Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Ukrainian Museum — From Dragoons to Donetsk

For many years The Ukrainian Museum  in Manhattan had been on my list to visit but one thing or another got in the way.  This trip there was an exhibit I really had to see Staging the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1910s and 1920s 

Art Deco as always been one of my favorite periods of design but I wasn’t prepared to be dazzled by the costume designs created for the stage by these Ukrainian masters who were cutting edge in the 1910s and 20s.  Drawing elaborate and stark costumes for the ballet, opera, and theatre I saw designs that could be in fashion (haute couture fashion that is) today.

Frustratingly no photos were allowed, so I am reduced to what I can share from a few images captured online or in the gift shop…but I hope you get a flavor for the whimsy, geometric boldness, fanciful flourish of these outstanding creations.  One set of drawings was actually a collage of the costumes with the fabrics….and I loved that virtually all of the designers drew their character's shoes with quaint upturned toes — think the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz!

Fortunately this exhibit has been extended til October 14, so if you’re in New York, hurry to see it. [Check their website for hours, only open Wednesday to Sunday.]

Also fortunately were the other exhibits as well as the really elegant building where the museum has been housed for the past ten years.  A simple sweeping staircase takes you to the rather traditional displays of what one thinks of when they think Ukrainian…pysankas (painted eggs) and lovely, ornately floral images of men and women in their woods and gardens.  I found myself wondering why their palette is predominantly reds, oranges, greens and yellows…very little blue and never purples that I can recall.

Below see detail of this painting...the delicacy of a dandelion puff...

In the basement one can see a small display of traditional wooden instruments used in the fields or in the home and then a  room filled with The Tales and Myths of Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern.These fascinating picturesque images  made me think how fun they might be hung in a child’s room, but on closer inspection (and after reading the placards) this artwork showed/had some menacing features — Russian soldiers, evil disguised as a large alligator, and pogroms in the distance.

Sadly, this exhibit was reinforced by the present-day atrocities menacing the Ukraine today.  A short video presentation tells the story of Donetsk, their ongoing revolution against Russian control along with a room full of artifacts from this present-day war — clearly heartbreaking to those of Ukrainian descent.

To relieve the heaviness of war-torn strife, step across the hall to the small but charming gift shop before leaving this hidden gem of a museum — you can buy your very own pysanka, unusual and attractive chunky necklaces, beautiful notecards by famed Ukrainian-American artist Jacques Hnizdovsky, and even original art (just one example below).  

I couldn’t leave without buying a small notebook with these stickers — a reminder of dragoon-like-Deco-designs.

To make this visit a complete experience, head for The Ukrainian Home Restaurant just blocks away for a taste of slightly sweet, homemade white challah bread and a plateful of lovely and delicious cheese and potato pierogies adorned with fried onions and luscious sour cream.  

Is your mouth watering?

Friday, September 11, 2015

9/11 Again

It's September 11th and for the first time, I'm in New York City on this date wondering what the day will bring and what I will do today.  I'm reposting the piece I wrote soon after 9/11 because it says how I feel.

It would be hard to write something that hasn’t already been said or written about the tragedies on September 11th.  Having lived in Manhattan for eighteen years, I’ve always considered myself a New Yorker, but my affinity with the city goes back to a time before the World  Trade Center was built.  I was four, living in an apartment on Boulevard East in Weehawken,  New Jersey.  Our living room windows overlooked the Hudson River and I thought the Empire  State Building was our next-door neighbor.

Later, when we moved deeper into NJ, during high school, I traveled into the city by bus (on my own) two nights a week for Armenian dance rehearsals.  It is inconceivable to me now that at 15, my parents allowed me to go in and out of Port Authority on 42nd Street by myself and travel to Park Avenue midtown — returning home well after ten o’clock at night.  But times were different then. 

I loved going into the city — I felt so grown up in Manhattan.  So when I was away in Boston my first year in college (and miserably unhappy), I jumped at the opportunity to attend a small women’s college smack in the midst of the Upper East Side.

Though this next college experience had its drawbacks and disappointments, the best part was being in Manhattan.  I lived in the city from 1971 until 1989 and for the most part, adored every minute of it.  New York City was the only place I knew where at four in the morning you could go dancing, get a haircut, buy flowers, or eat anything your heart desired.  Not only was there every kind of food from all over the world — but it was being made by natives of that country and available in every price range!  For someone young and single, life there was a whirlwind experience of non-stop sensations.  But many years later, as new parents of young babies, those same exhilarating sensations became a constant bombardment of noise, smells, and an ever-present crush of humanity that flooded one’s life and made everyday-living-with-infants a real struggle.  The long-lasting honeymoon was over  it was time to move away.

So move we did but it was hard to be so far away from everyone we knew, especially with two-year-old twins. My husband started working for an airline so frequent trips back were possible. We wanted our kids to know New York the way we did.  With free airfare and so many of our family and friends still in New York (offering places to stay), each visit we explored more of our favorite haunts: Papaya King uptown and Zookie’s downtown for the greatest hot dogs [Unlike our first “Dog House” experience in the South where the hot dogs were actually red on the inside all-the-way-through when you bit into them!]; down to the World Trade towers to wait on that enormous line snaking its way atop the mezzanine to get our half-price tickets to Broadway; across Canal Street over to Chinatown to duck in and out of shops and eat dim sum and dumplings.  Of course, there were the usual visits to the Metropolitan, Natural History, and Modern Art museums, trips to Ellis Island and the top of the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center, the Thanksgiving Day parade and 57th Street and Fifth Avenue at Christmas.  Though we no longer lived there (my son said apartment living was just too crowded for his taste) we felt connected still and our children had a sense of the place where they were born.

For my entire adult life, the Twin Towers anchored the skyline in Manhattan.  Larger than any structure one could imagine, incredulously they rose upward almost farther than one’s neck could crane.  Whether flying in, driving over from New Jersey, or staring out from Broad Channel, Queens over Jamaica Bay, there they were  planted firmly for all to see.

It was unthinkable that they could be toppled.  But on September 11th, with many, many watching, they sank before our eyes and with them our sense of forever.  The brother-in-law late to work, stuck in the subway; the cousin in a hotel across the street; the friend ten blocks away — thank God, all safe and sound.  All in our circle accounted for and alive but so, so, many others lost forever. Reactions of disbelief, shock, sorrow, fear, and depression eked their way into the mainstream of American life.  

After the attacks, our neighborhood Association down south decided to have a luminary tribute to the 250 victims on planes. A white paper bag for each victim.  Each small bag had the name of someone’s son, mother, daughter, father or friend.  As we lit each votive candle in their fragile paper holder edging our neighborhood park, I tried to say every name aloud:  Albert Dominguez, Patrick Quigley, Sonia Puopolo, Alfred Marchand, Garnet “Ace” Bailey, Betty Ong, Jesus Sanchez, Wolfgang Menzel.  My neighbor and I were conscious that we were moving bags and not body parts  it was little to do, but our candles and tears honored each of them.

When it came time to remove the bags, we couldn’t throw them away.  I kept my eight. Then we went to the Farmer’s Market and handed them out to people who offered to light them on their porches and in their homes. 
As Americans, until that day we had a false sense that we were untouchable. We never expected that those committed to using violence to convey their message would visit terror on our doorstep, anymore than we could imagine those towers would fall.  

Just after 9-11 during the National prayer service, I heard this phrase from Corinthians,

“What cannot be seen is eternal.” 

It’s been twenty-four years since I’ve lived in Manhattan. For me, the silhouette of those buildings will always be present. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015


I have a thing about CHAIRS.  
but I do find myself intrigued with chairs.  

All kinds of practical and impractical chairs.  

I'm going to share some of my better finds.

This rather austere chair was a 
one-of-a-kind-take-a-seat chair 
I found at the American Folk Art Museum
Doesn't look very comfortable...does it?

This very darling and very cool child's red chair

was sitting pretty at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

Also at the Cooper-Hewitt, one can see this red spaghetti extravaganza, 

that contrasts softly and sharply with the two below  found at the 
Museum of Arts and Design...

Getting off CHAIRS for the moment...
I also saw displayed some pretty spectacular and you could say unusual high-heeled shoes 

These shoes were NOT made for walkin'.

Now back to...

chairs here,
chairs there,
CHAIRS, CHAIRS everywhere.
These deconstructed chairs were ensconced at the Museo del Barrio
 — definitely NOT for sitting.

This splendiferous green & white leather chair 
(at a Housing Works Thrift Shop) 
most assuredly 
made for sitting  
some real cushy seating.

Not cushy at all were these utilitarian and slightly organic seats  awaiting one's tired body 
after an afternoon of walking, walking, walking 
all over Italy.  
Time to take a seat.


Also outdoors 

(but right here in America), 
available for your seating pleasure,

this modern-day regal chair appeared 
on my recent visit to Brookgreen Gardens...

And though this art installation isn't constructed of chairs...
they do count as "seating"  arranged in a most unusual way...
thanks to Ai Wei Wei!

But one of my most favorite chairs  
not in any museum or garden or made by anyone famous  
is a chair I found on the sidewalk in Manhattan, 
tossed out by someone who clearly didn't appreciate the fine curved lines of this beauty.  

I've covered the seat cushion more than once and as you can see, 
it's overdue to be covered again but this chair 
(which I painted teal to match my kitchen when the kids were very small) 
this chair is one you have to sit in 
to truly appreciate its simple but satisfying design...

Even better, 
this chair, 

this find I found 
in the TRASH,
came from afar.

I hope there's a favorite chair within sight of YOU.

If there is, please share your chair with me.