“On the deserted grounds of these former retreats I have found an enchanting solitude—a seclusion that is empty and uncontrolled. Yet the stillness is deceptive. What appears to be abandoned is actually full of life and activity. One act of animated history has ended, but, as any visitor to these sites quickly learns, new acts have begun. Guest rooms have become sanctuaries for birds. Leafy ferns have pushed their way through foundations and floors. Overgrown shrubs and tangled weeds have swallowed staircases.” – from the Prologue by Marisa Scheinfeld
Today the Borscht Belt, located in the Catskill Mountains of New York, is recalled through the nostalgic lens of summer swims, Saturday night dances, and comedy performances. But its current state, like that of many other formerly glorious regions, is nothing like its earlier status. Forgotten about and exhausted, much of its structural environment has been left to decay.
THE BORSCHT BELT, which features essays by Stefan Kanfer and Jenna Weissman Joselit, presents Marisa Scheinfeld’s photographs of abandoned sites where resorts, hotels and bungalow colonies once boomed in the Catskill Mountain region of upstate New York. The book assembles images Scheinfeld has shot inside and outside locations that once buzzed with life as year-round havens for generations of people. Some of the structures have been lying abandoned for periods ranging from four to twenty years, depending on the specific hotel, or bungalow colony, and the conditions under which it closed. Other sites have since been demolished, or repurposed, making this book an even more significant documentation of a pivotal era in American Jewish and Catskill history.
THE BORSCHT BELT presents a contemporary view of more than forty hotel and bungalow sites. From entire expanses of abandoned properties to small lots containing drained swimming pools, the remains of the Borscht Belt era now lie forgotten, overgrown, and vacant. In the absence of human activity, nature has reclaimed the sites, having encroached upon or completely overtaken them. Many of the interiors have been vandalized or marked by paintball players and graffiti artists. Each ruin lies radically altered by the elements and effects of time. Scheinfeld’s images record all of these developments.
At the Catskill Interpretive Center, Marisa will present selections from her book, which contains 129 photographs, Borscht Belt ephemera and a re-photographic series of “now”, and “then” imagery composed by using found postcards and creating a mirror image of
their present day depictions. Through an illustrated lecture, she will detail the history of the Borscht Belt, its rise, fall and impact of the Borscht Belt while discussing her research, field-based process, investigations and the layered meanings she sees in the photographs. For more information visit www.borschtbeltbook.com.
Marisa Scheinfeld was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1980, and raised in the Catskills. She
received a B.A. from the State University at Albany in 2002, and a MFA from San Diego State University in 2011. Her work is highly motivated by her interest in the ruin, or site and the histories embedded within them. Marisa’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is among the collections of The Center for Jewish History, The National Yiddish Book Center, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art & Life, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, The Dorot Jewish Division at the New York Public Library and The Edmund and Nancy K. Dubois Library at the Museum of Photographic Arts. On October 4th, 2016 Cornell University Press released her first book entitled The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland.