Swan Song

Artist’s models ply their trade in an assortment of venues, posing everywhere from prestigious fine art academies to grimy basement studios. We regard each of our venues in various ways based on our experiences: the one that pays us well, the one with clean fabrics and ample cushions, and the one that causes us aggravation, pretentious people here, nice, down-to-earth folks there. We feel appreciated at some, under-appreciated at others. Comes with the territory.

The National Academy, for me, is the place where my full time art modeling career was launched eleven years ago. I had gone up there just a week earlier to get my name on file, fill out the necessary forms, and let them know I was ready to start whenever they needed me. I had done the same at the Art Students League. Both schools gave me the old, “We have nothing right now but will call you if something comes up”. But lo and behold the call did come, just a few days later from Amelia, the then-model coordinator at the National Academy. With only 24 hours notice, she asked if I was available to fill in for a model who had to cancel. I was thrilled, and grateful for the opportunity. The class was Tuesday evening life drawing with Henry Finkelstein and, to my delighted surprise, it went spectacularly well. Within five minutes of being up on that platform I knew I wanted to do more of this work. I can honestly say that I was sorry the class had to end after three hours! Sitting on the train going back home to Queens, I knew my life was about to change.

In the years since that class, I’ve modeled continuously and steadily at the National Academy. I’ve seen model coordinators come and go, administrators come and go, models, instructors, and building staff come and go. But despite issues with management, model pay rates and other minor turmoils that institutions are prone to, I’ve never wanted to eliminate the school from my modeling roster. I couldn’t. My sentimental attachment to the place, primarily its role in giving me my first ‘break’, was too strong.

An old early photo of me posing for Sharon Sprung‘s painting class at the National Academy. Around 2007 I think:

So it’s with great sadness that I share the news that the historic National Academy, founded in 1825 by a group of Hudson River School artists, is closing this summer. It’s a major bummer for many reasons. Models are losing a work source, teachers are losing jobs, and the students – the eminently loyal, steadfast, longtime National Academy students who register for classes there every quarter – are losing their place of learning. The final summer sessions are underway and I am modeling for Dan Gheno‘s morning and afternoon Saturday painting class – a class I’ve modeled for more times than I can count. In a few weeks, on August 6th, the National Academy on East 89th Street in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan, will close its doors … permanently.

A photo of Dan’s class in Studio 2 from last week, with a work-in-progress painting of me by Diana Martocci:

The two painting studios in the National Academy are really fantastic. High ceilings, spacious, bathed in natural north light. Perfect conditions for painters. It doesn’t get much better than this. Photo of Studio 1 on the second floor:

I’ve always thought of the National Academy as the Art Students League without the drama. New York art people who read this blog will probably understand what I mean by that. While the two schools share a few instructors, and some students, the National Academy is devoid of the crowds, cramped spaces, politics, and weird tensions that exist at the League. What the National has been able to achieve all these years is strike the perfect balance between providing solid art instruction in an atelier style while also allowing students to freely express their individuality as artists. Throw in a warm, laid back, convivial environment and a superb location in the rarefied “Museum Mile” strip on Fifth Avenue, and you’ve got a pretty fine place.

Love this engraved lettering on the exterior of the school building:

The list of Academy members throughout its history reads like a who’s who of art luminaries. John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Helen Frankenthaler, Chuck Close, William Merritt Chase, Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, Philip Pearlstein, and Frank Gehry are just a few of its famous inductees.

I should clarify that the National Academy’s official announcement is calling this a “hiatus”, implying that the search is on for a new location where the school can be resurrected. I guess we can keep our fingers crossed and hope that happens. The museum part of the National Academy closed last year and the building sold. It is an elegant little gem of a Beaux-Arts mansion and I wonder about its fate. The school was the second shoe to drop. It’s a shame what’s happened. Now I can’t really speak intelligently about the issues which led to this, like how to manage a nonprofit while running on a deficit. I hear it can be done. But I suppose it’s always better to have balanced books, and better still to maintain a clear vision of an institution’s purpose, and engage in sound decision-making.

Then again, nothing lasts forever. Change is inevitable. And while I’m very sad about the Academy’s imminent closing, I’ll always cherish it as the place that set me on my art modeling journey. Thank you National Academy 🙂

Shoptalk

Hellooooo Museworthy friends! I hope this post finds you well. I’d like to pass along an article by Alina Cohen in Marie Claire in which some NY-based female art models were asked to discuss their careers and experiences in this unique profession of ours. I am one of them, and so is Cornelia Graham, who was the first model I ever met when I was starting out. During enjoyable chats over coffee in the Art Students League cafe, Connie offered me invaluable advice and friendship.

I aspire to some good fun blogging this summer, specifically my own little art dabblings that I hope to create in my tiny, cluttered home studio. I’d love to share my work with all of you, and welcome your constructive feedback! Expect critters as subjects, because I’m an animal lover and also they charge no modeling fees 😆

Photo I took a few months ago. A student’s clay sculpture of a swan on the ledge of a 6th floor classroom at Fashion Institute of Technology. Seventh Avenue at midday.

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.

Ten Days on 8th Street

For artist participants, it’s an intense and challenging learning experience. For artist’s models, it’s an arduous but highly worthwhile gig. It’s the renowned Drawing Marathon hosted by Greenwich Village’s own New York Studio School, presided over by the school’s Dean, Graham Nickson. I was honored to be one of the six models – with Julie, Morgan, Marie, Erin, and Juliana – working in three different studios for ten days, doing long poses in group set-ups amid sounds of staple guns, paper cutting, rag smudging, and the occasional object falling to the ground. The marathon has dominated my work schedule for the past two weeks, and on Friday we concluded with a wonderful final day, replete equally with grimy, fatigued bodies and fortified spirits. Old acquaintances were renewed, new acquaintances were formed, and enough charcoal soot was produced that could bury a Buick. I took some photos to share with my readers.

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In addition to drawing from the live models, Marathon artists also did transcriptions of old artworks, with each person creating a section and then assembling them all together. This is Pieter Bruegel’s The Blind Leading the Blind. The students did incredible work here:

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And another transcription, from a 15th century engraving by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, a Florentine painter, sculptor, and goldsmith:

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The mother of all modeling platforms. Big, padded, suitable for both art posing and break naps 😉

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This exercise involved drawing the figure, and then drawing only the forms and space around the figure:

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Artists can always learn something from the great Matisse, which is why a work of his provided material for one of the day’s lessons:

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I really like this smaller drawing of me. The artist is Heejo Kim:

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Warm and sincere thanks to all the artists for their kindness toward us models and their expressions of appreciation for what we do, to the class monitors who did a terrific job, to Graham Nickson for his graciousness and inspiration, to his outstanding assistants Sarah and Rachel, to my old Spring Studio pal Audrey who was among the marathoners and made me laugh every day, to all the models for rocking it like the pros they are, and, last but definitely not least, very special thanks to Roxy, who is beautiful inside and out, and whom I’ve been privileged to know for years on my art modeling odyssey.

Hope you all enjoyed this little photo essay from your NYC art model muse.
I’ll see you right back here on Saturday, September 24th, when we’re gonna do one of these celebrations again. Until then, have a fantastic week everyone!

Who is H.M. Hartshorne?

When I was posing for a portrait class recently at Grand Central Atelier, a pencil drawing in the studio caught my eye. The artwork on the walls of GCA is a combination of student work and high resolution copies of academic figure drawings from books. But this one was a genuine, original framed drawing from days past. My eyes kept glancing over at it, hanging on the far side of the room, as I was really struck by the model’s statuesque pose, as well as the artist’s skilled rendering. I told myself that once my break came, I’d walk over to get a closer look.

The photo I took with my phone isn’t great, as there were studio lights glaring onto the glass and objects reflecting. But I think you can see pretty well the excellence of this piece. I’m quite taken with it. The artist was looking at the model in an upward angle, and the shadows under the chin and breasts are beautiful. And her pose … so expressive. A contrapposto with a turned head and elegantly active arm/hand gesture. Well done. Just ignore the flash spot on the thigh!

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The signature in the bottom right reads, “H.M. Hartshorne. Paris 1896”. The artist’s name wasn’t familiar to me. Have any of you ever heard of him? I turned to Google and the results were mostly unproductive. No Wikipedia page, no bio anywhere, no listing in any of the art resource sites I use. I was able to find out that H.M. Hartshorne stands for Howard Morton Hartshorne, and that he was a New York based artist who worked from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. This AskArt page is the closest I could find to any kind of bio. Then, I came across this –> the drawing! On an art auction site! There she is.

I assume that the drawing was acquired, at some point, by Grand Central’s founder and director Jacob Collins. I suppose I could ask him about it the next time I’m at the school. It’s easy to see how this figure drawing fits in perfectly with Grand Central’s classically-inspired tradition and commitment to the timeless aesthetic of figurative art. We models would be unemployed without it 😉

Rock Model

I rarely have the opportunity to merge the topic of art modeling with a Music Monday post. Actually, I don’t think it’s ever happened. But a little art world item that came up last week fits the bill perfectly, and I couldn’t resist sharing it here. Rock icon and punk pioneer Iggy Pop posed nude for a life drawing class at the New York Academy of Art. Yes.. Iggy Pop. And the drawings produced during that session will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum in the fall. I got such a kick out of the story, and my initial reaction was, “Yeah! You go Iggy!!” Then, I was completely won over when Iggy posted this perfectly succinct tweet to his Twitter account:

Going fully nude isn’t exactly a daring stretch for Iggy Pop since he hasn’t worn a shirt since … 1972? And we all know that flamboyant shirtless rock stars possess the requisite exhibitionist tendencies involved in nude art modeling. Iggy Pop is 68 years old now. After a lifetime in rock and roll, his body has endured much “wear and tear”, but that’s just fine for artists. Remember, models for art classes are life models – individuals who bring their lives, through their physicality and presence, to others who seek to create, explore, and glorify their fellow human beings. Iggy Pop has experienced a lot over many decades. It took him 68 years to make it to “art model”. Better late than never. Welcome to the club,  Iggy 🙂

So you want some more Iggy? Ok, I’ll give you some more Iggy … that is James Osterberg from Muskegon, Michigan. Here he is in his younger and more flexible days, with The Stooges. This is “Hey, Peter”:

Ahoy Buccaneer

“Are you a real pirate??!!”. That was the adorable question posed to me by one of the kids in Martha Bloom’s Art and Drama class for children ages 5 – 9 at the National Academy. The little girl’s inquiry was perfectly reasonable since I had already changed into my pirate costume 🙂 Children’s art classes certainly don’t make up the bulk of an art model’s booking schedule, but on the occasions when we do pose for the little ones it’s a welcome departure from the adult classes. No offense grown-ups, but kids are more fun!

Martha Bloom has been fostering the imaginations and creative spirits of New York City’s children for over three decades. Her classes are the starting points for the superb young artists’ education offered at the National Academy. With the help of goodies from the prop closet, Martha set up a makeshift mast for my pirate boat and put a treasure chest at my feet, with a rubber rat crawling out. “Blimey! Thar be a rat in me booty chest! Walk the plank ye little scalawag!!”

As the late afternoon sun streamed into the National Academy’s elegant Stone Room, the children set up their markers, crayons, and papers. Martha took this photo of me during the pose.“Ayyee aye matey! I am a pirate wench!! Give me a bottle o grog and we be swashbucklin’ three sheets to the wind!”

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This is Sasha’s drawing:

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And this is Eliza’s drawing:

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The class Halloween show was just around the corner, and Gemma was assigned the task of designing the invitation. She created this excellent illustration:

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We went down to the office and made copies, which came out great. And a poster to go along with them.

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At the end of class, when I emerged from behind the changing screen dressed in my street clothes, Gemma exclaimed “You’re NOT a real pirate!!”. I think it was my NY Mets shirt that gave me away 😆

But Ratty the rubber rat managed to get over to the window of the Stone Room. Unless someone carried him over there … a pirate wench perhaps? Hmm …
The last time I saw him he was taking in the view of East 89th Street, gazing at the Guggenheim:

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