We're now into part two of our series on New York. The four parts of the series are in no particular order and may also break the mold of holding off until the next nearest Thursday to post. So let's start scratching those fleas.
On account of our unending search for beautiful things at affordable prices we try to hit every available market and marche both here and abroad. It's one of those things Rick and I and now Emmy have engaged in as a family- the group hunt. At the markets there's more freedom to include children in a shopping experience where the vendors are a little more tolerant of kids, things don't seem quit as precious at a flea market. Not that you can let your kids run unattended and amok wielding sticky candy and greasy hands around upholstered furniture but with a little common sense and invoking the rule of "hands-behind-the-back" kids are usually welcome in the outdoor aisles of most flea markets. When Emmy was small we encouraged her to find something she was interested in collecting so she could participate in the hunt. We wanted her to find ways of amusing herself while we looked under piles and sorted through tables filled with objects of both junk and desire. Emmy's desire has evolved into a collection of 110 and counting Breyer horses. She still works on the collection when there aren't any of her peers around but now her searches tend more toward the more refined and lady-like objects like costume jewelry and vintage clothing. We tend to keep our focus on things for the store and clients houses although I'm still a sucker for a beautiful globe or a piece of matte white pottery.
On a weekend in New York you can stretch your treasure hunting passion from early Saturday morning flashlight searching straight through Sunday night last minute bargaining as the sun sets and the vans are packing up the remains of the day. Here's my itinerary for a sweltering non-stop trek through the boroughs of New York and their many fleas.
Starting out early Saturday morning it was an F train ride to 23rd and 6th for the Antique Garage located between 24th and 25th Streets to the north and south and 6th and 7th Avenues to the east and west. Vertical plastic strips guard the entrances on both the 24th and 25th Street sides. Because the garage is lit you don't need your flashlight to navigate the aisles. True pickers are there as early as five in the morning catching vendors as they drive their vans or station wagons into the garage and begin the process of unloading and setting up their booths. Pickers know the better vendors and tend to hover over them as they unwrap treasures wrapped in newspapers of the past weeks events.
The history of the garage stretches way back before I moved to the city. The market used to cover two outdoor parking lots stretching along the east side of sixth avenue from 27th Street to 25th. It expanded into another outdoor lot on 25th Street and then into the garage when it transitioned from a fair-weather event to a full four-season venue. Then its realestate began to dwindle as the parking lots were given their building permits and the flea markets turned into luxury rentals. What remains today is the garage and the lot on 25th Street. The garage still remains a primary antique/vintage market but with each year the number of sellers seems to be getting smaller and smaller. I was still able to score this vintage fabric globe with its handsewn continents of white on white canvas. The Garage and the annex are open both Saturday and Sunday. Some of the Dealers in the Garage are there only one day so going back on Sunday even though you were there on Saturday can still bring new finds from some Sunday only exhibitors.
From 23rd and 6th it was off to Fort Greene in Brooklyn. The open playground behind Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School at 176 Lafayette Avenue transforms into an open air flea market every Saturday between April and November. The key here is not to get here too early. The market doesn't officially open until ten and even then you'll find vendors still unloading their treasures and casually setting up. This market has opened its doors and provided more acreage to craft and food vendors then some of the other markets. Here you'll find more fathers pushing strollers during their obligatory Saturday parenting shift than pickers looking for bargains. The benefit here is the competition for getting a deal isn't as intense as at other markets and the food is great. The back end of the market is one long line of Brooklyn bangers, wood oven pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches and gourmet donuts.
From a design point of view my most interesting find here was Lindsay Key, an interior designer hoping to attract local clients. According to Lindsay she signs up several consultations each week she's out there. This is a great idea for a young designer to get some visibility and start developing a client base. A flea market like the Fort Greene market attracts a wide range of consumers, many with deep enough pockets, an appreciation for design, and a willingness to contract a designer. You go get 'em Lindsay.
My best find here was this beautiful painted workbench. The vendor was asking $375 before I even started to haggle. The one suggestion I'd make for this market and any other outdoor market during the summer is bring a hat. It was in the nineties the day I went and the open playground did not provide any relief from the pounding sun.
Undaunted by the beating heat I got back on the subway and headed back into the city to Hell's Kitchen. The block of West 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues is blocked from traffic both Saturday and Sunday. I ignored the adage of, "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen". Sweat dripping from every crevice I persevered and ended my day limping through HKFM (Hell's Kitchen Flea Market). If you're looking for relief from the heat or a smorgasbord of culinary kitchen treats, this isn't the flea for you. The emphasis here is on vintage clothing, mid-century smalls and industrial finds.
Sometimes it's not the purchasing that matters but the inspiration that you can acquire from what you find. I fell in love with this chair. I knew I couldn't get it back to Wisconsin but at $30 it was very tempting. When and if we launch a new collection to our furniture line I wouldn't be surprised if a version of this chair makes it into the collection.
Sunday started back at the Garage to see what new dealers had spread out their tables of new finds. Then it was back on the subway to Williamsburg and their Sunday version of the Brooklyn flea on the East River Waterfront. The Sunday version is located between North 6th and North 7th Streets just south of the East River State Park. Like its Fort Greene sister this market doesn't get started until well into the late morning.
Many of the vendors from Fort Greene move their wares and food here for the Sunday crowd so if you missed the blood orange donuts from Bedford Bakery Dough in Fort Greene you can get one here. Or if you're like me, you'll buy one at both fleas and not regret a single calorie.
One of the best finds here were Ryan Greer's gorgeous bike bags. You can also find at www.fluxproductions.etsy.com. The Williamsburg flea is worth the trip and they throw in a gorgeous view of the city for free.
I know it doesn't seem efficient to crisscross the East River two days in a row but logic has never ruled my treasure hunting. Back in Manhattan it was up to the upper Westside. Once again a schoolhouse playground has unlocked its gates and filled its basketball courts with vintage and craft vendors selling everything from beautiful beads to mini MP3 speakers to brightly painted furniture. Don't forget to go inside and roam the halls of I.S 44. Vendors line the halls inside as well. Know as the Green Flea this market has occupied the same space for over 25 years. Try to make this one even if it's the end of the day. With the Antique Garage shrinking like the Wicked Witch of the West the Green Market is now one of the largest markets around.
This begins a four part series on New York. The four parts are in no particular order and may also break the mold of holding off until the next nearest Thursday to post. So let’s get off to the races with part one: Peewees.
MUSEUM OF ART AND DESIGN
Located on Columbus Circle the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) was at the center of a huge preservation battle with artists, architects and critics yelling “no” but the politicos and administrators saying “yes” to the new design by architect, Brad Cloepfil and his Portland, Oregon based firm. The politicos and administrators won out not only riling the arts community but taking the architect, poor Brad Cloepfil with them by demanding windows that unintentionally form an “H” to the north and an “I” to the west. It may have been a welcome to visitors but the architect felt as if they had also added an “S” to the east and a “T” to the south. The exterior remains an ongoing controversy but what goes on inside is currently worth a long look.
The present exhibition, “Otherworldly” opened on June 7th and will remain open until September 18th. When I walked into the museum, mostly to get out of the unbearable heat, I wasn’t sure I was going to go any further than the gift shop, but since it was my last day in the city and I hadn't done anything remotely cultural I thought I should see what the museum of art and design had to offer. Their cover image for the exhibit was two large fingers holding a tweezers over some miniature flower. Here’s where their marketing kind of matched their exterior. Not the best image to suck people in to the exhibit, a little old-fashioned. If might have appealed to a needlepoint crowd but it sure didn't seem very hip. What I did find out once I got off the elevator, stretching from the fourth floor gallery on up through the fifth floor were some of the most amazing “otherworldly” pieces that blurred the line between art and design, and reality and façade. I was Gulliver in a land of peewees. Everywhere you looked the world was miniaturized.
Hypochondriac (2010) by Amy Bennett was indicative of the power of this world of peewees. Amy does much of her art by first producing miniature models of her imagination and then painting them in oil at a scale similar to her models. Hypochondriac is a mere 2” square but the proportion of that little solitary figure sitting on that examining table in that multi-layered green walled room so poignantly depicted the enormity of human loneliness. At two inches square I felt as if I was looking into a cavern so deep and filled with sorrow and pain.
Many of the artists included in the exhibit were comfortable with their 3-D models being their final comment. Some like Amy Bennett used their models as stepping stone into the dimension of another media. Lori Nix created her Beauty Shop (2010) model as a means of examining space and life from a dystopian point of view. At first glance of one of her photographs you’re tricked into seeing a human scale reality of destruction and deprivation, but on closer inspection you begin to distrust the reality of what you see and begin to revel in the miniaturization of our woes.
One of the more exciting uses of video was Junebum Park’s 3 Crossing (2002). The playfulness of this piece was mesmerizing. It ran like a child’s video game with a big hand shuffling people across streets and blocking traffic to allow the pedestrians to get safely to the other side. Played at high speed the effect is both comic and endearing. Junebum’s hands become our superior protector as we scurry through our normal day-to-day lives.
In the center of the fifth floor stands a tall white box with a gray grid evocative of a non-descript office building pulled from an urban anywhere. On one side at about eye-level are two glass windows where you can peek into the space, an office of total monotony. The only sign of life is a hologrammed swivel desk chair spinning round and round and round. The miniaturization of David Lawery and Jaki Middleton’s Consolidated Life’s (2010) reality leads to this gray expanse of infinite boredom.
Probably the most ironic piece in the exhibit is a piece by Joe Fig. Chuck Close: Summer 2004 (2005) depicts the artist, Chuck Close, at work in his studio, personal letters, works in progress, and the artist in his wheel chair are all recreated in amazing accuracy in a space 24” x 31” x 42”. He has created the personal worlds of many of America’s best-known artists and then transformed this into a book, Inside the Painter’s Studio. Funny his work on Chuck Close should end up in an exhibit in a building that same artist fought tooth and nail to never see built. I think if he saw the exhibit he might forgive the museum just a bit.
“Otherworldly” at the Museum of Art and Design, NYC, June 7, 2011 to September 18, 2011.
We knew the crowds would be shoulder to shoulder, especially with a forecast of eighty degrees and no rain in sight. Our plan was to get there early, before the Art Fair on the Square was scheduled to start. I was going with my sister, Ebby. We had agreed on meeting at the studio a half hour before the official nine o’clock opening. The Square in Madison is a proper noun. It’s the four streets that define the Capitol grounds. In the fifties it was the commercial and political hub of the city. Then with the advent of the commercial mall and its parking appeal the commercial aspect of the Square seemed to drift into a sea of ‘out-of-business’ and ‘moved-to-the-mall’ signs. Then sometime in the not to distant past a resurgence in the energy and appeal of the Square has put a new face-lift on the inner city, not a Joan River’s lift but more a Susan Sarandon lift. a more natural lift with some of the fine lines left in for character.
For the first five minutes our goal of being able to see both sides of the street and its exhibitors seemed doable but shortly after that it was as if fair goers seemed to seep in from the nonexistent area between the exhibitor’s booths and into our path the way vultures are drawn to new road-kill. I’m sure we missed some spectacular art but here’s what we saw that even the herd of pushing beasts couldn’t prevent us from uncovering and ogling with desire.
I expected the fair to be local artists are at least Wisconsin based, but what I found was a net cast far beyond the forty-eighth state.
Emerson Matabele was reeled in from New Orleans with images taken from around the world. Images rich in color and humanity.
Love, Devotion, Surrender
Amarapura, Myanmar (Burma)
Boy with Bagels
God’s Quarter Acre
Orange Walk, Belize
Scott Amrhein of High Cliff Studio was one of two local artisans whose work blew me away. His luminescent vessels were diamonds in the rich July sunlight. Wrapped with metal bands and set on stone pedestals there was a regal dimension to these pieces that mesmerized like a magic jewel from a Harry Potter story.
The stark austerity of Cali Hobgood-Lemme’s hand-colored photographs fit in perfectly with our furniture design concept. The simplicity of a typewriter, a stack of linen shirts or a woman’s dress laid flat on a white background and painted blue gave them irresistible power. It forced you to look at its details and appreciate the subtle nuances of their crafted beauty.
Mikel Robinson’s mixed media made my heart race three beats faster as I was swallowed up by his imagery evocative of an Edgar Allen Poe story. His art was all about presentation with his dark images standing proud of their burnt black frames with a hint of old decaying newsprint peeking between the cracks.
On the more whimsical side and created by another Wisconsin artist are Amy Arnolds peepwool people. They carry with them the handcrafted quality of Appalachian folk-art wedded with the portraiture of Irving Penn
The hope now is to persuade a few of these artists to allow us to show their work at Pleasant Living.
IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY
Somehow I had lost my email notification of new posts on Design Sponge, one of my favorite blogs, but several days ago due to their new format I was able to get back on their list and now I get daily opportunities to see what’s new. I was delighted the first time the Design Sponge name came up in bold letters on my inbox. It was a wow moment when I clicked on it and opened the door to one of my favorite blogs, one of those blogs as a blogger you look up to and aspire to. As the image of that days post pixilated in, the experience turned into a double wow. The very first image of the first post was for their Sneak Peek segment. Amie Weitzman’s Connecticut Cottage. The segment led off with an image of her beautifully designed kitchen in black and white and cerused oak. There in the center was her exquisite dining table with its curved sloping base, rounded top with a double banded apron. Now not quit as finely detailed as the Florence table in our Shaver/Melahn line but a very adept stepsister. We’ll take it as flattery, and that’s a very fine compliment.
Amie Weitzman’s dining table manufactured by
Shaver/Melahn Florence table in cerused oak as seen at the Kips Bay Designer Show House in 2006
The door was open but the sound from inside was hollow. Each of us possessed that slight hesitation, a look from one to the other to determine the protocol for entering the building. The interior was only lit by streaks of dusty light, light so thick with floating particles of age-old dust you needed to put a hand over your mouth to keep from breathing it in. The exterior of the building hadn’t been painted in over a century. The copula leaned to three degrees of vertical, surrounded by scaffolding to keep it attached for a while longer until the next big Midwest storm blew through and crumbled it into more floating particles of debris. I squeaked out a meek, “hello” as both welcome and warning, testing to see if anyone was around. The interior was bare bones, raw wood, the kind you’d find in a local barn. From our vantage point of just outside the threshold we could see scattered around the room a collection of antique trunks, old machinery parts hung as sculpture and some very weatherworn outdoor trellises. A collector’s eye had assembled these pieces. Whoever the owner, you immediately knew you were in the presence of someone who knew how to find beauty where most would have passed it by cataloguing it as junk. This junkman knew art and knew how to mold his junk into treasure.
Outside on the gravel yard in front of the building were two huge balls of old rusted barbed wire, the color of a Kentucky Derby caliber thoroughbred. This had been our clue as to what we might find inside. My “hello” came back to me unclaimed giving us the all clear to roam around, to open old creaking doors and discover back rooms filled with more treasures and collections of transformed ordinary to extraordinary. An old glass case filled with goose eggs, pedestals made from sewing thread spools, the gritty guts of farm machinery taken and mounted on walls, rusted tin signs stacked on end and shelves of vintage pottery washed with layers of crusty dirt played havoc with our desire. Who had collected all this? Was any of it for sale? The desire to grab and run was itching at my fingertips. The itch grew to obsession as I turned and found a set of shelves artfully piled with a dozen or more string balls. Balls of old baling twine, cotton butchers twine and hemp. One of the most ordinary of objects, collected by housewives and farmers, perhaps mercantile owners too tight to let even the most inexpensive of items go to waste.
My first fascination with string balls came at the sight of one we found in an antique store in upstate New York. It’s the kind of object you get or you don’t. The one we found and immediately bought was made out of cotton twine, the kind we used as kids to fly a kite. The ball was about 12 inches in diameter, which totals out to a lot of thread. How many skeins of thread went into making the ball? How many bits and pieces were tied together and wound around its core to make this ball? How many years of colleting did it take to reach that size? Whose history could be traced in the numerous knots and varying lengths of string? It all seemed so ordinary but to us it deserved being put on a pedestal.
THE FIGHT FOR SUPREMACY
The claim of having the largest ball in existence is a currently a three way fight being duked out in the normally uneventful Midwest. In 1950 in a basement in Darwin, Minnesota Francis Johnson picked up his first strand of twine and started rolling. Francis was a little obsessed, kinda like a overly muscled gym rat who can’t stop pumping iron. Francis was spending four hours a day, every day rolling twine in his basement until the ball got too big and he had to move it to his front yard. Francis kept this up for twenty-nine years rolling nine tons of twine. There’s no mention if Francis ever tied the knot. I’m putting my money on the “knot”.
Then in sleepy Cawker City, Kansas Frank Stoeber took up the challenge and started rolling his own ball. He rolled and he rolled. He rolled 1,600,000 feet of twine and almost caught up to Francis but in 1974 a couple of pounds short of Francis’ record Frank died. The town of Cawker City felt really bad so they built an open-air gazebo for Frank’s ball and now anyone can come and touch his ball and tie an inch or two more to its girth. Now, not to be out-rolled, a guy named James Frank Kotera in Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin has been slowly rotating his ball. He’s currently all the way to 19,336 lbs, which by my math skills puts him 1, 336 lbs ahead of Francis and they say James Frank is still rolling. Can’t wait to do a day trip to Lake Nebagamon to see James Frank's ball.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE
The doors at Haussner’s Restaurant in Baltimore were flung open back in 1926. For 73 years German immigrants William Henry Haussner and his wife Frances Wilke served fine food and a burgeoning collection of art bought at auctions from the Vanderbilts and Morgans and royalty of America. The joy of Haussner’s seemed more in the cultural experience than in the culinary one. The dining room was crowded with important oils hung frame to frame and pedestals with busts of famous and infamous Romans and Greeks, but the place of highest regard, just inside the entry door was given to a ball of string.
They say the ball was tied together over those 73 years by the staff from laundry twine used to package clean tablecloths and napkins. In 1999 the restaurant closed its doors and Sothebys auctioned off all the art including the famous ball of string. After an unexpected bidding war the gavel finally came down on the winning bid of $8250.
The fame of the ball of string grew to where the ball commanded its own billboard, one you can see in the Ben Stiller comedy Meet the Parents. All sting balls possess a certain history, for some its craziness of an obsessed uncle spinning miles of twine as a way of passing time, for a few its cinematic stardom.
At the Penguin Primary School in Australia the students rolled their own string ball. They looked at it as a symbol of how their education and lives would always be connected. Each string represented a student and each knot connected one to the other. They tied in mementos as they built their ball of dyed twine. What they ended up with was part art, part history, and part love story.
There’s a place in the mountains in upstate New York, an old stone lodge atop a fluttering lawn gently unfolding down to a rippling lake so transparent the smooth river rocks appear so clearly you can see each lichen fiber from a waist deep perspective. Even though the lodge is boarded up, most of its floors caved in long ago, it’s impossible not imagine a small orchestra playing “Star Dust” while couples in beaded dresses and seersucker suits go promenading under a canopy of paper lanterns in tangerine, chartreuse and baby blue down to the lake to board wooden canoes to romantically float among the gently rippling waters of Alder Lake.
Those same nostalgic feelings swept across the hairs on my arms as we visited Ten Chimneys, the home of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, tucked away in Genesee Depot, a little hamlet about 30 miles east of Milwaukee.
A sign on the gates of the estate closes with the sobriquet, “Thank you darling”. The language alone shimmers like a silk glove from a hundred years ago. For a fleeting moment I crave to be back then riding up in a 1940’s Buick Roadmaster after the tedious train ride from New York dressed in a pair of Hollywood waisted gabardine pants, a linen shirt, my arm resting on my chestnut leather valise.
The driver would pull up to the main house, the tires making that crunching sound as he slowly breaks on the pea gravel driveway.
As the driver opened my door I’d catch Alfred’s voice coming from the gardens bubbling with laughter and then there would be Lynn’s hand slipping into the crock of my arm, guiding me into the entry of Ten Chimneys, a perfect little welcome with it’s black and white marble floor and painted images of servants barring pineapples and silver serving trays with carafes filled with wine and spirits.
I drop my valise in the entry as Lynn guides me into the chintz reception room for a cup of weary traveler tea. Alfred, only steps behind brushes off the rich black Wisconsin dirt from his gardening overalls and pats my shoulder. At six-two he seems to tower over me in the low ceilinged room but the warmth of his theatricality diminishes his size and exudes a quality of welcome that immediately puts me at ease.
Lynn says Helen Hayes wouldn’t be there that weekend so I’ll be sleeping in her room, or at least the room they’ve given her name. Nollie, as they all affectionately call Noel Coward, will be staying in the cottage.
I’d always found the cottage amusing in its Swedish arts and crafts motif. Like the entire enclave the cottage has that fairytale quality that make you lose your sense of self and puts you in the audience ready to watch a masterful play.
Napping on Helen Hayes bed is a guilty pleasure, but the giddy laughter coming from the pool wakes me.
I’d packed my swimsuit and within minutes I’m swirling in the pool with Lynn and the other guests. Lynn, the great game player, has everyone howling in a game of water tag.
Alfred has excused himself and left for the kitchen to make some of famous sweet cardamom bread. Wisconsin summers can be cool and arid or hot and muggy. This one is the former. The sun has swept behind the tops of the trees and now a perfect breeze is winding its way through the hundred acres that are Ten Chimneys.
Soon dusk will have arrived and all us guests will have gone back to our rooms to prepare for dinner. With a theater crowd dinner is always served well into the evening and at Ten Chimneys cocktails and dinner don’t begin until the women have put on their elbow length gloves and donned their silk and jeweled gowns. The dining room is as elegant and theatrical as the rest of the house. Everything has a place and once there it owns that piece of real estate. The candelabras here are real and burn with that seductive amber glow, unlike some chandeliers throughout the house which are mere reproductions of the real thing, the wax candles are really painted dowels with nails for wicks.
So much of the trompe l’oeil of the theater permeates Ten Chimneys. It’s difficult to know what’s real and what’s not.
No one stays for weekend at Ten Chimneys. You’re there for a week, or a month, or some for the season.
The elegant dinner of the night before belies the casual atmosphere that so permeates the life at Ten Chimneys. So much of our time here ends up in the lodge, The log construction with it’s cathedral ceiling and Juliet loft force you to relax and nestle in to one of the overstuffed chairs in front of that new contraption they call TV. Days turn to weeks and weeks to months as we rehearse upcoming plays for the next season.
Then the docent says the shuttle bus is here and she hopes we all have enjoyed our tour,
“Come again darlings”.
WHAT EVERYONE WAS SAYING
“From the mid-1920s to the late-1950s, when Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the ‘Fabulous Lunts,’ reigned as the leading stage acting team of the day, Ten Chimneys was a near mythic retreat. Coward, Helen Hayes, Laurence Olivier, Alexander Woolcott, Katherine Hepburn and many more flocked there. As Carol Channing, another guest once said, ‘What the Vatican is to Catholics, Ten Chimneys is to actors.”