by Bill Batson
An entrepreneurial spark was lit while the young John Lanphere Dodge was sweeping floors and stocking shelves in a pharmacy in New York City in the late 1800s. The surgeon’s son approached a chemist named Bell with and idea for a cure for indigestion. The product that they created bore the name of the chemist and ‘pa-pay-ans,’ an ingredient derived from the papaya. The resulting concoction became a popular elixir that was said to “remove flatulence, vertigo, weakness and other symptoms of indigestion quickly and pleasantly.” The iconic bottle, manufactured from a massive three story factory building on the 150 acre compound at the foot of the Clausland Mountains in Orangeburg for over 70 years, became so iconic that one is in the collection at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
The success of Bell-ans supported John Dodge’s utopian vision. The property was outfitted to accommodate some of his favorite pastimes that included stables and a track for harness racing and a barn for animal husbandry. A hotel was built that became a popular destination for travelers to the Orangeburg Fair, that was held for many years at Bell-ans.
As the business was handed down through generations of Dodge sons, non-commerical uses persisted alongside of the thriving pharmaceutical company. Although manufacturing continued in 1965 when James’ father, Joseph Griswold Dodge, Jr. took the reigns, regulations in the pharmaceutical industry were making it increasingly difficult for small producers like Bell-ans. In order to make do, alternative uses had to be identified for the space. Local artists began to occupy the large and well-lit spaces that had once been used for production.
Tragically, Joseph Dodge died in a race car accident leaving his wife Catherine and son James a creative himself, who studied filmmaking, to manage the property and the business. In 2010, Catherine retired. An accountant and math professor, Phyllis came on board to manage the books at Bell-ans and eventually became the creative director.
Now, over two dozen artists maintain studio space at Bell-ans. Several tenants, including Tom Artin, Joan Hooker and Barbara Adams have been making art there decades. The vast space also houses a photography studio, a wood worker, a rock scientist and a florist.
Nearby, small businesses prosper on the grounds like West Carbery Stables, that continues the equestrian legacy started by John Lanphere Dodge, Sundala Center for Wellness that offers acupuncture and massage and Circle On The Farm, a creative studio with the sole purpose of nourishing mind, body, and soul.
In March 2015, Phyllis Dodge launched an exhibition space at Bell-ans called Volition Gallery. The venture represented her realization that she had come to a point in life where she was not afraid to be her authentic self. After working with a mediation group that explores divine and free will, the word “volition” kept coming up and she knew that would be the name of the gallery she always wanted to open.
The inaugural exhibit entitled Expression of Women Rising, featured a dozen women artists selected by Dodge and curators Marisa Marrone, Nancy Parker and Lauren Rudolph. The intent was not originally to address gender inequality in the art world, where, according to Micol Hebron‘s Gallery Tally only 30% of artists represented by galleries are women, but Dodge is now eager to use the gallery to advance the careers of women in the arts.
On Saturday, August 6, 2016, from 7:30 – 10:30p you are invited to put on your grooviest 70s styles and attend an exhibition and dance party at Bell-ans that celebrates the art of disco. A dance floor will be constructed under a tent on the grounds of just outside the Volition Gallery. Participating artists include: Bill Batson, Kristin Bowler, Marisol Diaz, James Dodge, Jamie Gaviola, Jamey Jackson, Mary Anne McDermott, Lauren Rudolph, Ava Schick, and Susan Strange. The exhibit is curated by Marisol Diaz, Nancy Parker and Lauren Rudolph under Phyllis Dodge’s guidance as gallery director. Tickets are limited. $15 admission. Purchase tickets here.
Within the life history of one family, this massive complex has shifted its mission from combating indigestion to harnessing inspiration. James Dodge continues his eclectic heritage by devoting energy to animal rescue as well as maintaining thousands of square feet of studio and office space. Currently the barn on the property houses two pigs, Piggy Smalls and Ivy, two goats named Angus and Elvis, a peacock and some Indian runner ducks.
Phyllis divides her time between the administration of the art center, directing the gallery and her duties as an adjunct professor of math at SUNY Rockland. “We are committed to supporting the arts. We both love history and we love Bell-ans. With so many people coming to the place to do what they love, for generations, that radiates out. The building almost vibrates with powerful energy,” Phyllis said.
Bell-ans will certainly be pulsating on August 6 at Super Freak: Celebration of the Art of Disco dance party and exhibit. Phyllis and James love the music and fashion on the disco era and see a third annual celebration of the genre on the horizon. As one of the exhibiting artists in this show, I hope to see you there.
You can also see all of the exceptional artists at Bell-ans on Open Studio Day, September 10, 11a-6p. The Super Freak exhibition will also be on display until September 10th, by appointment only during the week. Saturday and Sundays, 11a until 2p. Call 845 596 0870 to schedule a visit. Bell-ans is located at 103 South Greenbush Road in Orangeburg!
Visit bellans.com to learn more about using Bell-ans for pop-up galleries, workshops and special events like birthdays and weddings.
Bill Batson is an artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Bell-ans Center of Creative Arts“ © 2016 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com