The Models Were Here

It was shiny. Freshly printed. Laminated. Brand new. And, above all, legible! It was my new photo ID card for the Fashion Institute of Technology, better known as ‘FIT’, New York’s City’s popular design, fashion, and art school on Seventh Avenue, and the institution where I have been modeling longer – continuously – than any other school after the National Academy, who were the first to hire me 🙂

When the security guard handed me my new photo ID I compared it to my old one; a faded, beat-up relic carrying ten years of wear and tear. My face in the photo was nearly obliterated, as was the lettering. The old card also holds a stack of stickers, as we are given a new one for each semester. I never scrape off the old ones but just stick the new one on top of the last one, resulting in a stump of stacked stickers that protrude a quarter inch off the surface of the card, like a mini mountain. So when I ran my thumb over the sticker stump of my old card, I got a little sentimental thinking of all the times I flashed that ID to enter the FIT campus, all the times I rode up and down the elevator, all the times I tossed off my gown and stepped onto the various modeling platforms on the 6th floor of the D Building, all the booking sheets I handed in and teachers I worked with and and countless undergraduate students I modeled for in my many years at this excellent school.

My new FIT ID card. Will this one carry me for another decade? We’ll see!

I have something of a fascination with ephemera. Over the years I’ve held onto a good amount of ticket stubs, postcards, letters, handwritten notes, business cards, etc. I’m not a thrower-outer. I still have the little pocket notebook that I used to record my early modeling contacts when I was first starting out. Almost every page is filled with the name of an art school, a model coordinator, and phone number; “Art Students League … talk to Sylvia”. Some cross-outs, some arrows and stars and underlines. It’s especially interesting to see the name “Minerva Durham” scrawled in my loose handwriting with the additional notes, “Spring Studio, life drawing 7 days per week, tryouts on Sunday. See email. Don’t be late!”. Little did I know back then, when I jotted down her name before ever having met her in person, how important a figure Minerva would become in my career, or that her studio would become my favorite and most gratifying modeling venue.

When you work as a freelancer – a professional with no true ’employer’, no pension, no benefits – the feeling of not existing ‘on paper’ or in official business records – can be a little odd. Apart from a biweekly check sent out from a payroll department, where are we? Who are we? Did we just drift down out of the ether, some nameless warm body who just poses and leaves? Eighty years from now, would there be any incontrovertible proof that an artist’s model named Claudia Hajian ever worked in New York City? It’s a strange thought I know, and I apologize for being dramatic, but I wonder about these crazy things sometimes. I imagine that we all care, to some extent, about our legacy, don’t we? Especially when we devoted our lives to something passionately.

I took this photo at the “Artists and their Models” exhibit at the Smithsonian in 2014. It’s a booklet documenting Florence Allen’s membership in the San Francisco Models Guild. She was, in fact, one of the founders of the Guild which still exists today as the Bay Area Models’ Guild. The pink stamps indicate her paid monthly dues. Flo Allen is something of an art modeling legend in San Francisco history. Her obituary in the SF Gate  is quite a good read. You can click and enlarge all these  photos for better viewing:

A model contract for Cleo Dorman at the Carnegie Institute, October 1937, with her hourly pay (75 cents) and class schedule. She was booked for Anatomy and “Dwg III” (Drawing III):

Various business cards of professional working models; in the center, Marguerite Bouvé of Boston, circa 1910, Richard M. Samuels’ card with a modeling photo of himself, and pouty lip print by Anna-Lisa van der Valk;

Most professional models I know have business cards, as they should. And a journal of all contacts is also recommended. Chronicle your careers, models. You’ve been working the circuit, putting in your time and sweat and dedication. It matters. For posterity? Maybe, maybe not. But you never know who might gaze upon your image someday in the future and find themselves curious about your existence, perhaps even your biography. You never know if your handwritten work notes will be displayed in a glass case at the Smithsonian 😉

After my father died, when my mother, my brother and I were going through his personal things, I jumped at the chance to keep his journal of work contacts. My father was a professional musician for over forty years and, at the time of his death, had not yet owned nor used a personal computer. His black, hardcover journal contains the name and phone number of literally every single musician/bandleader/booker contact he acquired over decades of work as a NYC musician, each written in small, clear penmanship. That was my father. And the journal is something I cherish to this day. My Dad, a fellow freelancer – keeping notes and recording his livelihood.

I suppose one could argue that today, in the Internet age, with everything digitized and easily transmitted and ‘saved’ as files, people’s lives are recorded and documented better than ever. And that’s a solid argument. Because the printed cards and handwritten journals – anything on paper – can fray, get lost, get burned in a fire, thrown in the garbage, and so on. So what in God’s name am I fretting about? My blog is firmly online for, well, as long as I keep it here. And artists post their works of models on their Facebook pages and Instagram accounts with our names, like “Rachel reclining” or “Standing Luke”. Which brings me to this – artists? Keep records of your models. It’s a nice thing to do. We are, and always have been, indispensable, bona fide members of the art world. –> No art student anywhere, at any time, learned life drawing without us. That’s simply a fact. We were here. We are here. We are an essential component of your education and your inspiration. Remember us. Let’s all remember everything … if we can.

21 thoughts on “The Models Were Here

  1. sculptor2015 says:

    What a treasure, your records! an yes, an important part of history… even they look to Michelangelo’s bank books for information about him and his art… no doubt you have worked with important artists. And even the idea of which artist is important changes with the times, so good on you for keeping track of what you can! Cheers and peace, Kelly

    ~ Kelly Borsheim, sculptor, painter, writer http://BorsheimArts.com Italy and USA

    • artmodel says:

      Kelly,

      I think sometimes we take records/journals for granted. Like you mentioned about Michelangelo’s bank books, things like that provide revealing bits of information about people’s lives and habits. Imagine if no one ever wrote anything down?

      Thanks so much for commenting. Good to hear from you!

      Claudia

  2. Mark says:

    Hi Claudia – I like to pay tribute to our figure models when I publish my drawings on my own blog at wummermarks.com. But I’m leery of even publishing their first names, because, some years ago, one of our models had a problem with a stalker after her name was displayed at an exhibit. Would like to know your thoughts on that subject.
    Congrats on your new ID card!
    Mark

    • artmodel says:

      Mark,

      That’s awful about the model and her stalker. I’m so sorry to hear that that happened. I would think that first names alone would be safe, but in this day and age it’s creepy how easily someone can get personal information about another. In the early days of this blog, years ago, I had an issue with a person posting (or trying to post) inappropriate comments and sending emails inquiring about my modeling schedule. I did all the necessary ‘blocking’ and, fortunately, he disappeared. Other than that I’ve been very lucky, and my modeling career and blogging life have gone without incident.

      As far as identifying models, I would imagine that first names aren’t a problem, as many artists I know use the models’ first names to title their work. To be extra cautious, since you know of a model who went through a disturbing experience, an artist could ask if a model has any qualms about being identified by name.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  3. scultore says:

    Beautiful writing Claudia, and a side note, my security card for modeling at SVA says ‘VENDOR’, perhaps a commentary on attitude

    • artmodel says:

      Bruce,

      Ah yes, the old “vendor” designation! It appears on some of our contracts too. Not the descriptor I prefer for what we do, but could be worse I guess!

      Thanks very much for complimenting my writing, it means a lot 🙂

      Claudia

  4. Bill says:

    I understand — I’ve often reflected that sadly, five minutes after I’m planted, most of the stuff I’ve done will be discarded. You work for some pretty good artists but, for the rest of us whose work will never appear in a museum or professional art gallery, we’re dependent on well-intentioned relatives who really don’t have anyplace to keep it all. And even for those or do keep it, two or three generations down the road . . .

    But there is the process to consider. This admittedly weird thing that we do — it is a seeking for, and exploration of truth. In a world where so much is fake, there is something very genuine about the honest presence of a human body/person and the continuing attempt to transform that body/person into an individual artistic statement — something for all the world to see — a fully warranted intrusion. Even if it doesn’t survive forever — what does? Just the act of model/artist co-creation changes a small corner of an unduly secular world into something that’s just a little more sacred — or even just a little more human.

    Yes, you do want to save it –actually, you want to hold onto it as tight as you can. But even if you can’t, it’s accomplished something of value.

    (I should note that there are less lofty effects. I recently told one model that I think about her every day — I have to, because her portrait is on my kitchen wall right behind the banana stand 🙂

    • artmodelandrew says:

      “In a world where so much is fake, there is something very genuine about the honest presence… Just the act of model/artist co-creation changes a small corner of an unduly secular world into something that’s just a little more sacred — or even just a little more human.”

      Well said, Bill. I think this connection to humanity is a big part of my preference for figure modeling, as opposed to costume or even portrait modeling.

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      Such thoughtful and inspiring comments. Thank you for this! I agree with Andrew 100% .. well said!

      Your point about “the process” is an important one because, in a way, the tangible drawings, paintings, are almost incidental to the larger, more purposeful experience of what we’re doing. The atmosphere of art being created from life is a totally unique one. There’s nothing else that comes close to resembling it, especially in our world in which so much is, as you called it, fake.

      As to the matter of saving things, you are not the only person I know who ponders the fate of accumulated drawings. Even just the physical storage of them is tricky. Paper is not the hardiest of materials, and for artists who draw regularly it sure does pile up. But I will still hold true to my belief that things should kept. I’m doing my part! The clutter in my house is the proof 😆

      Thanks Bill, for your wonderful comments!

      Claudia

  5. artmodelandrew says:

    Cleo Dorman’s art modeling career spanned 50 years. She modeled in several cities before settling in Los Angeles.

    In 2010, I posted a link on Facebook to a video interview from 1986 when she was 78 years old. Some people who knew Cleo commented on the post, including her nephew who mentioned that Cleo was a WWII veteran. Sadly, the video is no longer online. I remember one of the questions was about whether she smiled while posing for a portrait. She said no, that would not be practical to hold for the hours needed to paint a portrait. As I recall, she said she maintains a “natural” expression.

    Cleo died in 1990. Her L.A. Times obituary is still online. It mentions some of the people she posed for, including Peter Falk of Columbo fame. It doesn’t say if he wore a crumpled trench coat while at the easel. 😉
    http://articles.latimes.com/1990-08-10/news/mn-113_1_modeling-career

    • artmodel says:

      Andrew,

      Thanks for this. Great stuff! The comments from Cleo’s nephew and the others speak to what I’m talking about. The work we models do, especially ones who have long careers like Cleo, is valued greatly by people who have a connection to it. When models are recalled fondly – and in many cases vividly – it truly warms my heart.

      Peter Falk started drawing, I believe, at the Art Students League here in NY. He was quite good!

      Thanks again Andrew for your comments and info.

      Claudia

  6. cauartprof says:

    Claudia,

    What a great post! One of your best! I think of all the artists you have touched (including me) and it is staggering to consider the number of quality artworks in the world with your image. I believe your legacy is assured! You are also right to ask that artists be more sensitive to the “gift” models bring to the process. For models like you who are truly invested in the dialogue we artists are inspired. The muse lives on. You are amazing!

    Chris

    • artmodel says:

      Chris,

      I’m so happy, and pleasantly surprised, that my readers have enjoyed this post so much! I honestly wasn’t expecting it, but am glad it’s been this well-received. The bond between artists and models is timeless. We are dependent on each other to continue doing what we do!

      I really appreciate your very kind words, thank you so much. Always great to hear from you 🙂

      Claudia

  7. Dave says:

    Claudia,

    On behalf of figure models everywhere, thank you for this post. This is a wonderful piece of writing that affected me deeply. I hope that a few of the thousands of drawings and paintings of me out there might be appreciated after I’m gone. I’m certain that will be the case for you.

    • artmodel says:

      Dave,

      This fellow figure model is giving you a virtual “high five”! I’m so glad you commented. Like I said to Chris above, I’m touched and gratified that this post had such an impact. I feel like it’s my ‘duty’, in a way, to keep affirming the special work of art modeling. It’s misunderstood by some, and I don’t want it to be.

      Thank you for your comments!

      Claudia

  8. It is interesting for me to think of people in the future pondering the subject of an image of today. I know I have done that . . . I am thinking of some of the MVSES for the Pre-Raphaelites and Klimt and Schiele. So many of them had stories to tell other than what the artist portrayed . . . as you do.

    • artmodel says:

      Todd,

      I can’t look at the works of artists like you mentioned without thinking about the model portrayed, and wondering about their ‘stories’ like you said. I’m glad you’re thinking about them too! I know most artists probably consider the painting/drawing techniques involved first, but I consider the model. Can’t help it 😉

      Thanks for commenting!

      Claudia

  9. Michael Radford says:

    Claudia – I always consider it a treat when I check your blog and find a new post. I was blown away by this one! I love your insights into the art world and the place that we models occupy in it. You are so much more articulate and literate than I can ever hope to be. Thanks so much for what you do. I know you inspire the artists you model for and you certainly inspire this reader (and fellow model).

    • artmodel says:

      Michael,

      You are very kind, thank you! I’m extremely happy that the models who read this blog have felt bolstered by this post topic. The writing on this one came easier to me than in other posts, which tells me something perhaps about how I should approach my writing in general. I don’t know! It varies all the time.

      Thank you Michael for adding your voice! And keep on modeling 🙂

      Claudia

  10. Bruce Day says:

    Claudia,

    You have indeed struck a nerve with this wonderfully written post. Many of the comments are also quite moving. I was feeling a bit wistful today and the topic led me to a more contemplative and positive place. Ultimately the value of your modeling efforts doesn’t stem solely from the physical images captured on paper or canvas. A good live figure session leaves both model and artist with a sense of having participated in something real, even primal. That alone wouldn’t be a bad legacy.

    Bruce Day
    Fredericksburg VA

    • artmodel says:

      Bruce,

      You are so right that the comments this post has generated are really touching and thoughtful. I have the best readers! But I really didn’t anticipate that this post would resonate in this way.. I’m so delighted that it did!

      Your comment has touched me deeply, when you said that you were feeling wistful and the blog post altered your mood for the better. I couldn’t ask for a more heartening effect.

      Thank you so much Bruce, for your thoughts and comments!

      Claudia

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