Friday, December 24, 2010

A Very Choral Christmas and a Hot Cup of Chai

By all accounts, my paternal grandmother Margaret and her sister Mary had wonderful singing voices. The daughters of Scottish and Welsh farming folk in Bloomington Indiana, they were much in demand singing duets at public and private events and as choral singers in the Baptist church. In turn, Dad was in the church choir in Ambler, Pennsylvania as a boy. I never heard a thing about that, but the junior choir medals still lie sedately in his velvet-lined display box next to the WWII medals and the Phi Beta Kappa key.

Cup of the Day #55
Grande Christmas Cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Colored ink and white-out pen on red printed cup

When my sister and I were respectively 9 and 11, annoyed with our Saturday morning marathons of TV cartoon-watching and resulting bad humor, dad signed us up for junior choir at an Episcopal church in our neighborhood in Philadelphia. I have been in church choirs ever since. It is an interesting view from the choir stalls: making the music, being part of the show, keeping one's counsel on matters ecclesiastical. Grandma used to say, "if there is trouble in the church, it started in the choir". Hmm.

I now sing in the professional choir at Saint Bart's Church on Park Avenue and 50th Street here in New York City, as does my husband, a baritone. We met in an Edinburgh University club in my Scottish art school days  - yes, it was a choir - and we have been singing together since.

So what attracts a painter to choral singing? It is social, my job is clearly defined and finite, I am just a part in a big machine, I don't have to make the decisions, and when the job is done there is no artifact to store (except of course, my paper coffee cup) What is not to love? It is the perfect day job for a visual artist.

A while back I was talking to one of the singers and he told me he was taking classes at the Art Students League.
"Good for you," I said.
"Yeah," he replied. "This singing business is too hard. I decided to become a painter. It will be easier to make money".
Wow. Well good luck with that!

If anybody needs me over the next three days I will be at Saint Bart's, and at Saint Bart's, and at Saint Bart's singing Christmas services. I hate to say it, but the marathon will be fueled by Starbucks because there is no place else close enough to dash to between services or that is open on Christmas Day in the Morning. I will play it safe and eschew the coffee in favor of grande cups of Tazo chai tea which always put me in a festive mood. And if I didn't tackle at least some of those red Starbucks holiday cups I wouldn't be living in the world, now would I?

Choral Procession
Saint Bart's Church, NYC
December 2010

Click here to see the schedule of Christmas services at Saint Bart's and join us for candlelight, gorgeous choral music (if I do say so myself) and probably some incense thrown in. Grandma would hate the smells and bells but she would be pleased that I stuck with the family business.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Family Baking and Afternoon Tea

I think a lot about Great Aunt Martha at this time of year.
Diminutive, round, mild-mannered, white-haired, partial to sweets, beloved by all neighborhood children, an amazing baker, she lived for years with her sister - my Grandmother Katherine.
The week before Christmas always brought Aunt Martha to our house with a large number of tin cookie cutters and baking gear. Sand tarts and gingerbread dough were mixed, chilled, rolled out, cut, studded with raisins, sprinkled with sugar and baked by the score.

Cup of the Day #54
Gingerbread Cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Colored ink, Sumi ink and white-out pen 
on brown printed paper cup

My sister surprised me last year with a framed painting of the cookie baking scene done by my mother in the 1960s. It perfectly captures the warm kitchen, Aunt Martha and me working diligently at the table, snow falling past the window beyond. I still remember the pots of tea we drank when the cookies were done.

In our minds, Aunt Martha was put on earth just for us children and she was always a dependable source of exceptional treats. If she had a life that didn't involve spoiling first her nieces and nephews, then her great-nieces and great-nephews we didn't know about it.

But there is always a story. Three sisters, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Their father (my great-grandfather) was a Scottish inventor, something to do with mechanical looms and rug-weaving mills. Fortune smiles. There is a big house, servants, fine furniture, monogrammed china, linens, silverware and lovely jewelry. Elizabeth, the eldest becomes a teacher. Katherine, the youngest, goes to art school in Philadelphia in the 1920s and marries Mike Gallagher, fellow art student.
And Martha, the middle daughter, runs off with the chauffeur.

She what? I couldn't believe my grown-up ears when this story was finally told to me. Sweet little Aunt Martha - a woman with a past?!
He promised to make her a chef in a fine restaurant.
They went to Florida.
But there was no restaurant.
And there was no marriage - the chauffer was married already.
An uncle went down to Florida and found her working as a short order cook and brought her home.

The family money and the large house didn't survive the 1930's. Aunt Martha and her sister Elizabeth went into domestic service and worked for the Underwood (typewriter) family as cook and housekeeper in Brooklyn Heights, then moved with them to Lincoln Nebraska where they stayed until Elizabeth died.
Neither of them ever married.

Aunt Martha's final years were spent with my grandmother in Philadelphia, where she made us very happy. My sister and I inherited some of the jewelry - necklaces of amethyst and rose quartz, crystal and jet - along with more fine linen, damask and chinaware than we will ever use.

And just this week my sister presented me with a box containing all the cookie cutters.

Aunt Martha and Gwyneth Baking Cookies
By Louise Leech, 1965
Pen, ink and watercolor wash
10" x 14"

Monday, December 20, 2010

On Hoarding and Upcycling Coffee Cups

I have a hoard. The coffee cups, hundreds of them, with and without drawings, are spilling all over my studio. I also stack them behind a folding screen at home and they topple out. Coffee lids and sleeves find their way everywhere.

 Cups of the Day #54
Marsh Lines cup drawings by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Colored ink and oil paint on white and green paper coffee cups

After almost a year of saving every cup I buy, I can't throw them away. I was carrying one in my hand on 9th Avenue the other day. It was a brownish one from a deli, with an ugly cream-colored pattern of coffee cups and on it. I hate to get that cup. The color does not please me and it is hard to transform into anything interesting. I threw it in a trash can and walked away. A few steps later, I turned. It sat on top of the pile, looking forlorn and abandoned. I went back and retrieved it. According to Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, authors of the book Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Stuff, once I start anthropomorphizing my trash I may be in trouble.

On the upside, they suggest that hoarders may “inherit an intense perceptual sensitivity to visual details,” and speculate about “a special form of creativity and an appreciation for the aesthetics of everyday things.” Well that sure does describe me. Perhaps that is why I was so able to correctly identify art from trash in a recent competition on Joanne Mattera's art blog.

Trash is finding its way into lots of art these days. My artist friend Barbara Lubliner calls it Upcycling and she has just curated a highly entertaining and colorful exhibition by that name at the Educational  Alliance in New York City. I went to the opening with my younger daughter who was overwhelmed with the desire to play with all the sculptures. I will go see Upcycled again on my own before it closes on January 20th and have been enjoying the digital catalogue.

 Shari Mendelson, Untitled
5 vessels made from plastic post consumer waste. 
An element that is attractive to me, and to the artists in Upcycled is the easy-to-come-by components. Large sculptures and installations can be built to unimaginable sizes from an  endless supply of 
post-consumer waste. I look forward to exhibiting my own hoard in March of 2011 in the Garment District. And just to keep me on task, an artist friend sent me this image today of the Mona Lisa, made from over 3,000 cups filled with coffee and varying amounts of milk. Now that's a lot of throw-away Joe!

3,604 cups of coffee which were made into a giant Mona Lisa 
painting in Sydney, Australia for a coffee festival. The 3,604 cups of coffee were each 
filled with different amounts of milk to create the different tones and shades.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Eat/Art, Stumptown and the Porcelain of Daniel Levy

I was headed West on 29th Street from Broadway to shoot some photos of the many and varied food-related artworks in the exhibition Eat/Art at Atlantic Gallery, where I am showing three cup drawings.

Cup of the Day #53
Trio of Gingerbread Cups by Gwyneth Leech
Colored ink, sumi ink and white-out pen 
on paper coffee cups
in Eat/Art

I was hankering after a coffee but discovered that the blocks I was treading are a culinary desert, being instead the Midtown heart of bling; store after store is an Aladdin's cave of costume jewellery, watches, trinkets and ornamented baseball caps. On each door stern notices are taped:"Wholesale Only, "Tax ID Required", "No Retail". What is it about such admonitions that make me want to buy something?

Just past my gallery destination, a sandwich board annoucing a studio sale at 155 West 29th caught my eye, and I detoured up in a worn freight elevator to Daniel Levy's amazing porcelain-ware production studio on the third floor. He has been working in the neighborhood for many years and had a wealth of exquisite handmade objects for sale. I left with a black and white cup and the beginning of an idea about porcelain coffee cups in my head.

In Eat/Art at Atlantic Gallery, just a few doors away, the shopping opportunities are plentiful. All the artworks are 12" or less, very reasonably priced and can be taken home at purchase. In addition, 10% of each art sale during the show goes to Just Food, "a local nonprofit organization that connects farms to inner-city residents and helps them grow their own food and otherwise increase their access to fresh ingredients."

 Coffee filter artwork by Linda Stillman
Medium: used coffee filter, 
acrylic on panel with plastic cap
in Eat/Art

I still had coffee on my mind, so naturally my eye was drawn to an illusionistic wall mounted half cup by Chris Zeller, a jaunty coffee filter artwork by Linda Stillman, a charming green demi-tasse in oils by Whitney Brooks Abbot, and a light-hearted tea bag mobile by Christina Sun. To go with, there are artworks using toast and Froot Loops, paintings of muffins and pancakes, and several delightful cakes made from ceramics. You can see some of the pieces in a New York Times article here or on the gallery website here.
Better yet, head on down to see the show yourself. It is up through December 23rd, at 135 West 29th Street, Suite 601.

As I was leaving, I  asked Pamela Talese, organizer of group shows at the gallery how she survives working in such a caffeine wasteland. "Oh, you just turned the wrong way when you got off the train. Stumptown at 29th, is just a half block the other side of Broadway. It will more than meet your needs."
Indeed, at Stumptown the beautifully lit display cases of pastry, the juanty fedoras the staff wear and the impeccable fern pattern in my latte foam were works of art in their own right.
And the coffee, roasted in Red Hook, was excellent too.

Kokkino by Zekio Dawson
Mixed media
in Eat/Art

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Windows of Bergdorf's and Coffee at the Plaza

It is here with a vengeance. The night of Thanksgiving, even before December began, I saw my first flat-bed truck laden with cut Christmas trees rolling into the city. This Sunday afternoon, I gave into the moment and strolled up 5th Avenue with my seven year old daughter.

Cup of the Day #52
By Gwyneth Leech
Colored ink on white paper coffee cup

There were gold boxes in Cartier's, opening and shutting to reveal sapphires and pear-shaped diamonds against red velvet. At Tiffany's, it was a frosty tale of the Blue Bird, small snow-covered storybook scenes strewn with more diamond rings. At Van Cleef and Arpels the windows were the sets of charming paper cut-out theaters, rich with undersea treasures - corals and pearls and a sailing ship laden with jewels. 

But the show stopper was, as always, the windows of Bergdorf and Goodman at 5th and 58th. I can't even begin to describe the sheer lavishness of their Christmans windows, always a cornucopia of objet d'art and wild ideas, a spendidly dressed mannequin somewhere in the midst of each display. This year, clockwork creatures abounded and the tour de force was a window filled with icy treasures, including a huge octopus studded with mother-of pearl and crystals.

The windows are the work of a team of artists and artisans led by the brilliant David Hoey- and if your wallet is deep a coffee table book of years of these windows, published by Assouline, can be had for just $550. "If only real life were as swell as the windows of Bergdorf's," quips Bette Midler in the introduction.

Van Cleef and Arpels
Ruby ring in a clockwork oyster shell 
57th Street, NYC, December 2010

Sated with visual splendors, almost at Central Park, we entered the Plaza Hotel on a whim. It is still partly a hotel despite its recent reconfiguration as luxury condominiums and looks resplendent following renovation. We briefly considered tea in the Palm Court but opted instead to descend to the lower level and have a paper cup caffeine break by an incongruously located Koi pond. There is a food market which serves Kobricks coffee - quite excellent.

As a final bonus, we found Santa Claus in a grotto down there, seated on a satin sofa and available for an audience. Why he had a Plaza Hotel monogram on his fur-trimmed hat was hard to explain, but he was jovial and otherwise quite convincing.
"What do you want for Christmas, young lady?"
"Presents!" The prompt reply.
"In particular?"
"New pajamas. My pajamas are old and filled with holes."
Phew, Santa didn't so much as glance at me. Definitely time to leave 5th Avenue and take the subway home!

Bergdorf and Goodman holiday window
5th Avenue, NYC
December 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

In Search of SoHo: What's Up on Wooster

I was on my way to Pearl River Mart, a large Chinese emporium on Broadway a few blocks up from Canal, in search of paper and bamboo blinds to replace ones in my apartment ruined by a leaky window frame.

Cup of the day #52
by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Colored ink on toned cup

Exiting the subway train on Canal I decided, as one does, that I needed a tube of Viridian Green oil paint, so I detoured through the China-town throngs to SoHo Art Supply on Wooster. Despite enormous temptation (I love art supplies) I bought only the one tube, then emerged a bit nostalgically into what was the heart of the NYC '80s art scene to discover that, well, it is still bustling down there with art and artists.

Across the street the joint was jumping at the Levi's Photo Workshop. This huge pop-up studio is completely free and one can only gawk at the digital and analog equipment available for walk-in use until December 18th: cameras, lighting kits, Apple computers, large Kodak printers and more. Go and play before it closes!

Also on Wooster were an Art Production Fund pop-up gallery, the Drawing Center , and the new Team Gallery, under construction and set to open in May 2011. After checking out Artists Space a block away, I began feeling a touch weak at the knees and I was on the look-out for coffee.
Ah, Le Pain Quotidien, just around the corner on Grand Street. I bought a small latte and a minute lemon tart topped with a raspberry and sat outside on a bench for a minute in the sun. I opened the white paper bag and carefully removed the lemon tart. It gleamed like a jewel. I couldn't just eat  it - I had to photograph it first with my cell phone.

Oh no, the woman at the other end of the bench is watching me.
"You see," I explained, "I blog about art and coffee."
"Really?" She sounded interested. "Only visual artists?"
"All kinds - costume designers, dancers, musicians."
"In that case, here is a card for my most recent performance, Right this Minute."
I registered her name, Leslie Satin.
And on the list of performers, Ted Johnson.
Wait, I know him! He was a principal dancer in Imprints on the Landscape, a piece about coal-mining and my artist grandfather choreographed by my Aunt Martha Wittman for the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.
In fact, my daughter Megan, then 10, danced duets with him in the Washington DC premiere in 2007.
Do you know Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Martha Wittman?
"Yes and yes!" she replied, "and I have known Ted for years."

From small pastry to small world moment in the turn of a head!

Coffee break on Grand Street
SoHo, NYC, December 2010

And yes, I found the blinds at Pearl River on my way home.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Near Misses: A True Musician's Tale

Cup of the day #50
Connections Cup, 2010
by Gwyneth Leech
India ink on white paper cup

Chris Smart was late for choir rehearsal on Saturday morning, arriving breathless and a little pale, clutching his travel coffee mug tightly in his hand. At the break we quizzed him; What on earth happened?

"Well, I am playing a concert tonight Uptown," he said, "and I was carrying a lot of stuff. I changed trains at Astoria Boulevard on the way here. One stop later I made a horrible discovery - I left my oboe and english horn on the subway platform!! That's $12,000 worth of instruments. And the english horn is borrowed."

"The subway door closed just as I realized. I had to wait another stop, then run six blocks back up Broadway with my bag over my shoulder and my tux over my arm, pushing people out of the way.
I hammered up the steps to the platform and ... there they both were, untouched, on the bench!

We gave a collective gasp of relief; New York City and no one one took the instruments.
"Yeah," said Juliana. "I have lost my wallet twice in the city and had it mailed back to me both times."
Come to think of it, I mailed back a wallet myself once, though I have never gotten any of my own lost wallets returned (three, but that was pickpockets).

"The dark brown instrument cases looked just like the wood of the bench. They kind of blended in, so I guess that's why. Though as I came up the platform, I could see people were looking at them, but from a distance."

Of course, we exclaimed, "if you see something say something!" Everyone is afraid of the unattended bag in the subway. Good thing you got there before the bomb squad. How would you play your concert with a pile of instrument shards?! Chris gave a rueful laugh and after stashing his instruments under his chair, headed off to Starbucks to refill his travel mug.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Pitman Painter in the Family

As I was walking down 47th Street recently, I came to a halt in front of a poster depicting coal miners holding paintings and brushes. The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall is playing just two blocks from our apartment through December 12th. I had to go see it.

Cup of the Day #49
 by Gwyneth Leech 2009
India in on white paper cup

The play is funny, and melancholy, the thick Northumberland accents a little hard on American ears. A group of miners learn to paint. It changes their lives, but does not change where they live. They remain rooted in their small mining community and make art about it for the rest of their lives.

One character is a young man, unemployed, unfit for the mine for some reason. He is the only character to break away from the mining world. He joins up, marches off to the second World War, and exits the frame of the play.

This echoes uncannily my grandfather's tale. Michael J. Gallagher, born in 1898, was a sickly boy in a family of Irish Pitmen in Scranton PA and he was never employed in the mines. He joins up for WW1, ships out - and contracts TB at boot camp. Fortunately for me - and his other descendants - the story doesn't end there. He is sent to a sanatorium to convalesce. He draws to amuse himself and a doctor is so impressed with his talent that he gives him all the materials he needs and recommends art school.

Coal Miners 1936
by Michael Gallagher
India ink and China white
7 x 9 inches

Mike recovers fully, moves to New York City, works as a bell hop and takes etching classes at the Art Students League. From there he goes to Philadelphia to the School of Industrial Arts, and meets Katherine McCallum - a fellow art student who came from Bloomsburg PA, just over the mountain from Scranton. They marry, three children follow. Louise Leech, the eldest daughter (my mother) grows up to be an artist too.

Mike never returns to Scranton and he makes his way as a print illustrator whose principal medium is wood engraving. His spots appeared in the New Yorker and other magazine for years. At a time of great hardship for the family, during the Depression of the 1930s, Mike is offered the job of technical director of the Philadelphia Printmaking branch of the WPA art project. This is a financial lifeline and a creative boon, leading him to produce a striking series of dark and haunted images in wood-engravings and in a new technique he develops with Herbert Mesibov and Dox Thrash; The Carborundum process. His subject of choice - the coal mining life of his youth. Toiling miners below ground, miners trudging home at nightfall against a backdrop of breakers and slag heaps, mine explosions and brief cheerful respites in prints such as Saturday Evening, where lovers are out walking at sunset, create a vivid evocation of that now-vanished world.

Black Country, By Michal J. Gallagher
wood-engraving on paper, 1941
11 x 13 inches
WPA Art collection

 My favorite print is the Coal Miner's Kitchen. To one side, a blackened miner is washing at the sink, exhausted at the end of the shift. On a cast-iron stove in the foreground the coffee pot is set to boil by the shadowy miner's wife. A deep-seated memory from his childhood.

So it was possible to take the man out of the coal mine town, but it seems, nothing could take the coal mine town out of him.

Sunday Afternoon (also titled Sunday Evening), 
By Michael J.  Gallagher, 1936
8 x 11 inches
Photo: Susan Teller Gallery, NYC

In her recent review of the play, Roberta Smith wrote, "“The Pitmen Painters” was written in part to protest cuts in arts endowments in Britain. Its lesson is that in looking at art and articulating our responses, we find essential parts of ourselves that enable us to lead happier, fuller lives and, yes, probably be better citizens. That is something that no nation can afford to ignore."

The legacy of that brief shining moment of unprecedented arts funding in the USA which was the WPA art project of the 1930s lives on in museums and libraries around the country. I have learned that some 16 of my grandfather's WPA prints are in the permanent collection of the Metropolitain Museum here in New York City. I plan to make an appointment to see them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Collect Art: Starting Small

Anyone can be an art collector, as demonstrated by the following story:

Cup of the Day #48
by Gwyneth Leech 20210
White out pen and Sumi ink on brown paper cup
in Eat/Art at Atlantic Gallery November 30th to December 23rd

I was at the Container Sore in Chelsea the other day, dithering over how to display several of my coffee cup drawings which will debut in a group show,  Eat/Art at Atlantic Gallery opening on November 30th.
I was at the back, surreptitiously removing some display items from an attractive clear acrylic corner shelf with a rounded front, and trying out my cup drawings for effect. Lovely. Perfect!

I went in search of a customer service rep who could hunt up stock.
Paul was happy to oblige, and returning a few minutes later with three shelves, he asked me what I planned to be putting on the them, thinking of weights, screw, and wall types.
"These," I replied, and lined up six cup drawings on a display table.

"Nice!" he said, examining one closely. "Reminds me of my mother's friend in Queens who made a million bucks manufacturing paper coffee cups. You know, that Greek kind - We Are Happy To Serve You."
Was her friend, Leslie Buck the man who designed the Anthora cup and who passed away recently?
"I don't think so. I believe it was the guy who printed and distributed them. They were everywhere at one time. My mother used to tell me, you can make a living in a myriad ways; If you find out everything there is to know about a thing, the world will beat a path to your door."

I like the way she thinks.

Looking at my cups led Paul to another story. "I have been in New York City all my life - well since I was four. Back in the 1980's I bought a piece of matchbook art, covered in a graffiti design. Bought it from a graffiti artist in Washington Square. Tag name was SAMO. He turned up not long after in art galleries:  Jean Michel Basquiat.

 Jean-Michel BasquiatThe young art star who shot so brightly across the New York '80s scene and came to a tragic end at the age of 27. One of his paintings sold for over $14 million at Sotheby's in 2007. I would love to see that matchbook!

"I picked up a Keith Haring back then too, and some pieces by other graffiti guys. They were selling them on the street and I loved the art they were making. I still have those paintings."

As I headed to the cashier, I asked Paul if he has a secret vocation.
"Not really," he said. "I do like to talk to people, which I can do in this job."
"Oh," he added, "and I have a pretty great art collection."

Moral of the story: buy it because you love it.

Graffiti Art lives on
The ever evolving graffiti museum in Queens, NY

For people interested in collecting art, here are
some websites where you can find quality artists to follow:

Don't hesitate to contact directly artists whose work you like and ask where they are exhibiting or how you can see their work in person! Artists will be happy to add you to their mailing lists for upcoming shows and open studio events.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Staying, Not Going: Artists Loving New York City

There was dire and somewhat funereal news from Crain's Business this week in an article called Artists Fleeing the City. It paints a depressing picture of a future New York City with no practicing artists, turned into a shopping-mall art center showcasing only artists from out of town. 

 Cup of the Day #46
Dark Cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Sumi ink on white, encasustic treated paper cup

It is true that the cost of living is high and buyers scarce. Yes, the city has gentrified and those derelict neighborhoods which artists have so successfully pioneered are few and far between. Long commutes and job juggling are exhausting realities for many and can surely interfere with the regular and high level production of artwork. Consider my portfolio of paid jobs since coming to the City: university teacher of digital movie-making, professional choral singer, portrait painter, maker of commissioned videos for artists, census worker, music librarian, writer, movie extra and, last but not least, exhibiting painter (yes, even some commercial gallery shows and art sales).

But this is the sentence that lost me:  "Though the nation's bulk of the art galleries are still here, artists and other creative workers say the feeling of community that used to exist in New York is gone, and with it the spark that fueled ideas".

Really? They must be living in a different city from mine.  I can't go anywhere around New York City without falling over artists I consider part of my community. These are not just visual artists, but choreographers and dancers, writers, video artists, actors and musicians of many stripes. And none have plans to move. Yes, we complain and we do talk about real estate a lot, but the exchange of art ideas continues to be vigorous and fruitful and fueled by the unique character of the city. We just have to keep thinking broadly, creatively - and collaboratively to get the best out of this town. 

Back in the 1950's, what was the New York art world? Fifty men hanging out in the Cedar Tavern and  five art galleries galleries to show in. Now it is thousands upon thousands of us, of all races and both genders, crossing paths in every neighborhood. And what is the secret to hanging on, staying motivated and keeping the artwork flowing? Strength in numbers: getting together in groups large and small to drink coffee, pool our resources and share what we know. I do this literally, several times a month. Generosity is the key, and despite its cut-throat reputation, New York City artists are the most generous people I know. 

Yes, times are tough and money is tight - but the abundance is real.

Cup of the Day #47
Burgeoning, by Gwyneth Leech 2010
India ink on white and green printed cup

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Breakfast on the A Train

I was on my way downtown, bleary-eyed, to attend a monthly meeting of artists at breakfast time. I stopped on the way at Amy's Bread on 9th and picked up an oat scone studded with golden raisins and walnuts (amazing, always) and a Twinings English Breakfast tea in a white paper cup.

Cup of the Day #46
Networks, by Gwyneth Leech
Colored ink on white cup, 2010

At 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, I boarded the A train and got a seat.

Eating breakfast on the subway train always feels a little weird, but I was hungry and my scone was calling out to me. Surreptitiously, I opened my paper bag without crinkling and then maneuvered the tab on the cup lid without spilling or elbowing my neighbor. Having accomplished these difficult tasks, I looked around and took a quick survey:

3 starbucks drinkers,
2 deli coffee drinkers,
1 Amy's cup (me),
6 wearers of Ipods  with identical white cords and earpieces,
3 newspaper readers,
1 book reader,
1 young person desperately trying to finish writing an essay,
And 4 people asleep.

The woman opposite me with the heavy makeup and tired eyes had a laptop case at her feet. She was juggling an Ipod, the New York Times AND a Starbucks Vente coffee. 
Clearly for some people, sleeping on the way to work is not an option!

Waiting for the subway 
with his morning brew, NYC
photo by Stanley Klevickas

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pushing the Limits: Coffee in Islip

I was out in Islip on Long Island three times this summer, going to and fro with paintings for a group show at the Islip Art Museum called All in the Family, curated by Jason Paradis. I am pleased to have had a set of six family portrait paintings included.

Cup of the Day #45
Life Should Be Delicious
Colored ink on white cup, 
by Gwyneth Leech 2010

The day of the artist's reception they had a hurricane out there and I tired of waiting for the rain to stop, so I got wet on the way back to the train station. With time to spare before the NYC bound departure, I went looking for a cup of coffee in the company of the artist Jane Schreibman who had photo works in the show and was also heading back to the city. Islip on a wet Sunday afternoon. Desperate. I actually bought a cup of coffee in a gas station. It was terrible, but a welcome hot drink on a damp afternoon, and in Jane's company the train ride back to the City seemed short.

I went out the third time to Islip in early September, once again by train, to pick up the paintings. It was a dry day this time and places were open. I stopped in at Bagels and More with time to kill before the return train and made do with ice tea. There, I fell into conversation with a senior citizen who recommended the coffee (decent drunk black), but they were serving in styrofoam cups so I wasn't tempted.

He talked about his mother and her taste in coffee: black, no sugar, something sweet on the side. I agree with that. Can't stand sugar in the brew, but love my cookie or scone to go with. My dad, on the other hand wanted it all - milk in his, two sugars and a Snickers bar. Now that's a sweet tooth.

A half an hour later, while waiting on the platform with my package of paintings, who should appear but Jane Schreibman carrying her wrapped artwork. We talked all the way back to the city.

Jane got in touch just the other day. As a result, we are going to be in a group show at the Atlantic Gallery in Chelsea called Eat/Art that opens November 30. I will be showing three cup drawings that fit the bill. Watch this space for a preview!

Floating Head
Papier Maché Idol, Mumbai Beach
Photo by Jane Schreibman

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Sullivan Street Came to Midtown

Cup of the Day #44
Midtown Cup Verso
Colored ink on white cup, 2010

One of my favorite things about living here on the far West side of Manhattan is the easy access to the Hudson River. The Hudson River Park, comprising bikeways, walkways and landscaped piers now stretches from the Washington Bridge up North at 172nd Street, all the way down to the Battery at the Southern tip of the Island. After dropping Grace off at school, I often head the two blocks across 45th to pier 84, eager to see sunlight scintillating on water, ferries traveling to and from Weehawken on the New Jersey side and fuel barges plying their way upriver towards the misty bridge.

Yesterday morning, I stood alone at the river end of the pier with my back to gray green water and watched the sun come out from behind the massed apartment towers of 42nd street, all new since I moved to the neighborhood 10 years ago. The wind was blustery and blew my mental  cobwebs away.

Heading home up 47th I stopped in Sullivan Street Bakery which serves up excellent pizza bianca and rustic breads as well as a strong cup of coffee - Vita beans from Seattle (press pots only).

Why is it called Sullivan Street Bakery? I asked Michael, who was cutting my length of pizza bianca. It used to be on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village, he told me. Then there was a split. They came here with the name, plus the original baker. The other party got the storefront.

I also learned that Jim Lahey, the owner, planned to spend his life as a sculptor before he travelled to Italy and got into bread. Well, I am glad he did, and glad they are baking just down the street.

Neighborhood pet parade, 
Pier 84, October 2010
Photo by Gwyneth Leech