Copyright 2008 Michael Sullivan Smith
The Great Knot is a stone wall 2 meters wide that forms a knot stretching over a half acre. It bridges a slash in the earth made by quarrying into the bedrock exposed at a ridge by a waterfall. The sculpture recycles the rubble left from the quarrying, removing it from this pit and organizing it as a knot to convey its purpose as an Anthropocene creation.
There is an elemental character a land of quarries. The geological yieldings in them are a constant presence in the character of this art. They are forms that have directed man's interventions just as much as the bedrock they extract from have the course and flow of waters.
The Great Knot is a presence within this site specific spirit. It seeks to return to this geomorphic isolation where man is an intentional product of the current interglaciation in a stratotype record of the Holocene: the Anthropocene. It is structured to add to the earth history the intellectual intents of our human presence in something at the scale of the significant forms of the geological past that are exposed throughout the hundreds of quarry settings of the greater site geography of the eastern Catskills foothills... but, as a knot, be recognizable as a work of man.
Above (top): Tribal boundaries at time of Discovery (link to plate with Dutch and English treaty takings and study of decline of native population)
James Eights, M.D., a naturalist scholar in 1835, in the earliest beginnings of the natural sciences, published a study of the landforms between the Catskill escarpment and the Hudson River, following a transit passing through Mount Marion and the Glenerie Falls. This has the first observations on the presence of Lake Albany, the cause of the fissure at Glenerie and the formation of the great Esopus Shoals at Saugerties.
The land form of the southern half of Saugertiesí frontage on the Hudson River, between the lighthouse and Turkey Point, was created by two geological formations and one ancient natural event.
The west shore of the Hudson is formed of three ridges of dense rock filled with millions of years of deposits of sediments between them. In Saugerties one of these bowls runs the entire length from Flatbush on the southern border north to the Great Vly. Its level fields south of the village were the place of plantations called Tendyachemech where the native inhabitants were first encountered by Henry Hudson.
A second bowl is formed west of this between the ridge above the Esopus Rift and the bluestone foothills of the Catskill Mountains. This level formation stretches across the complete southeast base of the Catskills, encompassing all the Churchland in Saugerties and all the Great Plain of Kingston and Hurley. It was the great plantation place the 17th century native inhabitants called Atharacton.
This second bowl became the basin of an immense lake at the end of the last ice age, filled with melt-off as the glacier receded. At some early period beyond human memory a break occurred, at Glenerie, in the ridge that formed the eastern wall of this lake.
The complete lake drained into the Esopus Rift forming the Glenerie Breaks. The force of this flood gouged out the gorge of the Esopus, ate away at the bend under the Plantesie and swirled past Stony Point to create the formations seen at the bridge and dam of the Village, the rock that inspired Henry Hudson's comments that there was good stone for houses in the Hudson Valley.
All the rock material chipped from the banks of the Esopus Rift tumbled and flowed out into the Hudson River and settled to form the Esopus Shoals. The lighthouse and long dock at the Hudsonís shipping channel mark the edge of the shoals, the largest incursion into the flow of the Hudson River anywhere along its length.
This ancient event also caused an extensive landform change at the "Gat", a Dutch word meaning valley. The flood eddy at the Esopus Bend ate out a crater with steep walls forming the separation between the same elevations of Barclay Heights to the south and the level village business district on the north.
In 1825 it was into the depression of this valley scoured out by this ancient flood that Henry Barclay dammed a pond to supply water power for the early industrialization of Saugerties. Along the slopes of this valley rose the streets of the village and the homes of the mill workers.
Where the Esopus Rift meets tide water the vast debris field from that violent event blocked passage to the channel of the Hudson River for all of the colonial period. These fertile shoals were for centuries a place where the natives gathered shell fish and colonial herdsmen grazed and watered their cattle. These marshes were the eastern extent of a vast open meadowland that continued upstream into the rift and across the heights as one vast lea, or open pasture. It was the beauty of the open views this setting offered that inspired the first awareness of the potential of the Gat for industrial development, the accompanying clearing of a channel and the growth of Saugerties as a transportation center.
The modern era began early in Saugerties. It had one of the earliest introductions of industrialization in America. But even as late as 1950 it still maintained this pastoral landscape setting with the estates of Ury, the home of the developers of the industries and businesses of the village, lining the edge of Barclay Heights with its long views over the river and to the mountains.
It is this chain of events that first attracted artists to the beauty of the larger site, and form the Hudson River School of Painting.
The Great Knot, April 27, 2011
Michael Sullivan Smith, 2015
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