New York hamlet of Omi, which is home to a vast array of interdisciplinary artistic endeavors known collectively as ART/OMI.

Yet the pristine landscape, with its rolling hills, lush wetlands, dense tree-lined groves and fertile soil, is forever altered by the creative process -- not simply that of the share-croppers who are granted permission to till the land in exchange for the performance of odd jobs in and around the expansive property, but of the hundreds of artists who have traveled great distances to be a part of its history. And this fall, a new chapter in its history began with the inauguration of The Fields, a venerable outdoor museum dedicated to providing a showplace for works of contemporary sculpture situated amidst the more than 150 acres of pristine farmland.

ART/OMI, with its mission grounded in providing support to artists and fostering their creative processes, has developed several programs during its brief nine-year history. Throughout the year in this rural retreat near the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, just two hours north of New York City, several programs offer support to specific groups of artists through residency-based offerings -- Art/Omi, Music/Omi and Ledig House, a writers' colony.

Selected artists spend several weeks in comfortable quarters provided by the non-profit, residence-based program. Participants, as they leave behind the challenges of daily survival, are then able to work uninterrupted to produce artworks of all genre with uninhibited fervor.

And the results are inspiring: Painters from Korea create alongside sculptors from Germany, printmakers from Cuba and photographers from the United States, while established writers and translators spend several weeks honing their craft. Musicians and composers, from all walks of life, gather together for composition and camaraderie. Each artist, regardless of their medium of choice, takes from the experience a sense of community that is often not available to them in the solitary of their studios; and each leaves behind a piece of themselves -- a piece of their work in trade.

The new sculpture park features works by more than 30 established and mid-level career artists from around the globe. Walking through the lush park, it is easy to see how the caliber of the work presented and the rate at which ART/OMI officials intend to expand its offerings has positioned the outdoor gallery to become a major sales and viewing institution for sculpture in the world art establishment.

The sculpture park is the brainchild of ART/OMI founding member and New York City businessman Francis Greenburger. The design and installation of the various fields were two years in the making and are still considered works in progress, which designers hope will evolve naturally in time. According to Greenburger, future objectives for The Fields include not only expanding number of works to be found there, but also plans to utilize the park for educational purposes.

This year the schedule, aside from offering basic school outings and tours, includes plans for landscape architecture students from City College to use the park as a template for their design projects.

Its vision of the future not withstanding, ART/OMI's past is what shaped The Fields' impressive form, and gives its curators, Kathleen Heike Triem and Peter Franck, the inspiration for its anticipated cyclical evolution.

In the beginning:
Internationally recognized Manhattan gallery owner Andre Emerich, whose influence is largely credited with the emergence and furtherance of galleries and sculpture parks dedicated to contemporary art, provided The Fields with its veritable largess of notable works. For the elder visionary, the park is a continuation of his dream, born out of practicality decades ago.

"A painter can roll up his canvases and tuck them away in a corner of his studio, but a sculptor has about a year before he outgrows his storage and can no longer create," said Emerich, during the mid-afternoon opening celebration in October. Remembering the inspiration, Emerich recounted a letter he had written to the editor of Art in America, urging the publication to do its part in meeting the needs of the sculptors, whose work increasingly grew to monumental proportions. The creative endeavor he believed would become stifled and the dealer would be impotent to enhance sales since providing ample space and time to for the new works to be properly viewed was daunting if not impossible.

The letter, however, went unheeded. So, several years later, Emerich followed his own advice and built the outdoor sculpture park he had envisioned. Known as "Top Gallant," and located in Pawling, N.Y., the park was nationally and internationally celebrated for its innovation. There, artists enjoyed ample space in an environment that seem to lend itself flawlessly to the scale and demeanor of contemporary sculpture.

And it is in this tradition that ART/OMI embarks on its sculpture park, finding an extended home for the works to be viewed and sold, in a setting where they will inspire as well as adorn.

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