Summer in Full Swing

Helloooooo friends! It seems that I left this blog in the hands of Gaston and Isabel for the past week. And what have I been doing in the meantime? Nothing particularly interesting. A little summer reading, a little gardening, a little bike riding.

As the hot temperatures have set upon us and a hurricane pounds up the east coast this Fourth of July weekend, I’d like to offer my yearly Auntie’s brag about my niece Olivia. She just completed the 6th grade with stellar marks and, to top it off, won the end of year award for “sportsmanship in softball”. Yeah Olivia! At the age of 11 she’s already a better athlete than I’ve ever been. My brother took this picture of Olivia at the last game of the season. As you can see, she’s contemplating her strategy for her next at bat. Love this girl :-)

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Olivia is now enrolled in summer day camp and having a blast. My brother is immersed in music composing jobs, my sister-in-law is doing some renovations at the country house in the Catskills, and Mom is working on paintings for her solo art show in the fall (more on that to come). As for me? Just taking life one day at a time, anticipating a summer of afternoon sunbathing in the park, some writing, volunteering, plenty of reading, visiting friends, going to church, and, lo and behold, some art modeling! Yes I actually have gigs booked in July. I had to hustle and harass for them, but I got them all the same.

I wish everyone a fabulous weekend whether you will have rain or shine, mild breezes or stuffy humidity. Happy Fourth of July! Be safe, be joyful, be grateful. I’ll see you all very soon. Peace, friends.

Central Park, New York City, July 4th, watercolor, Maurice Prendergast, circa 1903:

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Miles Davis Way

Like most big cities, New York has its share of honorary street names. More than it’s share, really. Our city council has re-named so many streets in tribute to famous figures that’s it’s hard to keep track of all of them.  The standard for street re-naming according to the council is “proposed honorees must be individuals who are deceased and of significant importance to New York City.”  The names range from local politicians to military figures to contributors to the arts, academia, sports and finance. The sheer number of them is a testament to the historical and cultural breadth of our throbbing, humming city and how many noteworthy individuals have lived here, worked here, created here, and found inspiration among its people and neighborhoods.

East 110th St is “Tito Puente Way”. West 145th is “A. Philip Randolph Boulevard”. Broadway between 51st and 52nd is “Al Jolson Way”. West 31st St is “Father Mychal F. Judge Street”, in honor of the Fire Department Chaplain who was killed during the 9-11 attacks while administering last rites. These are just a few examples of many. Last week, the city unveiled its newest street honorific; “Miles Davis Way” on 77th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The jazz legend lived on the block for 25 years. It’s a cool honor for the man credited with the “birth of the cool”.

For Music Monday I’m posting a 1989 interview with Miles Davis from the 60 Minutes archives. Interviews with Miles Davis are quite rare, as he was not the most accessible or congenial fellow in the music business. However, I found this interview interesting in that you can see flashes of humor in Miles, and a sense that he’s putting us on a bit. And Harry Reasoner, in spite of some rather silly questions, deserves credit for getting the elusive Miles Davis to sit down for a face to face interview at all. They touch on race, music, art, women, and Miles’ past heroin addiction. Also, this isn’t the first time Miles Davis has been the subject of a Music Monday. Here’s my Museworthy post from March 2010 about Kind of Blue.

Sweet City Stroll

9:45 in the evening. I trot down the steps of the National Academy after posing for Michael Leigh’s watercolor class. Modeling bag slung over my shoulder, lightweight spring scarf knotted around my neck. Off I go, south on Fifth Avenue. One of the most famous streets in the world. It’s quiet. Upper east side quiet. And if you think that “upper east side quiet” doesn’t have a character uniquely its own then you don’t know New York City. Posh residential buildings on one side, Central Park on the other. Starry sky, gentle breeze, street lamps aglow, just a few lone souls here and there, discernible only by their movement in the urban shadows. Why are they out in the street at that time on a weeknight, on the slumbering, proudly and complacently not “happening” upper east side? Well .. I am. Why not them? On that mild spring night, I think about how many times I’ve made that walk. I couldn’t even count how many times. That short walk from 89th to 86th where I catch the crosstown bus.

I pass the Guggenheim, whose chalky white wedge of a daytime presence transforms into a darker, ghostlier, more abstract form when the sun goes down. An ambiguous, eerie grey structure of circular lines and shapes that dance with the night sky. I stare up at it and think how I like the Guggenheim better at night. It’s closed and sleeping, but like all of New York’s cultural institutions, it keeps the lights on in the foyer.

Calm and content from a super pleasant art class with super sweet people, my walk is a saunter. A post-modeling on my way home kind of saunter. The relaxed pace we assume when we take an all-too-familiar route. At that time of night it’s as close to soundless as you’ll ever get in New York. All I hear is the clunking of my boot heels on the sidewalk. And it sounds even more pronounced and echoey in the crisp quiet air. And I am reminded how much I love this city at moments like this. Across Fifth Avenue, in the dark in the park, I see the spinning red reflector of a bicyclist pedaling toward the reservoir. An evening workout. At the next corner, a white-haired man strolls with his senior golden retriever. The dog has a slight limp and the man patiently allows him to take his time, to stop and sniff, to lumber around and investigate those unseen things only dogs are aware of. An aging but pampered pooch. I think then that the dog has probably made that walk on that particular Fifth Avenue corridor even more times than I have.

I pass the apartment buildings. At each illuminated entryway the doorman peers out and glances at me. He realizes he’s seen me before on many a night. He nods. I nod. I go on my way. To 86th Street. And at that intersection emerges the bus. The big blue city beast pulling up to the corner, blocking my view of the Neue Galerie. Gotta catch the bus. I speed up my walking pace just a little while whipping my Metrocard out of my wallet. The bus doors open. “Hi!” I say cheerily. “Evening ma’am”, says the pretty darn handsome bus driver. Doors shut. Left turn, then right turn, and through the park. And the upper east side recedes away. Until next time, when modeling brings me back . . . which won’t be long.

Georgia O’Keeffe, City Night, 1926:

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Our Birds Besieged

What the hell. Have I left my little blog idle for almost a week? This is outrageous! Bad blogger. Bad bad blogger :lol:

Much badder than me is the Port Authority of New York, which has enlisted contractors to gun down over 18 species of migratory birds and waterfowl in the area of JFK Airport. Many of these birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But they’re being shot anyway. The rationale behind this program is to prevent bird strikes on planes and nesting activities too close to runways. Didn’t the waterfowl get the memo? They cannot conduct their flying, migrating, mating, and nesting along the Atlantic coast or around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge unless they stay safely away from planes. That’s the rule. Because jet airliners own the skies now. Those foolish ospreys and herons and egrets have to understand that they must accommodate the needs of modern man, and the millions of years of instinctual behavior embedded in their DNA cannot be acted upon, their natural primordial impulses to survive and breed must be squashed. And those snowy owls that were nesting on top of a taxiway sign at JFK? Those dummies should have known better. Now they’re on the kill list too.

Herons, by Christian Rohlfs, 1936:

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I apologize for the sarcasm, as I don’t mean to minimize the issues with regard to bird strikes and airplane safety. But this wanton killing of our coastal feathered friends upsets me a great deal. Among the birds being targeted are herons, egrets, plovers, ravens, and the gorgeous American kestrel. And redwing blackbirds! They’re shooting redwing blackbirds for heaven’s sake. There must be a better way. Surely we can find a solution more humane than just blasting innocent birds out of the sky?

Winslow Homer, watercolor, Redwing Blackbirds:

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It was disturbing enough to learn recently that our magnificent North American eagles – hundreds of thousands per year – are being sliced up in the blades of wind turbines at wind farms throughout the country. Our government has now granted the wind energy companies permission to allow these deaths without fear of penalty, for the next 30 years. Ain’t that grand?

Geese In Flight Before A Full Moon, Ohara Koson:

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I love birds so much. I honestly don’t understand how anyone could not love them. They warble and sing outside my bedroom window every morning. They hop across my front lawn. They cheerfully perch in rows across telephone wires. They soar in the skies above my neighborhood. Eradicate all their colors, movements, and sounds from daily life and the absence would be sadly felt. And the observation of bird comings and goings inspires much of my other blog, The Salt Marsh. At this very moment as I’m typing on my laptop, one of those little downy woodpeckers is inching his way up the tree outside my kitchen. What a cutie :-)

At School With Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Hellooooooo!!! Greetings darling Museworthy readers. We are a few more days closer to spring since I last posted here. Ain’t that grand? I thought I saw some crocus bulbs poking out of the ground the other day. :happy dance:

My friend Francisco Malonzo was recently profiled in The Palette Pages with a splendid Q & A interview and magnificent images of his work. One of them is a portrait of yours truly that also appeared in this Museworthy post. More of Francisco’s paintings of me can be seen here and here. He and I have known each other for some time through the National Academy, and I’m delighted that he’s enjoying exposure and success :-)

Here in the Big Apple our newly-elected mayor Bill de Blasio is waging a war against charter schools. The whole thing is a shitstorm of local politics that involves the teachers’ union, irate parents, and de Blasio’s personal vendetta against Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy Charter Schools. Lost in the midst of this imbroglio? The children of New York City, who deserve better. I was reminded the other day of an engraving I’d seen once by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Flemish painter and printmaker of the Northern Renaissance period. I found it on the Web. It’s called The Ass in the School, from 1556. The humorous scene depicts a classroom – more like a barn – of unruly children and a teacher about to discipline one with a spanking on his bare butt. A mysterious woman peers from behind a window, and a donkey, aka “the ass”, studies what appears to be sheet music from his perch. The inscription reads something to effect of “the ass goes to school but will never become a horse”.

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Bruegel could have been making a satirical statement about the folly of education, or rather certain aspects of it. Or perhaps a broad comment about human failings and our inherently flawed nature in the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch. If you enlarge the image and look closely, the faces of the “children” in the drawing don’t appear like true children but more like mini-adults. So Bruegel might be trying to suggest something there. Apart from the hidden commentary, the print is really great, in composition and character. Truthfully, I just wanted to post it because Bill de Blasio kind of looks like a donkey :lol:

Click on this link for a nice gallery of more Bruegel prints. Have a great weekend everyone!

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:

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Paper Animals

Last Friday night my niece and I spent “A Night at the Museum”, a popular children’s event at the American Museum of Natural History. With sleeping bags and flashlights in tow, city kids and their adult chaperones had free reign to explore the museum to their hearts’ content, or until they passed out in their pajamas at midnight! Throw in an iMax film, storytelling, and a captivating visit to the Butterfly Conservatory, (one of my favorites) and a super fun time was had by all.

While there is certainly no shortage of fascinating displays at the Natural History museum, I was blown away by the museum Christmas tree which was still up in the main lobby, and the subject of many a camera click. Adorned completely in origami animals, the tree was one of the most enchanting things I’ve ever seen. I don’t think my photos fully capture the charms of this tree as they appeared live, but you can definitely get the idea.

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Origami, as everyone knows, is the art of paper folding. A Japanese tradition dating back almost 2000 years, origami, in its more skilled and advanced forms, is much more elaborate than the common origami cranes many of us learned to make as children. In fact, I asked my niece if she ever attempted origami and she responded, “Yes. It was a big fail!”. Ha, I know what she means. Anyone who’s ever struggled with the crane can feel only awe at the sight of origami giraffes, eagles, horses, dinosaurs, kangaroos, buffalos, geese, rabbits, alligators … the incredible range of diversity to be found in the animal kingdom. The origami artists who decorated the museum tree did it all.

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Check out the cobra at the bottom of this picture. Love it!

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Besides the sheer variety of animals to be found on the tree, the colors were also dazzling to the eye. What is it about colored paper that makes you want to play with it and create with it? Brings out our inner 2nd grader perhaps. The paper collage I made for the Museworthy Art Show makes even more sense now :-)

One more photo. Notice the red cardinal on the right side. So cute.

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Doughboys on Fifth

I should probably regard it as a positive sign that the museums of New York City are inundated with people these days, locals and tourists alike. Flocking to see art is clearly a wonderful thing, except when it screws up your plans! Yesterday, I attempted to see the Dutch Masterpieces exhibit at the Frick. But when I arrived, the line went around the block and the wait was estimated at an hour. I stood on the line for a while, but when we hadn’t moved an inch in 15 minutes, I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to see the show and still make it to midtown in time to meet my niece and my mother as planned. So I bid farewell to the Frick and busted out of the line. But I shall return. I’m not done with you yet Frick! Vermeer ain’t leaving this city before I can take in his magnificence, that’s a promise :-)

New York City being New York City, passing through the doors of a museum and paying an admission fee is not required to view art or objects of interest. Such things are all around us. Museum plans scrapped, I strolled down Fifth Avenue on that sunny Saturday afternoon. Within three blocks I was met by the 107th Infantry Memorial at 67th Street. Erected in honor of New York’s Seventh Regiment which fought valiantly in France during World War I and saw heavy casualties, the bronze sculpture sits a top a huge 25 foot wide granite base.

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The designer and sculptor of the piece, Karl Illava, served in the 107th as a sergeant and was able to draw from his own firsthand experience with the horrors of war and the brotherhood of an infantry division. The inscription is prominent and very nicely done.

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This powerful war memorial rightly draws stops from passersby. With art museums to the north and high end department stores to the south, the 107th Infantry Memorial stands tall along Fifth Avenue, a formidable presence of courage and sacrifice.

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See you all in 2014!

Walk to the Rock

The expression “walk if off” has special meaning for art models. Most of us will tell you that the best and quickest way to recover from pose discomfort is not stretching or resting, but walking. To bring back circulation, alleviate muscle strain, and combat fatigue, nothing beats plain old walking. Today, after a morning modeling job at the Century Club, a private, exclusive club in midtown Manhattan, I needed a good walk to get my sore hip flexor back to normal. With the rest of the day off, I had plenty of time to take a leisurely stroll a few blocks north, cold weather be dammed. Bundled up in my scarf, hat, warm winter coat, with my modeling bag slung over my shoulder, the walk was – this avowed “summer person” admits – quite invigorating in both body and spirit.

After a stop for a delicious hot herbal tea, I made my way to Rockefeller Center, the polestar of NYC tourist attractions during the Christmas season. I took a few pictures to share. Here’s the big Rock Center tree with silver flags blowing in front:

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The golden Prometheus watches over the ice skaters:

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Toy soldier blowing his horn:

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Angels on the promenade:

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I leave you all with these scenes of my twinkling, shimmering, frosty and festive holiday city. Meet you right back here on Sunday for the Museworthy Art Show :-)

Art in the City

Helloooo helloooo! Greetings after an exhausting week of dressing and undressing, modeling, subway riding,  coffee-guzzling, irregular sleeping, and looking for Banksy :lol: The elusive British street artist is whooping it up on a month-long tagging spree in our fair city.  The Art Students League posted a funny tweet about it. Indeed, most New Yorkers are getting a kick out of Banksy’s escapades, except of course for our killjoy mayor Mike Bloomberg who wants him arrested. I’m not a huge graffiti art enthusiast but the unpredictable “guerilla” approach embodied by guys like Bansky is kind of exciting and spirited. Besides, anyone who pisses off Mayor Bloomberg is okay in my book. Go Banksy!

In other news, the Museum of Modern Art’s “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926 – 1938″ exhibit is now on view. I haven’t seen it yet but I definitely will, as Magritte is one of my favorite surrealists. The Met is sharing some extraordinary etchings from 18th century France in “Artists and Amateurs” surely a must-see for printmaking buffs. And the Armory Show at the NY Historical Society is celebrating 100 years of a landmark art event. The collection of American and European modern and avant-garde works has something for everyone.

And now a work of art created right here in the city. Not it’s not Bansky, haha, but a portrait of me painted by my friend Francisco Malonzo at the National Academy. He posted this piece on Twitter and it generated a tremendous response of raves and retweets. It thrills me that I was the model for a work that impressed so many. Francisco’s work has appeared on Museworthy before: this post from August and this one from 2012. I am honored to post his work again. This is Claudia 3, acrylic on clayboard:

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Last but not least, the images for the Museworthy Art Show are being downloaded fairly evenly among the four choices, which is great! Yes one of them is definitely leading the pack in popularity, but not by a super large margin. I can’t wait to see what everyone creates!

That’s all for now friends. Peace, be well, and I’ll see you very soon :-)

Beethoven and Brotherly Love

Have I ever mentioned how much I adore my brother and love hanging out with him? Yes, I believe I have :-) Last week Chris and I attended the NY Philharmonic concert at Avery Fisher Hall. The evening’s program was Beethoven’s sublime and transcendent Ninth Symphony. The moment conductor Alan Gilbert strode onto the stage and took his place at the podium you could feel the anticipation filling the air of the sold out hall. New York City native and child of the Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert conducted the hour long Ninth Symphony from memory, with no score in front of him. That’s not uncommon among conductors these days but still it was fabulous to watch.

Chris and I before the concert, outside an illuminated Lincoln Center:

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My brother and I share the widely held view that Beethoven’s Ninth (and last) symphony is as close to the musical pinnacle of Western Civilization as it gets. In other words, it is sacred. And scared things often run the risk of being desecrated by the more prosaic arena of popular culture. Case in point: the background of my Twitter page is the Mona Lisa blowing bubblegum. Sorry Leonardo! I’m guilty as charged :lol:

When Beethoven is involved, however, I become a bit protective. For me he’s the untouchable exception, as I am in reverent awe of the man and his music. My protective instincts kick into even higher gear when a Beethoven work is co-opted for undignified purposes. The Ninth Symphony, intended by Beethoven as a paean to humanity and universal love, provides the musical backdrop for the 1988 smash hit action movie “Die Hard”. It also figures prominently in the violent futuristic dystopia of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”, in which the music is contrasted with disturbing images of Nazis. Loudmouthed TV personality Keith Olbermann used the first few bars of the symphony’s 2nd movement as the opening theme for his now defunct MSNBC program. And since we apparently can’t leave Beethoven’s unparalleled genius alone there’s now ” an app for that”. Yes, a Ninth Symphony iPhone app! Okay, so the app doesn’t really bother me and actually seems pretty cool, but Bruce Willis fighting terrorists to “Ode to Joy” is tacky. That’s some degrading bullshit.

I wonder what Beethoven, or any of the giants of artistic creation, would think of their works being treated in such ways. Mona Lisa parodies depicting her as a biker chick, Beethoven symphonies in action movie soundtracks, Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring taking a “selfie”. Heck maybe the artists wouldn’t be offended much at all. Or maybe they would find such things travesties. We’ll never know.

To conclude this Music Monday, Here are The Beatles performing – what else? – Roll Over Beethoven. Kisses for John xxx :-)

Stopping by Bethesda

Central Park is home to numerous charming and exquisite spots. One of its most well-known and most visited gems is Bethesda Terrace and the “Angel of the Waters” fountain. Saturday, after modeling at the National Academy, I decided to take a stroll over to Bethesda via the 72nd Street walkway. The earlier overcast sky from the morning had cleared to bright summer blue with white puffs of clouds. Bethesda, with its gently spilling water, winged angel, and majestic staircases, attracted tourists and New Yorkers alike. The layout and setting of Bethesda is incredibly inviting, as it was intended to be.

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The vision of Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux is represented magnificently at Bethesda Terrace, a spot they expected to serve as the heart of the park and was inspired more by the essence of nature than by architecture. This can be seen in the detailed carvings which flank the steps from the top level of the Terrace to the bottom.

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These enchanting birds and plants are the work of Jacob Wrey Mould. I love them. Here’s a closeup:

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The fountain was commissioned as part of the park’s original design plan, and the bronze angel sculpture is the work of Emma Stebbins, a well-connected native New Yorker. The piece was created to honor the successful Croton Aqueduct, a notable achievement in civil engineering, which went into operation in 1842 and was responsible for delivering a reliable supply of clean water to city residents. Although the old Croton Aqueduct is no longer in use, it set the standard for New York City’s famously excellent tap water. We’ve got good tasting water, folks :-)

Here she is, the Bethesda angel atop the fountain, soaring tall against the summer sky:

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In keeping with the theme of healthy, nourishing water, the name “Bethesda” was chosen after the Biblical reference to the healing pool in Jerusalem where the sick and infirm went to be cured. From the book of John: “and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water … for an angel went down … and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (NKJV)

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The ripples and splashes of the fountain’s water streams are indeed calming, and the restorative effects are felt however you wish to receive them, whether in spiritual or earthly manner. Although the site is secular and civic in nature, the Bethesda fountain holds a celestial aura that seems to communicate healing, hope, and rebirth. The final scene of Angels in America features the spot quite beautifully and effectively because of these qualities.

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I took all the photos in this post and if the quality of them seems irregular it’s because my camera battery died after I took only a few pictures! So I had to default into Blackberry cam. I wanted to capture Bethesda any way I could and share it with all of you. Here’s one more for the road:

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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,

Minerva

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 :-)

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Klee’s Ghost

So remember a few days ago when I was gearing up for a jam-packed modeling schedule? Well that has since been altered a bit, courtesy of hurricane Sandy. And by “a bit” I mean all my classes this week have been cancelled thus far. If FIT cancels tomorrow, which seems likely, then the whole week is a bust. Funny how things work out. But there’s nothing funny at all about the catastrophic damage inflicted by the storm, particularly in the New York and New Jersey area. I’m sure most of you have seen pictures of the devastation. People have died, homes have been destroyed, and our vast, complex transit system has been brought to its knees.

I was incredibly lucky in that my little section of Queens did not lose power. It’s a miracle really. As long as I’ve lived here, we have been susceptible to power outages during severe weather. It’s almost guaranteed, that’s why it’s amazing that we made it through this particular storm. My mother, however, was not so lucky. Her Queens neighborhood is without electricity, heat, and internet.

Today is also Halloween, but a somewhat compromised one. Kids in ravaged areas can’t go trick or treating :sad: I was going to post some spooky art images in honor of this “lost” Halloween, but my friend Fred Hatt already published a superb post that I couldn’t possibly compete with. I highly recommend clicking the link and visiting Fred’s rich, inspired collection of death and horror imagery. A marvelous assortment of works.

I will present just one offering of spectral theme. An atypical, unconventional one from a modern artist I’m quite fond of, the Swiss-born expressionist and surrealist Paul Klee. From 1931, this is Departure of the Ghost, in watercolor, gouache, pen and ink. It’s a strange, minimalist apparition. I can’t explain why I like it. I just do.

I hope all my readers who were in the path of Sandy are safe and well. Happy Halloween everyone! I’ll see you all real soon :-)

Silence Under Spring Street

It has long been my favorite place to model. Unique, authentic, true to the spirit of life drawing, Spring Studio is a little hidden gem in a blustering giant of a city. I use the word “hidden” not to suggest that it’s unknown. It’s very well-known in the New York art community. It is hidden in that it resides underground, literally in a basement space. Just feet from the Spring Street stop on the Lexington line subway, artists and models descend a staircase to enter the studio. Except in the very cold weather, the street door is always left open to allow air circulation. It also, for better or worse, allows for the myriad sounds of the city to travel down into our special space. For an operation that demands absolute quiet when model sessions are in progress – cell phones must be turned off, iPod volumes kept low, no talking, no disruptions – this is a very funny paradox.

I can’t emphasize enough how close the studio is to the street, its existence in a basement notwithstanding. The streets of SoHo are small, too small really to handle the traffic and activity. The area is crammed, almost claustrophobic at times. During the day, at our busy corner of Spring and Lafayette, the open street door means blaring taxi horns, chattering shoppers, revving motorcyclists, delivery trucks unloading, banging, clanging, and deafening jackhammers from the endless – and I do mean endless – construction taking place throughout the city. And then there’s the subway itself, which rumbles basically right alongside us. The model on the platform can feel the vibrations mid-pose. And at night, especially on Thursdays through Saturdays, the open door sends down the voices of revelers, tourists, and loitering smokers, often after enjoying a libation or two at the many so-called “hotspots” of the trendy nabe. Sometimes it’s laughter, sometimes it’s snippets of a conversation, sometimes it’s even a lovers’ quarrel.

Remember folks, this is New York City. This town bellows out more noises – some recognizable, some not – than you can imagine. Yet still, amid all the urban cacophony, life drawing persists in Spring Studio, the artists’ eyes and hands remain focused, blissfully impervious. They are undisturbed, unruffled. Noise? What noise? There is “silence” under Spring Street :-)

Created at Spring Studio on Thursday morning, these are my quick poses, my movements and gestures captured in pastel and conte by the delicate, effortless hand of Bob Palevitz: