Just beyond the lakeshore in Palatine Park, (affectionately known in Germantown as “Lake George South”), the sun casts a sharp shadow of a bare spruce pole installed there on the first day of winter, the winter solstice, in 2009. About 12 feet tall, the pole has three knobs below the peak, turned from red elm. Every day, the pole’s shadow moves, but the pole is still. It is called a ‘gnomon,’ (no-mon), and it is the first step in an “analemma” sculpture being created by two Germantown artists, Dea Archbold and Kurt Holsapple, as their contribution to the town’s 300th birthday this year – the Palatine Analemma.
An analemma is an ancient design marking the positions of the sun through the seasons of the year. “It will be in the shape of an elongated figure 8,” Holsapple explained. “The long loop marks the path of the sun from autumn through spring; the short one marks the summer, when the sun is high.” Archbold and Holsapple are marking the shifting positions of the gnomon’s shadow at the same time each week. The markings will eventually create a pattern for a low stone wall in the precise shape of the analemma — which has appeared for generations on antique globes of the world.
Dea Archbold went to SUNY Buffalo. After a long apprenticeship in the ancient art of stained glass, she creates and sells unique stained glass designs. Kurt Holsapple, a Fine Arts graduate of SUNY Alfred, is an expert cabinetmaker and woodworker. Both artists exhibit frequently at ArtSpace, Tivoli Arts Co-op, and other galleries in the area.
Archbold and Holsapple, third cousins, are tenth-generation descendants of the original Palatine settlers who came to Germantown in 1710. The Analemma and the early-October birthday celebrations will honor the Palatines, their often harsh lives, and their endurance. Holsapple explains: “We’re not clearing the land, as they did.” The sculpture “will probably look very much like a dry stone wall, which our ancestors used to mark their pastures and meadows. In a way, we’re doing what they did.”
Practical astronomy was crucial to the Palatine farmers. “They had to be very aware of where the sun was in the sky, when to plan for the harvest,” says Archbold. Holsapple adds, “We want to mark, in stone, the actual time of the Palatines’ arrival and other significant events in Germantown history. The height of the sculpture will vary, reflecting changing angles.”
Hundreds of people from around the region and the nation are coming to enjoy Germantown’s 300th birthday bash. The first weekend, October 2-3, includes a major Palatine History Seminar, historical exhibitions, and the debut of a new Harold Farberman composition at a gala Palatine Concert featuring local amateur and professional musicians and singers. A huge Palatine Oktoberfest will run through the second weekend, October 8-10, with a wagon parade and big bonfire on the first night, dozens of crafters and food vendors, bands, a Saturday night dance for teen-agers, free wagon rides throughout the weekend, and spectacular fireworks to close the celebration on Sunday night. Oktoberfest admission and parking are free.
By the first two weekends in October, the Palatine Analemma will be nearing completion, due on the winter solstice in December. Visiting the Analemma will be a meaningful highlight of the Palatine celebration, and the unusual stone sculpture will live on into the future.
Lodging information for visitors is available on the web sites of Columbia County Tourism, Dutchess County Tourism, Green County Tourism, and Ulster County Tourism. Visit www.germantownnyhistory.org for Palatine History Seminar scheduling and ticket information and other 300th Anniversary information. Further details are available by telephone to 518-537-6687, ext. 308.
Original text and photos courtesy of “Palatine Packet,” published by the Germantown and Saugerties Historical Societies, Vol. 1, No. 3, April/May 2010.