To get the scoop on the Stockade Villagers’ Outdoor Art Show, you’ve got to spend some time with Connie Colangelo.
Five generations of the Colangelo family have lived in Schenectady’s historic Stockade District, and for more than 60 summers, the family has helped run the juried fine art show on the neighborhood’s picturesque streets.
Connie Colangelo has been part of the show, working on mailings and registration, then as organizer or co-chair, for 34 years.
It all started in 1951, when her father-in-law, Nicholas J. Colangelo, was part of an art group that met in Arthur’s Market. Eight members of that group, including Colangelo, launched the art show by hanging their work on the fence around the statue of Lawrence the Indian. Nick died in 2004, at age 93.
Sitting at a dining room table in her father-in-law’s house on Front Street, Connie Colangelo flips open a thick binder packed with photos and newspaper clippings. “Ernie wore that beret all the time,” she says, pointing to a 1949 photo of Ernest Cohen, another art show founder.
This summer, one of the country’s oldest outdoor art shows is beginning another chapter in its history.
On Saturday, Sept. 7, when artists set up their booths for the 62nd Stockade Art Show, the Colangelo family will not be running the event.
In March, Connie Colangelo and her son-in-law, Matthew Volks, resigned as co-chairs of the event. Stockade residents Jessica and Charles Gelarden are the new co-chairs.
While Connie Colangelo has let go of her art show duties, she’s still active in the civic life of Schenectady. She’s the district secretary for Rotary Club International and president of the Schenectady-Nijkerk Council, which operates Schenectady’s adult and youth exchange programs with its sister city in the Netherlands.
On July 6, when the Dutch city celebrated its 600th anniversary, 34 Schenectady residents, including Mayor Gary McCarthy, traveled to Nijkerk to represent Schenectady. At a ceremony recognizing Schenectady, the Dutch people gave Michael Brockbank, vice-president of the Schenectady-Nijkerk Council, a silver medal. They sent another home for Colangelo, and Mayor McCarthy presented it to her in a ceremony that was simulcast to the Netherlands.
Colangelo and her husband, Marty, have two children — a son who lives in Tennessee and a daughter who lives in the Stockade — and five grandchildren.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: All over the city. I’m originally from Beckley, West Virginia. My father was a coal miner. And he decided to come to Schenectady because he had an uncle who lived here. He got a job at GE. I’m one of 11 children. We’re all still alive. Daddy worked at GE during the day and at ALCO at night. We came here in 1945. I went to Nott Terrace High School. Graduated in ’56.
Q: How did you get involved with the art show? Was it Nick?
A: Yes, he’s the one that asked me to go to work on the show.
Q: How long were you the organizer?
A: For 30 years. Previous to that, I just worked the show. I would help with the mailings. In ’79, I went on the board, became the secretary and have been involved ever since.
Q: And running the show has been a family affair?
A: Marty’s father, Marty’s mother. My son was the chair one year. My son-in-law’s been president and chair for a number of years — at least 12, I think. My daughter. Even my grandchildren have worked the show every year. They’ve been working since they were little.
Q: What do you enjoy about the show?
A: The good things are the people, the artists themselves. You build a rapport with all these artists.
Q: Do you buy art at the show?
A: Yes. We do buy at least two a year. We give it to family. My brother-in-law lives in Minnesota, and he has a Schenectady room. It’s all stuff from Schenectady. We pick a painting that we think would be very nice in his house. My daughter and her husband buy every year at the show. My grandchildren bought artwork. It’s a tradition that you buy at least one piece at the show.
Q: Who lives here, in Nick Colangelo’s house?
A: Nobody. This is exactly the way it was when he died. The family uses it. We let all our friends use it. They say he’s still walking around upstairs somewhere.
Q: Did you ever have to move the show from Saturday to Sunday because of the weather?
A: Yes. Two or three times.
Q: Did you ever have to cancel it entirely?
A: No. But we’ve always had that fear that we would have to cancel. You have the most stressful week. You watch the weather report every day. I even called Bob Kovachick several times. Two or three years ago, it was raining at 8 o’clock, and I prayed to St. Anthony. Would you believe that at 9 o’clock it stopped raining? And the minute we closed the show down, it rained again.
Q: Has it always been a fine art show?
A: One of the goals we always had was to keep it fine art only. One year, in the 1980s, they included craft in the show. The artists got upset. We have tried to keep it as original as possible. It’s so hard to keep tradition.
Q: How has the show changed over the years?
A: The participation of the artists is less. Last year, I think it was about 90. No matter what we do, we don’t seem to be able to build the numbers. We’ve always said we don’t want it to grow too big, so 125, 130 is a good number. We’ve been up to 115, but it’s dwindling. And it’s very sad. We’ve even added a section for children’s awards. We’ve never gotten more than six entries.
Q: Why do you think the number of artists has dropped?
A: I’m not sure. In hard times, people are not buying artwork. But last year, they had a lot of good sales. Really good sales. It gave an indication that things were improving when people were buying artwork.
Q: Since the 1970s, are there more or fewer people attending?
A: More. Schenectady is booming.
Q: How many times have you been to the Netherlands?
A: Six. It’s beautiful. I love it. You’re hosted by the people there. You live in their homes. And they treat you like royalty. You get to see things you never see as a regular tourist. You get to be really good friends.
Q: How many times have you hosted Dutch visitors?
A: Probably 10. I always host the same people and they stay here [in Nick Colangelo’s house].
Q: Were you surprised when you got the medal?
A: Shocked, absolutely shocked. The medal is beautiful. It’s like being knighted by the queen.
Q: Are you going to be at the art show this year?
A: Oh yes! I’ll probably volunteer to be a hostess. I’ll be walking around for two hours, looking to see that everyone is registered, that there’s nothing exhibited that shouldn’t be.
For more about the Stockade Villagers Outdoor Art Show, go to www.stockadeartshow.com or look on Facebook.