What kind of magical place combines a sanitation training center, community garden AND a remote control airfield?
Floyd Bennett Field, of course.
Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first municipal airport, opening in 1931. Airports are generally built on the outskirts of cities, in remote areas so that landing planes don’t hit anything. Floyd Bennett was built on land that had been known as Barren Island, one of the many bits and pieces of land in the marshes of Jamaica Bay, in the extreme southeast corner of Brooklyn. There was already a bare dirt runway used by a commercial pilot on the island, and when city planners decided that NYC needed its own airport, they chose this spot. The marshland around Barren Island was filled in with sand dredged from the bottom of Jamaica Bay, and many small bits of land were joined together and fused with the mainland. Flatbush Avenue was extended and straightened to provide pilots and passengers direct access to the rest of the city. A state of the art, amenities-filled airport was born, complete with new features like illuminated concrete runways and comfortable terminal facilities.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia wanted the new airport to be THE commercial airport for NYC. Newark International, the first area airport, had opened in 1928; he wanted the city to have its own airport. But commercial aviation was new, and the number of people who paid to take commercial flights was limited. Most airports paid the bills by freight, not by passengers. Newark had an exclusive contract with the Postal Service to provide freight transport, which in turn attracted other commercial airlines to work out of Newark. Flights that didn’t sell all their seats could make up their costs through cargo shipments for the post office. LaGuardia was only able to convince American Airlines to move their operations to the new airfield, and passengers complained that the commute all the way out to the end of Brooklyn took longer than even the trip out to Newark.
But commercial aviation was only part of the story of air travel at this point. Aviators were excited about the new facility and its modern conveniences, and the airfield hosted many record-breaking flights, time records, and air races between the two World Wars. Howard Hughes and Wiley Post both used Floyd Bennett for record breaking around-the-world flights. Female pilots like Amelia Earhart, Jackie Cochran, and Laura Ingalls made historic flights out of Floyd Bennett.
Since the commercial side of the airfield didn’t, uh, take off, the airfield became a base for the aviation units of both the Coast Guard and the NYPD. During the Second World War, the Navy used Floyd Bennett as a Naval Air Station. After the war, and up until the 1970’s the field was used as a support base for Navy, Air Force, and Marine units, as well as for the aviation units of the Coast Guard. But when the military moved their operations elsewhere, the field was decommissioned and began to decay. Control of most of the site was transferred to the National Park Service for inclusion in Gateway National Recreation Area, the sprawling multi-location National Park that encompasses many parts of Jamaica Bay as well as sites in northern New Jersey and Staten Island.
So today when you go visit Floyd Bennett, it seems a bit forgotten. It still houses an aviation base for the NYPD; the training center for the Sanitation Department is also there. There’s a public campground, as well as a hanger devoted to the restoration of Historic Aircraft. Volunteers and park rangers give tours on the weekends. Four hangers were renovated and taken over by a commercial tenant, the Aviator Sports and Event Center, which seems awful to me but I’m sure appeals to other people.
There’s a lot of empty space. Empty runways are a great place to fly kites, or drive remote control cars. An area of the site is a great place to hike, and offers good birding opportunities. Between the runways there’s also open grassland that people are kept out of as a wildlife habitat, and it provides cover and homes for grassland birds to live undisturbed. You can spend the afternoon completely alone wandering around what’s called the North Forty. Eventually you would end up at the Bay:
Where you can apparently kayak. Next to this bit is a Remote Control Airfield area, which apparently has a devoted community:
Spring migration is beginning; the Bay is right on the Atlantic Flyway, and I’m looking forward to going back over the next several weeks. More soon.View
If you take the 2 train from the stop near my home all the way to the end of the line, to Brooklyn College, you can find the Q35 bus. That bus will take you all the way down Flatbush Avenue, through Flatlands and Marine Park, parts of Brooklyn not served by the subway system. At the end of Flatbush Avenue you find Floyd Bennett Field, the city’s first municipal airport, the pet project of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Continue on Flatbush and you find a bridge, the Marine Parkway Bridge, home to Peregrine Falcons and the link to the Rockaway Peninsula. Right after the bridge there’s a random stop in the road next to an overpass where you can get off and start walking to the water. This sign helps show the way:
To your right is Fort Tilden, an abandoned military installation, and beyond that Breezy Point, the Irish Riviera, the private community of cops and firefighters that burned in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In front of you is Jacob Riis Park, the People’s Beach, one of the many public parks built in the middle of the twentieth century by Robert Moses. Beyond that is the Atlantic. It is a quiet place to watch the tide come in.
The body of water you just crossed is called the Rockaway Inlet, and it separates the Rockaway Peninsula from the mainland of Brooklyn. The Inlet connects the waters of Jamaica Bay, in the east, to the Atlantic Ocean.
Jamaica Bay is a marshy saltwater estuary that is home to numerous birds, fisherman, public employees, two airports (one closed, one still operating), horseshoe crabs, sewage treatment plants, coyotes, endangered turtles, and many others. It is one of the more isolated corners of New York City, and it is going to be the subject of three pamphlets this year, generously funded in part by the Brooklyn Arts Council. I’ll be looking at the history, the infrastructure, the communities and the ecology of the Bay, and I’m hoping to host a few events in the area as well. I’ll be updating myself and you on my progress here, hopefully semi-regularly. Wish me luck and watch this space.View
A few weeks ago I was thrilled to be able to participate in this year’s CODEX Book Fair out in the Bay Area of CA. I had been to the fair before as a rep for the Center for Book Arts, but this was the first time I had my own table. I had a FANTASTIC time.
Saw so much great work!. This one is a beautiful book in a can called Beans by Ian Huebert. His press Engine and Well does a lot of relief prints and (wordless) visual narrative out of the Iowa Center for the Book at present.
This is work by Imi Maufe; she is one of the subscribers to my pamphlet series that I was able to meet in person for the first time. Another bonus! Her work here is all about travel, great stuff. She had a collaborative project (up there in the upper left hand corner) from 18 different artists on the theme of voyage; that project can be seen here.
She shared a table with her collaborator Megan Adie, who made this book, Recto/Verso, which is much lovelier in person than my crappy photo can show you:
Many familiar faces were there, but I was mostly concentrating on seeing new work from new people I hadn’t seen before. Here’s some work by Amy Borezo, a new book called Kingdom of Earth. She’s used original paste papers throughout the edition and they’re lovely- fresh and contemporary, abstract and rigorous. Have you ever seen rigorous paste papers? I think that’s the word I’d like to use for these. A good use of the medium.
This is work by Nicole Pietrantoni, who does editions that can expand into installations. They’re all archival ink jet prints but the colors are all strong and saturated, really well done.
Then there’s this gloriously pink book by Jennaway Pearson, who made this silkscreen edition about Tonya Harding.
Jennaway was sharing a table with Elizabeth Curren, another subscriber I got to meet in person for the first time! This is all a tiny tiny fraction of everything I saw, and what I saw was just a fraction of what was there. Codex happens every two years; if you are in the Bay Area in February of 2019 I strongly recommend that you go.
Since it was February, there was of course a snowstorm in NYC the day I was supposed to go back and my flight was cancelled. So I had a bit of enforced vacation for a day or two, which turned out to be lovely once I got my flight worked out. Steve the cat kept me company at my friend Asuka’s house:
And I got the chance to visit the American Bookbinder’s Museum. They had this rad ruling machine, for painting the lines on ruled paper:
And I got to see a Smyth Sewing machine in action:
So that’s ok then. I’m going to leave you with this:
The second project I spent most of the fall working on is a new book project: Glasshouse. It is a limited edition artist book that looks at the history of greenhouses, a technology made to cultivate foreign plants in a controlled environment, originally in service to empire. How did we build structures to contain trees meant to grow elsewhere? What is it like to sail off the edge of what you know? What does economic botany mean?
I spent a lot of the spring taking photos of exotic plants in greenhouses and reading about botanical history. I learned a lot about why botanical gardens exist, which is something I don’t really think we think about when we enter one. Today, botanical gardens do a lot of important conservation science and research into how plants are used and have been used by various people throughout the world.
But when they began, it was a bit different. Botanical gardens were used as a research facility for European imperial governments. Their roots were in medieval medical gardens, where the students would learn about botanical remedies and their uses. As Europeans began sailing around the world, gathering plants and gold and various other things from other countries they suddenly realized existed, they brought seeds and seedlings of foreign plants back and tried to grow them in Europe. Elites had already developed the technology to build heated enclosures to grow oranges and citrus fruit trees from the Mediterranean; these buildings were used to house these new kinds of exotic plants, which often weren’t happy to be in the colder climate of Northern Europe.
As European nations competed for power and resources through exploitation of the rest of the world, one element they considered was, What kinds of plants are there out there and how can we use them? Colonialism and botanical gardens had a tight relationship that I don’t think that is obvious when you are casually walking through and enjoying a room of orchids. A glass room in London filled with tropical plants is sort of a perfect image of colonialism if you think about it.
I wanted the book to be like walking through a garden; visually engaging, with the text as a caption to the plants, but one that makes the narrative and the context of these plants clear.
There are some waxed pages in there for the transparency.
And the second section of the book is specifically focused on the specific kinds of plants that I’m talking about and how they were transformed into commodities.
I’m pretty happy with how it looks. I’m going to the 2017 Codex Book Fair in California next weekend, Feb 5-8. You can see the book in person there if you happen to be there, otherwise I’ll also be at the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair in NYC in March. So there’s that. Copies will be available in February; I’m furiously making boxes this week.View
I promised to write something here about those two projects that kept me frantically busy through the fall. This is image side of the Fall Informational Pamphlet for 2016, The World Turned Upside Down.
This one was originally going to be about GMO’s, and why/whether they are/are not evil, to fit into the gardening theme I’ve got going on this year. But then, you know, the World Turned Upside Down.
This one came together very quickly, partly out of rage, partly out of adrenaline from having to produce everything so quickly. Not how I would ideally do things, but the place I print at was scheduled to close for renovations, and well, things. There’s a few more typos than I would like as a result.
I like the color scheme the best, I love that purple. This is how I would describe the contents: The third pamphlet of 2016 addressed truth, fiction, the sound of type in your head, and the history of pamphleteering itself. Is the end nigh? How can one identify a witch? What is globalism? These questions are posed, but probably not answered.
The starting point is a seventeenth century pamphlet called The World Turn’d Upside Down, produced during the English Civil War. That was the inspiration for the illustrations too. I’m pretty happy with them.
Individual copies are available here and here for $20. And if you’re in the mood, it’s time to start thinking about 2017; I’m planning to do a series on Jamaica Bay in NYC, and am thinking about infrastructure, urban nature preserves, and vulnerable costal communities. Subscriptions for next year are available here and here.
Happiest of New Years to you.View
You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in several months. I know! For a variety of reasons, I had to print an entire book and a pamphlet in the space of three months. I know, that’s a lot! A mad dash for three. whole. months, with no time to breathe, or cook, or clean, or certainly blog. This is a photo of the last run I printed last night:
I’ll post more soon about both editions. On to binding. See you at Christmas.View
So last month I went to Chicago to print Tell the Bees, the summer Brain Washing from Phone Towers pamphlet. What a great time! It had been a few years since I visited, and I’m glad I went.
Printing went really smoothly; the studios at the Chicago Center for Book, Paper, and Print are fantastic. Great collections of wood type and stellar equipment, and plenty of light. Thanks to David Jones for being a great host.
Here’s some process shots of the book in progress:
When not printing furiously, I got to experience all that Chicago had to offer. Such as, excellent signs:
I enjoyed a local variation of a hot dog at a joint covered from head to toe with dogs of all sizes:
There was a TV in the corner that played a looped video of dog-related trivia, with more dog photos.
Speaking of dogs, there was this to greet me every morning in the gallery at the studio:
Meow. I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where everything I saw was great, including an AMAZING Kerry James Marshall show, which you should definitely go see if you’re in town. Also sat through this video twice from The Propellar Group, because it was beautiful.
And then of course there was the pure joy of a Smiths karaoke in Columbia video. WHY DOESN’T ALL CONTEMPORARY ART MAKE ME LAUGH. #smithsfanforlife.
Now I’m back in the sweltering heat of NYC summer, putting the pamphlets together. I aim to have them done by the end of the month, out to you soon afterwards, dear reader. Watch this space for updates.
I’m in Chicago right now, as the summer artist in residence at the Chicago Center for Book, Paper, and Print. I’m working on the summer Brain Washing from Phone Towers pamphlet, Tell the Bees. It’s going well, I’m happy with it. More about that soon.
Right now I want to talk about the Garfield Park Conservatory, a local greenhouse and public garden located on the west side of Chicago. I went and visited on Sunday:
In the 19th century all three of the parks on the West side had their own greenhouse; in the twentieth century the three collections were consolidated into one at Garfield Park, under the direction of Jens Jensen the chief landscape architect, who then designed and implemented what he described as a series of naturalistic landscape scenes under glass. This was a new idea the time, when most greenhouses housed a jumble of individual plants lacking an overall design or story.
Jenson was identified with something called the Prairie School of landscape architecture, which highlighted native midwest plants and materials, and encouraged a sense of wandering through a natural setting. The room that made me want to look him up was this one:
The fern room, which he designed in 1906, was designed to give visitors a glimpse of what Illinois might have looked like millions of years ago. Jensen designed the lagoon and the lush ferns to evoke a swampy, prehistoric version of Chicago. Originally called the Aquatic Room, it was designed to give visitors a glimpse of the types of plants growing in Illinois during a much earlier and much warmer geologic time. Perhaps the room offers a glimpse of the future as well.View
I spent most of the last month or so carving an enormous piece of wood that had taken up residence in my living room.
Finally finished in time. Guttenberg Arts, the generous hosts that gave me a residency this past winter, hold an arts festival in nearby Braddock Park, with demos, vendors, steamroller prints and more.
We had to fight some serious wind gusts but we recruited some help to make it happen.
I finally got to see my block printed!
Both by hand and by machine.
And Ana found a friend along the way, who cheered us on:View
What on earth have I been doing, you wonder? Well, I jumped on a plane as soon as my spring semester classes ended- thanks to all my students for a great semester!- and headed out to visit Detroit for the first time.
I taught an experimental pressure printing/ wood type poster workshop at the lovely and amazing Signal Return, an open access public letterpress shop located in the Eastern Market area of town, then stayed on for a few days to mess around in their shop. My students made wonderful letterpress magic!
My friend Lynne Avadenka became their Artistic Director a few years ago and has been busily fundraising away, bringing amazing artists and great programming to the space. Signal Return does a wide range of activities, including workshops, private lessons, press rentals, custom printing, and special events. Their work is stellar and their shop is a great space to work in.
In part because of my friend Lee Marchalonis, the printer in residence and master of all things book arts related. I met Lee at the Center a few years ago when she was an artist in residence there, and I quickly recruited her to spread her bookbinding knowledge to the masses. See the book she made at the Center The Mystery of the Musty Hide, here. Then Lynne lured her to the Midwest with promises of reasonable rent, sane arts administration, and room to grow.
I made some prints I’m proud of while I was there as well.
Detroit looks like nothing I’ve seen before; it’s a strange combination of urban and rural. Lots of empty space. Lots of local pride. Lots of new construction and new people moving in eager to start their new thing. How does gentrification work in a city where there is so much empty space?
There are lots of really beautiful hand painted signs in Detroit, too many to count. You need a car to really get around, so I didn’t get a chance to photograph all the ones I wanted, and I saw only a fraction of the city, but there were so many around every corner I managed a solid representative slice.