On a scenic drive about seventy-five minutes from Connecticut’s Gold Coast, I wiggled my way through the local backroads of New Canaan and tiny towns of Westchester County to Beacon, New York, in Dutchess County, by way of route 684 and 84. Beacon sits along the banks of the Hudson River and is surrounded by the Hudson Highlands. Mount Beacon has the highest peak in the Hudson Highlands and is a popular destination. I focused my time there on a visit to the Dia Beacon and took a glass-making class at Hudson Beach Glass.

The quaint small town of Beacon is filled with attractive stores and dining opportunities. However, it was not always the case. The town was once on the decline as local shops closed down, factories shuttered, and landlords took to making storefronts into makeshift apartments. Fortunately, in 2003, the Dia Art Foundation opened in Beacon, fostering change. Beacon is now a destination for art lovers, day trippers, weekenders, and much more.

The Dia Beacon is a museum of 1960s and contemporary art on view in the landmark 1929 Nabisco box printing factory. The artist Robert Irwin and the architectural firm OpenOffice reimagined the space for the Dia. The original skylights of this landmark building were kept, providing light for the galleries.

The Dia Art Foundation’s collection of large-scale works of art necessitates an expansive and monumental space. Furthermore, it is the home of the immense steel sculpture “Torqued Ellipses” by Richard Sierra. The museum also houses collections of several big players, such as Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, Rita McBride, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Fred Sandback, and Gerald Richter.

While reflecting on my visit, Fred Sandback’s colourful yarn sculptures stand out the most in my mind. Sandback turned his drawings in the air with yarn into a sheet of glass, but in reality, it was an illusion. His sculptures capture the essence of the art at the Dia. It is conceptual, minimal, space-consuming, and an installation. His work lends a playful air, and yet it is sophisticated in its simplicity. My time at the Dia helped quiet my active mind and pause the noise from the outside world. It is as if the art was directing me to a meditative state.

The museum hours fluctuate with the rhythm of the seasons; closing at four when the sun sets early and at six in the warmer months. It is an elegant and practical solution since it is lit only by natural light. Beacon, New York, is about sixty miles north of Manhattan. One can catch an eighty-odd-minute train from Grand Central Terminal to Beacon on the Hudson line.

I also revisited Hudson Beach Glass in Beacon where I took an ornament glassmaking class, a quick fifteen-minute session. I took the same class a little more than a decade ago. It was a fun, creative, and collaborative experience between the glassmaker instructor and myself. Moreover, it was a chance to do something away from the computer.

The class connects us to the history of glassmaking that dates back four thousand years and has its roots in Mesopotamia. Glass is not a single matter but rather a state of matter. It can take shape on its own, for example, as in obsidian volcanic rock. Glassmaking is an art and science of a mix of sand, soda, and lime. There are several patterns to choose from, and the pattern I picked out reminded me of the Venetian glass pattern. I also wanted an ornament that would pop against the green of the Christmas tree.

It is an easy process as one leads through each step. However, remember to dress accordingly as it can get quite hot by the furnace.

It takes about a day for the glass to cool. The instructor snaps a small ball off the top of the hot ornament. This little souvenir is ready to take home in about ten minutes, but the ornament needs more time to cool off. It can be either picked up or mailed the next day. I had mine mailed, and it was packaged beautifully with a ribbon including the year I made the ornament. I was quite pleased with the results and loved my ornament. I originally intended to give it as a Christmas present, but I may just keep it for myself.

The gallery also offers an array of tempting glass to purchase displayed thoughtfully in their gallery in a charming historic building. Maybe next time I take a glass-making class, I will try the paperweight class.

Before returning to Connecticut, I picked up a couple of empanadas for my husband from Tito Santana Taqueria, one of our favourite spots in Beacon. I certainly will be back to Beacon and its environs, and perhaps next time I will hike to Mount Beacon or revisit some other artful destinations, such as Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring, New York.

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