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Artist Arnie Zimmerman Worked With Valley’s Bricks and Clay

The Hudson-based sculptor and ceramist, who recently died, gave fresh life to some of the valley's foundational materials.

by Mazuba Kapambwe
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In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Hudson Valley was the largest brickmaking district on the planet. Its metrics were stunning: It employed more than 10,000 people across about 120 brickyards, producing an estimated billion bricks a year.

An Arnie Zimmerman sculpture, made of clay from Hutton Brick Works and fired in a Kingston-made Bailey Kiln at Zimmerman’s studio in Hudson. (Photo: Anne Bailey)

Due to factors like the rise of cement and cheaper imports, factories began to close down at the end of the last century. The last Hudson Valley-based brickyard, in Kingston, shut down in 2002.

But the rich brickmaking history of the Hudson Valley went on to inspire the work of artists who call the region home, including longtime sculptor and ceramist Arnie Zimmerman, who passed away in late July 2021. “I’ve always been aware of the history of brickmaking in the Hudson Valley,” he said. Working with fellow artists Barry Bartlett, Woody Hughs, and Christopher Gustin at a defunct Kingston factory in 1978 and 1979, Zimmerman helped collect 15,000 bricks, which were later used in a kiln Gustin owned.

After working in his Brooklyn studio for 33 years, Zimmerman relocated about seven years ago to Hudson, where he was based until his death. The move from a large urban city to a smaller one surrounded by nature has inspired some of the artist’s more recent work. “You have the Catskills —you are surrounded by farms, forests, and beautiful landscapes,” Zimmerman said. “Where you are physically located always inspires one’s work.”  

Walled City Katonah Museum. (Photo: Arnie Zimmerman)

The artist saw the gentrification of cities along the Hudson Valley, with buildings razed to make way for condos, and residents of color displaced. He explored this theme in a series called “Inner City,” which chronicles urban decay, change, and growth in cities such as Providence, Lisbon, and Leeuwarden, Netherlands.

Zimmerman created more than 200 clay figurative and architectural parts. “I made my own tiny bricks,” he said. “They were small because I wanted to create a sense of a large scale.” Making small figurines was a departure from the large carved vessels that Zimmerman was known for in the 1980s, early in his career. As a student, he explained then, he wanted to make functional and utilitarian pots. By making smaller figurines, he said later, he felt less exposed and vulnerable to criticism.     

In another exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in 2009, “Walled City,” the artist once again focused on the working class. In previous interviews, Zimmerman stated that he obtained the inspiration to create his figurines from real people who work in areas like construction, garbage collection, and window cleaning. He also drew inspiration from newspapers, photography, and books on the history of New York.

Artist Arnie Zimmerman with some of his sculptural work. (Photo: Anne Bailey)

Other museums that have exhibited or have Zimmerman’s work in their private collections include the Brooklyn Museum; Nacional Museu do Azulejo in Lisbon; and the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Shigaraki, Japan.

Inspired by the fact that the city of Hudson sits on a clay bed, Zimmerman had recently changed the name of his company to the Hudson Clay Company and made limited quantities of deliberately non-functional items like pizza stones and mezcal cups.

More in this series

In 1825, artist Thomas Cole journeyed up the Hudson to capture the magnificence of the Catskills en plein air. This...
In the world of visual arts, painting, sculpture, video, and photography often dominate the narrative. Yet there are other forms...
Artist and scientist Hara Woltz believes that art is key to bearing witness to climate change in the Hudson Valley...
Megan Offner was surrounded by forests in her early life in Montana — yet the forests of the Hudson Valley...
Storm King Mountain was a popular subject for Thomas Cole and other artists associated with the 19th-century Hudson River School of painting....
Not many artists think deeply about ecology and water, but artist-writer-educator Matthew Friday has done exactly that in multidisciplinary works...
Frederic Church and his fellow painters of the Hudson River School saw nature in a beautiful, romantic light. Contemporary artists...
Jean-Marc Superville Sovak was born in Montreal, the child of one parent from Trinidad and another from the Czech Republic....
The work of Newburgh-based artist Alison McNulty has taken a dizzying number of forms: sculpture, photography, drawing, video, site-responsive outdoor...
Lydia Rubio is part of a fresh wave of visual artists taking inspiration from the Hudson River — and contending...

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
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editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
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