Monday, April 12, 2010


Artist Richard Richardson and his collaborators realize an ambitious vision for outdoor spaces.


Richardson and his collaborators used local stone in walls and pathways to create and connect a series of outdoor rooms.

If, like many homeowners, you spend nearly as much or more time thinking about your back yard-your exterior room or rooms-as you do your house or apartment, you owe it to yourself to visit the Three Sisters Sanctuary in Goshen.

Located on Route 112 just past the entrance to the DAR State Forest, the sanctuary is the artistic masterpiece of Richard Richardson, the longtime proprietor of the Good Time Stove Company. You'll know you've found the sanctuary when you spy the giant tin man looming over Richardson's stove shop and adjacent to his home, a beautifully restored farmhouse. The Three Sisters Sanctuary is, literally, Richardson's back yard.

Inspired by his daughters, by the beauty of the land surrounding his home and business, which abuts the state forest, and by the many artists with whom he's collaborated over more than three decades in the Valley, Richardson set out to create a spiritually healing place where visitors might wander in a natural setting lightly touched by artistic hands. Richardson has turned the fields behind his home into a series of outdoor rooms delineated with intricate rock walls, many paved in local Goshen stone and showcasing a variety of art from a variety of local artists.

A wildly ambitious project now realized, the obvious boldness of Richardson's vision is nevertheless carefully subdued.

Clockwise from top left: In Richardson’s bike garden, disused bicycles sprout up like flowers; a dragon head tops the chimney of the sanctuary’s central fireplace; a natural stone amphitheatre.

A few years ago, I had a chance to tour the sanctuary while it was still under construction. Even in its half-finished form, the garden rooms were compelling, drawing my eye from one discovery to the next while allowing me at the same time to feel the whole of the place. As Richardson spoke about spiritual matters and his desire to create a place for healing and quiet contemplation, I quickly realized that his sense of the metaphysical was one that included plenty of whimsy, plenty of fun. There is nothing heavy or foreboding about Richardson's sanctuary, despite his use of enormous slabs of stone or the centerpiece of his garden: an enormous wire and glass dragon, which sat atop the chimney of a huge outdoor fireplace, smoke pouring from its mouth. Everywhere I turned, I saw not only I Richardson's handiwork, but the work of many local artists who contributed to the sanctuary as it came into being.

Now complete and open to the public-by appointment or, as Richardson puts it, "by chance"-the sanctuary is even more than I imagined it would be: more beautiful, more varied, more entertaining, more evocative. A wildly ambitious project now realized, the obvious boldness of Richardson's vision is nevertheless. Carefully subdued, working in concert with rather than overpowering the surrounding natural setting.

For anyone who loves gardens and works to make their own back yard a visually stimulating haven, the Three Sisters Sanctuary may unleash a torrent of new ideas about the balance of natural and artistic elements in outdoor spaces. By returning to the sanctuary throughout the year, one can measure the impact of the natural forces with which Richardson collaborates to amazing effect: seasons, weather and light.

The Three Sisters Sanctuary is an inspiring achievement in landscape design and environmental artistry, demonstrating I what one man, with the help of family and friends, can create in his own back yard.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Written by Mark Karpel

This piece originally appeared in the Folk Art Messenger, the Journal of the Folk Art Society of America, Vol.21, No.2 (Fall/Winter 2009).

Richard Richardson collects old stoves, stones, plants, salvaged material and people. The stoves, which he restores and sells, help to support the creation of a two-acre art environment behind his home in the hills of western Massachusetts. The stones, plants and salvage find their places in a space that comprises roughly a dozen outdoor "rooms." And people are woven into every aspect of the site - from its original inspiration to its physical construction and intended uses. Unlike those visionary builders who labor in solitude or create their environments to retreat from the world, Richardson's environment is profoundly social.

His "Three Sisters Sanctuary" lies behind his house and nearby stove shop. The stove shop is a barn-like building covered with signs, old tools, rusted bicycle frames, stove trivets, bells and birdhouses-all stuck to its outer walls as if yanked there by a giant magnet. In front of the shop stands a two-story-tall tin man sporting a jaunty tin Stetson. Richardson traded for the figure, fashioned in the 1950s by a local contractor to advertise his skill with ductwork. Sara LaBonte. Richardson's daughter, points out that he was drawn to antique stoves for many of the same reasons that fuel his passion for creating the Sanctuary - an appreciation for beauty and artistry, a love of the heaviness of iron, and a delight in breathing life into otherwise forgotten ojects. Owning the business - fittingly named The Good Time Stove Company - has also given him the time and to explore his creative passions.

Between the shop and me house is the Bike Arch, an 18-foot-high rainbow of painted and rusted bicycles, which rises and falls like the frozen spray of some strange subterranean fountain. Richardson spent 15 years building his home here, a whimsical but functional two-story structure with peach-colored siding and moss-green trim. The site behind it documents his passions and preoccupations and the arrivals and departures of those whom he holds dear.

Raised in suburbia, Richardson knew early on that wherever he was meant to be, it wouldn't look like that. He drifted up to western Massachusetts, started the stove business in his early 20s and raised a family. Later, he named his environment after his daughters -Tina Marie, Sara Wenona and Megan Elizabeth - one indication of how central relationships are to his vision of the environment. He says, "The first gifts from the gods in my world were my children, and they're the most precious part of my world."

When he finished building his home, he felt lost until his younger brother Chuck encouraged him to create ornamental gardens. Soon after, however, Chuck became seriously ill. His death inspired Richardson to initiate an annual "garden party'" to celebrate his brother's life and ill help him and others who had lost ones to heal. Guests brought and planted their favorite perennials for nearly a decade, and the gardens grew larger and more varied. Richardson's interest in "softscape" -natural materials such s trees, shrubs and plants-grew after meeting Tammy Lee Graves, an expert gardener who encouraged him and who now continues to tend the gardens.

Graves introduced Richardson to Donnie Lesure, a skilled stone mason who inspired him to work with "hardscape," such as stone and brick. Richardson says. "Like a Bic lighter, he ignited it. He gave me a taste of stone and what stone can do." Over the past ten years, Mike Samson has added another dimension by operating the earth-moving equipment that enables Richardson to excavate and move large stones. One of the unusual aspects of the Sanctuary is how smoothly it integrates hardscape and softscape. Many, if not most, visionary environments tend toward one or the other. In the Sanctuary, pebble, brick and stone paths are edged with butterfly gardens; found objects and sculptures are surrounded by perennial plantings; and borders of large standing stones alternate with tall grasses or arbor vitae. Richardson estimates that there are about 200 large vertical stones and nearly 60 tall arbor vitae.

The next expansion of the site grew from Richardson's need to heal from a more profound loss- the sudden death of his oldest daughter from a ruptured aneurysm. He and Lesure had just begun building the first outdoor "room" that subsequently became the Tina Marie Richardson Sanctuary, with stone walls surrounding a cairn of rounded white river stones, topped by a large white quartz rising like a spirit ascending and supporting a honey-colored, clear glass globe. The Fire Pit and Water Garden lie nearby, and the juxtaposition is no accident. As Richardson says, "I felt you had to have both in order to have balance in your world." Here, a small stream produces the soothing sound of splashing water as it descends over small waterfalls into a pond bordered by river stones, plantings, standing stones, statuary and benches.

Paths of small white pebbles-alternating with inlaid stone, brick, colored glass and found objects-lead to a large area comprising several different "rooms" that Richardson calls the Amphitheater. After Tina Marie's death, he thought, "My daughter loved music, and I'm going to build an amphitheater that's going to bring music to her spirit." He built it adjacent adjacent to her sanctuary. At its lowest elevation, the amphitheater features a wide grass circle, with stone seating around its perimeter, tall vertical stones embedded at irregular intervals, and a slender, spire-shaped stone rising from its center. The Drum Circle lies above this, serving as a natural stage for the seating below.

At the highest point, where the backdrop of a stage would be, stands a feature that for many visitors defines the site as a whole. Hundreds of flat stones piled seven feet high form the sinuous C-shaped body of an immense dragon. Above them, a dragon's head arches upward like that of a howling wolf, its mouth open and long tongue lashing up into the air. The head is positioned over an outdoor hearth that, when lit, produces smoke for the dragon's fiery breath. Seven people worked with Richardson to create a skull of steel and wire mesh covered with cement into which shards of colored glass were embedded. The curve of the dragon's body forms an intimate room - the Dragon's Den - thoughtfully equipped with another stone bench, allowing people to sit facing one another for conversation. The crevices between stones are chockablock with hundreds of small objects - including candlesticks, driftwood, glass globes, colored glass fragments and figurines-like offerings left at a shrine.

Now in his 60s, Richardson's current focus is a labyrinth he calls the Dance of Life- a figure-eight -shaped space bordered by large vertical stones and waving grasses, each space featuring a huge, dazzlingly white quartz in its center. Here, the elements of the overall composition will evoke fundamental life passages from the beginning of a relationship (Dancing with the Ladies) through the End of Life. The narrow passage that marks the End of Life forces a visitor to exit alone but leads to an open space surrounded by butterfly gardens.

Characteristically. Richardson uses this project to engage people, asking them, for example, about experiences with seduction or commitment in their lives and giving him a way to explore areas he finds challenging in his own. "There are so many lessons in this yard. - he says. "The lessons are endless." He clearly relishes the social contact, saying, "It's just way too much fun...They all want to talk about it."

Just as the site began with relationships, it continues to depend on them and to foster them. Richardson's surviving daughters, Sara and Megan, have both contributed to the site. By handling the administrative details of the stove business, Sara ("the Stove Princess) has, in Richardson's words, "made the whole thing possible."

Altogether, he has worked with more than 15 people on the site. Their contributions are creative collaborations and labors of love, but each worker is paid. He plans to bring others into his current project. "The labyrinth," he says, "is going to be the most fun I'll ever have. I'm trying to build a path that is going to be very enlightening, and I'm going to be able to incorporate people into my world." He says, "I've spent every week this spring meeting with somebody new pertaining to the yard, from bus tours, to artists, to gallery owners." The site attracts a steady stream of visitors and, if he's not working, Richardson will usually walk with them and answer the inevitable questions. He recently hosted a third-grade class visit, dressed in a suit that somehow evoked Uncle Sam crossed with a circus clown and a '70s-era Deadhead.

Richardson says, "The things that I do out here have to do with chasing passion and wanting to have that passion in my world. And now that I've created it, it's the greatest place I've ever been, the greatest job I could have, the greatest lifestyle I could have. And it doesn't want to end. It keeps getting better. 'Curious George' - that's what they should call me. And Curious George is building this labyrinth called "The Dance of Life." ...with a little help from his friends.

MARK KARPEL is a psychologist and writer living in Massachusetts.

A website with information and photographs of the Three Sisters Sanctuary can be found at:

Home Heating - notes about Insulation and FiberGlas

Any pursuit of winter heating economies should have insulation first on the list.

Fuel you burn once but insulation will last your life time and that of your children's life times.

If you spend on insulation only what you want your savings on heat to give you back you will miss the problem of the heat your house will lose when your electricity goes out and the inconvenience you will have chopping wood to make up for it.

For your or your contractor's planning for a new heating system one should always require first a plan for the amount of insulation to be used. This is so you can size a new heating system realistically. The more insulation installed the smaller the heating unit needed.

Insulation needed in new home construction is always easier added to before construction than after construction.

At one time an amount of insulation thought to be a "super" amount was one with an R value of 18 or 19. Now, in 2009, that is the minimum required by law for any new construction. The reasons it was changed are largely due to rising costs of fuel.

Now, a super amount of insulation is more likely to be an R value of 30 to 36. (In Europe it is higher still.) To obtain a value of30 to 36 would require 6" of rigid Styrofoam or 6" of polyisocyanurate (aluminum on both sides). This would supply a 3.5” wall and 3" added outside or it would fill a 5 1/2" wall and 1" added outside it.

The insulation about a basement should always be considered, too. Treat it the same as any outer wall.

Attics normally are insulated with FiberGlas to avoid moisture problems between the rafters. That would use about 5.5” of FiberGlas to give an R value of approximately 20. To achieve the same insulating value as the walls 30-36" would call for an additional 2" of rigid insulation, laid across 2"x6" rafters.

Other kinds of insulation may be used and other configurations of framing may be used
but the R values should be kept.

Windows are major sources of heat gain and loss. There is no simple way to limit it. The most modem windows with all their multipanes and tints can hardly be said to be well insulated.

To learn the R value of them simply take the reciprocal of their conductivity.

I know of no commonly used good method of insulating windows. Years ago I custom

fit 2" thick pieces of polyisocyanurate insulation in all our windows that could be put in and taken out easily. It made a significant difference. We have since seen it only once in any other house.

We put the insulation in during cold weather to keep the heat in and again in hot, sunny

days to keep the sun and heat out. It is one of the major reasons for our heating and cooling successes.

Outside or inside swinging insulated blinds are never practical.

Home Heating - Portable Electric Space Heaters

Portable Electric Heaters

The first thing that comes to mind with portables is concern about fire hazards and there are tree answers to that:

All modem portables have fail-safe thermostats to shut them off if they get overly hot.
All modem portables have tip-over switches to shut them off should they be tipped over.
All modem portables have three-pronged plugs to protect against electrical shorts.

All of these things are worthwhile, but it is true that accidents can happen and, so,

extra caution is always the watch word!


There are portable heaters for many purposes. Some of them are:

Heating a room

Heating specific areas in a room-people, for instance

Heating by natural convection or fan forced

Heating by fan-forced action, strong or modest

Heating with power of 1500 watts or less

Heating to keep a room from freezing temperatures

Heaters that are shielded

Heaters that are very quiet

Heaters that are very small

Heaters that can be fan operated only

Heaters filled with liquids

Heaters that swing back and forth

Heaters that are long like normal baseboard ones

All portable heaters have thermostats, --some more accurate than others.

All heaters operating at 1500 watts have the same power regardless of how they are advertised.

All portable heaters are natural convection heaters unless their fans are strong ones.

All portable heaters must have strong fans if they are to have 25% less cost than any natural convective ones.

Even temperatures

Very quick on-off response times

No heat losses

Very low purchase costs
No installation costs (unless house wiring is inadequate for 1500 watts)
Ease of carrying
Full choice of placement in a room if the cord is long enough. NOTE THAT ALL
Ease of storage when heating season is over.
Can serve as a very adequate source of home heating with common sense care.
Radiation travels in straight lines and so portable radiation heaters are particularly
good for heating specific things like people.
Portables with strong fans can operate at 25% less cost than natural convection
heaters, either portable or normal ones.
Portables with strong fans can put heat directly where people are, 0-6' above the floor.
No limit for furniture positions.
No baseboard heaters and their cleaning problems.

Heaters use electricity -ordinarily an expensive source-but initial costs, conveniences, and where they put their heat can easily justify them.
Some fire chiefs do not look favorably on any portable heaters for safety reasons.

Home Heating - Ceiling Fans

Ceiling Fans

They mix the warm ceiling air with the air where people are.

Very even temperatures.
More quickly brings warm ceiling air down.
Especially useful for natural convention heating.
In overly warm weather the motion of air can be welcomed, too.

It must wait for warm air to be delivered to the ceiling.
Constant air motion can be irritating and disruptive.

Home Heating - Radiant Heating Systems

Radiant Heater Systems

I know of no radiant heaters that are designed to be permanently hard wired in residences, only ones for commercial use. However, there are numerous portable radiant heaters for home use. See them under the title Portable Electric Heaters. Note that all objects radiate, but to be useful radiators they must be at 115 degrees F or higher temperatures.

All open flames and fireplaces are radiators and so are all unshielded stoves.

So-called Floor Radiant Heating Systems

To start with note my reasons why floors are not used as radiators.

1. Useful radiant heat requires temperatures of 115 degrees F or higher.

2. Radiant heat does not heat the gases in air very well. Only solids absorb radiant heat easily and, so, air temperatures would heat very slowly.

3. If floors radiated significantly you would have heat absorbed significantly by ceilings and that's the last thing you want.

Now, the question is how rooms are heated by so-called floor radiation. The answer is simple: The air in contact with the floor is heated by conduction. This warmed air rises and mixes in particular in the first 5-6' above the floor where people are.

The significance of this is that it matters not what you call this system, but everyone that has it loves it!


Anything that warms a floor will do.

1. tubes carrying warmed water under a floor will do.

2. electric wires under a floor will do.

No special cleaning
Very even temperatures.
No drafts in any direction.
Savings of 25% compared to any natural convection heater.
No baseboard heaters and their cleaning problems.
No limits on furniture positions.

Expensive to install.
Slow on-off response times.
Possible heat loss to basement if' not well insulated.

Home Heating - Down Draft Systems

Down Draft Systems

This is a fan-forced hot air system. It is noted separately because of its new use in residential heating. It has been in commercial use for a long time.

By venting downward it presents opportunities that are worth considering.


This system vents downward from the ceiling that is not more than eight feet high such that it mixes the hot air where the people are, 0-6' above the floor.

Hot air conduits can feed the ceiling vents, or, more simply, a fan and an electric heater can be installed on or in a ceiling pointing downward.

Down discharge should be away from chairs and tables. Walkways and open spaces are ideally suitable places for this discharge.

Little or no cleaning.
No floor dust in vents.
No problem as to where to point horizontally moving air.
No warm air pushed along walls and ceilings.
Electric heaters and fans in the ceiling need no air conduits or central heaters.
The same reduction in cost to operate, 25% less heat used than by natural convection heaters.
No heater or vents along walls.

Not conventional.
Heaters may be hard to find.