OSSINING, N.Y. — For seven days in June, Tim Youd hunted and pecked on an Olivetti Lettera 32 inside the former prison guard tower at Louis Engel Waterfront Park.
On the top floor, Youd sat at a table alongside an inoperable sink and toilet. The only door opened onto the balcony that encircles the tower, which overlooks the park and the Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
The tower had been part of Sing Sing, which served as the setting for “Falconer,” the 1977 novel by Pulitzer Prize winner John Cheever, who lived in Ossining and taught writing workshops at the prison.
For seven days, Youd retyped all 200-plus pages of “Falconer” on a single sheet of paper with a second sheet behind it. Every time he reached the end of the top sheet, he fed both back into the typewriter, forming a rectangle of ink the bled through to the bottom sheet. He recorded his progress with a GoPro camera strapped to his chest.
Both pieces of paper are now part of “Tim Youd: The Hudson Valley Retyped,” which opened Aug. 30 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. The exhibition continues until Oct. 14, with a reception on Sept. 13 at 5:30 p.m.
Between April and July, the 51-year-old performance artist from Los Angeles retyped six novels and one screenplay by Hudson Valley authors. He used the same model of typewriters as the authors and worked at locations related to them or their novels.
Youd started with Mary McCarthy’s “The Group” at Vassar, followed by “Falconer” in Ossining and Carson McCullers’ “The Member of the Wedding” in Nyack. He continued with A.M. Homes’ “Jack” at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville and James Salter’s “Light Years” at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill. He concluded with William Kennedy’s “Ironweed” — the novel and the screenplay — at the Albany Institute of History and Art and at the Art Omi Fields Sculpture Park in Ghent.
The exhibition at Vassar includes all seven diptychs. Between Sept. 14-18, Youd plans to add an eighth as he retypes Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Complete Poems: 1927–1979” at Vassar.
The staff of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center organized Youd’s tour of the Hudson Valley as part of his 100 Novels Project. Since 2013, he has retyped novels around the United States and Europe, starting with Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” He also used the Olivetti Lettera 32 for “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth and for “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me” by Richard Farina.
Youd is a married father of five whose offspring range in age from 9 to 30. He grew up in Massachusetts, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of the Holy Cross. He worked as an investment banker on Wall Street, then as a producer of commercials and films in Los Angeles. In his 30s, he decided to shift his focus to his own art.
Youd describes his 100 Novels project as “an exercise in devoted reading.” Retyping “Falconer” helped him appreciate Cheever’s ability to shift from realism to hyperbole and to populate his fiction with distinct characters.
“It’s a novel well worth reading,” he said on his final day in the former guard tower. “I’m very happy to have spent the time now, as I close in on the end of it. It holds up for me. I would read it again. That’s usually my test.”
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent almost two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.