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SHERMAN — Sherman has long been a farming town, but some might not know that it was home to a number of influential artists, writers and other creatives in the mid-20th century.
In the Sherman Historical Society’s newest book, "Reflections," current and former residents share memories and stories about those who took up residence in town like a Broadway dancer, actress, model and health and beauty guru Marguerite Agniel — a picture of whom is featured on the book’s cover.
Longtime resident Frank Weddell, who grew up in Sherman in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote the chapter about the “colorful lady,” he met during his childhood.
Agniel had a home on Orange Pepper Road, as well as one overlooking Timber Lake, according to Weddell, who said she was “pretty much broke” when he met her while out on his bike one day.
Though his parents weren’t thrilled about him socializing with a woman known for incorporating nudism in her work, Weddell said he and Agniel became and remained friends “for the rest of the years (he) knew her.”
“She was an interesting character — a lovely person as well. We had a lot of characters in Sherman early on,” said Sherman Historical Society volunteer and board member Ginny Zellner, who worked with curator Gloria Thorne to coordinate the effort to create "Reflections."
Thorne said the idea for the book came from stories they have heard over the years.
“People who lived in town their whole lives kept telling me about this colony of artists and writers,” she said.
Zellner — who had also heard stories about a group of talented people who came from New York in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and were different from everyone else in town — said it “wasn’t just by chance that these artists, writers and dancers lived here.”
As Weddell noted in one of his chapters, many were attracted to Sherman because of low rent and proximity to New York City.
In 2019, Thorne said she invited three residents to her house to discuss the idea of putting a book together on the talented individuals who called Sherman home.
“We didn’t know how to put a book together either, but I knew that we could do it — and that’s how it got started,” she said.
From there, the number of contributors grew — resulting in a committee of nine current and former Sherman residents.
“We began by making a list of possible people we could write about and from that list, they chose the ones they were most familiar with to write about,” Thorne said.
In addition to Agniel, other creatives featured in the book include Armenian-born painter Arshile Gorky, who had a strong influence on abstract expressionism in the 20th century and spent the last years of his life in Sherman.
There’s also a section about Peter Blume, a painter and sculptor whose works can be found at Sherman’s town hall and library, as well as museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Russian-born artist had a home on Church Road, across the street from writer and poet Malcolm Cowley.
“It’s kind of interesting that we started as a farming community and stayed a farming community, but this influx of the culture became a secondary thing in Sherman that just snowballed,” said Doris Tomaselli, who designed the cover of the book. “We seem to attract artistic and talented people here, and we’re very proud of that.”
In addition to stories and memories of the talented individuals who called Sherman home, "Reflections" features biographies of those who contributed to the book.
“As they wrote about people they knew way back when some of them were children, we asked if they would do short biographies about themselves,” Zellner said. “With that, the book became kind of a unique presentation of two sets — stories about the artists and stories about those writing about them. All in all, I think it turned out to be quite an interesting book.”
The book took about 2 1/2 years to complete, and the historical society received copies of it the first week of October.
"Reflections" is one of several books published by the Sherman Historical Society, and it probably won’t be the last.
“There were artists, writers and dancers here in Sherman — but a whole other part was the farming community — and many of the people who wrote for 'Reflections' want to do another book on those people that they knew,” Zellner said. “I don’t know what the next one will be, but I think there will be another book.”
"Reflections" is available for purchase at the Old Store Museum Gift Shop on Route 37.