Monday, March 30, 2020

More Subway Art

Tom Otterness at the A, C, E, and L Station. at 14th Street and 8th Avenue

Tom Otterness (born 1952) is an American sculptor best known as one of America's most prolific public artists. His sculptures of chubby little creature allude to sex, class, money, and race.



Tom Otterness studied at the Art Students League in 1970, the same time I was there but I don't think our paths crossed.  He would have been 18 and I was 22; a big gap at that age.  Besides, he would have worked in the sculpture studio in the basement, and I in the graphics class on the third floor.
I've found a terrible story in his past that makes me revisit the old saw, 
"Don't get too close to an artist, he might smell bad."  If you look behind the curtain, or more closely at your heroes, you might not like what you see.  It's a twist on "Love the sinner, hate the sin."  
It becomes, "Love the art, beware of the artist."
I'm sorry to know about his misdeeds and I really love his work.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

looking back and Walking forward

I said last week that I'd share with you another of our grandfather's great works.  Here it is.

The Float

There it is in the background, with my Dad and little brother Robby, throwing stones in the bay.

 It was a wooden platform with a ladder and diving board that sat upon empty oil barrels. Here we all are enjoying it on a beautiful calm day on Peconic Bay. It sat high above the water so you could swim under the barrels and come up beneath it, where everything had a green hue from the reflection of the water, and your voice echoed off the empty barrels.  It was a magical place. 

Unfortunately, it was quite top-heavy so it could turn over with too many people on it, but that was exciting, too.

Launching the float every spring was a huge job.  Here's how Uncle Dan describes Float Day.

"The Float was kept on the beach without barrels during the winter. The putting in the water days and the taking it out of the water days were traumatic. Davy was the biggest and strongest, so he did the heavy work. Each barrel had a metal band that had to be fitted around the barrel, lifted up together so it could be bolted to a bar on [the bottom of] the float. This required jacks, and much shouting and unnecessary directions. Also, it behooved the crew to attach the barrel while the float was in the water so that we didn’t have to drag it later on the sand.  As Bobby, Davy, and Jackie matured and moved on in their lives, Dad and I would do it together; that is he would give directions and I’d do the work.”

Those were happy days.  I"ll always be grateful for the memories.

These days are very different but Arthur and I are getting outside as much as possible, keeping a safe distance but smiling at our neighbors.

Here's what I've seen on my walks.

The garden at First Presbyterian Church, Fifth Avenue and 12th Street.  I'm pretty sure those are the daffodils Don Kilpatrick planted years ago.

In Washington Square, in the shadow of the arch, someone has drawn footprints within a circle with a radius of 6 feet, to make it graphic how much space we need to keep between us.

I hope you can see this--and take a hint.

Bluebells and tulips in Sheridan Square, Stonewall Park.  The bees were busy at work here.

The magnolia I posted last week is now in full bloom.

A flowering Pear in the local playground.

Rhododendron in Abingdon Square.  The tulip leaves are up and so the tulips should be appearing soon.  

Here's my drawing table. I've started a new project, to be revealed next Christmas.
I hope that you are finding ways to keep productive and connected as we all practice safety.

As we walk in our beautiful Hudson River Park, which was just being created in September of 2001 I'm reminded of a letter posted by Captain James J Gormley of the New York Fire Department on September 15th of that year. He was holding out hope for survivors.
 He said, 
"Pray.  Do not underestimate the power of prayer. Hope remains.  Make your hope contagious. Inspire courage in one another.  Be polite to each other, it makes life easier.  If you despair, act courageously. If you are scared, stand up straight and march forward. Allow yourself rest. Maintain your health, we have lots of work to do." 
He also says, "Embrace the path God puts you on.  Again, I ask you to pray, because Hope remains."

Here's a sign posted in Hudson River Park.

I'm aware that as I speak of being productive and connected, cozy in my home, and walking for exercise, there are people, in particular, health care workers, but also, grocery store clerks, the sanitation workers, delivery workers, the Police, the postal workers who carry on in the face of real danger.
Let's all thank them and keep them in our prayers.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Even More Subway Art

Here's another wonderful subway station installation with CROWS, The A,C, and E at Canal Street and Sixth Avenue.

  Canal Street used to be a regular haunt for me and many other artists because of the late lamented Perl Paints; four or five floors of art supplies staffed by artists who really knew their stuff.  
I once told a friend I was headed there and she said,
"You're going to the candy store." 
 But, alas, Mr. Perl forgot to pay his taxes and that was that. Life will never be the same. I don't get there much anymore, and so it took me a while to discover these guys.

This is one of the cooler among many cool art installations in our subway system. I was talking about it with a woman I met at Ellen Grossman's opening at The Yard, a co-working space that's probably not open now.  and she told me that she once found a crow that had fallen off his perch.  She didn't know who to alert and admitted she was tempted to take him home. I didn't ask her if she actually took him. They all look pretty healthy to me.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

First Week of Self Quarantine

The flowering pear trees are in bloom all over the Village.

The daffodils are popping up. Spring is coming, no matter what.

Arthur and I are staying home but also taking long walks. 

A man walked by as I shot this tree and said, "Lovely magnolia--it means hope."

I'm trying to use this quiet time to work but it's hard to settle down and concentrate.
I began one piece but I've already discarded it to started over--the composition was too one-sided.  

So I started looking through old photographs and I've decided to share some happy memories.  My grandfather Swanson, PopPop, worked hard and expected everyone else to do the same, but he also knew how to have fun.  He thought up some wonderful toys, like the Putt-Putt, a little car with a vacuum cleaner motor that we could actually drive.

Here it is in an early stage, with my Dad and Aunt Jan.  Nice hat, huh?

PopPop's company had a fleet of delivery trucks and a body shop so the Putt-Putt soon got a snazzier look.  Here's our whole family at the time; it wasn't quite a station wagon.

This is PopPop and an uncle, doing road repair.  

And here we all are; me, Uncle Dave, Cousins Kathy, Danny, and John,
Brother Robby, Uncle Dan, and PopPop.

And here it is, on the move. That's Henry the dachshund chasing the wheels.

Then the next generation took over.

It was the main entertainment at Jessie's sixth birthday party. 
The gas pedal sometimes got stuck and that made it especially exciting.

Next time I may tell you about PopPop's other magnum opus, the Float.

In the meantime, we'll keep walking. Look who we ran into in Hudson River Park, on a rest break from their long trip north.

As we maintain a physical separation I'm feeling grateful for the telephone and the internet. Do keep in touch and keep washing your hands.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

More Subway Art

Houston Street

After my post about the Weimaraners my friend, Louanne, reminded me of these amazing mosaics at the Houston Street station on the number 1 line. Designed by Deborah Brown in 1995,

they show marine creatures frolicking in our subway cars and stations.  In 1995 it was amusing, now in the age of climate change and rising sea levels it’s ominous.
But at the moment we have other things to worry about.  let’s just enjoy that we have a subway system that believes art is important and if you're avoiding the subway right now, here they are.

A manatee looking over a reader's shoulder.  This one may be my favorite.

I'm sorry not to have the whole picture in some of these, but standing with my back to the subway tracks gave me flip flops in my stomach. 

Let them inspire us to be active in saving our mother, the earth.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Pink Balloons

Pink Balloons

Today, March 13, would be my grandmother's birthday.  Last year I posted this story about the day she died and I'm reprising it now.  

My grandmother, Louise Mayhew Russell Swanson, we called her MomMom, died at home early in the morning on my daughter Jessie’s 7th birthday.  We were there, and after several hours of phone calls and business, after the doctor and the undertaker had left, I looked at Jessie and thought, this little girl needs a celebration. 

So I drove to town to buy a cake, then went to the party store and bought 7 pink balloons and one purple to grow on. I headed out the door. The spiky chandelier in the entryway caught a balloon and POP! 
I went back, they replaced it for free and I headed out again, this time holding my bouquet very low. On the street, I passed a woman with a lit cigarette and POP!  
I went back to the store and this time I paid for the replacement. I headed out again, holding the balloons in a tight cluster. As they rubbed against each other, they heated up, the air and helium inside expanded just like we learned in fourth-grade science class and POP! 
I went back.  They were not happy to see me. I asked the helium person not to fill them quite so full and she looked at me like I was speaking a strange language. I finally got the balloons to the car and put them in the back seat.

They rose up and completely filled the back window, blocking my view. I backed out of the angle parking space VERY cautiously and ever so gently tapped an on-coming car. 
A crabby old man got out to inspect his fender and then drove off ignoring my profuse apologies. I wanted to say to him, “Sir, if you only know the day I’m having...” I guess you can’t expect kindness from someone you’ve just dinged. 
I drove home carefully and we had a party in the midst of planning a funeral.

MomMom loved the Bible and Jesus, and she held an unshakable faith in the resurrection. In her circle Death was referred to as “Going Home.” 
Sojourner Truth said at the end of her life; “I’m not dying--I’m going home like a shooting star!” 

I like to think MomMom went home like a burst of pink balloons.

While planning this post I looked online for stock pictures of pink balloons.  Nothing really pleased me, so I said to my teacher and helper, Izzy, 
"Lets' go get our own balloons."
So we did, and decided that instead of getting a series of POPS!!  I would give them away. Here's what happened.

I said to the man holding the door at Starbuck's,
"I don't have any cash, but would you like a balloon?"

He took the balloon with a smile, saying, "You gotta be grateful for what you get, right?"
I'll go back and find him when I have money in my pocket.

Then, who should I meet on Sixth Avenue but Michael Shake, Organist and Director of Music at the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, sporting a lovely pink shirt?

He took a balloon and went on his way.

Arthur's response to this video was,
"Barbara, I think it's time for you to consider rehab."
Izzy's response to Arthur?
"That means we're on the right track."
As things--places and events and gatherings we took for granted are shutting down here in response to the Corona Virus, let's be grateful for the things that connect us.
Keep washing your hands, and keep in touch.

Monday, March 9, 2020


Last week after I posted pictures of Will Wegman's Weimaraners I made a tour of some of my favorite subway art.  Here's one that really tickles me.  In August 2018, this graffiti began to appear.

Then someone put a homemade sign in the Franklin Street Station that said,


the MTA heard about it and said, "Hey, that's a great idea."  And they caused to be made an official MTA sign.

Now both Franklin Street in Manhattan and Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn bear tribute to the Queen of Soul.
Isn't that cool? A bureaucracy said Yes.
It reminds me of Mayor Bloomberg's response to Christo and Jeanne-Claude when they came to him with the crazy idea of planting saffron-colored ceremonial gates all over Central Park.  He said,
"Great, let's do it."
Christo and Jeanne-Claude said, "Huh?"  They were used to spending years struggling to get their projects moving.  they weren't ready for a yes.
It also reminds me of my son, Sam's, first catering job.  The boss said, "Sam, you take a pastry bag and make the canapes."
When he told me about it I said, "Sam, do you know what a canape is? Have you ever used a pastry bag? Have you ever seen a pastry bag?"
He said, "No, but how hard could it be?"
It's nice when you can learn from your kids.
A while ago I decided to be a person who says yes.  But then I was asked to help count the money from the collection plate at church every Monday morning.
"Well, I didn't mean that."
But I said yes.  This morning, my counting partner, Roger Leaf, said,
"I'm on pins and needles.  My daughter-in-law was just wheeled into the delivery room and I'm waiting for word."
We set about our business and then Roger's phone pinged.
"He's Here!"
And Marcos Leaf was welcomed into the world.  And then came a picture of Marcos, age ten minutes with his happy Mom and Dad.
And I got to share the celebration because I said, YES.

Click here for the whole story of RESPECT

If you're avoiding the subway these days, don't worry; I'll be posting more of my favorites in the coming weeks.

Thursday, March 5, 2020


A Great Teacher 
Roberto DeLamonica 

I want to tell you about Roberto, who taught at the Art Students League. He taught printmaking, but the structure and discipline he instilled in me have stayed with me all my life and guided my work.

Here is his class handbook, which I still treasure, 20 pages of instructions and recipes;


In the file with the handbook, I found my notes for the talk I gave at Roberto's memorial at the League in 1995. 
I quote from it here. 
I began studying with Roberto in 1971.  I showed up for my first day of class expecting to go home that night with an etching but it didn’t work that way.  To study etching with Roberto De Lamonica you had to start at the beginning. First,  assemble your supplies. This meant searching through the most obscure reaches of New York City; automobile supply stores, religious supply stores, shops like City Chemical, Superior Ink, Continental Felt, all  located in neighborhoods that were new to me, so I had to navigate the subway. Then up many flights of stairs to closed doors; you practically had to know a password.  Just reading the addresses takes me back to that time before the age of giant glass towers. 

These shopping expeditions were adventures, especially Superior Printing Ink. First I had to find Lafayette Street. I was met at the door by a shirtless bodybuilder with enormous shoulders and arms and a tiny waist.    He said, “Cccccccccc..cccc..ccCanIhelpyou?” in a painful stutter.  I gave him my list of colors; (these names lift my heart; Cherry Red, Persian Orange, Saturn Yellow, Signal Green, Horizon Blue, ) and he began to open great oil drums, dipping into the glorious color, deftly scooping it into small cans without spilling a drop.   As he worked I looked at the walls covered with the most extreme pornography I had ever seen.  Well, I was twenty-three and hadn't seen much; this was shocking.   It was hard to know where to look.  When I went back to class the monitor laughed.  Visiting Superior Ink was a rite of passage that nobody got warned about.

 Now that we had our supplies we had to cook. 
 The recipe for liquid asphaltum

30% asphaltum powder 
70% turpentine
Heat, stirring constantly.  DO NOT BOIL. It might explode.  [I found this to be true; I turned my attention aside for only a moment and BOOM!]

This was a lot of work but Roberto told us that with what he was teaching us, we could go anywhere in the world and make etchings.

Printmaking is paradoxical; it’s terribly messy, a dirty and toxic medium, but the point is to make a pristine work of art on spotless paper.  Robert was a stickler about clean prints, but he also insisted that we apply the ink with our bare hands.  When asked if we could use gloves he said with disdain, “Make dirty your hands!”

Brazilian born, he gave his excellent English a spicy twist with many elegant what I would call “Roberto-isms.”
He asked his monitor, “What’s the word when you make messy the paper?”
“Yes.  Never careless your paper.”

My favorite quote is, "If you only have five minutes, get to work.  Do the work, it's money in the bank."

Roberto insisted that we always do our best and that we respect our work by using the best materials.  Even if we were only making a proof, he demanded we use very expensive German Etching paper.  He also insisted that we use oil of cloves as a medium, and use it liberally, so that when I graduated from the League and went to work at Blackburn’s, The Printmakers Workshop, someone walked by and said, taking a deep breath,
“I can always tell a DeLamonica student.”
Roberto’s work went through many changes, from the Day-go colors in his “Go Go Rose of Peace”

to the somber blacks and browns, he brought back from his two years in Australia; from etchings to monoprints, but there were certain constants in Roberto;  his meticulous attention to his craft and his art, the high standards to which he held his students and himself, and his generosity of spirit.  As a classmate said, “There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his students.”

The League held exhibits for each class in the gallery every year.  Roberto took charge of how we would hang our show.  The gallery walls were pitted and stained so he covered them with brown paper and insisted that we all put our pieces in wide white mats. This way the show had a coherent look and each piece had its own space. 
Here we all are, celebrating our show.  Roberto is kneeling at the right, elegant as always. I have my hand in front of my face and my dear friend, Susan Cirigliano, is holding my arm. Three other teachers are in the picture; Michael Ponce de Leone behind me laughing, Michael Pellitieri tall in the back row right, and Seong Moy standing beside Roberto.  Looks like a nice party, doesn't it?

I ended my talk by saying,

And now, if you walk into a gallery with beautiful clean prints and think, “Gee, it smells nice in here,” Just take a deep breath and say,

 “Aah, De Lamonica.”

How to Make an Etching

Take a metal PLATE
Cover it with acid-resistant GROUND, a mixture of beeswax, asphaltum, and rosin
Scratch your image with a sharp needle, exposing the metal.

Place the plate in ACID which will eat away (etch) the exposed metal.

Remove the ground from the plate with SOLVENT. (Be sure to rinse off the acid first.)

Rub INK onto the plated then wipe it off, leaving it in the etched lines,

Place the plate face up on the bed of an ETCHING PRESS, place a piece of ETCHING PAPER over it and a FELT BLANKET over that.
Pull the paper off and admire your PRINT.

Christmas in July

I've been feeling a little uninspired and overwhelmed by papers and stuff, torn by needing to clear the decks and get rid of everything ...