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Staff Reads: Ninth Street Women with Susie Walter

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel

Everyday I am inspired by our faculty and students in our Art School who commit themselves to their artistic practice and our community. Committing to their work takes courage, vulnerability, dedication and time.

Being an artist is hard work. Artists are challenged to create something unique in this world from within themselves. Each week our students come back striving to achieve something new with the support of our community.

By doing this, our students are taking a stand. They are setting themselves apart by choosing a creative life within a community center that is proudly multicultural, multilingual and multiracial.

I recently completed the massive, 700-page Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel and I came across two quotes that I think speak to our artists and community:

  • “Inside yourself, you are looking at this terrifying unknown and trying to feel, to pull everything you can out of all of your experience, to make something.” (Grace Hartigan, p. 354)
  • “Even if they’re artists of different persuasions, a recognition and mutual honoring, we’re all in this war together, or at this wonderful party together… I think there’s a lot of mood and often depression and apartness, apartheid, that goes with being an artist, and given the rules of society … it’s often very difficult for artists to meld in with the rest and cope.” (Helen Frankenthaler, page 408.)

I highly recommend this book despite the length! While reading, I thought about all of the connections of the art world to the Lower East Side over time and want to share two small world stories that I discovered. One is that Grace Hartigan’s loft studio was at 25 Essex Street for years. She painted City Life there and the author states, “Grace’s six-and-a -half -by-eight-foot painting was a snapshot of the activity outside her Essex Street window—the colorful canopies, the bustling street vendors, the carnival of shoppers below. She did not search for idylls either within or without to inspire her, but took life as it came to her. Fruit, dresses, pickles, pots. Years before Pop artists fetishized the mundane, Grace embraced the familiar and made it art (page 601).” Another painting, Grand Street Brides, was inspired by her walks on nearby Grand Street and the many bridal shops there.

My second small world moment came when I read the acknowledgements and saw the name of one of our ceramic artists who was thanked by the author. She works at the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation and helped the author with research.

The Lower East Side continues to play a significant role in the art world through our Art School and the many galleries now in our neighborhood. I hope our community members will join us for a class, visit our art gallery at Manny Cantor Center or see a show at our partner art gallery, Assembly Room, to carry on this arts tradition on the Lower East Side.