Warren County

Jeanne Robert Foster’s Adirondack legacy to be told in stories, song

Eileen Egan Mack, left, and also with Dan Berggren in  “Voice of the Mountains: Jeanne Robert Foster, An Adirondack Legacy.” (photos provided)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Eileen Egan Mack, left, and also with Dan Berggren in  “Voice of the Mountains: Jeanne Robert Foster, An Adirondack Legacy.” (photos provided)

When Eileen Egan Mack first stumbled upon “Adirondack Portraits: A Piece of Time,” she thought the book would make a great gift for a friend.

“It was supposed to be a birthday present, but I started reading it and I couldn’t part with it,” said Egan Mack, referring to the collection of Jeanne Robert Foster poems edited by Noel Reidinger-Johnson and published back in 1986.

“These were wonderful stories, and I realized that they needed to be read aloud. It was about the people she grew up with in the Adirondacks, and it reminded me of growing up in Ballston Lake.”

Egan Mack will join forces with popular musician Dan Berggren Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Sembrich Museum in Bolton Landing for a performance called “Voice of the Mountains: Jeanne Robert Foster, An Adirondack Legacy.” The event will include storytelling and singing performed by Egan Mack, while Berggren will also provide some musical offerings as well as the spoken word.

“I usually do this as a one-person show, but on occasion I’m able to get Dan to join me,” said Egan Mack. “I portray her, and while it’s not a complete biography of Foster, we do journey back in time and get to meet her 19th century Adirondack neighbors, and we learn a lot about her.”

Born in 1879 in the small southern Adirondack town of Johnsburg, Foster was a model, actress, poet and journalist who became well known in literary circles during the first two decades of the 20th century. She was a colleague and close friend of William Butler Yeats, Eza Pound and E.E. Cummings, to name a few of her most well-known associates, and after spending much of her young adult life in New York, Boston and Paris, she eventually settled in Schenectady in 1932 and became a social worker and activist. Foster, whose mother, Lucia Oliviere, was a prominent member of the Socialist Party in Schenectady, died in 1970 at the age of 91. Earlier, she had been named a patroon of the city by Schenectady Mayor Malcolm Ellis.

“The stories she tells through her poetry are so wonderful,” said Egan Mack. “She is non-judgmental about people and it’s clear that she has a very kind heart. The more I started reading about her I started thinking to myself that this is someone that people should know about. I just really liked her, and this was before I actually realized how she was such a big part of the cultural scene in the early 1900s. I became fascinated with her even before I learned how close she was to people like Yeats and Pound. She had an extraordinary circle of friends.”

Getting Berggren to join her on stage at The Sembrich to promote Foster’s work doesn’t involve a lot of arm twisting. He was a fan of Foster’s long before he met Egan Mack.

“When ‘Adirondack Portraits’ came out in 1986, my mother gave me a copy and told me how the poems and the stories they told were about my ancestors,” said Berggren, who grew up in Olmsteadville in the Adirondack town of Minerva. “That got me hooked. I started reading the book, and what I liked about it was that she really spoke with the voice of the people I grew up with.”

Some of the music Berggren will provide is traditional folk music, while he will play a couple of songs he wrote himself, including one set to the lyrics of a Foster poem.

“She wrote a poem called ‘River Driving on the Sacandaga,’ and I have put a tune to the words,” he said. “I’ve done programs about Jeanne Robert Foster and her work a number of times through the years with different people, and I think I got together with Eileen quite a while ago for a Foster program up in Plattsburgh. I feel so welcomed by Eileen to work with her on something like this, and I was so pleased when I first heard that she was so taken with Foster’s poetry.”

Egan Mack remembers watching Berggren perform in a Plattsburgh coffee shop more than 20 years ago, and noticing he had a copy of “Adirondack Portraits” with him.

“I saw he had the book, and I thought, ‘my gosh, we’re kindred spirits,’” said Egan Mack. “I love to sing harmony with him and it’s just wonderful to work with him, and it’s really been symbiotic. He is an integral part of this program and does all the male voices in her poems.”

“Voice of the Mountains: Jeanne Robert Foster, An Adirondack Legacy” is part of the Nature & Music Summer Festival offered to members of The Sembrich Museum. It is formerly the teaching studio of Polish-American soprano Marcella Sembrich, one of the top opera singers of the early 20th century. Membership is $45 and can be purchased by the public anytime prior to Saturday’s event, which will be held outdoors under a tent. 100 seats will be available.

“This event brings our ‘Nature & Music’ theme home to the Adirondacks,” said The Sembrich Museum artistic director Richard Wargo, “illuminating the rich heritage of music and storytelling native to our region. We’re delighted to share this entertaining portrait of Jeanne Robert Foster with our members.”

Wargo said he is eagerly anticipating the collaborative work Egan Mack and Berggren will bring to The Sembrich’s Lake George venue, which hosts a variety of world-class musicians throughout the summer.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to see Eileen and Dan in this performance, but I have viewed both of them individually through the magic of YouTube and look forward to seeing them together at The Sembrich. Though a figure like Foster, with her ties to classical composers like Satie, among others, not to mention John Butler Yeats, would be a suitable addition to our series any summer, this season, in particular during our ‘Nature & Music Festival,’ seems an apt time.”

A Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and SUNY-Plattsburgh grad, Egan Mack grew up in the small village of Ballston Lake, one of four daughters to Bill and Mary Egan. Her younger sister, Tracy Egan, was a former local news anchor at WTEN-Channel 10 and CBS-6, and a reporter with WABC-TV in New York, while her other younger sister, Maggie Egan Cummings, has been a busy television and film actress in Hollywood for more than three decades now.

“We cleared out an old chicken coop that hadn’t been used in years and would put on shows in it,” said Egan Mack, whose older sister, Maureen Egan Buhrmaster, was a long-time school teacher in Vermont. “We like to say that’s how Maggie got her start in acting. But my mom was a drama major at UAlbany who then became a librarian, and my dad was a politician, a realtor and involved in a lot of things. He was always out speaking to people, and my sisters and I all grew up within a span of eight years, so there was always something going on at our house.”

Along with her portrayal of Foster, Egan Mack does a one-woman show titled “Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton: Albany Girl/American Woman.”

A member of the Story Circle of the Capital Region, Egan Mack has also performed vocally with a variety of jazz, folk and pop musicians, as well as the Georgie Wonders Orchestra.

‘Voice of the Mountains: Jeanne Robert Foster, An Adirondack Legacy’

WHAT: A performance by Eileen Egan Mack and Dan Berggren
WHERE: The Sembrich Museum, 4800 Lake Shore Drive, Bolton Landing
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday’s
TICKETS: $45 for adults; $35 for seniors and students
MORE INFO: Visit www.TheSembrich.org or call (518) 644-2431

Categories: Entertainment

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