GCP walk, East Elmhurst through Flushing Bay

Category : art, inspiration, walking

Past St. Michaels we walked through East Elmhurst, the neighborhood that somehow is north of regular Elmhurst. East Elmhurst is the home of my least favorite airport:

La Guardia, named for the former mayor Fiorello, who was super into airports. Before NYC had its own airport within the city limits, he flew into Newark Airport and pitched a fit when it came time to leave the plane. “I bought a ticket to New York City, why are we in New Jersey? Take me to NYC!”. I admire the spirit, but dislike his namesake. We walked over another overpass to get here.

East Elmhurst is mostly very low in elevation, as is all the land around the airport, and therefore is at high risk for flooding; it was built on a former marsh that was called Trains Meadow. It’s full of rows of single family homes made of brick or of vinyl siding, with the spectacular awnings I always associate with Queens, and was one of the few neighborhoods where black families were allowed to buy a home. It became known for the musicians, entertainers, and cultural icons who lived there, and made it one of the most stable neighborhoods in NYC. Malcolm X, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie all lived here. While white families poured out of the city, taking advantage of the federal loans available to them, into the suburbs via the Grand Central Parkway, the black homeowners in East Elmhurst stayed put and built a community.

We walked along Ditmars Boulevard for a while, just south of the parkway. There’s a hilly spot called Overlook Park where you can watch the planes take off and land.

Eventually you get to a path that leads to the entrance to the Flushing Bay Promenade:

Which leads you here:

One of my favorite things, a marshy, under-appreciated body of water, this one called Flushing Bay. This bay is of course not as clean as residents would like (support and follow Guardians of Flushing Bay for more info), for the usual reasons: illegal dumping, pollution and runoff from the airport, storm runoff from some of the nearby highways, and of course, raw sewage when it rains, because there are TEN combined sewer outflows that empty into the bay. Combined sewer outflows are places where the pipes that take the rainwater from the streets and the pipes that take sewage from private homes combine, so that when there’s a lot of rain, the combination of the two is more that the sewer system can process, so a good bit of it bypasses the water treatment plant and goes directly into the nearest body of water, out of a pipe called a CSO. In this case, into Flushing Bay.

If you want more info on NYC’s sewer system and where it all ends up, here’s a great resource: https://openseweratlas.tumblr.com

Horrified? You can look up your sewer shed and download a map of the system. NYC DEP also has an app called Wait… that you can download to remind you to let it mellow and also don’t do your dishes/laundry during a heavy storm:

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/whats-new/wait.page

Back to the walk: we stopped on the promenade for a very delayed lunch of enormous Italian sandwiches and dodged some enthusiastic yellow jackets.

There’s a marina here, built for one of the two World’s Fairs that were held here in the middle of the last century, which is home to some of the dragon boat crews that practice here in Flushing Bay and nearby Flushing Meadows. The annual Dragon Boat Festival is coming up next month, FYI: https://www.hkdbf-ny.org/index.php

Teams have been competing in the man-made lakes in Flushing Meadows park since 1990, alongside traditional Chinese food stalls and performances in one of the largest dragon boat festivals in the US.

There is of course another overpass before you cross into the park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which we decided to save for the next leg.


GCP walk, Astoria to St. Michaels

Category : art, inspiration, walking

The Grand Central Parkway begins at the foot of the Triborough (RFK now, though I can’t remember to call it that) Bridge, overlapping with the BQE for a bit, in Astoria, Queens.

Astoria is quiet and residential and full of low-rise single family homes and brick townhouses. It was named for John Jacob Astor, in order to flatter him enough to convince him to invest in the neighborhood, which he reluctantly did. He never visited, though he could see the village from his summer home in Manhattan. At first it was a sort of a country get-away for the wealthy to relax.

During the late 1800s, there was an increase in factories and industry along the waterfront that brought German immigrants who were furniture and cabinet makers into the neighborhood. The most famous is probably Henry Steinway, the man who founded the Steinway Piano Company in 1853; he also built a sawmill, foundry, and streetcar line. The family created Steinway Village for the workers in their factories. 

The approach to the Hell Gate Bridge, which carries passenger and freight trains over the East River, runs through the middle of the neighborhood just north of the GCP, and murals decorate its underpasses. We took our time wandering through Astoria before making our way towards the service road next to the Parkway.

The Grand Central Parkway itself forms a barrier between north and south portions of Astoria.

The GCP’s route mirrors a road called Astoria Boulevard that was obliterated when the highway was constructed, and now the service roads on the north and south sides are called Astoria Boulevard North and Astoria Boulevard South.

On the north side of Astoria Boulevard are some scrap metal shops, then a glorious diner called the Jackson Hole, with the most wonderful preserved sign. We enjoyed the sign, and then crossed over to Astoria Boulevard South, following the highway east towards Jackson Heights. 

Along the northern edge of St. Michael’s Cemetery we walked on a narrow not-quite-a-sidewalk next to the access road that gradually disappeared, until we reached an entrance. 

St. Michael’s is one of many cemeteries in Queens; there’s more than five million people buried in Queens, more than double the living population of the borough. St. Michael’s is one of the oldest in the city, dating back to 1852, one of a number that were opened after the state passed the Rural Cemetery Act, a law that encouraged the city of New York to bury its dead in areas outside of Manhattan, on undeveloped land. 

Rev. Thomas McClure Peters purchased the land to start this cemetery in order to provide a resting place for the poor and working classes in the city, and the names on the plots tell a story about the different waves of immigrants who have arrived in New York City over the past 170 years, from German to Italian and Greek, then Chinese, Korean and Hindu family names.


Bridgewalking

Category : art, inspiration, walking

I’ve been working on the last pamphlet of three in a series on parkways. This past fall I started researching/walking the Grand Central Parkway, a 14.61-mile highway that starts at the Triborough/ RFK Bridge on the western edge of Queens and runs all the way through to the Queens/ Nassau County border. This is the kind of project I needed to break up into smaller parts, since you can’t really walk the entire length of the parkway in one go. I decided to start at the beginning, the bridge that leads into Queens and feeds into the parkway.

There’s a pedestrian bridge from the east side of Manhattan that gives access to Randalls and Wards Islands, two bits of land that used to be separate but are now joined together by landfill.

There’s all kinds of exciting things to see here, marshes and parkland and an urban farm, sports fields, music festivals in the summertime, a waste water treatment plant, and a maximum security psychiatric facility, all of the various things you might find on one of the minor islands of the New York City archipelago.

We tried to walk to the former headquarters of Robert Moses, the urban planner who built the RFK bridge and the Grand Central Parkway, the head of the Triborough Bridge Authority, whose toll plaza gathered the funds that drove development throughout the city.

Walking there proved to be difficult. Which is fitting, really.

Eventually we avoided the highway and got there.

Then from the south end of Wards Island there is a pedestrian access path to the RFK Bridge, which leads into Astoria, Queens.

The pedestrian path is relatively less well known and traveled over than other bridge paths over the East River. It has these expansive views of Astoria, Randall’s Island ball fields, the East River and the nearby Hellgate railway bridge. But there’s no fencing for most of it, just a low four-foot railing, which means anyone prone to vertigo should probably avoid it. 

If you enjoy that edge of terror and excitement you get to see something beautiful you wouldn’t see otherwise. Infrastructure nerds will love it.

Towards the end of the path on the Queens side is a suicide prevention emergency phone; four people since 2015 have jumped to their deaths here. There’s a staircase at the end of the path that takes you to the base of the bridge. 

In Astoria the bridge feeds into the BQE and the Grand Central Parkway, which overlap for a bit before splitting into two separate highways. We stopped our walk here for the day and planned to start again on the next section the following week.


Atlantis

Category : art, book, inspiration

The first section of my new book is about the role that islands play in our collective imagination. One of the reasons I wanted to make a book about disappearing islands is the disconnect between the images we create and consume of islands, and the actual lives lived on islands. Our understanding of islands and of islanders is partly informed by all of the stories told about islands, most of which are examples of projected desire.

Atlantis is the classic disappearing island myth, and the descriptions of it demonstrate this. Plato was the originator of the Atlantis myth, writing about the fictional island within a larger allegory of nations, where it plays antagonist to Plato’s ideal state of Athens. He describes the people of Atlantis like so in his dialogue Critias:

They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them.

In the end, Athens defeats Atlantis, the gods turn on the island, and it sinks into the Atlantic. But our impression of the place remains that of a lost paradise.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, scholars in Europe began to associate the myth of Atlantis with the New World, and writers begin to embellish on the story of Atlantis in far-fetched works of pseudo-history. The story of Atlantis became part of the popular imagination again because it fit into larger utopian and/or apocalyptic allegories about societies that scholars were interested in. But it was often presented as literally true, and there were competing theories for where Atlantis had actually been located. For Europeans, large areas of the world that no one had suspected were there had suddenly emerged, and if that were true, there may very well be a large lost island somewhere under the Atlantic.

Atlantis: The Antediluvian World is a book published in 1882 by Ignatius L. Donnelly, an American congressman, writer, and amateur scientist. In it, he argues that the fable Plato had spun was literally true and that Atlantis was destroyed during the same event that Noah experiences in the Great Flood of the Old Testament. In fact, all ancient civilizations were descended from this one lost island. The ideas that Donnelly explores in his book are the source of many of the funny ideas we have in our heads when we think about Atlantis today: a place full of advanced-for-its-time technology, the mythical lost birthplace of all civilizations, a place sacrificed in a struggle between good and evil. Atlantis is the stand-in for all lost utopias.

And islands in general are often conceptualized as utopias; the ideal place off the coast of nowhere. Utopia literally means nowhere; the word comes from the Greek “ou” meaning not and topos, meaning place. Not-places are made to be dreamt about from a distance, as in Thomas More’s book Utopia, about a fictional island society and its social customs. And More’s Utopia, like most European stories about islands, is an island in the New World, a place he can describe but not be a part of.

In practice, Europe colonized the islands of the New World, which means that island utopias are meant to be idealized, then conquered, then exploited, until they are no longer utopias. Colonialism and stories about island utopias go hand in hand.


Solastalgia

Category : art, book, inspiration, time

I finished printing a new book last month and am deep in the binding process. I thought I would write a few posts about the book and my research into disappearing islands.

Solastalgia is a word I came across in connection to climate change. It was originally coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht to refer to the mental or existential distress caused by environmental change, originally in relation to places being decimated by the mining industry. The word is a portmanteau of solace and nostalgia, and is meant to reflect the anxiety produced when your sense of place is being violated, the sense that you’re losing your home while you are still at home.

I wanted this book to encompass a few different things, and one of them was the sense of loss experienced while the world changes around you. Climate change is both slow-moving, in terms of the timescale of politics, and fast, in terms of the pace of landscapes and how they shift and degrade. One of my goals was to talk about groups of people experiencing the immediate effects of climate change right now, in the present, and the willful denial of their experience by people in positions of power. I also wanted to make tangible visual art out of a process that is often described as invisible (though I don’t think it is.) Similarly, tiny islands described as “the middle of nowhere” are often invisible, inaccessible, distant places we project fantasies onto; I wanted to make a book about what it is like to live there, and be a person from “the middle of nowhere”, because nowhere is somewhere for some people, many of whom are in the midst of being displaced now.

The word nostalgia is a trigger for me; I think as a letterpress printer it gets thrown around a lot, as an assumption that anything made using obsolete technology is by definition nostalgic. I think that I disagree with that. There are certainly lots of examples of fuzzy-headed sentimental letterpress work around, I can’t argue with that. But I think it’s possible to use a technique and visual language based in history as a way to tell a story that is rooted in history. And I think that history done well is the opposite of nostalgia. History in this book takes the forms of an account of the colonization and exploitation of Nauru, a tiny island in Micronesia, and the nuclear test bombing of the Marshall Islands. Sea level rise for islanders is only the most recent change in a series of events in their landscape.

The sentimental aspect of nostalgia shows up in the first part of the book, an extended speculation on the various kinds of utopian fantasies people have about islands. Islands are where we go to transform ourselves, where we are free from the troubles of our everyday lives, where the idealized fantasy out there lives. I structured the book as a progression from fantasy to reality.

To be continued. There’s a great article here on solastalgia, if you’re interested.



Summer vacation is here

Summer vacation is here

Which is apparently going to involve a lot of type setting, what a surprise.

And bicycling to parks

and the taking of pictures.

I am almost done with the summer pamphlet- early this year! And will be slinging it next weekend (June 2 & 3) at the Philadelphia Art Book Fair.

And I’m planning on spending the rest of the summer printing a book. A real one!

Hope you’ve had a lovely holiday weekend.

 


New (and Old) Skillz

Category : inspiration

They say learning new skills keeps you young. Does relearning old skills count?

I started riding a bike again last summer, after many years. I have the same bike I did in my twenties, when I rode it everywhere as my main form of transportation. It’s been patiently waiting for me to get back to it.

At first I was super shaky. I’ve always been afraid of cars; that’s one of the reasons I never learned how to drive. But I still could remember how it felt to be able ride in traffic without being afraid, and I knew I wanted to be able to do that again. It really bothered me to have lost the knack; it felt like my world had become smaller than I wanted it to be.

 

Now it has been opened up again. And I’m much less shaky. Still a bit of a nincompoop, I get nervous descending off of bridges, but the view in the middle makes it worthwhile.

In new-new-skills news: I took a lithography class this winter. That was new, and I plan to continue. I still think that litho is magic, or maybe alchemy, but I feel a little less confused by the various steps and processes involved.

And I have a new book in the works, partly done in riso. That’s new. I’m going to hot stamp something shiny on the cover when it’s ready, because that’s something I know how to do now, too.

 


Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field

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.


Landscape art under glass

Category : inspiration
Landscape art under glass

greenhouse

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:

palm

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.

flower

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:

fern room

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.

cactus


Signal Return, Detroit, Signs.

Signal Return, Detroit, Signs.

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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.

class1

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!

class 4

class5

class2

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.

class3

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.

prints2

prints1

eastern

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?

castiron

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.

safety deposit

tip sheets

marching band

hours

cass

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

bbq

 


Orchid Research

Category : inspiration
Orchid Research

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Last week I made the trek up to the New York Botanical Gardens for “Orchidelirium” their annual Orchid Show, which they billed as a “journey through orchid collecting history”.

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I love the greenhouses at NYBG; you get to travel through different microclimates, can climb up through the different levels of foliage in a rainforest.

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After wandering through the permanent collections you finally arrive at the main event:

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The show drew its inspiration from Victorian orchid mania and the fashionable exploits of nineteenth-century orchid collectors. Brief panels gave historical background on Victorian adventures in rare orchid collecting, which I loved, but I think most just came to see the flowers.

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I learned about Benedikt Roezl, the Czech gardener and traveler who excelled in the pursuit of orchids. European elites were obsessed with the flowers; the expense of finding, collecting (or stealing) and then transporting delicate flowers from around the world became a popular extravagance in the nineteenth century. Roezl was at the top of his field, despite having lost an arm in a farming accident.

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Orchid hunters made their living traveling to remote locations to find the widest range and the rarest of breeds, to be shipped back to Europe and sold at a profit as a luxury good. Hunters like Roezl were competitive and secretive; they would strip bare entire populations of orchids to keep flowers from getting into their competitor’s hands and often traveled alone to prevent disclosing their favorite spots. It was a dangerous way to make a living, and could be not particularly lucrative for the orchid hunter. Many specimens would die in the long journey by sea back to Europe, and a shipwreck could mean an entire shipment would be lost.

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Orchid hunters generally were interested in the glamour and excitement of discovering a new exotic species, but not so interested in preserving the population or conserving their habitat. They also stole much of what they took, in the hopes of being able to sell the flowers for prices similar to gemstones, and wrecked havoc on wild orchid populations.

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At home orchid-owning elites could show off their collection in their private greenhouses, as a way of bringing a little bit of the colonies back home. Orchids were an immediate visual symbol of the exotic.

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Eventually patient gardeners back in Europe learned how to propagate the flowers and grow them in greenhouses in Europe, enabling them to be sold at a more reasonable price point and saving the remaining wild populations of the flowers from further devastation. Today, there are many rare orchids, but only a small number are actually endangered in the wild. Greenhouses like at the NYBG are used for conservation efforts.

I also got to see a Wardian case, the nineteenth century contraption that helped transport flowers from remote locations, a kind of terrarium which made this kind of plant displacement possible. I was pretty excited about that.

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The show closed on the 17th, but you can learn more about Roezl and orchid hunting here.

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Thinking warm thoughts

Category : art, book, inspiration

2015-04-28 16.14.05

So I’m about three weeks into a residency at Guttenberg Arts in New Jersey. It’s been fabulous so far. I’m hoping to flesh out a mockup for a new book to be produced this year, about greenhouses and botanical gardens.

2015-04-28 16.14.25

Why did Europeans sail around the globe picking up plants to bring back home? Bring artists on their boats with them to paint samples of plants? Build enormous iron and glass structures so one could grow a palm tree from a pacific island in the middle of England? Develop interconnected analog networks of naturalists and botanists, trading plants among themselves? All of this seems odd to me, but tied into the history of the field of natural history, and colonialism, and the spread of invasive species.

So I’ve been drawing some flowers:

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And some windows:

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It’s been great fun. I hope to have a plan for the edition at the end of the residency, and some blocks ready to go, paper and structure sorted out. Seems reasonable so far.

 


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