Happy 10th Birthday Museworthy!!

:slides down banister … throws confetti … lands a cartwheel … flashes jazz hands:

Just making an entrance worthy of a blogging milestone, my friends! So here we are, at the decade mark. Woo hoo! That late night when I launched this blog, ten years ago to the day, feels so far away. It’s getting harder to recall the days when I didn’t have this blog! And that’s ok.

Museworthy is just one of countless blogs on the web. I’m sometimes asked how one achieves longevity and builds a steady readership without advertising, without ‘clickbait’ sensationalism, and without high profile popularity. My answers? Well, it’s simple really. Provide original content, communicate in an authentic voice, interact in the comments, and keep the navel-gazing to a minimum. Also, a nude pic from time to time doesn’t hurt either 😆

Speaking of nude pics, we continue our annual tradition with a photo by Fred Hatt of yours truly. Fred and I had a really good session this time, much better than last year when I was a disgruntled pain in the ass. We decided on this pic which exemplifies art model posing – the work I love devotedly, which saved my life back in 2006 when I was so lost, and inspired me to start writing a blog in the first place. Here we can see some of that ‘negative space’ artists like so much, with triangle shapes, a leaning torso, lots of visible anatomy. Fred; beautiful lighting and great collaboration. Thank you, friend.

I must, as always, express my immense gratitude to all of you, for finding just a bit of time in your week to visit Museworthy. Blogging is fairly pointless if no one is reading! Words can’t describe how meaningful it is that longtime readers have stayed with me for the long haul. You guys rock! I’m also very appreciative that new subscribers have come on board. Welcome! To each and every one of you, whether you visit for art, music, tales of the city, or a spot of writing, I am humbled by your presence here. The modest ‘success’ of this intimate little blog makes me feel honored, astonished, and joyful. Big thanks also to WordPress for providing a first rate platform for bloggers.

We’re going ‘old school’ with our music selection this year, and with female voices for a change; early Pointer Sisters from 1973. The ladies from Oakland, California with fabulous harmonies and a funky R&B sound. That’s Anita Pointer killing it on lead vocals, backed up by Bonnie, Ruth, and June. The song, “Yes We Can Can”, was their first hit single and delivers a timely positive message.

See you soon, everyone! Love and blessings …

Your muse,
Claudia
xoxo

Interval

Hellooooo friends! Hope everyone is doing well. Just a little reminder that a special blog post will be published this Sunday and I invite one and all to come and join the party! For new Museworthy followers, this is an annual tradition around here, where we celebrate the continued life span of this blog. You can check out the posts from last year and from 2015.

Until then have a wonderful few days. Here’s a photo of an anatomy lesson at Minerva’s Drawing Studio:

Spirit Animals

The Cathedral of St John the Divine is a true beacon in the city of New York. Not only is it the ‘mother church’ of the Episcopal Diocese and seat of our Bishop, but it is also a breathtaking monument of Gothic Revival architecture, a vibrant cultural center, a tireless provider of social services, and an inclusive religious community famous for its interfaith advocacy and welcoming spirit. Located at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Morningside Heights, it counts Columbia University and Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital among its nearby neighbors. A cavernous, awe-inspiring space, the Cathedral’s nave spans the length of two football fields. On September 11th, 2001, hundreds of people converged at St John the Divine in a spontaneous gathering to pray, cry, and comfort their fellow New Yorkers in the hours immediately following the terrorist attacks. The Cathedral was host to funeral services for Duke Ellington, Nikola Tesla, writer James Baldwin, and actor James Gandolfini. On the lighter side, the gardens of St John the Divine are home to three resident peacocks – Jim, Harry, and Phil – who roam freely and strut their stuff on the Cathedral grounds to the delight of visitors and tourists.

I went up to St John the Divine the other day to see their “A Blessing of Animals” sculpture exhibition, a juried show organized by the National Sculpture Society. The Cathedral is the perfect venue for such a show as it celebrates animals in so many ways. Their annual Feast of St Francis Blessing of the Animals service is an event to behold, with a festive animal procession that includes not just dogs and cats but creatures of all types; goats, sheep, horses, ducks, bunnies, snakes, geese, guinea pigs, owls, alpacas, you name it.

I have a few pictures to share – just a sampling of the show – but you can certainly visit the National Sculpture Society’s exhibition page for excellent photos of all the pieces. I apologize for the grainy quality. I’m still in the process of deciding on a new camera purchase – one that I can afford within my budget. But I think the outstanding work of these talented artists is evident in my pics here.

River Mates, by Tim Cherry:

Scottish Stag, by Wesley Wofford:

Wild Instinct, by Joshua Tobey:

Stella, by André Harvey:

Flying Heron, by Darrell Davis:

Bobcat, by Rosetta:

Circle of Friends, by Gary Lee Price:

The Peace Fountain, which greets visitors to the Cathedral, on the garden grounds along Amsterdam Ave. It was sculpted by St John the Divine Artist-in-Residence Greg Wyatt:

After its run at St John the Divine, the Blessing of Animals exhibition will travel down to Naples, Florida where it will be on display at the Botanical Gardens through January 2018. So Museworthy Floridians, check it out! It’s an absolute delight.

Like all of you, I am heartbroken over the devastation in Houston and southeast Texas from Hurricane Harvey. The scenes being broadcast from there of people stranded in the floodwaters, having lost their homes, clinging to their children, their pets, their loved ones, are hard to watch. One can’t help but worry about those who are especially vulnerable; the elderly, the disabled, babies and children. But the stories of folks being rescued by valiant, selfless fellow citizens who hooked up their boats, jet skis, and rafts and made their way over to those flooded neighborhoods give us all hope. Remember, saints are among us, living and serving, in everyday life, and are not just figures carved into church altarpieces or painted on canvases. Still, the trauma from such a severe natural disaster will linger for a long time, and the Gulf coast of Texas has many years of recovery in its future.

For those who are interested in donating, I’d like to suggest two other relief/rescue organizations that are in keeping with the theme of this blog post:

Episcopal Relief and Development

Houston Humane Society

Golden Oldies

When I’m in my late 80s – assuming I live that long! – I hope I’m as active as the retirees who participate in the Senior Program at the 92nd St Y on Manhattan’s east side. For an annual fee, members can attend classes all day long, in everything from drawing and painting to dance, music, cardio, swimming, qi gong, bridge, meditation, discussion groups and writing workshops. The program is ongoing. I model for the senior art classes in addition to my regular modeling for the 92Y’s Art Center. They are completely separate programs, with different booking offices, pay rates, rooms, etc. I’m honored to pose for all 92Y members on all the floors of that building. Book me for the class and I’m there!

I love the elderly. I’ve always enjoyed a warm, easy rapport with them and can honestly say that they are among the best conversationalists around, for good reason of course. Long lifetimes of experience and survival make for great storytelling, empathetic natures, and rich perspectives. The folks in the senior program at the 92Y have taken an affectionate liking to me as one of their regular models, and the feeling is mutual. We’ve been having a lot of fun together this summer 🙂

Photo I took of the seniors lounge on the lobby floor of the 92Y. Free coffee, tables for lunch, card playing, and socializing. Two of my favorite gals, Roz and Ruth, are in this photo.

Some of the seniors are attended to by caretakers, though not as many as you’d think. Overall, in spite of the occasional cane, walker, hearing aid, etc., the seniors of the 92Y are remarkably independent. Good humor abounds, and unlike art classes with younger generations, the seniors don’t bury their faces in mobile devices on every break. How refreshing! They are widows and widowers, retired nurses, retired public school teachers, psychologists, engineers, and theater set designers. So many life journeys, stretching back to the war years.

The seniors at the 92Y are predominantly native New Yorkers, and elderly New Yorkers are still like New Yorkers of any age – gregarious, frank, savvy, marinated daily in the biggest, boldest city on earth. That kind of thing never leaves you, even at 88 years old.

I’m delighted to share some artwork of my modeling by the senior members. Two pencil drawings by Sol, and two watercolor sketches by Jean. I was very touched by how much they were enjoying themselves, and I was happy to be there for them.

Where’s My Kale?

Leafy greens have rarely let me down in my modest, space/sun challenged little garden in Queens. Lettuces especially perform with gusto. This year I decided to add kale to the mix, planted in its own separate tub. The seedlings were off to a fine start, looking cute and perky. I checked them everyday, until one morning a few weeks ago when I went outside to the garden and the kale was … all gone! Poof. Eradicated. Annihilated. Devoured overnight by a mysterious ravenous pest! Nothing else was touched, only the kale. It was funny though and I laughed about it after my bewilderment passed. It felt like the vegetable gods declared, to paraphrase Seinfeld, “No kale for you!!

But my swiss chard survived the assault unscathed. Yay for swiss chard! Some of my early batch:

I’m no expert gardener by any means. I just wing it most of the time and the results are hit or miss, varying from year to year. I’ve had excellent carrots and so-so scallions, wayward dill and respectable mint. It’s all part of the fun for me. Plant some seeds, water, and see what happens. I’m eagerly awaiting my tomatoes which aren’t ripe yet but the plants are healthy and pest free.

Vegetable Gardens, Mikhail Berkos, 1895:

So Museworthy readers, what’s growing in your gardens? Any kale? 😆

Miss Gardner’s House

I took a day trip to Boston recently and if it turns out to be my only excursion out of New York this summer, that would be just fine. Because what a marvelous day it was! I took the train up to Beantown for two reasons: to see my dear friend Bill MacDonald and to visit, finally, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which was closed for renovations the last time I was in Boston a few years ago. The phrase “must see” might be overused at times, but in the case of the Gardner Museum it is truly appropriate. For art lovers of all stripes, the Gardner is absolutely a “must see”. What a great place! It is the embodiment of its founder – the flamboyant, eccentric art collector and philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner.

Painting of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Anders Zorn:

Bill led me first to the courtyard garden and I was instantly captivated. An exquisitely designed space that combines sculptural, architectural, and horticultural elements in beautiful, serene harmony. As I wandered around, it reminded me somewhat of The Cloisters gardens/courtyards in Fort Tryon Park.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City in 1840 to a well-to-do family. When she was 20 she married John Lowell Gardner, a successful Boston businessman, and the couple spent years traveling the world collecting art, furniture, objects and antiquities. After John Gardner died, Isabella began to fulfill their shared dream of building a museum to house their treasures and display them for the public. On a marshy plot of land in Boston’s Fenway district, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was built. The maverick spirit of its patron infuses the place. Isabella Stewart Gardner served champagne and donuts on New Year’s Day, kept a pet lion, drank beer, was a faithful Red Sox fan, and a devout Episcopalian. She was Boston’s “Bohemian Millionairess”.

Light conditions inside the Gardner are not very conducive to photography, as it leans toward the dim. But I’ll share some pictures I took anyway even though they’re less than perfect. This one will be familiar to many of you. Nestled in its own private nook is this John Singer Sargent masterpiece, his famous El Jaleo:

Beautiful wall tiles around the garden perimeter:

One of the Gardner Museum’s quirks – an endearing one in my opinion – is its seemingly haphazard arrangement of its art and objects. The orderly, heavily curated groupings we usually see at other museums don’t exist at the Gardner. Instead, the randomness of a religious Renaissance painting hanging a few feet from a Degas pastel, or a hunk of medieval stained glass in the near vicinity of a Japanese screen, provides a peculiarly pleasurable experience in which you are not having a structured art history lesson forced upon you. You’re just enjoying Isabella’s treasures and seeing them arranged as she wanted you to see them.

The Gardner Museum was the site of a notorious art heist back in 1990. The thieves got away with thirteen works of art, among them a Vermeer and a large piece by Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Bill showed me the empty spaces on the gallery wall where those missing works used to be. But there are other Rembrandts there to see, notably one of his finest self-portraits, along with works by Titian, Raphael, Whistler, and Fra Angelico. Drawings, prints, decorative arts, Islamic, Asian, European, American … a magnificent medley of tastes and genres. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is without a doubt in my top three favorite museums.

After the Gardner, my gracious host and Boston tour guide Bill walked us just a short way over to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. What treasures awaited us there? Oh just some paintings by a guy named Botticelli, and another guy named Matisse. It was a damn good art day 😉

The icing on the cake of that lovely day was the cooperation of Mother Nature. The weather could not have been more perfect. Sunny, warm but not hot, a little breezy. Warm thanks to Bill for taking the time to spend a few hours with me. You’re my Boston man!

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 🙂