Children of the Arts

When my father died in December 2004, my mother, my brother, and I managed to organize the funeral arrangements as we not only processed our heartbreak, but also while in a collective state of shell-shock. Numbing, bewildering shock. Dad died suddenly, you see. He collapsed onto his bedroom floor, brought down by a catastrophic stroke. He was dead in an instant. As the three of us spent the next couple of days making phone calls, sorting through old photos and mementos, writing our eulogies, and comforting each other in our grief, we agreed to let family and friends know that in lieu of flowers they should make a donation to the Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving music education in public schools. For those of you who may not know, my father was a musician – a trumpet player who once contemplated a career trading stocks on Wall Street but opted for one in music instead. He supported his family, paid the bills, and put food on the table for over forty years by playing his trumpet.

Arts education in schools in an issue near and dear to my heart, and to my family’s heart. I was reminded of this subject with the recent passing of Roy Hargrove, jazz trumpet player and Grammy award winner, who burst onto the scene during the 1980s. I distinctly remember overhearing my Dad ask a fellow musician, “Have you heard this kid Hargrove?”. To say there was a ‘buzz’ surrounding him in jazz circles would be an understatement.

Born in Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. It was there that the 16 year old Hargrove was discovered by Wynton Marsalis who was blown away by the young trumpeter’s skills and took him under his wing. The Booker T Washington School was originally founded in 1892 as a school for African-American students. During the 1970s it was transformed into an “arts magnet”; a public school with specialized curricula devoted to arts study.

Here in New York City, magnet schools of all kinds, both arts and academic, have been an integral part of our public school system for decades. (When I was growing up we didn’t call them magnets, we called them “specialized schools”). From the Bronx High School of Science, to Art and Design in midtown, to the old High School of Music and Art which resided adjacent to the City College campus in Harlem, to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, magnets have provided the young people of NYC with priceless opportunities for enrichment, to grow, thrive, and explore their innate talents. I know many, many people – native New Yorkers all – who are alumni of our city’s arts magnet schools, and every one of them will attest to the significance of their high school experience and speak with tremendous fondness for that period in their life. It far surpasses their feelings about college.

Innate talent was something Roy Hargrove had in spades. Would he have found success had he not attended an arts magnet? It’s impossible to know. But we do know that his future mentor, Wynton Marsalis, found him there. Marsalis wrote a magnificent, deeply touching tribute to his protégé on his Facebook page. The news of Hargrove’s death was quite shocking, as he was only 49 years old. The NPR obituary for him is worth reading. This descriptive passage stands out:

“A briskly assertive soloist with a tone that could evoke either burnished steel or a soft, golden glow, Hargrove was a galvanizing presence in jazz over the last 30 years. Dapper and slight of build, he exuded a sly, sparkling charisma onstage, whether he was holding court at a late-night jam session or performing in the grandest concert hall. His capacity for combustion and bravura was equaled by his commitment to lyricism, especially when finessing a ballad on flugelhorn.”

For our Music Monday, we pay tribute to both Roy Hargrove and all the young creatives encouraged and celebrated at arts magnets throughout the country. While we all go about our days living our busy lives, remember that in a school somewhere in America, a teenager is sitting in a music room practicing on her violin, or gathering with classmates after lunch to jam some jazz riffs, or choreographing an original dance number. Those young people need us. More importantly, we need them. And props to Booker T Washington School for the Arts in Dallas. Keep up the great work! Here’s Roy and his band killing it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2001. RIP.

Model Musings

Greetings from a recently baked and broiled New York City! The hellish heat wave has now passed, thank God. Still, summer is in full swing, and for nude art models working during this season it means no need for studio space heaters 😆

Speaking of art modeling, Museworthy reader and model Dave kindly sent me an article that I thought was well written and enjoyable. “The naked truth about nude art modeling” by Robin Eileen Bernstein. One of the models quoted in the article, Alan, is a good friend of mine. The piece has lots of good insights throughout. Folks interested in the subject as either artist or model might want to give it a read. Thanks for sharing, Dave!

And since we’re talking about posing nude, here is a work-in-progress of my torso from an ongoing summer gig, Sculpting the Figure at the New York Academy of Art. By Matt White:

Paintings and Parties

Hellooooo Museworthy!! The muse is here. You didn’t think I forgot about the blog, did you? Never! Still I apologize for the sparse postings. April is a very busy art modeling month so I’ve just been doing that, and paying taxes, and trying to attend yoga class when I can. One more hectic week coming up and then my schedule lightens up a bit and I can get back to more leisurely things like writing, gardening, and reading.

I’ve spent a good amount of time lately at the New York Academy of Art, the city’s foremost graduate school and MFA program. Last month I had the pleasure of modeling for a two-day Master Class taught by Steven Assael, during which he carried out one of his renowned painting demos. As I sat for the portrait, I observed as the students were quietly transfixed on Steven’s work. Not surprising, of course, as he is one of the most highly esteemed representational artists of his generation. And a really nice guy too. Great working with him.

In addition to master classes, thesis critiques, special lectures, and student open studio nights, the Academy was also gearing up for the Tribeca Ball, the school’s annual fundraiser where art world insiders, celebrities, and other glitterati come to mingle and get their pictures taken. I did not attend the Tribeca Ball (I’m not a glitterati!) but I did take pictures of the gallery while it was being prepared for the big night. This year’s theme was “Poetic Astronomy”, and the decor had an appropriately celestial feeling.

From the Academy’s Instagram page, some photos of the models who worked that night and the artists sketching:

I did attend a party that was less glamorous but just as much fun. A birthday party for my sister-in-law Gayle, just two weeks after she had hip replacement surgery! If you can imagine a 59 year old woman in a black evening dress playing hostess while limping around with a cane, that’s Gayle 🙂 Here’s a photo of me at the party with Gayle’s daughter, my lovely and hilarious niece Olivia.

Hope you’re all well, my friends. I’ll see you back here very soon 🙂

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!