A Lot More Inside


In collaboration with Special Collections & Archives, the Colby Museum mounts an exhibition that explains the unique history of Esopus magazine

Eric Hansen, 16, of Waterville, looks at the projection part of the installment of A Lot More Inside: Esopus Magazine. Tod Lippy, founder of the magazine, and the Colby Museum worked closely with Colby Libraries to curate a fascinating and offbeat selection of archival materials and original artworks from the publication’s archives that have been housed at Colby since 2019.
By Bob KeyesPhotography by Ashley L. Conti
February 21, 2024

Tod Lippy spent 15 years designing, editing, and imagining the alternative arts publication Esopus magazine. But it was much more than a magazine. It was a collection of original art, stories, illustrations, poems, music—each issue included a CD of original music—and a marvel of ingenuity in modern printing.

In addition to a CD, each issue also included projects, many of them removable posters, prints, and other objects created by a well-known or emerging artist. There was nothing traditional or ordinary about it. In 2004 the New York Times described Esopus as “a thing of lavish, eccentric beauty” and “not so much a magazine as a cult that meets semiannually.”

A visual artist and musician, Lippy conceived, created, and cajoled the magazine to life, corresponding with artists across disciplines to encourage them to contribute work, ideas, and  creative energy to elevate Esopus to an always-captivating artistic plane that never settled into predictability. He published 25 issues over 15 years, from 2003 to 2018, then shut it down.

In 2019 Colby Libraries Special Collections & Archives acquired the vast Esopus archive—boxes and boxes of up to 30,000 items, including paintings, photos, literature, and music, as well as the physical material related to the production of the magazine and Lippy’s written and digital correspondence among artists and readers.

From that archive comes the Colby Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, aptly named A Lot More Inside: Esopus Magazine.

Tod Lippy, founder and creative genius behind Esopus, co-curated the new exhibition A Lot More Inside: Esopus Magazine, which can be seen in the Davis Gallery at the Colby Museum.

The exhibition feels like somewhere between being in the magazine and being inside Lippy’s head. 

Esopus wasn’t a magazine only about art, film, and pop culture. The whole point was to open it to all kinds of creative expression, and the Colby exhibition includes bits and pieces of all of that, as well as new work commissioned for this occasion. There are audio and video artifacts, photographs of studio visits and press runs, handwritten and typed artist notes and email exchanges, diagrams, mockups, and printers’ proofs.  

Lippy co-curated the exhibition with Megan Carey, the Barbara Alfond Director of Exhibitions and Publications. It’s on view in the Davis Gallery, which has been greatly revamped for this exhibition, through May 12. Professor of Art Gary Green and Gianluca Rizzo, the Paul D. and Marilyn Paganucci Associate Professor of Italian Language and Literature, served as faculty advisors and contributed photos and writing for the catalog, which represents a special final edition of the magazine.

The gallery comes alive

The exhibition is tactile and interactive. Shelves and tables are stacked with all editions of the magazines and other Esopus publications that can and should be handled. Chairs around the table invite visitors to sit and read, fill out an Esopus-themed crossword, or play a card game designed for one of the issues. Listening stations play songs that appear on CDs distributed to subscribers.

Emerson Andrews, 11, listens to one of the original songs commissioned by Esopus as Shandra Andrews and Rylee Roy look on at the opening of the new exhibition at the Colby Museum.

In a gallery alcove, a hammock, commissioned from Esopus contributor Paolo Arao and artist Gregory Beson, beckons people to lounge and consider the wilderness of the Esopus Creek in the Catskills Mountains of New York, after which the magazine was named. The creek is depicted in a series of six, 10-minute animated videos created by Hinterland Studios, another magazine contributor. A tip: Take the time to watch all the animations, which come alive with the movement of wildlife, the sounds of nature, and the changing light of day.

“We wanted visitors to interact with the material and not just look at the displays,” said Carey, who spent months going through the material and meeting with Lippy to discuss the magazine and select items for the exhibition. “The archive comes alive when you hear about it through Tod. There are so many stories we wanted to tell. I love books and other publications, and I love making them, and that’s the process we tried to get across in the show.”

Rylee Roy of Waterville flips through an issue of Esopus magazine while browsing the new exhibition in the Davis Gallery at the Colby Museum of Art. The exhibition celebrates Colby’s acquisition of the magazine’s archive.

The exhibition shimmers with energy, so much so it begs the question: Why did Esopus cease? 

“I started getting bored with what I could do with it. Things started to feel a little rote—‘Wait, didn’t I use that design approach in issue No. 4?’ That was the sign: Stop now,” Lippy said. “If I am feeling it, the readers will feel it and see it.”

Original art for all

Esopus had about 1,200 subscribers, and they were very much a part of the magazine’s energy. Lippy solicited reader submissions that were used as source material for contributors. In one issue, readers described their childhood imaginary friends, which musicians then used to write original songs that appeared on that issue’s compilation CD.

In 2017 Lippy approached Brooklyn-based painter Steve Keene to create a unique painting for each subscriber, which Keene agreed to do. The artist is known for his prodigious output. He has sold or given away more than 300,000 paintings, including his unique copies of world-famous paintings. A selection of the paintings Keene made for subscribers is on display as part of A Lot More Inside.

A wall of original paintings made for Esopus subscribers makes a vivid focal point for the exhibition.

But Keene wanted to do more. He was familiar with the Colby Museum collection and asked if he could paint copies of some of the museum’s best-known paintings. Carey and Jillian Impastato, the museum’s Mirken Coordinator of Campus Collaborations, arranged for about 50 students to select their favorite work from the collection and write about it, and then Keene painted his version of those artworks on 16-by-22-inch panels. In the same spirit that each magazine subscriber received an original painting, each Colby student who participated also received a Keene original.

The art of rejection

The exhibition and catalog also explore the reality of rejection. All artists get turned down, and for one component in the accompanying catalog Lippy asked artists to contribute rejection letters, stories of failure “or something they got at some point in their career that was devastating to them.” Among those who contributed was Mad Men TV show creator Matthew Weiner, who told Lippy, “Rejection, as painful as it is, is nothing more than a delay.”

Lippy wanted to include that message as a difficult but important lesson for students. “It’s not all roses. There are a lot of obstacles, a lot of nos, and a lot of rejection. There is a lot to learn in the archive about the effort required to produce anything creative,” he said.

The new exhibition A Lot More Inside: Esopus Magazine features a fascinating selection of archival materials and original artworks from the publication’s archives housed at Colby. 
In 2019 Colby Libraries Special Collections & Archives acquired the vast Esopus archive—boxes and boxes of up to 30,000 items, including paintings, photos, literature, and music.

Coming to Colby to collaborate with Carey and Special Collections Librarian Pat Burdick to bring A Lot More Inside to fruition, Lippy rediscovered the thrill he felt when he was making the magazine. This time, he was making an exhibition to reflect the lifespan of Esopus and a special edition catalog to represent and preserve the creative aesthetic of the magazine and its unpredictable, anything-goes nature.

Like the magazine, the catalog they created is layered, dense, and surprising. It includes an artist project by Green and Rizzo, Esopus on Kennebec, an essay by critic Nancy Smith, and that collection of rejection letters. Lippy also produced three booklets as part of the publication, one called Paper Trails that documents the production process of making a magazine; a second, Exploring the Archive, which delves into the contents of the archive in detail; and a third, Keene Covers Colby, that documents Keene’s painting project with reproductions of each painting he copied along with the descriptions of those paintings by the students.

Submissions from the 1,200 Esopus subscribers were an important part of the magazine’s story and are also highlighted in the new exhibition.

Lippy had no intention of creating such an ambitious catalog. But artistic ambition is part of his makeup. He displayed it for 15 years when he produced the magazine, and he found it again working on this project at Colby.

“I forgot how much fun I had,” he said. “I needed a five-year gap, and I needed to know this would truly be the last one. I jumped back in, and it was such a pleasure to do. It reminded me how much fun I had for 15 years.”

Related events

Art and the Making of Esopus magazine: At 5 p.m. April 4 at the Colby Museum, co-curators Tod Lippy and Megan Carey will discuss the process and technical challenges behind creating Esopus magazine with its printer, Chris Young. Lippy described Young as “a genius. He came up with affordable, smart solutions for every crazy idea.”

Metagame: Conversation + Game-Play: At 6 p.m. April 8 at Greene Block + Studios, Lippy and John Sharp, creator of The Metagame, will discuss a collaboration that resulted in Sharp making a version of the card-based game for the magazine.