chalk 2014 – remembering the victims of the triangle factory fire

This is the second year that I’ve “chalked” as a remembrance of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. On March 25th in 1911, one hundred and forty six young workers, mostly immigrant young women and girls lost their lives in a horrific fire stoked in greed that galvanized a movement for the safety of workers.

For the past ten years, artist Ruth Sergel has organized CHALK, a memorial project where volunteers  “chalk” the names and ages of the victims on the sidewalks in front of their former homes.  The colorful chalk memorials are a beautiful and bright tribute to the young women at the place where they lived, laughed and dreamed. The chalk memorials are numerous in our historical neighborhood of immigrants. They are on every block. It is heartbreaking to see so many of them.

This year, I felt honored that my friend Rita Bobry, the proprietor of my neighborhood yarn store Downtown Yarns asked me to accompany her to chalk the memorial of her great-aunt who perished in the fire at age twenty-one. Her grandmother’s oldest sibling Necha Dryansky had immigrated from Poland and arrived in New York City alone at the age of sixteen. Like so many others, both then and now, she worked to support her family in the old country. Necha lived with a relative on the Lower East Side  and sent for her next youngest sister Sarah, who arrived in New York as a teenager just six months before her sister died in the factory fire.

Necha Dryansky

Necha Dryansky

Rita and I began by chalking memorials for three young women who’d lived on East 5th Street. We were silent as we worked, smearing the chalk on the sidewalk. None of the buildings where these girls lived remained, but their addresses did. We chalked their names exactly where their homes stood once long ago. We wondered if they were friends and had walked to work together. They lived so close to each other and they were the only three on that block.

Fannie Rosen, 21 years old. Born in Russia, had lived in the US for 6 months

Fannie Rosen, 21 years old. Born in Russia, had lived in the US for 6 months

Violet or Velye, born in Russia, 21 years old. 9 years in the US. Union member

Violet or Velye, Schochet, born in Russia, 21 years old. 9 years in the US. Union member

Annie Pack, born in Austria. 18 years old. Lived in the US for 6 years. Union member.

Annie Pack, born in Austria. 18 years old. Lived in the US for 6 years. Union member.

Our last stop was the former home of Necha Dryansky, Rita’s great aunt. Necha lived at 104 Monroe Street. It was hard to find because that address no longer existed. The last number of Monroe Street that Rita and I found was No. 73. Then it turned into a pedestrian walkway for a housing project. There was a beautiful view of the East River. We could see glints of gold morning sunlight in the grey water. We remarked how in the early 1900’s, this place was full of tenement buildings and that people swam in the East River in the summer.

chalkmemorialtrianglefactoryfireflyerR Rita chalked the memorial to her great-aunt and I feel privileged to have helped a little bit with outlining in contrast colors.

Rita Bobry chalking a memorial for her great-aunt Necha

Rita Bobry chalking a memorial for her great-aunt Necha

nechadryanskychalkmemorial2014R

My post from last year’s Triangle Factory Fire Chalk Project is here.

the back bedroom

The back bedroom has always been the children’s room. When our building got its certificate of occupancy and we were cleared to move in, Camelia was a toddler. I’d just learned how to do stucco veneziano (venetian plaster) and the room was one of my first projects in the apartment. The first color for Camelia’s brand new bedroom was a beautiful peachy pink, very soft and not all at sugary. A perfect color for a little girl. The walls gave off a rosy light at night. In the morning, the room glowed golden from the sunlight coming in from the eastern facing window.

When we were homesteading our building in the 1980’s, there was a lot of drug dealing in the neighborhood (see my Pigeon Wars post for the backstory). Junkies broke into the squatter’s buildings and stole tools and pipes and anything that they could rip out to sell. It was near impossible to completely fortify the entire building against theft, there were too many spots where crumbling brick or boards could be pried loose. All you could do was to make it harder for them. During that time, the back bedroom became our tool room. We framed it out and created temporary walls of double thick plywood. The door was locked with a fat metal chain. That was the secure room, the place where we kept anything the junkies might want to walk off with.

Homesteader Jay Goodson at the tool room which became our back bedroom

Homesteader Jay Goodson at the tool room which became our back bedroom

The room grew up with the girls. After the babyish pink came a sophisticated light royal blue when the girls were in  elementary school. Then came a rich green right before Camelia left for college. Now, at the time of Oona’s going to college, I decided to re-do the stucco in a pale greyish lavender. Oona said “Mom, you always want to re-do the room when we are leaving for college”. Maybe it is my way of trying to entice them to stay home.

Oona applying stucco veneziano

Oona applying stucco veneziano

The old green being covered

The old green being covered

StuccoVeneziano3

This is a work-in-progress, stay tuned for updates.

lampost art

The snow has finally melted away uncovering the sidewalks and revealing things. I’ve always found it curious that people like to use the bases of lamposts as a canvas. In our neighborhood, it is a common sight to see embellished lamposts.

lampost_art_3

I liked that the bike chain left on the post was covered in pink velvet

I liked that the bike chain left on the post was covered in pink velvet

Elaborate lampost art on the Mosaic Trail on the left. And a whimsical Harry Potter tag on the right

Elaborate lampost art on the Mosaic Trail on the left. And a whimsical Harry Potter tag on the right

The master of the adorned lampost is Jim Power, aka, the Mosaic Man. Jim is a neighborhood artist that has been working in the community for decades. You can learn about him and support his on-going project by going to The Mosaic Man – Jim Power and his Mosaic Trail.

I ran into Jim last summer while he was out working on the Mosaic Trail

I ran into Jim last summer while he was out working on the Mosaic Trail

loisaida in hipstamatic

I’m happy for photography apps and camera phones. Some people might say,  “oh, there is no skill in that, no art, its just point and shoot”. Who cares? What is art? I’m just having fun.

I took these photos with my Iphone and the Hipstamatic app. (this is not a sponsored post). I love Hipstamatic because it reminds me of film. I do know real film. I learned to edit movie film, with a splicer. I touched it. My best time was helping a friend organize the edit of his 16mm feature film. We worked in his studio in a loft in Tribeca back when artists could afford lofts in Tribeca. We worked till late in the night, listening to good music. There were many canvas bins on wheels with metal frames. On the frames were hooks where we hung the ribbons of film. Each ribbon was a numbered scene. Some were short strips, others so long they became coiled bundles in the canvas bins. We spliced the scene ribbons together by hand. You had to clean the film first and when you pulled the splicing tape over the film, you had to make sure the two cut pieces were straight and as close together as possible to avoid a cut that the viewer would notice. Once you’d laid the splicing tape down on the film, you rubbed your finger over it to smooth all the air bubbles out. It was like working with clay.

Hipstamatic lets you switch up their digital lenses and films. You choose the lens and you choose the film, and you take the shot. You wait “for the print to develop”. Then you get what you get, except faster than if you had film developed. I like the sometimes unexpected results when you see the “print”. The Hipstamatic Field Guide illustrates the different film and lenses available.

I took most of these photographs on East 7th Street between Ave C. (Loisaida Avenue) and Ave D. It is a block of stately homes from the 1800’s that is lined with very old street trees. I used the Hipstamatic Tinto 1884 Lens (befitting of my neighborhood) and both the C-Type Plate film, which has a color wash to it and the D-Type Plate film that is black & white. This lens and film combination was tricky with light. Too much sunlight and the contrast was extreme. Too little light and you got a blotchy photo. The best result was on a bright but overcast day.

loisaidaavehipstamaticR

loisaidaeast7thhipstamticcatherineR

Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park

loisaidaflowerboxbuildingR

loisaida7thstsynagogueR

loisaidaeast7thsthipstamtictenementR

Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park

the equestrian chronicles part II

I recently returned from visiting my oldest daughter in Wellington Florida where she is working and training during the Winter Equestrian Festival. I pretty much just marvel at what she does the whole time I’m there.

Camelia has a good eye with horses. Once when she was just sixteen and a junior in high school, she was asking horse questions of two mounted policemen in Greenwich Village and she asked one of officers if he knew that his horse’s foreleg was swollen. The officers just looked at each other, kind of shocked that this city kid would notice that. “We just iced the leg”, they said and asked if she was studying veterinary medicine at the nearby NYU.

I took this series of photographs in the fall when Camelia competed for the first time as an adult professional at a horse show in Connecticut. The horse is Essex. Camelia and Essex are exactly the same age. Camelia is young in life, but Essex is old in horse years and so she stretches him and does bodywork to keep him supple. It was a lyrical dance on the ground between horse and rider that I felt privileged to witness and record on my humble camera phone.

Camelia and Essex are competing together in Wellington this winter. Please wish them luck!

camelia_essex_dressage1

camelia_essex_dressage2

camelia_essex_dressage3

camelia_essex_dressage5

camelia_essex_dressage4

Camelia Montalvo is an assistant instructor and trainer at Frog Hollow Farm Stables in New York. She is currently a working student for Jennifer Baumert of Cloverlea Dressage in Wellington, FL for the winter season. The Equestrian Chronicles Part I is here

for the birds

Deep winter. I walk the dogs at the start of the latest snowstorm. Soft wet snowflakes brush my face like the whisper of a child. The sparkly holidays lights are down and everything is just dark and grey and cold. Icy winds rake the skin on my forehead and frozen sidewalks chill my toes even through thick wool socks. The dogs want to hurry back inside. Seems like its been forever that we’ve been traversing slush puddles and blocks of grey ice while eternally wearing our snow boots.

After the first polar vortex I decided to set out a window feeder for the birds that inhabit the community garden outside my building. “They must be starving”, I thought. Over the years, the garden has become home to wilder species of birds outside of the rock pigeon, starlings and house sparrows of the urban landscape. We now see robins, thrushes, cardinals and blue jays. Occasionally, a red-tailed hawk will visit and swoop from tree to tree, teasing the squirrels and then perching on the fallen trunk of a willow tree to majestically survey the territory.

Backyard Boys Woodworking tray feeder.

Backyard Boys Woodworking tray feeder.

suetcageforbirds

I bought a window tray feeder because part of the fun was to see the birds up close. I did a little research because I did not want my window inundated with pigeons. I learned that pigeons don’t like black oil sunflower seeds and that it is a good high-fat, high-energy food for a wide variety of birds. I bought those and a block of suet. The songbirds need fat for energy in the winter because they don’t have insects to eat.

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

mourningdoves2

The tray with the sunflower seeds is dominated by Mourning doves. I’m a fan of doves and even have a pet one, so I enjoy seeing these guys even though they bully the smaller birds. Mourning doves are so named because they make a cooing sound like a lament and when they take off in flight they emit a whistling sound that makes you think, “this is what a helicopter would sound like if it were small and had feathers”. They have soulful black eyes and dots on their velvet brown cheeks. The suet block is visited by “cling feeders”, birds that like to hang from it to get at the seeds and suet. I have seen cardinals, blue jays, a woodpecker and something wild and brown that I couldn’t identify.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Female Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

The sameness of my grey winter mornings is ruffled and brightened by the feeding frenzy outside my window. I’m happy for that, because spring seems so far away.

super simple seed stitch baby blanket

When new babies come, it’s a good excuse to knit a project that is useful and hopefully will become something that the small child will find comforting and love for a long time. A simple baby blanket is a relaxing knit that you can do while you watch suspenseful TV shows and don’t have to pay attention to the pattern. It gives you a good excuse to binge-watch on cold winter weekends because you are doing something productive with your hands while your eyes are glued to the screen.

I wanted to make a blanket for my niece’s first baby. She knew she was carrying a baby boy. There are a lot of girls in our family on every single side, so this was pretty big news.  In a family that’s been swimming in warrior princesses for generations, I wanted to acknowledge the maleness of the child in the color of the yarn. Yes – I was getting blue yarn. But it could not be baby blue. I would not like to be knitting baby blue for as long as I would need to make the blanket. A small hat would be all I could handle of that color.

Baby D. in his blue-green blanket

Baby D. in his blue-green blanket

I went to my local yarn store Downtown Yarns and went straight to the shelves of Malabrigo yarn. If all of the sudden, the universe told me that I could not knit with anything but Malabrigo yarns, I would be okay with it, that’s how much I love the feel and colors of Malabrigo. The shop’s owner Rita showed me a new line appropriately called Rios (rivers in Spanish). The colors give the illusion of ripples in a waterway or a watercolor painting. I picked the colorway Aguas. It is a blue green, like the colors of an ocean tidal pool or the edge of a clear pond. A very unbaby-like blue that’s perfect for a baby. The yarn is springy and soft and felt luscious running through my fingers as I knit. It is 100% superwash merino, so it is warm and machine washable as baby blankets should be.

Malabrigo Rios in Aguas seed stitch

Malabrigo Rios in Aguas seed stitch

Because a seed stitch is simply alternating a knit and a purl stitch all along a row, it is a good pattern for a beginner project that produces a nubbly texture that is both warm and visually interesting and also helps you to master the knit and purl stitches.

For a 36 inch by 36 inch blanket, I used 6 skeins of Malabrigo Rios in Aguas. I used 1 skein of a beautiful purplish blue colorway called Zarzamora for the crochet edging that blended beautifully with the color of the body of the blanket.

Here is the pattern:

6 skeins of Malabrigo Rios (or other Worsted weight yarn giving you a gauge of 5 stitches per inch)
1 skein for the crochet edging
Size 7 – 24” length circular needles
Size 8 crochet hook for the edging

Cast on 165 stitches. (for a seed stitch, you must always cast on an uneven number of stitches)

Row 1: knit one, purl one – all the way to the end of the row
Row 2: purl one, knit one – all the way to the end of the row

That’s it; you keep knitting those two rows till you get to however long you want the blanket to be.

I finished off the edges in a simple single crochet stitch.

malabrigoRios-babyblanket1

single crochet stitch edge in Zarzamora

single crochet stitch edge in Zarzamora