Catskills fly tying: The folk "Art of Artifice"

Above: A "Lime Trude" fly fishing lure tied by Ed Ostapczuk, photographed by Mark Loete and included in "The Art of Artifice," an exhibition of Catskills fly tying that opens this Saturday in Woodstock.

What lured Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter to the Catskills?

Professional photographer and fly fishing guide Mark Loete will explain: “The freestone streams of the Catskills are the cradle of fly fishing,” he recently said from his Chichester studio, in a rambling 19th-century house on the banks of the Stony Clove Creek.

“Starting in the early 1800s and up to today, this area became famous for the trout and the local fly fishermen who found ingenious ways to lure them,” Loete said.

Loete has brought the art of fly fishing to light in the stunning visuals of “Catskill Fly Tying: The Art of Artifice,” an exhibit that will celebrate with an opening reception at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s Kleinert/James Gallery in Woodstock on Saturday, May 7, at 4 p.m. The show will remain at the Guild until June 26. (Afterwards, and into 2017, it moves to several other galleries. Details below.)

Above: A "Woolly Bugger," tied by Bob Petti. Photographed by Mark Loete.

The exhibit includes 40 of Loete’s macro color photographs of 14 master fly tyers’ work. All these artists–and they are, indeed, artists–excel in a distinctive Catskill style and tradition of fly tying. The exhibit will also include black and white portraits of the fly tyers, both living and deceased, and several photos of the insects on which they model their work.

Each fly tyer has personal history or connection to the area. Some of the “fly patterns” they use, casting their lines over the water’s surface, are specific to the Esopus Creek, and are little known beyond the Catskills.

Loete, a longtime fine art and corporate photographer, photographed the flies “like jewels.” The details, magnified, are mesmerizing.

Among many supplies, the tyers use fur from a calf’s tail, chicken feathers, deer fur and moose fur, all wound into delicate forms to resemble a trout’s favorite insects, like the Green Drake mayfly and the Hendrikson mayfly. The materials are crucial to how the fly behaves in the air and on the water’s surface.

Above: A "Stonefly Creeper" tied by Tim Didas. Photographed by Mark Loete.

“The tyers are incredibly meticulous,” Loete said. “This is truly regional folk art. And it has swept the world of fly fishing.”

In his fishing guide business, Loete has hosted aspiring anglers from China, the United Kingdon, Denmark and, of course, hipster Brooklyn. All have been inspired by the art, the culture and the mystique of Catskills fly fishing, which began in the early 1800s on the banks of the Esopus Creek and Stony Clove Creek, as well as on other Catskills streams, including the Beaverkill in Sullivan County. 

“Art from Artifice” began as the brainchild of the Byrdcliffe Guild’s Tina Bromberg. In 2015, Loete’s wife, web designer Stephanie Blackman, was working with Bromberg, cataloguing photographs of her father Manny Bromberg’s sculptures for another Kleinert/James show.

Bromberg saw Blackman and Loete’s “Catskill Angling Collection" website, which includes flies from the Jerry Bartlett Collection, housed in Phoenicia Library’s “Anglers’ parlor.” The site is a web-based hatch chart to assist fishermen in what flies to use and when to use them. The flies in the collection are replacements for those damaged in the library’s devastating 2011 fire; the site features many close-up photos.

“Tina was amazed at the flies’ beauty,” said Loete. “She immediately said, ‘Let’s do an exhibit!’”

Above: The "Hendrickson Emerger" tied by Hank Rope. Photographed by Mark Loete.

The regional folk art aspect of what would become the “Art of Artifice” echoed Byrdcliffe Guild’s original intention: to showcase handmade, functional, beautiful objects, i.e. folk art.

In addition to the photographs of flies and their makers, the “Art of Artifice” exhibit will include books and memorabilia associated with fly fishing in the Catskills, as well as two shadowboxes containing the flies from the Jerry Bartlett Collection that started it all.

After June 26, the “Art of Artifice” exhibit will move on to the Shandaken Artist Studio Tour, from July 16 to 17, at Amy's Take-Away in Lanesville; the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, from September 2 through October 10 in Livingston Manor; and the Erpf Gallery at the Catskill Center from January 28 to March 18, 2017, in Arkville.

“The Art of Artifice: A Photographic Exploration of the Catskill Fly Tyer’s Craft.” Opening reception Saturday, May 7, 4 p.m. The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 36 Tinker St., Woodstock,