Raphael and the Body Electric

A few days ago I received an email from Sedef Piker, an art history and travel blogger, in which she generously invited me to take part in an online tribute the life and work of  Hasan Niyazi - a fellow art historian and blogger who left us far, far too soon. The “Day for Hasan” would coincide with the birthday of Raphael and consist of original blog postings written for the occasion. Honored that I was even asked to participate, I contemplated what my contribution should be and decided that I would respectfully leave the art historical discourses to the experts and the intimate recollections to those of course who knew Hasan personally. What I can offer instead is the point of view of an artist’s model toward the Renaissance master who so inspired Hasan’s passion.

My world is infused with figure drawing. Yes I have sat for countless portraits and oil paintings. But my years as a professional artist’s model have made clear one incontrovertible truth about the creation of art: drawing is the most vital and essential skill an artist can master. For it is from drawing the human form that all timeless art flows. Raphael’s magnificent paintings and frescoes exist because he was, above all else, a gifted master draftsman. Easily one of the best who ever lived. And when the rules of propriety constrained artists of Raphael’s day from working from nude female models – a taboo practice -Raphael did it anyway. Gotta love him for that.

Day in and day out, I see artists drawing my body, in chalk and charcoal, pen and graphite and conte crayon. Some do it with difficulty, others with facility, aspiring to capture the gestures, lines, volume, movement, and humanity of their life subject. If I could jump in a time machine and travel back to Rome in 1508, I’d bang on Raphael’s studio door and beg to pose for him. And based on accounts of Raphael’s irresistible charms I’d bring a bottle of red wine too ;-)

Hasan regularly expressed his admiration for my work as an artist’s model. He also enjoyed my blogging content which often includes art images with poetry. So for my friend Hasan who I miss very much on 3PipeProblem, Twitter, and warm, joyful notes in my email inbox, here are some Raphael drawings accompanied by excerpts from Walt Whitman’s “I Sing The Body Electric”, for a Museworthy virtual life drawing session:

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?


The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not           ….hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.


The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their
….dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent ….green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,


The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their
….wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured,
….native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through ….clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,


The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the
….listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and
….pause, listen, count.


There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in
….the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.

Face Forward

Friends, I am feeling much, much better since the burglary I’m happy to report. All of you who assured me that my sense of security would return in due time? You were right. I wouldn’t say that I’m at 100% – or ever will be – but I’m currently at a good 75%. And I’ll take it! The jittery nerves, the thick knot of anxiety in my chest, the fear and vulnerability and sleepless nights have diminished significantly. So thanks again to all of you for your support and comfort, expressed through blog comments and emails. I really appreciate it :-)

This is a pencil drawing of me by Irene Vitale, which is lovely for its simplicity and loose lines.  Between the burglary (during which she was a great support) and two snowstorm cancellations of scheduled art classes, Irene and I have had a crazy couple of months! Finally, we made it to the Art League of Long Island for class, on a snow-free day, where she taught, I modeled, and all was well.


Sloshing in the City

Who doesn’t enjoy a nice filthy slush puddle now and then? We New Yorkers are just loving it! It’s still only early February and I think it’s fair to say that this winter has been kicking our asses. But I try to look for the positives in most situations. They can be seen if we pay attention. One is the helpful, “looking out for each other” spirit that many people adopt during adversity. Someone slips and falls and folks are there right away to assist. An unspoken bond can be felt among city dwellers that we’re all in this together and once it’s over we can meet up on the Great Lawn in Central Park, bask in the  warmth of springtime and toss frisbees. In the meantime, let’s give each other a hand through this hardship. We can bitch about salt shortages and snow plows, or we can just buck up and deal with it as best we can.

Other positives include ice-encased tree branches and twigs and icicle formations, which are classically beautiful cold weather images. Also, the upper east side poodles and pomeranians in their little coats provide reasons to smile. Perhaps the most significant positive of winter in New York City is the indefatigable drive to keep everyday life going, business as usual … getting there, it’s all about getting there, slush puddles notwithstanding. Like the authentic New York City place that it is, Spring Studio keeps on going and doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “snow day”. Instead, every day is a “drawing day”. And through the slippery subway platforms, overhead drippings, and transit delays, the faithful model shows up at the studio. She’s wet, cold, and disheveled, but she shows up :-)

Created at Spring Studio on Monday night, a drawing of me by Robert Sebastiano:


The 2013 Museworthy Art Show

“Creativity takes courage”
Henri Matisse


In early October I invited the readers of this blog to participate in a second art show. Our first one took place in 2011. This year, artists were asked to create an original work based on one of four modeling photos of me taken by Fred Hatt. For six years I have been known as “the muse of Museworthy”. With this special blog event, that moniker which I hold dear takes on a truer meaning than ever before. One muse, eighteen artist submissions (myself among them) and a marvelous diversity of styles and interpretations. I want to express my sincere thanks to all those who contributed. It is truly my honor to serve as blogger and muse. From my heart to yours, enjoy this celebration of online community, creative expression, and joyful participation.

Claudia  xoxo


Todd Fife

pencil on paper

Bowling Green, Kentucky



David Rockwell

oil and acrylic on canvas

New York City

Claudia Painting Phase 4 102913


William MacDonald


Quincy, Massachusetts



Colin Buckett

pencil and oil pastel

Ottawa, Canada



Elaine Hajian

pastel on paper

New York City



Mark Wummer

pencil and watercolor on paper

Southeastern Pennsylvania



Bruce Williams

relief, plasticine clay

New York City



Grier Horner

Apple Aperture

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Museworthy, bright


Rob Carroll

charcoal on paper

Swindon, UK

Claudia --- November '13


Derek James Tewey

oil, acrylic, mixed media

Brisbane, Australia

Claudia -Body and Soul


Christopher Hickey


Atlanta, Georgia



Fred Hatt

aquarelle crayon on paper

Brooklyn, NY



Dave Moran

pencil on paper

Ann Arbor, Michigan



 Peter Howard

acrylic on board

Surrey, England

claudia painting


Richard Rothman

Sketchbook Mobile

Rising Fawn, Georgia



Daniel Maidman

oil on canvas

Brooklyn, NY

MAIDMAN_Study-of-Claudia_24x18 large


Ed Ettlin

pencil, crayon, watercolor, white ink on brown paper

Lucerne, Switzerland



Claudia Hajian

paper collage, mixed media, ink stamp

New York City


Sketches, Update, and a Workshop

Greetings friends! Here at home on this Friday day off and I’m doing model preparation for a weekend-long portrait workshop taught by the esteemed Max Ginsburg. What is involved in preparing for a portrait workshop you ask? Not much really except for an exfoliating facial treatment and hair-trimming, all self-imposed I might add. I’ve got my scrub and scissors ready! Must look lovely for Max :-)

Now just a reminder that the deadline for Museworthy Art Show submissions – December 8th – is rapidly approaching. A few have sent their pieces already, but I know many of you are still in the planning/creating stage and have yet to submit. That’s fine of course. I trashed the first one I did and am starting anew. I’d also like to assure any readers out there who may still be ambivalent about participating that your contribution is absolutely, positively welcome! Please know that. This is an event for all of us to enjoy. So if you’re still hesitant for any reason, view the image choices again and go for it! I am your humble model at your service.

I’ll leave you all with some quick warm-up sketches of me created by the photographer behind those splendid Art Show selections, my good friend Fred Hatt. From a session at Figureworks Gallery, Fred does what he always does so well, which is capture in just a few loose lines the movement of my crouches, contortions, stretches, and twists – all the spontaneous gestures we models strike when we have to change poses on the minute.





Let’s Have An Art Show!

Here we go friends! I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for the submission details for the Museworthy Art Show. After careful consideration I’ve finally decided on the image choices and the dates. Unlike the last Art Show, this year folks will create a brand new work for submission rather than sending a piece already made. Thus I’ve allowed for a little more time. Heck I need time to create mine! My modeling schedule is solidly full for October and much of November. So here are the specifics: The Art Show itself will be published on the blog on Sunday December 15th. It will remain as the top post for well over a week until Christmas, that way we can enjoy it for many days and I can have a little blogging break for the holidays. Submissions should be sent no later than December 8th if that’s okay with everyone.

I have set up a separate page of the image choices of yours truly, your faithful muse: three figure options and a portrait, plus a few words if anyone would like to do the calligram method as suggested by a reader. You can also find the page in the left sidebar under “Pages” for easy access. After you’ve selected and downloaded your image feel free to do with it what you will in your own applications – make light or color adjustments, etc. Whatever helps you create your piece. All media are acceptable! Paint, pencil, pen, watercolor, charcoal, mixed media, pastel, marker, crayon, you name it. And of course, all skill levels are welcome, in fact encouraged! This is an inspired joyous Museworthy celebration, not a contest :-)

Email your works to me at claudielh@aol.com. Make sure you put “Museworthy Art” in the subject line, and include your full name, location, medium, and link to your website/blog if you have one. If you have any questions or issues please don’t hesitate to contact me and let me know. I want everyone to be satisfied. What’s most important is that we all have fun!

Studio Flowers

I’d like to thank everyone again for the sweet comments on the Museworthy birthday post. I usually give individual replies, but I decided this time to let them stand on their own. Thanks also for the emails! Please know that I loved and appreciated every one. Year seven of this blog is now underway :-)

It’s hugely appropriate that during the same week of Museworthy’s birthday another notable New York art community birthday took place. Minerva Durham, founder and director of the one and only Spring Studio, celebrated her 75th. We had a party last Sunday, and I returned the very next day for afternoon modeling. During a long pose in which I had to hold my gaze in one spot for forty minutes, the subject of my stare was the opposite wall, where Minerva’s birthday flowers still sat atop the bookcases. I thought they looked so pretty, so I snapped a picture on my break. The yellows of the roses and sunflowers are “framing” a red pencil drawing by Gary Katz, whose exhibit “Multiple Perspectives” was just on view at the studio.


Enjoy the rest of the weekend everybody! Catch you right back here on Monday :-)

Barocci Revealed

Just when I think I’ve finally become familiar with all the Renaissance artists, another one is revealed to me through the many lectures and art talks I’m privy to as an artist’s model. I’ve written before that although we’re not enrolled in classes as students, we models receive a fine art education of sorts, merely as attentive bystanders who just happen to be in between poses. I always listen to the lectures, that is if I can tear myself away from the distracting nonsense on my smartphone. Yes, I play Word Mole on my Blackberry sometimes, I admit it :lol: The other day at the New York Academy of Art, Robert Armetta treated his MFA drawing class to an enlightening slide show. After a quick run to the bathroom, I snuck back into the studio to see Robert analyzing some beautiful portrait drawings among his slides. I had missed the artist’s name, but the works were clearly of the Renaissance period. So I made the assumption they belonged to one of the usual suspects: Leonardo, Raphael, Giorgione, etc. After the lecture, I asked Robert who was the artist of those particular drawings. He replied, “Barocci”. Who??

Yet another Italian guy from the 16th century who could draw like nobody’s business. The name Barocci was only vaguely familiar to me. Yes I’ve heard it, or read it, somewhere, but never explored it. My loss as it turns out. For those of us who are not art historians, it’s easy to forget that under the umbrella of the illustrious giants who overwhelmingly dominate that era – the masters known as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Titian, and the rest – were many others toiling away alongside them, studying with them, apprenticing and assisting, perfecting their craft, and some making their own way independently. Federico Barocci may be far less known than Michelangelo, but these drawings impressed me so much both technically and expressively  I just had to share them on the blog, as I know many of you are partial to drawing, and portraiture. Robert was kind enough to email me the images and save me the effort of searching for them on the Internet. Thanks Robert! This is Barocci:

photo 3

photo 2

photo 1

The National Gallery in London, coincidentally, just held an exhibition of Barocci’s work in the spring of this year. Another review of the show can be found at The Guardian, and also at The Art Newspaper. All of the linked articles acknowledge Barocci’s somewhat “forgotten” status. But the man from Urbino seems to be receiving his well-deserved, albeit painfully late, recognition. What an incredible draughtsman.

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. Music Monday will return on September 30th. But first, let’s all meet back here this coming Tuesday, the 24th, for a little party, a picture, some rock and roll, and a blogging commemoration. Cheers friends!

Stand Up Guys

In academic art settings, models are often asked to do standing poses. Why? Because standing poses are considered “classical” and are well-suited to traditional study. While both male and female models are asked to do standing poses in such environments, the dreaded task of long pose standing seems to fall more heavily on male models. During art’s golden ages of the past, the academic male nude was the epitome of the idealized human form. Browse through galleries of  Renaissance art, Old Masters drawings, Greek and Roman sculpture, etc. and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Of course female models pose standing for academic work. I’ve done a ton of it. This one was memorable. But the standing male nude has been, and continues to be, the exemplar of formal life study. And my male counterparts answer the call with poise, resilience, and professionalism.

A wonderful back view of a strong, muscular model, Standing Male Nude by William Etty:


I hesitate to say that standing poses are “easier” for men, as I’m sure my model friends – male and female alike – would argue that there is nothing “easy” about a long, all-day standing pose. The discomfort we feel in those situations involves fatigue more than pain, although pain can be an issue as well. I’ve read that women’s muscles are actually slower to fatigue than men’s – that while men have more raw strength, women have greater endurance. I’m a tad skeptical of that, but perhaps it’s true. What I do know from my years of experience is that male models handle standing poses extremely well. If they feel discomfort they tend to keep it to themselves and soldier on. Also, let’s face basic facts about male vs female physiques. Men are stronger. They have stronger muscles and more muscle mass. That’s just the way it is. Testosterone, folks. Now we can quibble about the body varieties which exist among individuals of both genders. But broadly and generally speaking, these innate characteristics apply.

In life modeling, strength matters, especially for standing. Strong quads and hamstrings sure are helpful. Toss in some active gestures on top of the standing and you have quite a posing challenge. Let’s take a look at a few more examples of the fellas doing their thing.

It takes a great deal of physical strength – in the legs, torso, and back – to pull off a standing pose like the one in this drawing by Prud’hon. It’s a good example of the kind of thing asked more often of male models than female models:


A beautiful contrapposto pose that projects both strength and elegance, Male Torso by Ingres, year 1800. The pole is a common prop in in art studios and a favorite in academic settings. I consider it best utilized by male models. Personally I never use the pole unless I’m asked. I see it as a guy thing.


The pole again, assisting this male model in creating a great action pose which enhances the musculature, twist, and movement of the figure. Standing Male Nude, 1898, by British artist Harold Knight:

(c) John Croft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

All art models everywhere should bow down in respect to the guy posing in this work, Study of a Man by Theodore Gericault, 1812. What you see here is pure torture. Just looking at it is giving me muscle spasms!


On this holiday weekend I hope my male model peers relax and sprawl out on chaise lounges, the beach, in jacuzzis and whatnot. You deserve it. The new art school semesters are upon us, and you know what that will bring. Get your standing legs ready boys ;-)

The Age of Bronze, Auguste Rodin:


Movers and Shakers

“Ode” from Music and Moonlight by Arthur O’Shaughnessy -

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;-
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

A Summer Night, 1890, Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer - A Summer Night (1890)

Vaudeville Musicians, 1917, Charles Demuth


With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample a kingdom down.

A Pyrrhic Dance, 1869, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema


Joyous Frolics, 1899, Paul Emile Chabas


We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Ninevah with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

The Bacchante, 1872, Mary Cassatt


Sounds of Spring, 1910, Franz Stuck


A breath of our inspiration
Is the life of each generation;
A wondrous thing of our dreaming
Unearthly, impossible seeming –
The soldier, the king, and the peasant
Are working together in one,
Till our dream shall become their present,
And their work in the world be done.

The Peasant Dance, 1568, Pieter Brueghel the Elder


Study for the Spanish Dance, 1879, John Singer Sargent


They had no vision amazing
Of the goodly house they are raising;
They had no divine foreshowing
Of the land to which they are going:
But on one man’s soul it hath broken,
A light that doth not depart;
And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
Wrought flame in another man’s heart.

The Impassioned Singer, 1510, Giorgione


Chocolat Dancing in the Irish and American Bar, 1896, Toulouse-Lautrec


And therefore to-day is thrilling
With a past day’s late fulfilling;
And the multitudes are enlisted
In the faith that their fathers resisted,
And, scorning the dream of to-morrow,
Are bringing to pass, as they may,
In the world, for its joy or its sorrow,
The dream that was scorned yesterday.

Music (Sketch), 1907, Henri Matisse


Singing Peasants, Filipp Malyavin


But we, with our dreaming and singing,
Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
The glory about us clinging
Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing:
O men! it must ever be
That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.

Midsummer Dance, 1903, Anders Zorn


Candle Dancers, 1912, Emil Nolde


For we are afar with the dawning
And the suns that are not yet high,
And out of the infinite morning
Intrepid you hear us cry –
How, spite of your human scorning,
Once more God’s future draws nigh,
And already goes forth the warning
That ye of the past must die.

Dance of the Majos at the Banks of the Manzanares, 1777, Francisco de Goya


Aragon, La Jota, 1914, Joaquin Sorolla


Great hail! we cry to the comers
From the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your sun and your summers;
And renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song’s new numbers,
And things that we dreamed not before:
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
And a singer who sings no more.

A Dance to the Music of Time, 1636, Nicolas Poussin


Me and the Mad Hatter

Helloooo everyone! Hope you all had a good week. The summer is rolling along and the weather here in NYC has been really beautiful lately. Clear blue skies, not hot. Gorgeous. After a couple of blog posts bitching about my doldrum days and scarcity of modeling work, on Friday, at long last, I was rescued. Yay! Rescued from this idle summer of crap and nothingness. My knight in shining armor was the one and only Fred Hatt, who invited me to his studio in Brooklyn. We spent the afternoon drawing, discussing the photos for the Museworthy Art Show, and enjoying each other both as friends and collaborators.

Fred is of course a professional photographer but I also had my camera with me, and that inevitably leads to goofy pictures taken when I’m not posing. My view from the studio floor with Fred in the background:


I like it on the floor. And the floor plus mirrors is a recipe for weird visuals. Fred has plenty of mirrors around. Can you find me in this picture? My version of “Where’s Waldo?” :lol:


More fun with mirrors. Here I am showing Fred the fine art of the “selfie” , one of the more dubious fads spawned by social media.


Me acting like a complete idiot. You see folks? This is what mirror selfies will do to people :lol:


When I wasn’t messing around with my camera, Fred and I got down to the more inspiring endeavor of creating art. Here’s two drawings that Fred made, each a ten minute pose. You’ll notice in the first one that the elbow gesture is similar to that in the small mirror floor picture:



And finally, a picture  of me and Fred captured the way people took photos of themselves in the days before “selfies” – with a timer! The large drawing behind us is one that Fred did of me in the summer of 2009, which I posted on Museworthy. Thank you Fred for a lovely afternoon!

Picture 4

For the Elephants

Heyyyy everyone. The heat wave returned this week and it returned with a vengeance. I won’t bore you all with another whiny “it’s so hot” blog post. Nor can I offer anything in depth on our usual topics of art history, modeling, music, etc. My brain feels too fried to produce thoughtful writing or analysis. Reading comes more easily, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading these past couple of days. I thought I’d share an article I read recently about a subject close to my heart – elephant poaching in Africa and the ivory trade which drives it. The piece is titled “Inside the Global Industry That’s Slaughtering Africa’s Elephants” and it was written by Matthew Scully. Scully is the author of a magnificent book about animal welfare called Dominion which I consider to be a true masterpiece on the subject of animals, and I’ve read almost all of them. The elephant article is very long and it’s not my intention to give a homework assignment to my readers. There won’t be a quiz! But the piece is extraordinarily well-written and thorough. It addresses all aspects of this cruel, ruthless practice and the politics involved. China is largely the villain but certainly not the only one.

Two Elephants by Amrita Sher-Gil:


I have loved elephants ever since I was child. Accounts of baby elephants witnessing their parents getting murdered by poachers and having their tusks ripped out, often when the animal is still alive, are extremely hard to take. And when we consider the emotional bonds these  highly intelligent creatures share with each other and their habitats, this operation becomes nothing less than a vicious, barbaric, epic crime. The elephants, being such intuitive animals, literally live in fear. Frankly, it makes my blood boil. This excerpt reveals the callous mentality behind elephant poaching:

Scientists tell us that elephants have death rituals. They will, for instance, cluster around a dead individual and touch the carcass with their trunks, and then return much later to caress the bones. Mkanga, the first poacher, is asked if he knows that elephants mourn their dead. He shifts in his chair, adjusts his Safari Beer cap, and smirks. “Sometimes when they have a funeral, it’s like a party for me,” he says. “You shoot one, and before he dies the others come to mourn for the one who is injured. And so I kill another one, and kill another one.”

Appalling. Scully goes on to write, “rarely will you find so much depravity converging on such innocence. After ages in our midst, the most powerful of creatures and among the most gentle, so completely unoffending and yet so endlessly persecuted”,  butchered just so people can eat their noodles with ivory chopsticks. One need not be a lifelong animal welfare supporter like me to recognize that what’s happening to the African elephants is an obscenity that must be stopped.

An elephant sketch in black chalk by Franc Marc:


Try to keep cool my friends. If I don’t see you sooner, I’ll see you here on Monday for my birthday. Be well.

Figure and Verse

As in the midst of battle there is room
For thoughts of love, and in foul sin for mirth;
As gossips whisper of a trinket’s worth
Spied by the death-bed’s flickering candle-gloom;
As in the crevices of Caesar’s tomb
The sweet herbs flourish on a little earth:
So in this great disaster of our birth
We can be happy, and forget our doom.
For morning, with a ray of tenderest joy
Gilding the iron heaven, hides the truth,
And evening gently woos us to employ
Our grief in idle catches. Such is youth;
Till from that summer’s trance we wake, to find
Despair before us, vanity behind.

- Sonnet XXV, George Santayana

Relief print of me by Christian Johnson:


Fighting City Hall

Longtime Museworthy readers have seen me write often, and with great affection, about Spring Studio, Minerva Durham’s 7 day-a-week life drawing studio located in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. Much of the artwork posted on this blog over the years was created at Spring Studio, by artists like Fred Hatt, Daniel Maidman, Bob Palevitz, Jean Marcellino, and Jordan Mejias, to name a few. The singular, unique qualities of Spring Studio – from its founder Minerva, to its artists, models, atmosphere, social events, and corner location at Spring and Lafayette Streets – cannot be overstated. In other words, there is no other place for life drawing in New York City like Spring Studio. It is truly one-of-a-kind. This is fact, not opinion.

Over this coming weekend – Memorial Day weekend – the  city of New York in partnership with Citibank, is set to launch its aggressively-hyped Bike Share Program. This project has been the subject of much contention and debate, mainly due to the installation of intrusive bike kiosks, or “docking stations”, throughout the city. Keep in mind, this is not about folks who own a bike and want to ride around the city. This is about bike rentals, at various locations throughout the city. Because apparently our city’s vast and efficient transit system isn’t good enough all of a sudden.

Before I continue with what this has to do with Spring Studio, I’d like to digress for a moment about the state of leadership in this city – my hometown, the big mess of a metropolis in which I was born and raised. I have always believed that politicians are bad, and that politicians with obsessions are a thousand times worse. Our Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, is an obsession-riddled little creature who has demonstrated throughout his tenure that he is driven solely by those personal obsessions rather than by the principles of good governance and civic responsibility. From smoking bans and trans-fats and congestion pricing, to salt content and sugary drinks, to forcing an exception for himself regarding term limits, Mayor Bloomberg is a pampered billionaire who arrogantly believes that he is in the business of issuing king-like edicts, that he and he alone knows what is best for eight million New Yorkers when it comes to lifestyle choices. He is notorious for disregarding the sentiments of ordinary working people. He sees the city as his own personal pet project, a place that he can remake to fit his own preferences, enforced with little consideration of dissenting viewpoints and by way of fiat.

Some of the New York media has reported opposition to the Citi Bike stations as nothing more than “NIMBY” complaints of rich people who don’t want the unsightly obstructions in front of their fancy co-ops. While this may be true in some instances, it in no way tells the whole story. People’s livelihoods, community loyalty, small businesses, safety and cultural concerns all come in to play with regard to this program. Jacques Capsouto of Capsouto Freres restaurant in Tribeca, sat down on the curb to protest a bike share installation in front of his restaurant on Washington Street. And Minerva Durham, director of the beloved Spring Studio, has been protesting daily against the the proposed bike docking station in Petrosino Square on Lafayette Street. She recently sent out a mass email which details her plight and her plans for the studio. As a gesture of support, I asked Minerva for permission to share her email here on Museworthy. She said yes. I’d like to add that I have been one of Minerva’s regular models for seven years and I stand by her in this battle. She is my dear friend and employer. And I know her to be a person of passion and principle, who stands fiercely by her convictions and will go to the mat for her models, her neighbors, her fellow small business owners, her friends, and, perhaps above all, for ART. It saddens me to see her experiencing so much despair. So here is Minerva’s email, reprinted in full and with her permission. In her own voice, she describes her position like only she can:

Since Saturday, April 28, I have been protesting the theft of the art installation space in Petrosino Square by the New York City Department of Transportation and Citibank . The City administrators and the corporate bank have placed bike-share docking stations on top of the officially designated space for Public Art.  Georgette Fleischer and I had stopped the bike-rack installation on Thursday night, April  27th, but DOT secretly placed the racks during the middle of Friday night.

If bikes are operating from the stations on Memorial Day weekend , Saturday, May 25, I will lock Spring Studio for one week or until the bikes are removed, whichever comes sooner. In good weather I will have classes outside with a nearly nude or nude model, depending upon the model’s fearlessness. I will leave messages on the phone, 212-226-7240 about the times for the sessions in the park. I will have all of the morning classes in the park if it is not raining. They will be free to anyone who wishes to draw. I will also bring free materials for passersby. The studio will be open for Karen Capelluto’s show during the gallery hours, 5:00 to 6:00 pm, M-F. If the bikes remain I will reopen downstairs on Saturday, June 1, raise the prices, and cancel all plans to stay in New York City beyond the two-and-a-half years left on my lease here at 64 Spring Street.

The historic reasons for an art installation space here in this Park are overwhelming. The fact that the Park was derelict in appearance  but inviting to avant-garde and experimental artists since 1985 makes it a sacred place for everyone who is aware that their artistic output was influenced by the Fluxus movement. Just about everyone who makes art today, as well as most performing artists, express Fluxus ideas.. Think of Lady Gaga and her elaborate settings. Even the newspaper reports of my protest are couched in Fluxus concepts and language: “Elizabeth Hellman’s ballet-inspired protest…” and “In typical SoHo artist style, a woman is staging a protest near the bike rack, standing in a statuesque pose every day…” I love these descriptions that assign empowerment to the performer herself, to the genuine and truthful intention of an artist who moves and communicates. That vision of the artist comes right out of SoHo.

The idealistic thrust of the artists’ settlement in the loft buildings in the cast-iron district was central to the economics and politics of Virginia Admiral, the woman who organized 226 Lafayette in the early 1970′s. It is thanks to her, my friend who died in 2001, that I have my business in the basement here. Before she died, she said,”Keep Minerva in the basement,” a statement that could be viewed with sisterly cynicism or with a sense of humor that knows the value of real estate. The corner of Spring at Lafayette is to me the most valuable real estate in the world. But it will lose all of its value and charm if it becomes a bicycle depot. How did I get to be so lucky to have spent 21 years working on this corner? Now that the city has changed so much, is it time for me to go away and die in an obscure corner?

Virginia wanted the Park to be green. She meant plantings. It took years for the Park to be rebuilt into the inviting space that it is now. The decision was made to put art works out in the “PLAZA”  area, and to leave the fenced-in green area quiet, free of even artistic speech.  Outside, in the north triangle, people gathered around the first work installed and took pictures in a touristy way without annoying the locals who live and work here and who sit in the enclosed green space. Actually, I think that most of the locals were proud that tourists were enjoying the art. There are many Parks Department papers proving that the north triangle of Petrosino is designated for temporary art exhibitions.

Besides the historic, philosophic, and esthetic arguments for the removal of the bike stations and for the insistence on the continued presence of Art in Pertosino Square, there is a more profound and potentially more volatile reason to keep bike shares out of the park. For me it is the ultimate right-of-way turf war. I have been walking along the side of the park for over thirty years. For twenty of those years I have walked to my business at 64 Spring Street. I have rarely encountered mounted bicyclists on the pavers. If the bikes are being parked and taken out, my pleasant walk to work will become a hazardous journey. Already, the presence of the bike racks has opened up the possibility to many riders that they may ride on the sidewalk which is Park land and not a bike path. As I do my protest daily, I call out to mounted riders to “please walk your bike.” One man stayed on the sidewalk, still mounted, then circled back in the street and called out to me, “I know you. I used to live where you live at 86 Kenmare, and you are easily the most annoying person in world.”   Half an hour later I saw him riding in the street in the bike lane and we both smiled and waved at each other. Another said that I need to get laid. (Everyone needs to get laid.)

My problem is with Mayor Bloomberg, the DOT and Citibank. While many people are working on this, I feel that I have my own little war with them. It is either them or me. And, hey, he spends his weekends in Bermuda, while I am here all week long, and the weekends too. I was willing to go to jail to stop the pushcart from operating in the park, but I will die for this outrageous violation of the law and of the will of the local residents, both renters and owners of property, and shopkeepers who share with me the traditional cultural values of New York City.

I am asking you, all the people I know and love, all of those who love the studio, to support the accomplishments of the art movement that occurred in SoHo at the end of the last century and to insist to Mayor Bloomberg, the DOT and Citibank that Petrosino Square be protected from commercial activity and from moving  vehicular traffic (bikes), and that its front triangle  be supported as the Parks Department has designated it to be, as a space devoted to art installations.  I am asking those of you who have power and connections to do what you can. If you can’t help me in this, I will have done everything in my power, and I will be living with a deep sense of disappointment and disillusion.

Thank you,


Some links:

My blog post about Spring Studio from October 2012 “Silence Under Spring Street”

From the NY Times “The Bikes and the Fury”

From ARTINFO.com the Petrosino Square anti-bike rack protest with photo of Minerva, sitting in the chair.

From CBS Local “Installation of Bike Share Docking Stations Testing New Yorkers’ Patience”

From Fox Small Business Center “One Size May Not Fit All on U.S. Bike Shares”

I will conclude this post with some of my mother’s figure drawings created at the Saturday morning session at Spring Studio, which she attends regularly. Charcoal sketches by Elaine Hajian :-)