On the First Day of Christmas My True Love Said to Me … Chop Down a Live Tree!

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By Kimberly Sevilla

Christmas comes a few days after the Winter Solstice, which falls on December 21 or 22. Ancient Romans, Egyptians, Celtic Druids, and Vikings decorated their homes and temples with evergreen branches during the solstice season as part of celebrations dedicated to various gods for the days becoming longer and spring returning. Objects like gold and silver balls, candles, and fruit and nuts were used as part of the decorations.

It’s Germany that is credited with the Christmas tree. It was common to have a tree in German and Dutch homes at this time of year, but most Americans thought it was an odd, pagan tradition and did not have Christmas trees. In fact, strict puritan laws forbade Christmas celebrations altogether. The laws were revoked by 1681, but Christmas was not celebrated in New England until the mid 1850s, when a large influx of German and Irish immigrants moved into the area. Southerners, however, always celebrated Christmas and considered it a holiday.  More > >

Picasso Would Have Eaten Here (but he’s kind of dead)

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Artist Mary Westring and Cadaqués owner Mathieu Reboul.

By Gabi Shipfner

A huge hurdle for most visual artists is finding proper exposure for their creations. It’s customary to seek gallery representation, but it can be a daunting and formidable task. It can also be as time consuming to market one’s artwork as it is to create it. With the enormous concentration of artists in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, finding gallery representation is even more challenging, and for those who already have it, solo exhibitions are frequently years apart. That’s the case for Williamsburg artist Mary Westring. She’s represented by the local Figureworks Gallery, but is prolific and produces more work than even her dealer can exhibit.

Enter Mathieu Reboul, owner of Cadaqués, a tapas restaurant and bar at 186 Grand Street in Williamsburg. Mathieu named his restaurant after the beautiful Spanish hometown of Salvador Dali, where his parents were married.

Since Mary’s home studio happens to be directly above his restaurant, a friendship developed between them as a result of their shared interest in the building and the neighborhood.

And the idea of exhibiting artwork on the restaurant walls came from their shared enthusiasm for providing exposure to local artists. As Mathieu said, “They have the art, I have the walls.”

Mary consulted her gallery director, Randall Harris, to see if he had objections to her showing a body of work at a restaurant, especially one so close to his gallery. Randall said, “I appreciated Mary asking me before embarking on this type of exhibition, but I’m a firm believer that artwork should be exhibited in alternative spaces, not just on the pristine walls of a gallery. It’s important to be selective when choosing unique venues, but this union of Mary’s cityscape paintings with Mathieu’s exquisite space is a perfect match.

Plus, it allows a whole new audience to see the artwork in an informal atmosphere, giving it an additional voice.”

Mary is the first to show at Cadaqués, in what is planned to be a series of diverse exhibitions by established local artists. This is the perfect introductory exhibition, as many of Mary’s paintings were inspired by the view out of her bedroom window, looking at laundry hanging from the fire escapes on clotheslines between the buildings. She titled this series, Our Neighbor’s Laundry. In another section at Cadaqués, Mary has hung the series City Scapes, paintings from an earlier residency in Manhattan near Union Square.

The scale of her work and her subject matter are very well suited to Mathieu’s space, which has intimate areas that are enhanced by the warm palettes of her paintings.

For Mathieu to generously open his wall space to artists comes naturally. Between the two world wars, his great grandfather, Edmond Vigouroux, also owned a restaurant, Brasserie le Dome, in the left bank district of Montparnasse in Paris. His restaurant was patronized by local artists who gave him paintings in exchange for meals. Among these “starving artists” were Soutine, Modigliani, Picasso, and Braque. A true supporter of the artist over the artwork, he actually didn’t like their work and sold his collection to the Parisian art dealer Monsieur Pitrides. The sale spoke more to his generosity of spirit than his artistic knowledge. As an aside, this generosity was further evidenced by the fact that he hid fifteen of his Jewish employees and their families in his basement during the Nazi occupation.

Mathieu has many exciting exhibitions planned for the months to come. Mary Westring’s show will close November 29, to be followed by large photographs on canvas by Margaret Gosden.

Mary and Mathieu are important reminders that beyond the great white box of galleries, opportunities can be as close and rewarding as a downstairs neighbor.

Paintings by Mary Westring: Series “Our Neighbor’s Laundry, from left to right, “Towels,” “Curtains,” “T-shirts,” and “Never on Sunday.” (Photos courtesy of the artist)

188 Grand Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn 11211
(718) 288-7776

Dangling Carrot for Illustration Purposes @ Domino Hearing

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Colin Miles (left) and the dangling carrot. (Photo: Ryan Porush / Bedford+Bowery)


“I’m in the produce business,” said Colin Miles of Save Domino, when he approached the “podium” to make commentary regarding Domino Sugar project at the latest public planning hearing in Williamsburg.  He cleverly used two minutes to make several points challenging the developer Two Trees’ massive project that in his opinion makes false claims and false promises for the community.

Read Bedford+Bowery reporter Ryan Porush’s story (click here for full story).

WILL BILL? Resetting the Moral Compass of New York

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The proposed Regeneration of Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg Brooklyn and its inspiration: Tate Modern museum in London, UK. Illustration by Friends of Domino, 2013

By Ida Susser

The Domino Sugar Factory, a landmark site, is about to be demolished for more upscale residential/office space development—à la Bloomberg—and in several recent articles in the New York Times this has been taken as fait accompli. Yet there is still a chance to stop it. New Yorkers have just elected a new mayor, with a major agenda for affordable housing and a call for attention to the lives of middle and working class people. The Domino site, recently acquired by a private developer, Two Trees, after much controversy and a failed effort by the prior owner, still has to make it through a number of approvals.

This leaves open the avenue for another option, currently known as the “Tate with a Twist,” that would provide 250 units of affordable housing for people that make 40% to 50% of the Area Medium Income (AMI), or $29,000–43,000, as well as affordable artists’ studios. This proposed development, to be largely privately financed, is to turn this historic monument of industrial New York on the NYS Registry of historic places into private museums, somewhat along the lines of the enormously successful Tate Modern in London, as well as a theater, concert hall, and hotel for gallery tourists. Among other things, the museum would stress interactive community art, train youth docents, and develop children’s programs.

However, the Tate Modern was a publicly financed project, with free admission. In contrast, although administered by a non-profit organization, the private art collectors and other profit-making enterprises involved with this site will be counting on tax subsidies available to develop NYS-registered historic sites as well as the tax deductions for renovation under J51. They will also be benefiting from the historical and artistic cachet of the Williamsburg neighborhood, not to mention from the laborers who toiled in the sugar factory and the sugar cane workers who contributed to the Domino Sugar empire. It seems only fitting that the city’s residents demand that meaningful community engagement, low-cost admission, and socially informative content be incorporated into this project. If developed along these lines, and can be construed as another form of gentrification, the Tate with a Twist would provide a valuable cultural addition to the New York City environment, reflecting the powerful working class history and newer artist arrivals of the Williamsburg area.

Two Trees’ Technical Memorandum of October 31, 2013, states they will build up to 660 units of affordable housing.  However, they are not legally bound to build any. Affordable housing was not included in the zoning amendment approved in 2010 or Two Trees’ proposed “modifications.” In addition, recent affordable housing such as that at 15 Dunham Place targets people who earn up to 200% of AMI, or $163,000.

If Two Trees’ new plan is approved it will reinforce the growing inequality in the neighborhood. It represents just the kind of planning that has led to the rejection of the Bloomberg heritage and the strong opposition vote for Bill de Blasio. The hope is that de Blasio, in spite of the overwhelming corporate support he has recently collected, will not abandon the local population that just elected him and will say no to this kind of overwhelming project of 60-story buildings filled with expensive apartments, that most New Yorkers could never afford.

The Bloomberg administration’s focus on attracting a global elite to the city by subsidizing luxury apartment development and privatizing services and amenities has led to withdrawal of government investment in vital public services and has increased economic and housing insecurity among middle and working class families. By promoting development that only benefits a select group of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the residential population, the city has undermined its position as a cultural, political, and economic center.

My own longterm research in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, a neighborhood used as a model for redevelopment in other neighborhoods in the city, highlights many of the policy issues that rezoning and development have precipitated. Since the 1970s, the residents of Greenpoint/Williamsburg – across all ethnic, racial, and immigrant groups—renovated their own homes and worked collectively to negotiate conflicts, improve parks, and mitigate the surrounding contaminated environment. They created, over time, a socially connected and lively neighborhood with deep historical and kinship roots. It was this vital, culturally exciting, and diverse community that attracted luxury real estate developers and their high-income clientele.

Gentrification is a pallid term for what has really been going on. The 2005 rezoning precipitated a massive string of real estate investments, which now threaten the existence of the community itself. Over the past five years, there have been unprecedented displacements, shocking in their rapidity, among the Latino and white working class population, and also among the artists, writers, actors, and dancers who moved here after being displaced from the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village.

With de Blasio as mayor, residents may find an opening to transform the old industrial buildings of Domino Sugar into an asset for the whole community—and the city. The Tate with a Twist offers affordable housing, public space including roof top gardening, and community-based activities. If the project lives up to its current vision of engagement with community art and the creation of living wage jobs, and is made affordable for all New Yorkers, it may represent a positive step towards a new agenda.

Ida Susser is a professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and is the author of Norman Street: Poverty and Politics in an Urban Neighborhood, Updated 2012.

Smack Attack: The Art of Marketing Heroin

Illustration by Margarita Korol

Illustration by Margarita Korol

By James Aaron

[Some names have been changed in this story.]

Tango and Cash back in the day, that was the best,” remembers Jimmy Morton, his eyes fluttering closed on the L-train, his lips fixed in a grin as if he’s remembering a lost love. But he’s not referring to the 1989 action flick with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, rather an especially potent brand of heroin that flooded the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan in 2011. It wasn’t one of the more elaborate stamp insignias at the time. The brand came in the same small glassine envelopes with three words in block yellow lettering inked on top—the way all New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia heroin is distributed. The only thing that changes is the names and designs that mark the bags.

What made Tango and Cash such a fond memory for Morton? Likely one or all of the three criteria by which heroin quality is rated on the website Jynxie’s Natural Habitat, an online blog moderated by a former Brooklyn resident wherein stamps are posted and rated by Rush, Legs, and Count.

“Rush means how hard it hits when you first take it,” explains Marcus Rosen, a five-year drug user with a full-time job. “Legs refers to how long the effects last, and Count just means how much powder is in the bags. Like, sniffers care more about Count than shooters, because they won’t run out as quickly.”

Rosen fondly remembers a stamp called “Smoking,” which featured an insignia of a skeleton lying on its side and smoking from a hookah. “The Rush was a ten,” he says. When asked about the website, Rosen characterizes it as more of a community service than a review blog.

“Buying heroin can be a precarious pursuit. Forget about the risk of being robbed or hurt; once you actually obtain your bags, there’s a chance you’ll either be ripped off, OD, or be poisoned. The review blog can serve as a warning for bags that are hot [poisoned] or especially potent, so that you can avoid an OD.”

Like any marketing technique, stamps on heroin bags are intended to engender brand loyalty and return business, but with the advent of the internet it’s also become a way for users to be warned.

When asked if he’s ever wondered where the bags come from, Rosen replies, “I don’t know. Stamp shops?”

After calling stamp shops across the city, many declined to comment for this article. However, a representative from Casey Rubber Stamps in the East Village insisted that they do not accept drug business. He even referred to a sign out in front of the shop warding off any potential drug dealers. When asked how they identify such business, he replies, “I can tell by what kind of designs they ask for. Those people always want violent or death-related imagery, and I won’t do it.”

According to Morton, who’s been on and off the streets for the past four years because of his drug use, drug dealers may now have their own stamp source.

“They call it the Yard,” Morton says. “It’s uptown, you go and ask for whatever you want, and they make it for you.”

Tawnee Jackson is a former user with two years clean who clearly remembers her relationship with stamps.

“There were skulls and guns and things like that. There were also a lot of brand names like Gucci or Prada. Sometimes a more elaborate stamp was a good sign, just like any other kind of packaging. It means care was put into the product.”

She describes a kind of brand loyalty that develops with heroin. “Sometimes a stamp will change, I guess to avoid the cops or whatever, and that’s the worst, because there’s always the fear that it’s no longer going to be good.”

When asked about the review blog, Tawnee adds, “What people don’t understand is that a lot of people use because they have to. People don’t understand the extreme physical pain that can come from withdrawal. It becomes like insulin, just something you need to take care of each day. I’ve known plenty of people that function with a daily habit, and anything out there that can make their lives safer is a good thing.”

In 2012, there were more accidental heroin overdoses in Brooklyn than in any other borough.

The Wild Dogs of Williamsburg—When Mangy Mutts Ruled the Streets

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Dogs of Wythe Avenue, curated illustration by Luisa Caldwell / (l to r) Wendy Klemperer, Caroline Cox, Jeff Davis, Susan Hamburger, Rebecca Graves, Matt Freedman, Mike Ballou, Rob Hickman, Anna Rosen.

By Genia Gould

They didn’t skulk to the edges, says Johnny L., an artist who lived on the Southside of Williamsburg in the mid-1970s. They ran up the middle of the street, usually at night.

Packs of wild dogs, as many as 20. A river of dogs if you happened to be in their way.

One night I had to keep turning around and throwing rocks at them, like eight or ten of them, or six. It seemed like a lot at the time. They were definitely doggin’ me, though, says Ken M., a Vietnam veteran and master woodworker.

Artist Mary Z., who continues to live in Williamsburg, recalls how her artist partner Greg B. once shimmied up a pole to get out of their way.

It was apocalyptic, Luisa recalls about when she stumbled onto some of the dogs on Wythe Avenue, close to the river, the World Trade Center as a backdrop.

It’s not easy to locate photos from those days, because for the few that were taken, the prints and negatives have been lost with time, squirreled under beds, in forgotten places.

Sometimes real memories become mythology.

The young artists moving to the neighborhood were like a pack of wild dogs. Free-spirited, and living in cheap, cavernous spaces that were sometimes abandoned or illegal, scrounging in the same garbage. They weren’t looking for food (hopefully) but for remaindered wood, things to function as furniture, industrial discards to be incorporated into home décor, sculptures, paintings, and performances.

Also in the mid-70s, there was Sian, a filmmaker, who shared a huge loft with 20 other people, on South 3rd Street. She felt like a sitting duck while at the entrance, fussing with three locks: Dogs were not the biggest problem; you could hear them, see them, you sort of knew what they were going to do; but you didn’t know what the prostitutes or junkies or people who hated outsiders  were going to do—we lived in the middle of their world.

Dog Rescue

In those years, up until the early 1990s, the waterfront was the largest piece of undeveloped property in all of NYC, and it was very convenient for people to dump their animals there, because it was desolate. No one knew and no one saw them, and the dogs could shelter in all those abandoned buildings.

Dogs have a pack mentality, and they have a way of finding each other. When they get into a pack there has to be a leader, an order, who’s the boss and who follows; that’s why it’s dangerous for tame dogs and cats and other animals. They go after cats for food, explains Vinny, who, with his partner Tony, has run a dog shelter in the neighborhood since 1986. It was survival mode when the dogs would come together, because they hunted food for each other, helped each other survive, protected each other. It’s a natural instinct they have, like wolves, to run in packs.

Vinny and Tony once witnessed a dog actually race up a tree after a cat. We tried to save the cat, but we couldn’t.

They picked up and lassoed many dozens of dogs down by the waterfront and in the streets off Kent Avenue, cleaned them up, got them healthy, and rehabilitated them.

Those were the days when all the stray and feral dogs in the neighborhood ended up as local pets.

An old woman named Teddy, who was in a wheelchair and lived on Wythe Avenue near Slick’s motorcycle shop, used to have a revolving pack of dogs. Many of them used to wind up at her place, says Vinny, because she would feed them. Vinny and Tony would come periodically to take some of the dogs off her hands.

We even got one of the litters of puppies that one dog kept having in an abandoned warehouse at North 7th Street and Kent Avenue where there used to be an old train engine. We finally had that dog fixed. Her name was Precious, a pit-shepherd mix. (They were mostly shepherd mixes, before pit bulls started appearing.) They always had mange.

Why did we decide to write about the wild dogs, right now?

Because we see them returning, but in suits.


DOT puts traffic lights on deadly Kent Avenue

Councilman Stephen Levin urged the DOT to do something to make Williamsburg streets safer. Eagle file photo

Councilman Stephen Levin urged the DOT to do something to make Williamsburg streets safer. Eagle file photo

Nothing could ever bring back Raizy and Nachman Glauber, the young couple killed along with their baby by a hit-run driver on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg earlier this year, but the city is making an effort to ensure that the street where they died is now safer for others.

Read full story in the Eagle.

Street lights urgently needed on Kent Ave in the Northside too.

Story TK.