Rock Star MeadowNick Della Penna (b. 1941) and Estelle Ross (1945-2016)
About the Artist/Site
“My father collects stones, which weigh about 100 to 150 pounds, from streams and rivers in the surrounding area. He rolls, hoists and pulls them, one at a time, to the place in the puzzle in which they fit on his four acres in upstate New York. It could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to get the stone to where it was meant to be. It’s a building plan only he knows. The process is one of moving giant rosary beads. The composition is by improvisation and intuition.
There seems to be no pattern to the location or size of each stone structure he builds. Most are river rocks, some are brick and some are cement pillars; strangely, he has obscured them all from view by planting trees around them, encircling it all with a pine tree fortress.
Though all the grey stone there are brief flashes of color, patches of red brick and representational mosaics like Eastern Orthodox icons. Bits of pottery and ceramic sculpture are placed, mounted randomly or semi-symmetrically. There is no precision to be found anywhere. That’s one of the construction concepts he is quite vocal about. We live in a world of atomic precision and of absolute mathematical certainty. For me, being around this math-less masonry is a relief. It is an “at-ease” to the persistent structural fascism that imprisons every waking hour of my life: my computer and its codes; the passwords, spell-check, bank statements, tax forms and square footage; the nickel-and-dime of rules and regulations.
“This wall will obscure the view of the distant neighbors;” “This other wall will conform to the shape of the mountain behind it.” These are the kind of functional explanations my father gives as to the purpose of this last 25 years of labor. Whether it is a ruse or the visible tip of a larger iceberg agenda, I do not know. Any deeper answer (if there is one) remains hidden beneath the surface.
Sometimes, curious passersby bravely venture down to the property from the road to have a look. My father’s modus operandi is to be polite and continue working. He is pleasant, but the subtext of his manner indicates to the visitor that he or she has just penetrated an invisible barrier: they must proceed with reverence and humility; this is a monastery of one. It’s all the religion he abandoned as a child or never had in the first place, or wished there were.
This is not an installation, it’s not conceptual, it’s not interactive, it’s not functional, it’s not contemporary. It’s all as mysterious as a cave painting. It’s a sand castle spontaneously constructed over 25 years. One day only stones and metal that men have moved will remain when the waves of time recede. Then, slowly, they will be gone too. This is what I think my father is thinking when he’s out there, day after day, year after year, toiling like a beast in the field.”
Rock Star Meadow is an elaborate complex whose stone walls are periodically enhanced with abstract and figurative forms, sculpted from clay or pieced together with mosaics. The site was purchased by Della Penna, a former public school teacher, and his wife, Lorraine, in 1980, and as he started to clean up the junk and debris, he also started stacking the stones found on site, enjoying the physicality of the labor that was so different from his classroom work. When, in 1988, a neighbor told him that trespassers were running their bikes through his property, he put up a wall. And then another, and another.
A colleague from school, Estelle Ross, visited one summer, and soon became completely involved in the construction process; she complimented him on his work and encouraged him to branch out in other media as well, including marble. She became his muse and co-creator, and they worked together on the site from that time until her death, constructing with vision but without plans, using materials found on site as well as those brought in from nearby or created in the pottery studio at school.
Della Penna, living nearby with his wife, still visits the meadow every day, and still has plans for completing more work. It helps him assuage anger or hurt, channeling any negative energy into the positive growth of construction. “I’m always having many ideas, and most of them are ridiculous,” he has said. “But if one keeps coming back, then it’s going to be a reality.”
“if you’re not trained as an artist,” he continued, “there’s no right or wrong.”
~Jo Farb Hernández
Erik Della Penna’s text was adapted with permission from his article “Revealing the Primordial Gene,” Raw Vision 92 (winter 2016/2017): 58-61.
Rock Star Meadow Virtual Tour
Video by Bryan Whitney, 2022. Courtesy of Nick Della Penna and family.
Map & Site Information
4129 New York 212
Lake Hill, New York, 12448 us
Latitude/Longitude: 42.0742535 / -74.2002823
Woodstock, New York
Boiceville, New York
Franklin, New York
Haverstraw, New York
Hamburg, New Jersey