2.20.2011

A word from our sponsor*

the show's "logo" has the Hudson, the East River, Penn station, the NY skyline, a train and three typefaces.
That is probably a record
I created this as a mural in the show. It is pieced together from three 1908 skyline scenes like (but not including)
the one below. I then added more water, colorized, and distressed it.
tunelling under the Hudson
West Street ferry terminals (The Pennsylvania Railroad one is in the far center, with a flag)
The small exhibit I designed for the New York Transit Museum opened last week. The show is in the Transit's space in Grand Central Terminal, in the "shuttle passage."

A fair bit of the installation deals with the simultaneous mind-boggling feats of engineering that went into creating Pennsylvania Station: 
tunneling under the Hudson River
tunneling across Manhattan
tunneling under the East River (to connect to the LIRR)
buying up several blocks of the West side of Manhattan
demolishing those blocks
blasting and excavating while shoring up the elevated subway, trying not to kill anyone
Then building the nine-acre structure.

Before the Pennsylvania Railroad got the bright idea to try to continue their train tracks into Manhattan, everyone had to disembark in New Jersey and change to a ferry. Arrival in New York would find you in the rather no-nonsense ferry dock. A weary cross-country traveller might very well collapse when the porter said, "So long! Dont take any wooden nickels!" as he left you in the midst of the chaos that was West Street (see above)...  If you are passing Grand Central please go take a look— the exhibit is free.
*Design is how I make a living. In a manner of speaking, the museum and its show have contributed to the pleasure of my having a roof over my head as I update this blog. Thus, it is an unofficial sponsor.

2.18.2011

Lost at Sea(port)

lithograph poster c. 1860s, detail
Behind the scenes at South Street Seaport Museum: I loved the contents lists on the storage cabinets
crimpers or 'jagging wheels' carved by sailors from the jawbones and teeth of sperm whales
(were there really that many pies needing crimping?)

the museum has a large collection of 19th century ephemera from local businesses
drawers of scrimshaw and harpoons in storage
19th century wood type at Bowne

Doug using one of the 19th century presses
Some of you may already know Bowne & Company Stationers down at the South Street Seaport. Bowne is a recreation of a printing job shop c.1875 with which I've had an informal history going back a few years—Doug and I printed a line of letterpress cards there, and we held our book party there. The shop has an amazing collection of type, both metal and wood, several 19th century presses including a couple of treadle presses still in use, an assortment of curious machines for manipulating brass and paper, and many wooden cabinets, cubbyholes and drawers. There was always the sense that something special was going on.

Unfortunately
,
Bowne was a part of the Seaport Museum (as it recently paid to restyle itself) and they just laid off half their staff including curators, a historian or two, and the master printer/curator at Bowne. The last tiny shred of cultural worth that clung to the margins of the Seaport is gone, it seems, because of what appears to be tragic incompetance and mismanagement. And with it, another wisp of New York City identity evaporates. 

The Seaport is a botched opportunity to evoke a tiny bit of the history of what was the most important port in the country! When people in charge of museums with great, unusual collections appear to be completely ineffectual, utterly without vision or obsequious social climbers I feel personally aggrieved. It is offensive to me that incompetance takes away my local history, my quirky little haven, my project opportunities and leaves me with Abercrombie and Fitch.


What's going to happen with all the stuff at Bowne? What about all the artifacts gathering (and turning to) dust in the museum archives? Last year I got to go on an abbreviated behind-the-scenes tour of the museum (my dreadful snaps above) and I was thrilled to get to see a bit of Joseph Mitchell's "Old Hotel". The Fulton Ferry Hotel at 92 South Street was a former
rest stop for boat travelers in the early 19th century, but had degenerated into an SRO by the time Mitchell visited and wrote about it in the New Yorker in 1952. Remnants of the former flophouse/literary icon and social landmark had been stabilized—stained wallpaper, graffiti and all—and were being saved for some kind of installation as part of a restoration of the building. Whats going to happen with that?

Also, the
museum had opened "NY Unearthed"— a short-lived archeological  installation (designed by, oddly, Milton Glaser)—which I believe housed the 18 or so remaining Five Points neighborhood artifacts. Yes, that legendary slum immortalized by Jacob Riis and Herbert Astbury (and Luc Sante and Martin Scorsese) is now documented with a mere 18 items of an original holding of 850,000 that was incinerated (along with 2800+ people) in the World Trade Center. And I believe the South Street Seaport Museum is responsible for their safe keeping... My guess is that the "museum" will hold onto its maritime doodad gift shop. So let's hope one of the sales assistants knows how to look after those archives... //

A little background: In the 19th century the Fulton/Nassau/Pearl Street area was filled with printing shops—like the original Bowne and Co.—which produced, among other things, the journals and ledgers that seamen took with them aboard ship, and clipper cards like these (advertisements for ships) by the thousands. These would have literally littered the streets. The Seaport Museum has a collection of these but the examples pictured here are from this fantastic Flickr set.
"Extraordinary dispatch! 116 days to San Francisco"

"Rapidly loading!"
"I could distinguish the reek of the ancient fish and oyster houses, and the exhalations of the harbor. And I could distinguish the smell of tar, a smell that came from an attic on South Street, the net loft of a fishing-boat supply house, where trawler nets that have been dipped in tar vats are hung beside open windows to drain and dry. And I could distinguish the oak woody smell of smoke from the stack of a loft on Beekman street in which finnan haddies are cured; the furnace of this loft burns white oak and hickory shavings and sawdust...." —Joseph Mitchell

2.14.2011

2.08.2011

Cheap thrills

Gold hat ornament set with six foiled rose-cut amethysts and seven diamonds.
The reverse is enameled in black and white.
Pendant cross, gold, set with foiled and trap-cut spinels bordered by table-cut diamonds and cabochon emeralds
Gold hairpin set with turquoise
Pendants, hair ornaments, etc. as modelled by Elizabeth I
The Cheapside Hoard contains over thirty necklaces of various lengths.  
The hoard was particularly fascinating because typically objects of gold and gemstones were sent by their owners to be reworked periodically, even when not damaged by wear. As a result, extremely few pieces of common, non-royal jewelry survived in the original state into the 19th and 20th centuries.
Two flower shaped rings in the Spanish fashion, one with seven cabochon emeralds, the other enameled and set with garnets. Two gold rings set with sapphire. Center, gold ring set with a large table-cut diamond in a white champlevé enameled gold setting.
Gold pendant or hat ornament, with foiled flat and fancy-cut amethysts,
enameled on reverse.
Gold pendant in the form of a bow set with fancy-cut and trap-cut foil-backed rubies and table-cut diamonds. Called a 'flower' in Elizabethan times, it was often attached by a ribbon to the left breast.
Below it, a hat ornament in the form of a salamander with cabochon emeralds and diamonds,
many of which are missing. The tongue is also missing.
These images are just a few items from a cache of approximately 500 pieces of jewelry and loose gems at the Museum of London known, rather inelegantly, as the Cheapside Hoard. “Cheapside", both a street and a district in London, originates from the word "chepe" (or "cepe," or "cheop") meaning 'barter' or 'market.' Beginning in the 11th century, the area was known for its food market as well as for shops of various trades. Goldsmith's Row (near Poultry street, Iron Lane, etc) ran between Bread Street and Friday Street and was the center of the gold and gem trade.

Long after the jewelers left and the area changed, on June 18, 1912, workmen started demolition at 30-32 Cheapside, a derelict tenement 300 years old or more. Workers got down to the cellar and when they broke through the floor they unearthed what has been called the finest collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry in the world. They'd found the house stock of a jeweler, buried under the floorboards since the early 1600s.


Evidently it was common, until 1970 or so, that laborers would come across all sorts of archaeological finds across the city—which they would then bring to a certain dealer
to make a few easy pounds. Journalist Henry Vollam Morton described the tradition in the 1920s:
"I cannot count the times I have been present when navvies have appeared and passed their treasures across the counter with a husky, “Any good to yer, guv’nor?” I have seen handkerchiefs unknotted to reveal Roman pins, mirrors, coins, leather, pottery and every kind of object that can lie concealed in old and storied soil. I was with him one day when two navvies handed over a heavy mass of clay found beneath a building in Cheapside. It was like an iron football, and they said there was a lot more of it. Sticking in the clay were bright gleams of gold. When they had gone, we went up to the bathroom and turned the water on to the clay. Out fell pearl earrings and pendants and all kinds of crumpled jewellery. That was how the famous hoard of Tudor jewellery, the Cheapside Hoard, was discovered."
The 'Vauxhall pastes' (faceted glass paste gems whose flat backs were mirrored)–
the cabochon, bezeled and table-cut garnets, emeralds, turquoise, diamonds, sapphires–
the 30 or more chains of delicate knots, scrolls and foliate links, tiny details picked out in colored enamel–
the gold rings and salamander hat ornaments–
sat buried in the cellar while the plague passed through and the Great Fire of 1666 raged (above),
while America was found, then lost,
and Victoria came and went...
And now you can see them.

2.02.2011

hooray for hats

what happened to veils for everyday?
Alice Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt's daughter

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