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 rode 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 🙂

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.

Saints of the Streets

“Lost people matter to God, and so they must matter to us.”
– Keith Wright

Have you ever prayed with a stranger? On the streets of New York City and surrounding Metro area, a committed group of humble servants are doing it every single week. Through mobile outreach, these urban missionaries work tirelessly in the field, putting themselves squarely among  those in need; the destitute, the unlucky, the vulnerable.

I first volunteered with NYC Relief on their “Don’t Walk By” outreach, and the experience has stayed with me in ways I can’t describe in mere words. This past December, I volunteered with them again, this time on the Relief Bus. It was, I believe, the coldest day of our winter; a Friday morning with temperatures in the 20s that felt like the teens. But freezing temperatures can’t, and never will, hinder the work of this incredible organization of people. If anything, the bone-chilling air that day seemed to redouble our efforts in distributing fresh hot soup, bread, fruit, hot chocolate, and friendly conversation at 125th street in East Harlem.

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In addition to food and beverages, Relief Bus volunteers provide clothing and hygiene kits upon request, while staffers and team leaders sit down one-on-one to arrange referrals and guidance for job training, shelter, addiction treatment, and medical care. The Relief Bus mission is – and I can’t stress this enough – a profoundly hospitable, welcoming, and personal one, as volunteers do much more than simply hand cups of soup to hungry people. It is, first and foremost, about engagement and interaction. We learn their names and they learn ours. We set up folding chairs and tables on the sidewalks so folks can sit and socialize, and the volunteers alternate between serving from the bus kitchen and joining folks in their meal; chatting, conversing, laughing, listening, telling stories, sharing memories, asking questions, or just sitting across from them with bread and soup in quiet companionship, if that is preferred.

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For me, the most transformative part of Relief service has been the prayer. Nobody who volunteers has to participate in this aspect, as individuals of all faiths, or no faith, serve with the Relief Bus and are not expected to do anything with which they are uncomfortable. But for those of us who do pray with Relief Bus visitors, the act of supplicating to God on their behalf enriches the spirit in untold ways. When a person enters the bus to collect a hygiene kit or item of clothing, we volunteers are there to greet them and ask if they would like to receive prayer. Some say “no, that’s fine. I’m good, thank you”. The majority say yes. What do poverty-stricken folks request for prayer? You’d be astonished at the breadth and depth and thoughtfulness of their appeals: “to get my children back” … “to find affordable housing” … “for the healing of our country and for everyone to love each other” … “treatment for my addiction” … “relief from my arthritis” … “for my grandmother in Puerto Rico who has Alzheimer’s” … “to be reunited with my family who have given up on me” … “for those suffering people in Syria and those poor children being bombed” … “for the end of bigotry” … “for my brother doing 25 to life in Attica” … “for all homeless people everywhere” … “to know my son again, he lives in Texas and we haven’t spoken in five years” … “to get a job because I’m able and willing to work” … “for the strength to break my bad habits” … “I’d like Psalm 23 please, if that’s ok?” .. and, in a few beautiful instances, requests of “can I pray for you? Can I pray for all of you on the Relief Bus who come here every week to serve us?” Of course you can pray for us. Of course. And they do.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.”
Psalm 23

The NYC Relief mission is not the stuff of wild-eyed ‘fire and brimstone’ preachers who terrorize people with judgment and condemnation. It is none of the heresies and idolatry being passed off as Christianity these days. This is love and mercy, kindness and compassion. This is the Gospel. This is the understanding that God is about restoration, renewal, hope, and comfort. This is letting people who feel forgotten know that they are not forgotten.

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A class of first graders in Elizabeth, New Jersey gathered hygiene kits, packaged them in individually designed bags they created, and donated them to the Relief Bus. Wonderful colors! You can see a photo of these smiling angels on this Instagram page.

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On my last two experiences volunteering with the Relief Bus, I had the great privilege to serve side-by-side with extraordinary volunteers of a church group from Indiana. They are in town as part of their Christian mission and their grace, warmth, good cheer, and work ethic were an absolute inspiration to me. Magnificent people. Their personal stories, like so many stories that define us Christians, were ones of a calling, of salvation, of redemption, stories that bring forth the kind of humility that enables true servants to feel deep empathy and relate to brokenness, fear, and imperfection in our fellow man and woman. Because sanctimony has no place in service. So to the volunteers who came all the way from Grace Church in Noblesville, it was a tremendous honor. Thank you. And I hope to see you all again!

One of my favorite photos from the NYC Relief Instagram page is this one, as it perfectly captures the volunteering experience with this outreach organization. It makes me teary eyed every time I look at it. But I recommend viewing the entire Instagram and its excellent photos and comments, or you can watch this terrific video on YouTube.

Thank you all for reading. I appreciate it 🙂

A Vote for Louis

So I’ve been avoiding like the plague any references to the Presidential election on this blog. “Plague” seems an apt word to describe everything that’s been going on, doesn’t it? Thankfully, my readers don’t come here for that stuff. Also, my readers comprise a diversity of political views and I respect that. Honestly, the whole election process goes on far too long in my opinion. This shit needs to be shortened by at least seven months. I’ve reached the point where I just want this purgatory to end. Tomorrow, mercifully, is the day.

But rather than evade the subject entirely – as I am a voting, tax-paying American citizen after all – I’ll just say that my cynicism and disdain for political personalities, and the whole unethical, dirty business of it, runs deep. Not that I wish ill will on anyone, mind you. But I’m starting to believe that there is something inherently wired in the character of people who devote themselves to pursuing power and high political office. That trait – a certain brand of ambition –  is something that I approach warily. Maybe I’ve just read “Macbeth” too many times. It’s one of my top three favorite Shakespeare plays. This whole election season brings to mind a quote from Act I: “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.” Where is Banquo when we need him?

While today may be the Monday before Election Day, it’s still Music Monday here on Museworthy. And I think we could all use a reminder that America has produced cultural figures of sublime quality, talents, and inspiration. Politicians should take note.

In what I think is one of the finest jazz musician portraits I’ve ever seen, this is Louis Armstrong in 1956, photographed by the great Bob Willoughby. Look at that smile. The smile of a man who never forgot where he came from; born into poverty in New Orleans, son of a prostitute, grandson of slaves, sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys when he was 11 years old. Grew up to become a virtuoso musician and the most innovative, influential trumpeter in music history. Enjoy the track below. I hope it dances through your head as you go to the polls tomorrow 🙂

LouisArmstrong

“He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way.”
– Duke Ellington on Louis Armstrong

The Naked Gunner

When I explore for blog post topics, it’s rare that the various themes that interest me converge all at once. So imagine my surprise when I came across an image that brought together 1) nudity and the human form, 2) photography, and 3) history; all of which are topics I gladly feature here on Museworthy from time to time when I veer away from art and art-related stuff. Today I’d like to share with my readers a photo I encountered on Rare Historical Photos. Now I should mention that I initially stopped to gaze upon this image for the simple reason that I’m a heterosexual woman and, well, I liked what I saw .. 😉 But I became even more enthralled with the image when I read the incredible backstory behind it – because a photo of a naked guy manning a machine gun in an amphibious aircraft has to have a great backstory.

The photo was taken by Horace Bristol, one of the founding photojournalists for LIFE magazine. His work documented historic chapters of the 20th century, such as migrant workers during the Great Depression and World War II combat in North Africa and the Pacific. The young U.S Navy crewman in the photo was part of a search and rescue mission in Rabaul Bay, Papua New Guinea in 1944. When a Marine airman was shot down by the Japanese and temporarily blinded, this young man stripped off his clothes for easier swimming, dove into the water and pulled the Marine to safety aboard the “Dumbo” PBY. Horace Bristol, who was aboard the aircraft during the rescue, recalled the conditions at that moment:

As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.

Bristol then snapped a photo of the brave, still wet crewman as he readied for takeoff, carrying on with his duties in the nude, because urgency and safety come before all else. And because clothes are not essential <– as an art model I can say that.

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The crewman is unidentified, though perhaps Horace Bristol knew his name at the time and did not make it public. One can’t help but wonder about this man. Did he live through the war and make it home alive? Did he know that Bristol took a photo of him naked? What part of the United States was he from? Was he a awarded a medal for his heroism? Unanswered questions. But at least he is immortalized in this remarkable photo which reminds us of wartime bravery and the formidable courage of a generation of men.

Now if there are any World War II enthusiasts or military history enthusiasts among my readers, maybe one of you can help me out regarding this aircraft. The PBY is a “flying boat”, so I’m assuming it was something like the picture on this page? Really want to know what this intrepid crewman was operating on that harrowing day.

Happy 9th Birthday Museworthy!!

blog
noun
1. a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

How do you all feel about that definition? I think it’s a little “meh”, as the kids today would say. So as a blogger for nine years I believe I can expand – perhaps rewrite – that description just a bit. A “blog” is a corner of the internet where an individual can share and communicate their otherwise ignored voice, and be discovered by anyone who might seek out such a voice. A “blog” is an intimate platform where discussion, learning, documenting and diversion work joyfully hand in hand. A “blog” is a place where people from distant places around the globe can connect who would otherwise never have connected. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Fred Hatt, photographer extraordinaire and my beautiful, steadfast friend, deserves special commendation this year for calmly persevering through our photo session in which I was, admittedly, difficult. Not *acting like a diva bitch* difficult but *moody and sullen* difficult. Couldn’t find my mojo. Couldn’t clear my head of all my nagging emotional turmoil. But after a few hours (and a couple of glasses of wine) we managed to pull this shot out of many misfires. The body language speaks for itself. Thank you Fred, for your patience and kindness, as always ..

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Now, as I always do in these anniversary posts, I must express my deepest, humblest, sincerest thanks to all my readers; from the die-hard regulars (where would I be without you guys?) to the occasional drop-ins (always great to have you!) to the recent new subscribers (welcome!), ALL of you, thank you for your visits, your comments, your emails … thank you for finding points of interest in my chosen topics, my art modeling profession, my pictures, stories, and even my personal tribulations. Thank you for everything. I extend a heartfelt invitation to each of you to stick around for year ten 🙂

And now it’s song time! My fondness for late 60s blues-inspired British rock remains my default preference, so I’m going full on Jeff Beck Group this year. That’s the young Rod Stewart doing his trademark raunchy, raspy vocals. From Jeff Beck’s debut album Truth, released in 1968 – the year I was born – this is “Let Me Love You”. Enjoy! And again, thank you all …

Your muse,
Claudia
xo