I was on the road south to Delhi in about ten minutes. The invitation read that the artist was one Joseph Schoell, and the lady at the reception desk told me over the phone that she thought he lived in nearby Margaretville but didn’t have the address. So I thought, how big could Margaretville be? So I headed off to this little village in the Catskills after viewing the exhibition in Delhi.
You would think that, if you had an artist in your village who produced sheet metal sculptures and placed them on his front lawn, that you would be able to direct a stranger to the house. Not so. I drove around Margaretville for about an hour, looking at front lawns and stopping to ask people if they knew a Joseph Schoell or were aware of his lawn environment. No luck. The receptionist must have gotten it wrong, I figured.
Deflated, I reluctantly headed out of town. On a lark, I tried a shortcut over the hills back to Cooperstown. A few miles out of town I was navigating a long, gentle curve in the road (following the path of a creek on the left) when suddenly, on the right, something colorful caught my eye.
A mailbox, but not just any mailbox. A fanciful and brightly painted metal house, complete with dormers and an American flag. In cut metal letters above the house was the name “J. Schoell.” I felt like I had found the Promised Land.
I stopped, of course, introduced myself to Mr. and Mrs. Schoell, who were home, and over time became good friends with the family. I learned that Joseph was an immigrant from Hungary who came to the United States following the failed uprising against the Soviets in 1956, settled on Long Island and got a job as a sheet metal worker. After retirement, he bought a summer house in Margaretville and began making whimsical sculptures to place on the lawn. He would make one a year, in the winter, and bring them out to Margaretville every summer.
We caught him at a good time, as he told me he was now too old to keep the summer house and wanted to sell the sculptures. The museum ended up acquiring several, including a great Statue of Liberty (above) and a fanciful castle (left). The last piece I purchased from Joseph, however, is the one that means the most to me.
It’s the mailbox, the first piece I had laid eyes on. To me it represents the joy of discovery and the reminder that roadside America is the most exciting art exhibition: always open and always free. Seeing this piece in the museum always makes me want to hit the road.