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Staten Island, New York, United States

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Staten Island Festival Weekend, Part 3: Art By the Ferry

Art By the Ferry, an arts festival sponsored by the Staten Island Creative Community in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island, was the third festival I attended last weekend. Although I am the Membership Chair for SICC and have participated in Art By the Ferry in the past, I just wanted to be a tourist this year and enjoy it. As an exhibiting artist, one has to sit in attendance with one's art display. This way I could move from venue to venue.

Paul Hurst Band
The event takes an enormous amount of preparation throughout the year. It is free to the public and run by volunteers. This was the fourth year, each year a little different. Part of the reason each year is different has to do with the dynamics of the collaboration between entities involved in producing it. This year the festival was scheduled in May instead of June as in years past, to coincide with a run that was being planned. Ultimately, as the event grew nearer, the run was ditched. The permit process to stage a run has apparently become so onerous that the idea was scrapped altogether. However, another government entity, the Department of Transportation, made it possible to use a covered platform just off one side of the ferry terminal for amplified bands to perform there.

Karlus Trapp and The Entrappments
On Saturday I came to this venue to watch three bands, made up of my friends, perform; Queen Tipsy, The Paul Hurst Band, and Karlus Trapp and The Entrappments (consisting of the same personnel as the All Night Lovers from the 1980's).  The bands had plenty of room and the sound system was great, but it was too loud to get very close. Usually I'm right up next to the band dancing, but not this time.

In addition to listening to some truly excellent rock and roll, we got to witness "the rapture" in Manhattan. The skyline (it's a million dollar view from this vantage point) was completely obliterated by a big black cloud at 6:00 pm. That cloud rolled over to Staten Island in the form of heavy rain by 7:00. The rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of the audience.

Art by Joyce Malerba Goldstein and Sage Reynolds, blue grass band
On Sunday I took a quick tour of the visual arts portion of Art By the Ferry, with a brief bluegrass music interlude enroute. My tour started in Tompkinsville Park, to look at the jewelry offered up by the quickly disappearing crafts vendors. The air had a decidedly February-like dampness in it, making it uncomfortable for buyers and vendors alike.

Art at Bay, the community gallery for SICC, had an impressive group show of smallish artwork. I believe this exhibit will remain up through June.

Show Gallery on Stuyvesant St. was my next stop, to check out a posthumous exhibit of Norman Pate's work. Norman was such a fixture in his studio at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. He was there working every day and so prolific. I don't think there is an artist on Staten Island who was around during his lifetime who does not own a piece of his. I myself have a lovely collage in pinkish tones hanging in my library. In addition to the collages, Norman made many small wooden assemblages, ala Louise Nevelson. The exhibit makes us miss him all over again and it also remains open through June.

Norman Pate collage

The bulk of the visual art at Art By the Ferry was at 120 Stuyvesant. We were greeted there, outside the door, by Saint Philips playing on guitar, bearing the cool weather. Inside, room after room was filled with high quality artwork, the bulk of it made by friends and acquaintances of mine from SICC. There was lots of photography, as usual.
painting by Julius Wasserstein

work by Tai Woong Kang

At least one artist was absolutely new to me and quite impressive, Tai Woong Kang. Wow.

For me, this is what it's all about, finding those wonderful secrets hiding away here on Staten Island. What a strong supportive (and growing!) arts community we have.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Staten Island Festival Weekend Part 2: Maifest

my sister arriving at the entrance to Maifest
Maifest was the second event I attended during last weekend's big festival weekend in Staten Ilsand. It's a traditional German celebration of spring and was held Saturday in an appropriately lush meadow at Snug Harbor Cultural Center. The sun was finally out after days of rain, so there was a good size jovial crowd in attendance.

Actually, the atmosphere was goofy. As I walked under the flower-bedecked entrance arch, I heard the corny oompah band playing drinking songs and polkas I know way too well, to the point of being able to sing along a little bit in German. And, with all due respect to my own heritage, there are few sights as silly looking as grown men in lederhosen.

To tell the truth, the highlight of the Maifest for me was the excellent beer wagon. I come by this appreciation honestly. I was born in Munich during Oktoberfest, so I feel I have the right, if not the obligation to partake in quality German beer. However, this was the third day of partying in a row for me (my sister believes in celebrating birthweeks, not days - and who am I to turn her down?), so I wasn't quite up to sampling all five varieties that were being offered. I can vouch for the excellence of the maibock.

So, it was lunchtime and I needed food to go with my beer. One glance at the Nurnberger Bierhaus tent's menu and it was clear I was going off the vegetarian wagon. I find it hard to resist bratwurst, especially with good German mustard and sauerkraut. In Iowa (where my roots are), you find it on every summer barbecue. Not so much in NYC.

At about this time the other members of our party party showed up to join in the festivities. We bypassed all the crafty tables, cut a wide swath around the baked goods booth and headed to the stage to check out the "skinny German juggler". He was indeed skinny and of course dressed in lederhosen, so he had us laughing from the get-go, but his patter was hilarious. And he wasn't a bad juggler, on a unicycle, no less! He was an appropriate embodiment of the event and a good note on which to end our Maifest celebrations . . . and to move on to birthday cake at my house.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Big Staten Island Festival Weekend Part 1: Maritime Festival

What a great weekend to be a Staten Island resident. THREE big festivals to check out; the Maritime Festival at Atlantic Salt, Maifest at Snug Harbor, and Art by the Ferry throughout St. George. I managed to sample all three. But, I want to share the Maritime Festival first.

The Gazela, adding a 19th century touch to our urban landscape.
My bus stop to the ferry is across the street from Atlantic Salt. On Thursday morning when I started out for work, I saw the Gazela's masts poking up through the fog.

The Gazela, a wooden square-rigger, comes out of Philadelphia. She was built in 1883, part of the Portuguese Cod Fishing Fleet that worked the north Atlantic. She has two small dories on her, which were each used by a single fisherman, pulling long lines baited with many hooks. Basically, if this method was being used all along, there would still be plenty of cod in the Atlantic. The huge drag net method of fishing on motor-powered trawlers that replaced it caused overfishing and did a lot of ecological damage. The Grand Banks had to be closed to fishing in 1992. The Gazela has been repurposed as living history and is associated with the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild. Learn more here www.gazela.org.

Friday night was a fundraising event for the Noble Maritime Museum, held down on the Atlantic Salt wharf. Atlantic Salt is an impressive feature in the landscape of my neighborhood. During the winter a massive bucket crane piles salt into a gigantic snowdrift which dwarfs the bulldozer working it. I can hear the engines working throughout the nights during busy times. But, back to the party . . .

The evening started with a tour of the Gazela, docked at the wharf (the ever-present salt mountain covered with a huge tarp), and conversations with the crew. 
A good percentage of the crew is female, I was happy to see. We were shown the working parts of the ship (engine room, galley, etc.), but could only glimpse the below-deck areas where the crew lives.

The party featured Portuguese food, lots of pork and fish. There were special mojitos (yum) and plenty of wine, etc.

One of the reasons I was so eager to go to the event was the promise of dancing to a live band. Sure enough, a real wooden dance floor had been set up  on the gritty (literally) wharf - a good sign - worthy of  changing into my dance shoes.

About halfway through the evening a Coast Guard vessel pulled up to dock, its searchlight seeking the right spot. There was quite a crew on board, for a smallish vessel. They seemed to be shy, though, not leaving their posts to join our party.

Hello Sailor! The Coast Guard crew behind me.
Once I get up to dance, there's not much sitting. I came back to the table several times to eat a little more, only to find my plate had been whisked away. But, I would get distracted by another song and another potential dance partner anyway. Many of my artist friends also dance and we know each other well enough to know who is game for which dance style. My date was a tango partner/friend and plied with enough malbec, I managed to get him on the floor to dance some rock and roll. We waddled away after the party, bellies full of dessert, legs tired and big smiles on our faces. I think it's safe to say we all had a blast.

This morning, on a day as gray as the day she pulled in, I got up to watch the Gazela set out with the tide. The crew had told me she would be hoisting her sails and I was looking forward to that. I was disappointed in that respect, but she was still a stately sight to behold.

If I was between temp gigs, I think I would have joined the crew. I don't have that much holding me here and an adventure like that doesn't come to my doorstep every day. I imagined myself learning new skills, forging new friendships, seeing life from a new angle, making small watercolors while onboard.

I guess I was hearing that old siren song.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tango Dancing on a Friday Evening at Triangulo

There is no better way to start off a weekend than spending a Friday evening after work at the milonga at Triangulo. I walk in the door, into a dimly lit, romantically appointed space and am greeted by our host Richard and hostess Maura. They set the tone for the evening with Richard's "Happy Friday!" and Maura's "Hello Love!", accompanied by a kiss.

the dance floor at Triangulo
There is the dancing. I've had some of those wonderful moments that a tango dancer lives for at this milonga. There is the breathless connection with my partner when our heights and balance match and the places where our chests, biceps, hands and heads connect fit just so. Our bodies interpret the music with the same feeling. Yes, there is the dancing.

Then there's the physical letting go of a week spent working an office job. A glass of red wine starts the process. My shoulders start to drop from their hunched workweek position. A favorite song plays and my lips soften into a smile. The shush, shush of the dancers' feet brushing the floor starts its lullaby. A friend asks me for the first dance and with that first ocho, my lower back unkinks and cracks.

If it's a good dancing night (and we never know what it will be like in advance), I won't sit down all night, but pass from partner to partner before getting to a chair and back to my wine glass. If it's a night when I spend more time sitting than dancing, it will still be a good time. I'll trade soup recipes with the banker from Venezuela, hear about travel escapades from the entrepreneur, talk art with the guy I know from one of my first tango classes 10 years ago. I'll compare notes about partners with the women. And there's always a delicious cake to sample.

Sometimes the chatter level rises as each tango song starts, making it hard to hear the music, but raising the level of conviviality. There seems to be more chatter at this milonga than others. I think it's due to the circle of friendship here.

It's a small dance floor. As with any milonga in New York City, there is the usual share of showboaters glorying in their fabulousness or newbies unsure of their spatial boundaries, imperiling the rest of us who would prefer not to have to worry about getting kicked by a flying stiletto or jabbed with an elbow. An orderly Buenos Aires dance floor it is not. NYC dance floors have their own flavor. We all complain, and we all come back week after week. And I always say "Tango is a contact sport."
tango shoes OFF for the night

We dance until about 8:30. The last tanda is called out by Guy, our DJ "Last few tangos!" I look around to see if that favorite partner I didn't get to dance with all night is available. Hopefully, with luck, if I move quickly and catch his eye . . .

And then the last song of the night, invariably a dreamy waltz that will repeat in my head for the next few hours and keep me smiling and floating. Ahh. If I'm lucky, the night is capped with dinner, beer and a catchup conversation with my friend and tango partner. Then home to a soothing soak in the tub.

To learn more about Triangulo and all that goes on there, visit their website.    http://www.tangonyc.com/    Visit my Etsy shop to see some of my collages inspired by dancing at Triangulo and elsewhere. http://www.etsy.com/shop/DeniseMummArt

Friday, May 13, 2011

Visiting the Affordable Art Fair on Mother's Day

I checked out the Affordable Art Fair on Sunday, Mother's Day.  It was a delight. There was definitely a more casual and approachable vibe than, say SCOPE or the Red Dot Art Fair. The work was not as slick and commercially-focused as in those other shows. It may not have been as ambitious in a careerist way, but felt more authentic to me, closer to the artist's heart. It was also good to see groups of recent art school graduates represented. Their art held its own. 

The fair was held at 7 W. 34th St, NYC.This was the same location as the One of a Kind Show and Sale that I attended last winter.  It may not be fair to compare the two, since One of a Kind was not strictly fine art. However, the traffic was definitely heavier at the Affordable Art Fair and the vendors were cheerier as a result. The fact that it was a sunny Mother's Day probably helped traffic, too. The venue is across the street from the Empire State Building and close to Macy's, so it's definitely on the tourist circuit, although not at street level.

The fair had a surprising number of representatives from the UK. I understand the founder of the event is British and there was a beneficial arrangement for them as a group. The work represented they brought with them had a lot of appeal for me. One of my personal favorites was work by Frances Murray. She did gorgeous earthen carborundum monoprints in units that could be arranged as the viewer chose. They seemed so much more sculpture than print to me.

The fair was very feminist-friendly (yay!), which also makes me a big fan. The women's co-op galleries were represented; A.I.R., Ceres, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery. The Feminist Art Project at Rutgers University was selling a portfolio of work by famous feminist artists as a fundraising tool. Several of the artists represented by the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in the '80's when I worked there had work in the portfolio; Harmony Hammond, Miriam Schapiro, and Faith Ringgold. I was lucky enough to go on to become a studio assistant to both Miriam and Faith, two heroines of mine. But that story is for another time.

As you might guess, there was quite a lot of unframed work available at each booth.

I think being frank about prices, even listing work by price point in the printed guide, puts one at ease and removes an obstacle for a nascent collector. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Wistful Day at ART at Bay

Our group show MAXIMUS/minimus at the ART at Bay community gallery is over. The last day we found ourselves in the middle of the 5 Boro Bike Tour, with Bay St. closed to car traffic all day. I love this day, when the noise level on the street drops to a whir of bike wheels. It's NOT fun to travel on the ferry, when the schedule often gets disrupted and the bicyclists rule the waves.  But on this day I was gallery sitting and just observing.

There was a lot of activity on the street and sidewalk in front of the gallery, with the bar next door offering up $2 pints, but very few cyclists IN the gallery. They all looked so awkward off their bikes, clomping around in their bike shoes, and definitely felt more comfortable outside, not happy with the requests to keep their beers inside the bar.

Not all my friends who I had hoped would come to see the exhibit on the last day showed up, but that's okay. If their travel would have been disrupted, that might have left a bad taste for Staten Island. It's happened before.

One of the other artists, Judy Hugentobler, had a great turnout among her adult students in Manhattan. Apparently, they were promoting the exhibit and Staten Island among themselves. And Judy was going out of her way to give them a tour and make it a pleasant experience.

So, Sunday night, true to form, all the artists showed up on time at 6:00, to de-install, despite having to park around the corner. They all efficiently packed up their work, patched the holes in the wall and swished paint over the patches. We were all out of there, with garbage hauled away, by 7:20.

A round of e-mails expressing appreciation and mutual admiration went out the next day.

And that was that.

An empty community gallery is a sad thing, but the gallery won't be empty long. Today a group exhibit for Art By the Ferry will start to be installed. Activity is gearing up for that festival, which kicks off Friday night, May 20th and runs through that weekend.