Sanctuaries

A few days ago, I was planning – or rather expecting – to prepare my annual Easter blog post as a eulogy for Notre Dame Cathedral. Like the rest of the world, I was horrified watching news videos of the blazing orange inferno licking ferociously at the roof of the 800 year old house of worship and bringing down its famous spire like it was just a flimsy stack of toothpicks. But miraculously, the damage turned out to be nowhere near as devastating as predicted, and the image of a burned-to-a-crisp building skeleton never emerged. Most of the artwork and holy relics survived, as did the pipe organ and the exquisite stained glass Rose windows. I thought for sure those windows would be goners; blown out and shattered by the intense heat. But incredibly they remain intact. Even the resident bees survived unscathed. Yes, the bees! And they did so without even having to fly away. Apparently the CO2 from the smoke makes bees so drowsy that they simply hunker down in a stupor. Nicholas Geant, Notre Dame’s beekeeper, posted a photo to his Instagram of the Cathedral bees safely huddled in a crevice of a gargoyle. Glory to god, and glory to the bees who are so critically important to the world’s ecosystem. I love this photo. The bees are like, “Fire? What fire?” 🙂

I spent time last week in a house of worship significantly ‘younger’ than the medieval-era Notre Dame. My priest Father Byrne asked me to help him chaperone our church’s youth group to an event called “Nightwatch”, organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Our cathedral (which has no bees!) is the Cathedral of the Incarnation. It was established in 1885 – quite the contrast to the 1200s of Notre Dame. Other than both being designed in Gothic style architecture, the two structures don’t have many parallels. Significantly, Notre Dame is a Catholic cathedral, while the Incarnation is Episcopalian. We can get into the Catholic/Protestant divide another time. For now let’s just establish that all such Christian structures serve the purpose of the glorification of God and the veneration of Christ. There are, throughout the world, cultural buildings such as theaters and opera houses, and historic mansions and museums, that are all amazing places to visit. But a worship space of any faith has a distinct and unique aura within, whether a Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, Jewish synagogue, or Christian church. The prevailing sense of devotion is palpable in every inch of the place. It is the structure’s entire reason for being. Here in New York City, a stroll through St John the Divine is a completely different experience than a visit to The Frick Collection, the former private residence of an obscenely rich man. We can enjoy and appreciate both, of course.

Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, Long Island:

One need not be religious to appreciate the aesthetic beauty, rich history, and architectural splendor of houses of worship. The great cathedrals of the world are ornate and richly detailed. Small town or country churches, which are not seats of Bishops or home to large congregations or Tiffany stained glass windows, are equally sacred in their modesty and simplicity. The historic 300 year old Quaker Meeting House in Flushing, Queens, just a few miles from my house, is the most unassuming place you’ll ever see. But the plain rectangular-shaped building with its dark floorboards and unadorned interior is thoroughly imbued with deep spirituality and intense devotion. In a way, it’s deceptive, because the Quaker Meeting House has been a gathering place for some of the most committed ‘agitators’ in America’s history, most notably the early abolitionist movement. Check out their website and you’ll see that three centuries has not slowed them down in the slightest.

Back to “Nightwatch” and the purpose of the youth event. Young people from different parishes around the Diocese (which encompasses Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk counties) spent the night in the Cathedral and participated in games and activities led by youth group leaders, myself included. And by ‘spend the night’ I mean sleeping bags, pajamas, pillows, toothbrushes, the whole works, with every inch of the church space available to us. Children slept on the pews if they wished, on the floor, up at the altar, next to the organ, at the base of the lectern – literally wherever they wanted. They climbed up the bell tower, sang songs, did crafts. Activities were organized according to the Episcopal Church’s Lent Reflections, which consist of “Learn”, “Go”, “Turn”, “Rest”, “Bless”, among other meditations. I was very interested in “Turn” because there is a lot you could with that one. I’m still exploring it in my mind, days later; turn ‘away’, turn ‘toward’? Many interpretations. But I was assigned “Rest”, which I enjoyed a great deal because I got to connect with the young people through our shared leisure time. “Rest” did not involve sleeping or napping, mind you. It involved no-pressure togetherness of coloring, art, and labyrinths.

Here is my “Rest” station, replete with blankets, pillows, coloring, pencils, and markers:

Returning to my previous point about the unique ambiance of religious spaces; as adults and children slumbered in the Cathedral that night, sprawled in sleeping bags on marble floors while rain poured down outside, I awoke abruptly around 5 AM. My mind has been so troubled and distressed these days with my ongoing family strife and health issues I’m lucky if I even get five hours of sleep a night. So when my eyes fluttered open I was captivated by what was in my field of vision. It was beautiful, comforting, calming. I reached over for my iPhone and took a picture:

That light streaming through the bays represents, for me, the ray of light that I try to see – at times squinting (metaphorically) because the darkness can easily dominate – to get me through these difficult days. During this Easter time, I wish for all of you to bask in your light, be nourished by it, and follow it wherever it takes you.

A blessed Easter, blessed Passover, and blessed spring season to each of you. We can all be reborn ….

Love, Claudia

Sketching the Stress Away

After two agonizing weeks of sobbing, fear, and anxiety, I needed desperately to break away or else I would have had a total breakdown. So what did I do? I headed over to life drawing at the National Art League where I’m usually the one doing the modeling. But Tuesday night I showed up to sit and sketch with my friends instead. And I’m so glad I did. It took my mind off my troubles and brought a smile back to my face.

The female model was great but I had so much difficulty drawing her. Artists, my question to you is this: HOW do you manage to draw the figure? 😆 What a challenge, my goodness. And all this time I thought we models were the ones who had the tough job! So my drawing attempts of the model suck big time and I won’t post them here. What I will post are the pen sketches I did of the group after I gave up on the figure.

I realize this is not good, but I had fun doing it. I think if I practice a lot more, I could become a minimally decent little pen-sketcher. With these you can get away with all the mistakes and imperfections, and that’s good for me!

And this one is of my friend Paul; a person I completely adore and whose friendship I treasure. I showed this to him and he actually liked it!

It was a lovely little evening for me, right in my neighborhood, sketching alongside Paul and Marilyn and rest of my friends there. They all insisted that I come back on future nights when I’m available. I most certainly will.

Imprints

The first day of spring seems the perfect occasion for me to jumpstart this blog back to activity. Almost a month since my last post, my goodness. Well I’m still alive, dear readers, and as a true believer in seasonal affective disorder the arrival of spring works magic on my mood. To bid farewell to the winter, I’m posting perhaps the finest printmaking I’ve ever posted on this blog. No, not Albrecht Durer or Rembrandt. It’s my sweet cat Jessie! In the last snowfall of the season,  she left these beautiful paw prints outside my front door, and what an lovely work of art they are. Cats tread so lightly and elegantly. I think Jessie enjoyed the winter more than I did!

I suppose I should inform all of you that I’m in the beginning stages of planning for open heart surgery. It was inevitable given that I’ve had this aortic valve condition since birth. There’s much for me to prepare for and think about and it’s all weighing heavily on my mind: finances, recovery time and not being able to work, and the cosmetic issue of a heart surgery scar and it’s effect on my modeling confidence. But I’m in good hands with my doctors and am eternally grateful for the love and support of my friends.

I want very much to return this blog to its previous state of more frequent posting and more timely comment replies on my part. I apologize for allowing things to slack. Thanks to all of you who are still here!

Job Insecurity

For the past few weeks I’ve been posing for a life-size sculpture class at the New York Academy of Art. The instructor, Harvey Citron, who I’ve worked with before, tells great stories and shares interesting anecdotes about sculpture history. Last week, as the students carved away, he talked about Rodin and his model for his sculpture “Eve”. She was an Italian woman named Maria Abruzezzi, who was already pregnant, but not yet showing, when she agreed to pose for Rodin. Then, as the lengthy modeling assignment went on, Maria began to show, and Rodin obviously noticed the change; “Maria, dear, is there anything you want to tell me?” 😆

According to Harvey, Rodin was willing to continue sculpting from his model, pregnant belly and all, believing that a ‘pregnant Eve’ would carry powerful symbolic weight. But it became too difficult for Maria and she had to discontinue her posing. And who can blame her? Long term standing poses are grueling for models under normal circumstances. I can’t even imagine doing it in the third trimester of a pregnancy.

A few years ago at Spring Studio, Minerva Durham did a quick sketch of one of my short gesture poses. She showed it to me later and said it reminded her of Eve being expelled from paradise:

The story of Rodin and the pregnant model got me thinking about the practical realities of art modeling work, and really any livelihood that is ‘freelance’ in nature. We’re not true employees. We have to work to get paid. We have no sick days, no paid vacation days, no pensions. If a model gets the flu and has to cancel a job they lose the money they would have made that day. In my many years as an art model, I have worked with colds and pounding migraines, sprained ankles, a black eye, severe menstrual cramps, and oh so many days of depression episodes and emotional stress. It would be wonderful to take a “personal day” during those times. But that’s simply not how this kind of profession works. Now I won’t be getting pregnant anytime soon, but I totally understand why Rodin’s model didn’t disclose her pregnancy when he first hired her. It’s very possible she didn’t want to lose the job, and needed the job.

Because modeling is my sole source of income, I carry around a trembling seed of fear in the back of my mind that if something catastrophic were to happen to me, something that would put me out of commission for weeks and weeks, I’d be royally screwed. I could break my leg. I could get seriously sick and become bedridden. We artist’s models don’t have the convenient option of “working from home” like many people do. We have to commute there, physically be there, do the modeling, and get that time sheet signed. Don’t feel well? Too bad. Deal with it.

But the upside remains; that art modeling is awesome. So awesome that it motivates us models to carry on in spite of sore throats and allergies and cramps and aches. No sick days is the trade off for participating in such unique, liberating, and gratifying work. Here’s a photo of some works-in-progress of my standing pose in Harvey Citron’s class. It’s not an “Eve-like” pose, but a basic contrapposto:

In mid-January I received a jury duty summons in the mail. The date on which I was supposed to start calling was the Friday before my second Monday for this sculpture class. I was worried that if the recording told me to report for jury duty on the next Monday I’d have to let the Academy know, and then would most likely be replaced for Harvey’s class with another female model. That would mean seven consecutive Mondays of lost work and lost pay. For a single day job it wouldn’t have mattered much. But this class is a multi-week booking. The model is expected to be there for every session. So I postponed my jury duty, which we are allowed to do only once, until May. And again, this is an issue that affects us freelancers and independent contractors much differently than those with ‘regular jobs’, who are allowed jury duty absences when they’re called. I’m glad I was able to postpone, because I want to serve but also want to fulfill my modeling duties.

Sculptors work with lots of tools, but you know they’re really getting into it when they bring out the knives and hammers!

And finally, the photo you needed. My foot! Specifically, the foot of my weighted leg in the contrappposto after three 20 minute sets. I did not filter it black and white for a reason, as you can see. Can I please get some bath salts and a basin of warm water? 😆

Remains

Happy New Year Museworthy friends! I’m awfully late in offering that salutation, but at least it’s still January. “Happy New Years” in February are just going too far 😆

So I finally got to see the Armenia exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. The show closed on the 13th. It consisted of many beautifully illuminated manuscripts, gospel books, bas relief sculptures, architectural fragments, liturgical objects and vestments, and, my favorites, reliquaries. In medieval Christianity, reliquaries were containers that held holy relics of some sort, such as physical remains of the saints or objects associated with them. Adorned with precious stones and other decorative embellishments, reliquaries are unique works of art in and of themselves.

This reliquary cross with relics of St John the Baptist is from the Cilicia region of Armenia, 14th century. Gilded silver, filigree, precious and semi-precious stones, pearl and coral:

And this is a hand reliquary of Saint Abulmuse, from the Kharpert region. Some of my ancestors were from Kharpert. This gilded silver piece was luminous in person. Abulmuse was martyred and is recognized with a feast day in Armenian Orthodox tradition. This reliquary was on loan from the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum in Michigan. The Manoogians are cousins to my family through my grandfather’s side.

I hope that 2019 has started out better for all of you than it has for me. These past few weeks since my last blog post have been personally very trying. I won’t bore you with a laundry list of reasons, except that severe emotional pain from my family’s behavior, plus financial strains, plus dealing with a medical condition, have all piled on at the same time and I’ve felt like I’m drowning. I have an appointment tomorrow for a heart test to assess my aortic valve issue; my third one since the summer. It would have made an enormous difference during this tough time if only I had some relief from family aggravations. But no such luck. There’s never any ‘relief’ in this family. My mother used to be the greatest single support system one could ask for; a woman of bottomless compassion and understanding. Those were the good old days. But she has been hijacked by my brother and has chosen to aggressively prioritize his life, his concerns, his narratives and his needs over everyone else’s. It has cast a dark cloud over everything, and my recent anxiety hit levels I haven’t experienced in some time. However, I am immensely grateful for my dear friends, my sister-in-law Gayle, my niece Olivia, and my church family. Accept love and kindness from wherever it comes.

I’ll see you all soon …

City of Lights

I had a blog post all prepared for today. A Christmas theme with angels and lovely artworks and some art history discussion. But I’ve bumped it off the queue to indulge the surge of vicarious joy I felt when I received a photo on my phone early this morning. My niece Olivia turned 16 this month. Now, I gave her a pretty cool gift; two tickets to the Pink concert at Madison Square Garden in May. But honestly it was her mother, my sister-in-law Gayle, who gave her the most fabulous 16th birthday gift imaginable; a trip to Paris. It is Olivia’s first! For those of us who have already been to Paris more than once, we wish we could go back and relive seeing it again for the first time. Olivia’s middle name is Paris, so this is a trip that was meant to be.

Here’s Gayle and Olivia last night on a Paris street. This photo makes me so indescribably happy 🙂

Art critic John Berger described Paris as, “a young man in his twenties in love with an older woman”. Oh how I love that description! While there are so many great cities throughout the world, each with its own charms and attributes, Paris truly is a standout. People will always disagree and have personal preferences. For example, I loved Venice much more than Florence, an opinion that doesn’t always go over well among the fine arts crowd. I got pelted with tomatoes once! <– just kidding 😆 But opinions vary on all cities, from London to Tokyo to San Francisco to Prague. Some enjoy those places greatly, while others are lukewarm. Hey, it’s all good. But you’d have to search hard to find someone who doesn’t fall in love with Paris when they visit. I’m sure they exist, but it’s tough. Because Paris is, well, a blast. A sumptuous buffet of cultural enrichment. In the words of noted Francophile Thomas Jefferson, “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life”.

Promenade at Sunset, Paris, Childe Hassam, 1889:

Olivia is blessed to have Gayle for a mother. She knows it too. With all the stresses Olivia has had to deal with regarding her parents’ divorce, Gayle has been her rock, 100% devoted to Olivia’s well-being. While Olivia’s father (that’s my brother) has moved on to a new family, with a new wife, new house, and new step-children, Gayle remains focused on her one role as Olivia’s mother and caretaker, putting her daughter’s needs above her own as a good parent should. It’s made all the difference in the world in strengthening Olivia through the challenges of adolescence and her teenage years. I’m absolutely thrilled that they’re touring Paris right now and experiencing it together. It’s allowing me to keep a smile on my face as I do chores and housework on this rainy day. Bonjour ladies!

Pont Neuf, by Edouard Cortes:

Giving and Receiving

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I take better care of my cat Jessie than I do of myself. She eats better than I do, sleeps better than I do, looks better than I do, gets better medical care than I do, and has more leisure time than I do. Her life is one of unfettered individual liberty. She commits violent crimes by killing birds and mice and answers to no one, and can roam freely outdoors and trespass on my neighbors’ property with impunity. Why can’t I trespass on my neighbors’ property? 😆 The other day I purchased for Jessie a brand new cat bed – soft, cushiony, and a bit more expensive than I can really afford on my shoestring budget. But like I said, she is the beneficiary of my limited largesse. And I’m not alone. In 2017, it was estimated that Americans spent almost $70 billion on their pets. Billion. 

So I presented the cat bed to Jessie, and for six whole days this is how she responded to it. “Eh? What is this thing? I’ll stick with the floor”. Dammit! The cat bed was a bust.

Yes, it’s funny. And at least Jessie blends in beautifully with the colors and pattern of my rug, doesn’t she? So then I was modeling for Kamilla Talbot‘s watercolor class and showed the picture to everyone. After a few laughs, one of the students suggested that, since cats are somewhat turned off by unfamiliar things, I should put an article of my clothing on the bed so she can smell me. Seemed worth a try. I placed my folded sweatpants on the cat bed and, lo and behold, here’s my sweet girl. Cat bed: Take Two. Mission accomplished! Never thought my purple sweatpants had such magical powers.

There is, of course, much more to give in this life than overpriced cat beds. Our time for one thing. So after tending to my pampered feline, I turned to my fellow humans and had the privilege of volunteering with my favorite local outreach organization, NYC Relief. Their primary service is the Relief Bus, a mobile soup kitchen that serves at various locations throughout the city. I blogged about it in 2017. On this day, I helped out at the Relief Co-op in lower Manhattan where we distributed clothing and other items to New Yorkers in need while they awaited Life Care consultations with staff members. Our clothing closet was fantastically well-stocked, and the volunteer team worked attentively as “personal shoppers” for each client. It was a great day.

For those of who you are on Instagram, I recommend following NYC Relief there. They post wonderful photographs and stories: @nyc_relief

Matthew 25:35-40