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Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City's Forgotten Waterfront
New York City’s relationship to its watery environs is vital to understanding its evolution. A recent renewal of interest in New York City’s geographical and topographic history and an increasing focus on its waterfront has inspired Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront, an interdisciplinary exhibition exploring waterfront areas that are remote, neglected, or little known to the general public and which have experienced long and sometimes tumultuous relationships with New York City’s changing needs. The exhibition will be a result of an investigation into what these remote waterfront areas reveal about New York City’s past and present environment, industry, and culture as experienced through a selection of historical and contemporary photographs, maps, documents, artifacts, prints, drawings, film, and interactive displays.
Research and exploration will focus on the following locations:
- Dead Horse Bay in Brooklyn, site of former horse rendering plants later replaced by landfill, now part of Gateway National Recreation Area.
- College Point in Queens, once the site of German breweries, resorts, airfields, and the still extant Poppenhusen Institute, home of the first free kindergarten in the United States.
- North Brother and Hart Islands in the Bronx, sites of typhus hospitals, children’s workhouses, missile silos, and potters fields.
- Rossville and Sandy Ground in Staten Island, site of one of the first free black settlements in the United States, established by oystermen up from Maryland after 1827 when slavery was legally abolished in New York State.
- The Newtown Creek in Queens, and Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn: highly polluted industrial waterways recently designated EPA Superfund sites
- The Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Jamaica Bay, a mix of wild-life, tight knit communities, city housing, and surfers.
The materials for the exhibition will be on loan from the following sources: The Museum of the City of New York, the Staten Island Historical Society, The Queens Central Library, The Brooklyn Collection of the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York City Municipal Archives, Pratt Institute Library, the Hart Island Project, the Sandy Ground Historical Society Museum, and the New York Public Library. Additionally a section will be dedicated to a group of contemporary artists whose work is inspired by and often interacts with the New York City waterways including Mary Mattingly, Melinda Hunt, George Boorujy, Marie Lorenz, Eve Andree Laramee, Nathan Kensinger, James Walsh, Spencer Finch, and Joel Meyerowitz. Silent Beaches/Untold Stories will offer a uniquely comprehensive investigation of selected areas of the New York City waterfront for the purpose of engaging a broad audience in historical and contemporary environmental and civic issues. In conjunction with the exhibition there will be a series of related events including a reading series, film screening and artist’s talk from the Hart Island Project, speakers on the changing eco system, and a performance by maritime musicians “the Mercantillers.” An accompanying full-color catalogue will be published.
Dr. M. T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery/Sun Yat Sen Hall, St. John’s University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, NY 11439
September 3 - November 9, 2013
Thursday, September 19, 2013, 4:30 - 7:30 p.m.
9/3/2013: Exhibition opens to the public
9/19/2013 (Thur): Exhibition Opening Reception – 4:30 - 7:30 p.m. - Dr. M. T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery/Sun Yat Sen Hall
9/26/2013 (Thur): The Department of English and the Department of Art and Design present “Oceanic New York”, a panel on literary eco-criticism hosted and moderated by Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies Steve Mentz – 6:00 - 8:00 p.m., Gallery
10/3/2013 (Thur): The Academic Lecture Series and the Institute for Core Studies present filmmaker, citizen advocate, and artist Melinda Hunt, who will screen and discuss her work and her documentary film, “Hart Island, an American Cemetery” 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. – DAC 416AB
10/8/2013 (Tue): The Department of Art and Design presents internationally acclaimed artist Mary Mattingly who will show and discuss her work “Waterpod” and other eco-sustainable, alternative living projects – 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. - Dr. M. T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery/Sun Yat Sen Hall
10/10/2013 (Thur): The Department of Art and Design presents “Artists on the Waterfront,” a panel discussion moderated by the curator of Silent Beaches, Elizabeth Albert. Artists participating in the exhibition “Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront” will discuss their work in relation to the waterfront. 1:50 - 3:10 p.m. - Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery/Sun Yat Sen Hall
10/12/2013 (Sat): The Office of Student Affairs presents: Dead Horse Bay Excursion – STJ van/bus; cap at 15; time TBD
A small group outing to one of the Silent Beaches exhibition’s “forgotten” locations.
10/24/2013 (Thur): The Academic Lecture Series and the Center for Teaching and Learning present “An Environmental Odyssey: New York City’s Ever-Changing Waterfront,” a panel discussion by St. John’s University’s environmental scientists – 1:50 - 3:10 p.m. (Common Hour), DAC 416
10/26/2013 (Sat): The Office of Student Affairs presents: “Gowanus Canal paddle with the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club” –STJ van/bus; cap at 8; time TBD
A small group outing to one of the Silent Beaches exhibition’s “forgotten” locations and EPA designated Superfund site.
10/29/2013 (Tues): The Institute for Writing Studies presents “Silent Beaches Readings: Curated by Underwater New York.” Acclaimed writers from St. John’s University’s faculty and elsewhere read short pieces of fiction and non-fiction. – 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. - Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery/Sun Yat Sen Hall
11/7/2013 (Thurs): The Office of Students Affairs and the Institute for Core Studies present a Maritime Musical Performance: The Mercantillers, a live performance of sea shanties and other Old-timey tunes by acclaimed Brooklyn musicians, the Mercantillers.
– 6:00 p.m. - Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery/Sun Yat Sen Hall
11/9/2013 (Sat): Exhibition Closes
Just after the end of the spring 2010 semester I went to the Museum of Modern Art, and for a change took a detour into the Architecture and Design galleries on the third floor. I happened upon the installation Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront, composed of works by five interdisciplinary teams from MoMA PS 1’s architects-in-residence program. The teams re-imagined the New York City coastline as an actively engaged, ecologically robust urban waterfront. Their brilliant solutions were visually fascinating, scientifically sound, and historically respectful. I found myself face to face with the past, present, and future of the city. Still fresh in my mind was the Manahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York from the year before, which showed startling images of a lush, hilly Manhattan, rife with ponds and streams, looking as it would have when Henry Hudson arrived in 1609.
In 2011 I was introduced to Underwater New York, a website where writers and artists post work responding to a long list of strange objects discovered in and around the New York City waterways – a complete skeleton of a giraffe near the Verrazano Bridge; a Formica dinette, upright and intact at the bottom of the East River. The website described the location where each object was discovered.
As a second generation New Yorker, I was appalled by how few of these places I knew, how little of the greater New York coastline I had experienced. My paintings had for a long time contained a subtext of environmental menace lurking in the water and landscape, but interest in the local waterfront was not ignited until now. I had to get out more! I explored the breached landfill at Dead Horse Bay, the abandoned wrecks at Coney Island Creek, and the ruined beaches across from La Guardia Airport in western College Point. Each location was composed of nature mingled with an amazing array of detritus. Each place I visited, someone from the area eyed me with suspicion, but then went on to tell me the story of their beloved waterfront. Every plant, every used needle, every wreck, every proud neighbor told the story of New York City.
The more I explored the liminal edges of New York, the more questions I had: What has changed about our relationship to the waterfront? Why have former resorts become ghettos? Why are former industrial wastelands now fashionable and rich? Why have the most coveted oyster beds become choked with toxic sludge? Do we desire, loathe, devour, dread the waterfront? These questions led me in various directions: to the city’s photographic archives, to history and literature, to environmental studies, and to a group of artists whose wonderful work is inspired by and heightens awareness of New York City’s coastline and waterways. Initially I incorporated my findings into a course I teach called “Discover New York: Art and Architecture in New York City.” My students and I volunteered with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy doing environmental cleanup and planting native species along the canal’s deeply distressed banks. My students’ initial shock at the horrific conditions quickly turned to excitement and triumph at the difference a few hours of work could make. They wondered why no one had ever mentioned a place like the Gowanus Canal.
I realized that teaching at St. John’s University offered a unique opportunity to share my research on New York City’s lesser-known and neglected waterfront areas not only in the classroom, but in a broader context. So much of the material I had gathered was fascinating to look at, and, as a visual artist, the logical place for me to inquire was with the university gallery. Fortunately the Gallery Director, Parvez Mohsin, the Chair of the Department of Fine Arts, Professor Ross Barbera, and the Director of the Institute for Core Studies, Dr. Robert Pecorella all shared my enthusiasm. A generous research grant from the Dean of St. John’s College, Dr. Jeffrey W. Fagen, further galvanized the project.
Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront is a culmination of three years of research and planning, and investigates only a small handful of locations on New York City’s more than 600 miles of coastline. It is intended as an interdisciplinary exhibition designed to actively engage the broadest possible audience and provide a forum for community dialogue on a range of topics relating to the New York City waterfront.
There are no easy answers as to the best course of action for the future well-being of the waterfront, and this exhibition does not attempt to offer any solutions. It is tempting to wish for a coastline made up of parkland and beaches where industry and pollutants are banished. However, without industry, the complex machine that is New York City would cease to exist. The devastation brought on by Hurricane Sandy occurred as I was wrapping up the research stage of this project. Sadly, the damage to so much of our already compromised coastline brings new urgency to the need for greater awareness, respect, and active maintenance of our “sixth borough.”
Assistant Professor Elizabeth Albert
Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York's Forgotten Waterfront
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Coney Island Creek, once known as Gravesend Creek, is home to an assortment of ghost ships, rotting piers, and one stranded submarine. One comes across this strange and haunting sight by walking through a thicket at the southern edge of the little used Calvert Vaux Park. It was reported that Vaux, the celebrated co-designer of Central Park became depressed later in life from lack of appreciation of his work. On a foggy morning in 1895 he visited his son, who lived in the area, went for a walk along Coney Island Creek and was later found floating. It is unknown whether he took his own life or became disoriented in the fog and lost his balance.
Coney Island Creek is the only remaining creek in the vicinity that was not filled in as Brooklyn developed. It was originally a small meandering waterway ending in marshlands. Ambitious plans for transforming the area into a thriving port – a Brooklyn rival to Manhattan’s Seaport – inspired Thomas Stillwell and Associates, descendant of early landowners in the Coney area, to canalize the creek connecting it with Sheepshead Bay, making what was at the time Coney Hook into an actual island. The developers referred to the newly expanded creek as the Gravesend Ship Canal. Though wider and deeper the canal was still difficult for ships to navigate, and when the boroughs consolidated in 1898, the plan was abandoned. By 1929 sections of it were filled in to enable rail and car transportation.
During Prohibition, Coney Island Creek was a frequent stop on Rum Row, a watery pathway for schooners smuggling illegal liquor from Canada, the Caribbean, and Europe. Part fo the New York City operation was run by big time mafiosos like Frank Costello , boss of the Luciano crime family, “Big Bill” Dwyer, one time owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and other sports teams, Joe Masseria, boss of the Genovese family, and Frankie “the Undertaker” Yale. In the 1920’s rum runners could often be seen with the Coast Guard in hot pursuit.
From the 1890’s to the 1950’s Brooklyn Borough Gas leeched pollution into the creek. Excavated debris from the building of the Verrazano Bridge as well as other unmonitored dumping added to the murk. No one knows exactly when the ghost ships began appearing near the mouth of the creek, but local residents remember playing on them in the 1950’s when they were still floating. Some of them are said to be old whaling ships whose owners did not want to pay to have them properly disposed of. They would haul them here and burn them down to the waterline. The Army Corps of Engineers has identified abandoned ships in other parts of the city, but not here. The creek sludge is so toxic that disturbing the wrecks would release a litany of dangerous chemicals into the water and air.
Some ingredients of the unsavory soup:
NAPLs (dense and light non-aqueous phase liquids). Contained in fuel, oil, tar, pesticides, and other substances and have a broad range of chemical properties. The class of these considered to be more damaging to soil and aquatic food chains include PCB’s.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), mixtures of individual chlorinated compounds manufactured prior to 1977, often found in old fluorescent lighting, electrical equipment and appliances, plastics, oil based paint and more. Long-term effects include cancer and adverse effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.
PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), mostly caused by the incomplete burning of carbon-based materials such as wood, oil, coal, and garbage. Long term exposure may cause lung and skin cancer, fetal defects, and damage to the lungs, liver, and kidneys.
“metals” barium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and silver. Some of which are found in batteries, petroleum, paint, and other materials. In particular cadmium, lead, and mercury can cause damage to the immune system leading possibly to rheumatoid arthritis and diseases of the kidneys, circulatory, and nervous systems.
CSOs — (combined sewer overflow) New York City’s very old sewer system is what is known as a combined sewer system. This system is designed to multi-task. It collects rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater all in the same pipe and delivers it to a publicly owned treatment plant. In the event of heavy rain or melting snow, the sewer’s capacity is exceeded and excess water, including raw sewage and industrial waste is released directly into rivers, streams, estuaries, and coastal waters. A full 10% of the CSO’s in the United States are in New York City.
One of the stranger sights amongst the strewn wreckage is a small, listing yellowish submarine. Jerry Bianco, a former shipbuilder constructed the Quester I from repurposed materials and bargain yellow paint. He planned to find the wreck of the Andrea Doria and its unclaimed treasures off the coast of Rhode Island. There were some initial problems, and before they were solved a storm tore the sub from its moorings and lodged it in the mud far from shore. The sub remains glued to the spot, decaying. She never had her maiden voyage.
Dead Horse Bay lies in south Brooklyn near the old Floyd Bennett Airfield and is part of a large parcel of land that is now part of Gateway National Recreation. One particular stretch of beach is covered with glass bottles, bones, ceramic, and other detritus. There is so much glass that as the waves lap the shore there is an audible tinkling much like a faint wind-chime.
This beach has a past as the coast of what was once called Barren Island. From the 1860’s to the 1930’s Barren Island was largely avoided because of its terrible stench. It was the site of a small community of Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants who worked at more than a dozen animal rendering plants where vast quantities of horses, no longer of use for transportation or other labor, were turned into fertilizer and other products. After the carcasses were stripped of any usable material, the boiled, chopped up bones were simply dumped into the water.
Between 1859 and 1934 twenty-six companies operated on Barren Island, their tall smokestacks visible in the distance and their overbearing stench fouling the air for miles. The island’s natural topography made it ideal for its purpose: at low tide animals could walk to the northern coast of the island (now connected to the mainland by Flatbush Avenue extension) and ships could load cargo off the deeper water on the southern coast. Not only horses ended up on Barren Island. All of the city’s animal carcasses – in fact until 1918 – all of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx’s household garbage arrived there by ship to be sorted and boiled down. There was a hierarchy of job status: top was sorting bone, then came sorting metal or paper. At the bottom was rag picking, where the bare hand was necessary to get a “feel” for the material. In the animal carcass hierarchy the job of dealing with the tons of rotting fish was reserved for the lowliest, which was the island’s small black population. The island’s residents, living in drafty wooden cabins, weathering epidemics of diphtheria and typhoid, went for years without a doctor or nurse, electricity, or a post-office. People wore salt pork wrapped in flannel around their necks to ward off disease.
When the automobile became the standard mode of transportation the horse cadaver businesses closed down or moved away. In 1936 Robert Moses condemned the island so as the build Marine Park Bridge, and evicted the last occupants. The site became landfill and remained so until it was capped in1953. Grassy dunes and paths hide any sense of what is underneath until you take the path through the dunes to the beach. Toward the southern end of the beach one can notice a rupture in the roots of the sumac trees and grass that now cover the dunes. Each time the tide rolls in and recedes it pulls out more and more stuff: shoes, toys, bottles, bones from the breeched landfill. The beach is covered with an endlessly changing landscape of objects the most recent being from 1953 and stretching back at least a hundred years.
It’s hard to imagine standing on the shores of this oil-slicked, sickly green, long-abused waterway, that on this very site soldiers of the Continental Army retreated from the British during the Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island) in 1776, the first battle to be fought following the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Struggling across the creek at high tide, many soldiers drownied or were easy targets for British muskets.
The Gowanus Canal, perhaps named after the Canarsee tribe leader Gowanes, is in fact a tidal estuary and salt marsh that during Dutch colonial times was the site of a tobacco plantation and mills belonging to Denton, Freeke, and Brauwer, among others. Six foot tides pushed salt water into the creek creating a brackish mix ideal for oyster beds and the Gowanus was famous for its oysters “the size of dinner plates”
The Gowanus Canal played a vital role in New York’s industrial revolution. In the early 1850’s the 1.8-miles-long Gowanus was canalized, and despite its disparaging nickname, “The Passage to Nowhere” grew to become a major industrial waterway, its shores populated by lumber mills, oil refineries, chemical plants, tanneries; soap, fertilizer, and paint manufacturers; cement factories and other heavy industry. In just a few years indiscriminate dumping of industrial waste and raw sewage poisoned the water and by 1910 the canal was almost solid with sewage. The canal with its opaque and sickly pallor became known as “Lavender Lake”.
Over the years several attempts have been made to remedy the pollution with different means of circulating the water and flushing it into New York Bay. All of these ultimately failed. Efforts were further abandoned when the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was built and much of the canal’s cargo transport was replaced by truck. By 1978 the once bustling commercial waterway had only nine businesses, and over 50% of the property was unused. Another thirty years of neglect and the water was so bad that light could only penetrate about two feet into the water. The amount of dissolved oxygen was calculated at only 2.8 parts per million (ppm). Fish require a minimum of 5 ppm to survive.
In 1999 a new pump was installed that flushes approximately 300 gallons of oxygenated water through the canal every day. This remedy has dramatically improved the water conditions, so much that geese, fiddler crabs, flounder, shrimp, mussels, killifish, and jellyfish have been spotted in the canal. However the underlying sediment is still highly toxic and EPA tests of local Striped Bass showed the canal to be polluted with a long list of contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, and garbage. They also found quantities of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs; mercury, lead and copper; and other debris, much of which is left over from industry dating back to the 1860’s!
The Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund site in March, 2010 with the EPA expecting to begin the ten year cleanup effort in 2015. In the mean time grass roots organizations have begun various remediation efforts. One of the plans is Sponge Park, a joint effort between the Gowanus Conservancy and dlandstudios, a Brooklyn-based architecture and landscape architecture firm. The park would line the banks of the Gowanus and include a variety of ecological systems, each using native plants that naturally clean toxins from the water. Some examples: Sunflowers, Pussy Willow, and Duckweed can process heavy metals. Beach Rose, Pond Weed, and White Clover can process PCBs.
The Gowanus Conservancy has a dedicated group of local volunteers who meet several times a year to shore up the banks of the canal, pick up garbage, plant trees and shrubs that leach toxins from the water, maintain tree pits, and map the area. Recently St. Johns students have joined the effort and given hours of their time to healing this abused and neglected part of New York City’s environment. Students arrive by bus wearing old clothers, and are supplied with gloves, tools, and large bags to fill with garbage, weeds, or other undesirable objects. It can be a nasty job. On one chilly Saturday in March the group cleared thirty cubic yards of debris (two large dumpsters full), including rotting furniture, spoiled food, old clothes, used needles, and condoms.
Despite the pollution, the area is still active and populated by small businesses, homes, and artists’ studios. Many of the original factory buildings and carriage houses are still standing. One huge handsome ruin of a brick building stands empty, covered with graffiti: the Brooklyn Rapid Transit power station, built in 1902. When the BRT folded into the BMT this massive brick building lived on to become for a time a Hasidic dance hall, and is now referred to as the Bat Cave – home to junkies and squatters. Raccoons live in the tunnels under the BRT building and have been seen washing the tomato sauce off their scavenged pizza crusts in the noxious waters of the canal.
Like most of the waterways surrounding NYC, Newtown Creek is a tidal estuary that once flowed through wetlands teeming with fish, shellfish, mammals, and birds. The the 18th and early 19th centuries the creek was used by farmers to load and transport their produce to market. Wealthy New Yorkers enjoyed it for boating and fishing.
Newtown Creek is now virtually lifeless. The creek’s bottom is coated with a ten foot layer of toxic sludge, the color and consistency of its nickname, black mayonnaise. The sludge is composed of myriad pollutants including various hydrocarbons, metals, and industrial solvents, as well as naptha, and benzene, carcinogens known to cause a variety of neurological problems. Many of these toxins remain in the environment and the longer they do, the more harmful they are to human health. Long-term effects may be developmental problems or cancer.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, before the area became toxic, a short list of species dwelling in the Newtown Creek area included Gray Wolf, Beaver, Mountain Lion, River Otter, Masked Shrew, Black Bear, Heath Hen, Spotted Sandpiper, Scarlet Tanager, Timber Rattlesnake, Spotted Turtle, Marbled Salamander, Green Frog, and Northern Short-tailed Shrew.
In the mid-1800’s the most prominent businesses along the canal produced oil cloth, kerosene, coal, paraffin, fertilizers, and lumber. When Astral Oil arrived in 1867, Newtown Creek became the center of the oil refining business. John D. Rockefeller
acquired Astral Oil from Charles Pratt and by1880 controlled over 100 stills along Newtown Creek, employing 200 workers and refining three million gallons of crude oil per week. Oil leaked each time petroleum was loaded from still to wharf to
schooner. Waste from the distilling process was simply dumped into the creek or into the soil. In 1880 an estimated 300,000 gallons of toxic waste was produced weekly along the Newtown Creek.
“On warm sunny days, a quivering envelope of nauseous foghangs above the place like a pall of death,” The New York Times reported in 1887. In 1891 the 15th Ward Smelling Committee was compelled to visit the Creek. They witnessed liquid and
solid, chemical, and organic waste from refineries and fertilizer companies being dumped into the water. Rotting carcasses sat unapologetically outside the sausage factory and the dog pound alike.
In 1919 a huge fire at the Standard Oil Factory released millions of gallons of oil, leaching into Brooklyn’s water supply. In 1950 there was a massive explosion when chemical vapors spontaneously combusted underground. The blast ripped open a ten-foot wide hole in the ground, blew twenty-five heavy manhole covers skyward and shattered the windows in hundreds of buildings. The explosion was considered to be the result of the 1919 Standard Oil refinery fire in combination with years of petroleum and other industrial pollutants leaking or being poured directly into the canal, the soil and pooling underground. No one was killed and nothing was done to cap the leak or clean up the spill. Decades later a coastguard flying over the area noticed a huge black plume of oil flowing into the creek, most likely caused by the 1950 explosion.
By 2010 this subterranean spill contained seventeen to thirty million gallons of oil and toxins, more than the Exxon Valdez and Hurricane Katrina spills combined. Until the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Newtown Creek oil spill was the largest in United States’ history.
In October 2010, The Newtown Creek was designated a Superfund site, a government mandated extensive cleanup that the EPA estimates will take at least fifteen years and cost over $400 million. Even at this cost the result will most likely be a partial cleaning with remaining toxins capped and left undisturbed. As with the New York Harbor and the Hudson River, wildlife will likely return, but will continue to be affected by PCBs and mercury among other pollutants.
Arthur Kill is a narrow, chemically saturated waterway separating Staten Island from New Jersey. These waters were once so rich in oysters and other wildlife that their fame spread throughout the region as early as the 17th century. By the 19th century the oyster business had become vital to Staten Island’s economy.
A few miles away from Arthur Kill is the community of Sandy Ground, established initially by free black farmers and joined later by oystermen and their families who came up from Maryland in the 1850’s. Maryland’s free blacks were thought to be a threat to slavery, and harsh laws were imposed to inhibit their growth. Especially affected were black oystermen who were prohibited from owning or captaining their own boats. Many relocated to New York State, where slavery had been abolished since 1827, and settled in southwest Staten Island where they could continue their livelihood as oystermen. Sandy Ground is located away from the coast, where land was historically cheaper, on high ground halfway between the well-known oyster beds of Prince’s Bay to the south and the port of Rossville on Arthur Kill to the west.
In addition to oystering in the nearby waters, Sandy Ground’s soil was particularly well suited to growing strawberries, tomatoes, and asparagus, and families prospered by taking their produce by wagon to sell in the Manhattan markets. Others went into business as blacksmiths, boat-builders, and basket makers, whose wares were needed to carry the huge loads of oysters.
Over time these families were joined by other escaped and freed slaves from Virginia, Delaware, and the Northeast. Many had escaped impossible situations and greatly appreciated the opportunity to build a strong and prosperous community. In 1850 the Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church was established and quickly became the “focal point” of the community, which it remains as the Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church to this day. The golden age of Sandy Ground was in the 1880’s and 1890’s when there was a thriving population of 200 and over fifty homes.
Sandy Ground is considered the third free black settlement in New York, after Seneca Village – located in what is now Central Park – and James Weeks’ property purchased from the Lefferts family in what is now Bedford-Stuyvesant. It has long been thought that Sandy Ground was a station on the Underground Railroad. At a recent exhibition at the Sandy Ground Historical Museum, evidence was presented that well-known Underground Railroad Agent, Louis Napoleon, an associate of the prominent New York
abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, had lived in Sandy Ground from 1856.
In 1916 a series of typhoid outbreaks were traced to the oyster beds of the increasingly polluted waters around Staten Island, Atlantic City, Lawrence, Long Island and other locations. At the time it was not unusual to “fatten” oysters by temporarily placing them in sewage – polluted waters. Even without efforts to “fatten,” pollution found its way into the oyster beds, and continuing outbreaks of typhoid and cholera created an “oyster panic.” The New York Department of Health ultimately shut down the oyster business, effectively halting the primary income of most of Sandy Ground’s residents. The people adapted: blacksmiths and iron-workers now created tools for farming and building; others went to work in factories. In 1963 a terrible fire destroyed many of the homes hastening the community’s decline.
In 1974 Sandy Ground was given landmark status as a state and national historic site. It is also protected by the New York City landmark status. In 1979 the Sandy Ground Historical Society was created to preserve the community’s heritage. In 1990 Oprah Winfrey donated $10,000 to initiate a church library and children’s education program. Today development of the southern end of Staten Island has created a largely white suburb that occupies what were once Sandy Ground’s fields and woodlands. What is left of the community are a few houses and the Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church which still plays a vital role for the thirty or so families that worship there. They remain loyal to the church, despite having to commute from other areas in Staten Island and New Jersey.
Joseph Mitchell’s wonderful piece about Sandy Ground, “Mister Hunter’s Grave,” was published in his book The Bottom of the Harbor (Pantheon, 1944). In this passage, George Hunter laments the changes in Sandy Ground since the waters of New York Harbor became polluted and the local oyster business failed: “The way it is now, Sandy Ground is just a ghost of its former self. There’s a disproportionate number of old people. A good manyof the big old rambling houses that used to be full of children, there’s only old men and old women living in them now. And you hardly ever see them."
The College Point peninsula lies at the juncture of the Flushing River, Flushing Bay, the Bronx River, and the East River. The western side is directly across from La Guardia airport. The north looks out toward Riker’s Island and the east lies under the shadow of the Whitestone Bridge.
College Point is named for St. Paul’s College, which existed from only 1835-1850. Originally farmland, the area was gradually transformed into a lovely waterside recreation area with visitors spilling over from William Steinway’s North Beach resort, and hotels and saloons springing up to catch the overflow. As the area developed, many elegant Victorian homes were built, some of which remain on shady streets towards the north. Much of the northern coast is residential with a park named after
local sculptor, Herman MacNeil. The park is on the site of the former Chisholm Mansion where Mayor LaGuardia summered in 1937. Verdant Powell’s Cove occupies most of the eastern shores of College Point. A century ago Tallman’s Island off the northern edge was a popular picnic site. Now, connected by landfill, the area is a sewage treatment plant. The west side of the College Point peninsula’s shoreline, with the exception of the massive St. Lawrence Cement factory and a few remaining dilapidated bungalows, is a largely decaying industrial wasteland, much of which is cut off from public access. A sanitation garage where trash is loaded onto barges lies directly across from La Guardia Airport creating a combination of seagulls and airplanes potentially lethal to anyone traveling by air.
In 1852, Conrad Poppenhusen, an immigrant from Hamburg, Germany, moved to what was still a rural village to expand his business operation and build one of the first major industrial complexes, the American Hard Rubber Company, which produced the then newly developed vulcanized rubber for Charles Goodyear.
Poppenhusen’s American Rubber Manufacturing Company was to be a utopian ideal of work and life for his employees. His vision included homes and parks, numerous streets, the First Reformed Church, and the Poppenhusen Institute. He also is credited with establishing one of the first free kindergartens in the United States. This kindergarten was structured around the ideals of the famous German philosopher and educator Friedrich Froebel, whose radical educational system is considered to have
contributed to the aesthetic and pedagogical components of the Bauhaus. Notable artists and architects educated in Froebel’s principals include Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, among others.
Poppenhusen founded College Point by incorporating the neighborhoods of Flammersburg and Strattonport. Poppenhusen was also responsible in part for the first electric transportation system, the Flushing and North Side Railroad, connecting College Point and Flushing with ferries to Manhattan. Ultimately these lines would consolidate into what is now the Long Island Railroad. Other industry in the area included silk ribbon factories and several breweries.
College Point also has a history of aviation. The Flushing Airport was located here and was New York’s busiest airport until North Beach Airport, later renamed LaGuardia airport (1939), was expanded just across Flushing Bay. North Beach Airport has enjoyed an earlier incarnation as the aforementioned North Beach resort owned by William Steinway of Steinway pianos. EDO Aircraft Corp., the second oldest aerospace company in the United States, was founded in a shed here in 1925 by Earl Dodge Osborn, inventor of aluminum floats for seaplanes. Osborn’s early designs were used by pioneering aviators Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Admiral Richard Byrd.
Four times a week New York City’s unclaimed dead are trucked out to City Island where at a barbed wire covered dock they board a ferry for Hart Island. Once there they are placed in plain wooden boxes with their name (if known) scrawled on the side, and buried in mass graves by inmates from nearby Rikers Island. The Department of Correction estimates that roughly 800,000 people have been buried on the island, located just east of City Island where the East River broadens into the Long Island Sound, since 1869. 1,500 more arrive yearly, about half of them stillbirths
Each coffin comes off the truck with official paperwork attached. Inmates mark the boxes with whatever information they have to help identify the deceased in case of later disinterment. After a common plot is filled a numbered concrete marker is centered at one end for possible later use in locating a particular coffin. Each marker identifies a common plot holding either150 adult coffins or 1000 baby coffins. Baby coffins represent about forty-five per cent of interments. A separate area is dedicated to organs and limbs from city hospitals.
The location of each coffin is charted on a schematic so it can be found if disinterment is undertaken. Disinterment is not attempted if burial took place more than ten years prior to the petition to remove the body. Usually, after being held ten years, the records regarding particular burials are turned over by the Correction Department to the Municipal Archives. About 150 disinterments take place every year.
For over a century the handwritten ledgers detailing the names of the people buried on Hart Island were rarely accessible to the public. This has recently changed as a result of one woman’s titanic efforts. After devoting more than a decade to helping people track down the Hart Island dead, Melinda Hunt, a New York City artist, obtained through a Freedom of Information request some 50,000 records which account for every person buried on the island since 1985.
Hart Island has also been home to the living. It has at various times housed a lunatic asylum, a tuberculosis hospital, a prison, and a “reformatory for vicious boys.” During World War II, Hart Island became home for German prisoners of war. After the war, ten acres at the northern end of the island were taken over by the U.S. Army for a Nike missile base as part of the defense system of New York City. The army abandoned the site on June 30, 1961.
The Hart Island prison closed in 1966, and the following year the Office of Narcotics Administration used the facilities to create Phoenix House for the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Residents grew their own vegetables, held concerts and organized ball games. One frequent visitor was the popular Father Egan, sometimes known as the junkie priest for his extensive work with narcotics users. Phoenix House thrived until 1976 when the high costs of operating the ferry caused it to close.
North Brother Island inhabits twenty acres in the East River, lying almost equidistant to Rikers Island and the Port Morris section of the Bronx. In its present state the island is covered with vines and trees that practically swallow up the skeletal ruins of a slew of abandoned buildings. It is completely off limits to the public now, but in the past the island was a refuge or a hell for those suffering from various afflictions.
North and nearby South Brother Islands were claimed by the Dutch West India Company, who named them “De Gesellen,” or “the companions.” However, the islands remained undeveloped because swift and powerful currents made passage to and from the mainland treacherous.
In the late 1800’s New York City was afflicted with numerous infectious diseases. In 1885 New York City assumed control of North Brother Island in order to build an expanded Riverside Hospital, which had been located on Blackwell’s Island. In addition to typhus and typhoid fever, the hospital also cared for patients suffering from smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever. This was not a hospital for wealthy patients, but for the indigent and derelict of New York City. Great waves of immigration brought yet more infectious disease patients and the hospital expanded several times. Then the turn of the century brought tuberculosis, a highly contagious lung disease, and the hospital expanded again. Yet another health crisis struck: the polio epidemic, which during the summer of 1916 claimed 209 victims per week, 90% of them under the age of ten.
Typhoid Mary was North Brother Island’s most infamous resident. Mary Mallon was a healthy-looking, hard-working immigrant and carrier of typhoid fever. Spread of the disease was traced to her when a succession of families she had cooked for were stricken with the disease. Mary was the first known healthy carrier, and since she showed no symptoms of typhoid fever herself, it was impossible for her to believe she was spreading disease and thought herself unjustly persecuted. When confronted and asked for blood and stool samples, she became enraged, threatening the doctor with a kitchen fork and barricading herself from the police. She was apprehended a few hours later and confined to North Brother Island to live in isolation with only a dog for a companion. She was released in 1910 on the condition that she not cook or handle food for others. For the next two years, Mary worked in various hotels and restaurants using aliases until twenty-five people at Sloane Maternity Hospital contracted typhoid fever and “Mrs. Brown” was found to be in fact Mary Mallon. In 1915 the board of health declared her a public menace and she was again sentenced to North Brother Island where she remained until she died in 1938.
North Brother Island was involved in a terrible tragedy. On June 15th, 1904 bodies began washing up on her shores. Some were alive, but most had burned or drowned in what would turn out to be New York City’s worst disaster until 9/11: the sinking of the General R. Slocum steamship. The “limp, charred bodies were laid out in long rows among the grass” according to Munsey’s Magazine. There were 600 by midnight and more than 400 still in the river, almost all women and children of German descent
who had set out that morning for their annual picnic on Long Island. This time they had the terrible misfortune of boarding the General R. Slocum steamship, elegant and ornate on the surface with carved mahogany interiors, wicker and red velvet furniture, and a new coat of white paint. In recent years the ship had had a number of accidents and breakdowns, and its reputation had suffered. The captain responsible for the incidents had not been dismissed and the Knickerbocker Steamship Company ran on a tight budget, employing a cheap, poorly trained crew. Early in the voyage children complained of smelling smoke, but were hushed by their parents and ignored by the crew. When the captain finally acknowledged the emergency he ordered the ship to go full steam ahead to North Brother Island. The wind and speed hastened the spread of the flames and made it impossible for tugs and fireboats to catch up. On board the neglected fire hoses were rotten and burst upon use. All but one of the lifeboats had been nailed down, and many of the thirteen year-old cork-filled life jackets disintegrated in the water. Some of the life jackets were found filled with cast iron because it was cheaper than cork.
Later, after WWII, North Brother Island began to house healthy boarders from the overflow of dormers at local colleges such as Columbia, City College, and Fordham University, enrollment of which had swelled from the GI Bill. The students were ferried back and forth to school each day. By 1952 the city reclaimed the island, this time using the hospital facilities as a rehabilitation center for teen drug addicts as an alternative to jail sentences. Racial tension amongst the patients fueled discontent. Corruption among the staff gave rise to bribes and prostitution in exchange for drugs. The grounds were poorly maintained and became overgrown with weeds. North Brother Island became a hopeless place where many attempted escapes ended in drowning.
Riverside Hospital finally closed and the island was abandoned in 1963. A few times throughout the years it has been offered for sale and many ideas for its future – from amusement parks to penitentiaries – have been tossed around, but none of the plans have come to fruition. The island is now governed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation as a sanctuary for birds, including Black Crowned Night Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and Glossy Ibis, all making their homes amongst the ruins.
History of the Rockaways
O there are Voices of the Past,
Links of a broken chain,
Wings that can bear me back to Times
Which cannot come again;
Yet God forbid that I should lose
The echoes that remain. —Adelaide Procter
This narrow eleven-mile peninsula of Long Island lies to the south and west of Jamaica Bay. “Reckowacky” was originally home to a small tribe of Canarsie. The name can be translated into “place of our people,” “lonely place,” or “place of waters bright.” It was originally purchased by the Dutch, was then the property of several
English landowners before being purchased by Richard Cornell, an iron-worker from Flushing who settled in Far Rockaway in 1690. Rockaway’s miles of wide beaches covered in soft sand have long made it ideal as an oceanfront resort. The Marine Hotel, built in 1833 on the site of the Cornell home, was credited with popularizing “sea bathing”, and was frequented by New York City luminaries such as the Vanderbilts, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Washington Irving. By the 1880’s the railroad extended all the way to Far Rockaway bringing larger audiences and increased business opportunities. In 1897 the Village of Rockaway Park became incorporated into the City of Greater New York and further development of the outer boroughs into working class neighborhoods, along with increased access via the Cross Bay Bridge and the Marine Parkway Bridge shifted the area’s demographics.
Of the millions of Irish that came through New York City in the mid 19th century, a number settled in Far Rockaway and Seaside, contributing to the development of the area. The Wave, the Rockaways’ newspaper, was founded by James Keenan, one of the area’s “sons of Ireland.” During Prohibition, the many drinking establishments in Seaside had to shutter, or at least pretend to stop serving. After the Volstead Act was repealed, Seaside again drew thirsty throngs. Between the wars the area still flourished with Rockaway’s Playland was its main attraction. People still rented bungalows and there were plenty of daytrippers and locals patronizing its many inns, restaurants and watering holes.
“The Playground of New York” began a steep decline following WWII, as wealthier audiences sought more distant and exclusive resorts and attractions. Most of the grand hotels became rooming houses or were destroyed by fire. While the growing middle class sought more exclusive beaches elsewhere, returning war veterans and the continuing migration of blacks from the south created an increasingly high demand for housing. This offered an opportunity for the controversial Robert Moses, then the head of the Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance, to change the landscape of the Rockaways.
The Housing Act of 1949 freed up federal funding for Robert Moses’ ambitious housing plans. Making his case for razing much of the area and replacing it with high-rises, he offered this rationale, “such beaches as the Rockaways and those on Long Island and Coney Island lend themselves to summer exploitation, to honky-tonk catchpenny amusement resorts, shacks built without reference to health, sanitation, safety and decent living.” Land on the Rockaways was cheap or, better yet free when seized by the power of eminent domain.
To be fair, although time has revealed much of urban renewal to be a flawed vision at best, its intentions were essentially good. Before Robert Moses, it was Fiorello La Guardia who pressed for clean, affordable, modern housing to be made available to all citizens. He targeted “rotting, antiquated rat holes” along the waterfront as the first to go. The new large-scale housing projects began in the Lower East side and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, soon to be followed by the Red Hook houses, considered in 1940 to be a great success, “a Versailles for the millions.”
Although the Rockaways, the Red Hook, the Gowanus, and other housing projects were designed for efficiency, they were not designed to withstand severe weather, nor were most other residential buildings in the coastal areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. It is amazing to see Rockaways’ wide swaths of beach reduced to thin strips of sand that all but disappear at high tide.
The Rockaways tell a particularly poignant story of the shifting nature of the waterfront. It has followed the trajectory of much of greater New York City in its transformation from wilderness to farms and resorts, to bedroom communities and housing projects. Now, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, much of the peninsula is damaged beyond repair. Many, despite losing everything, are fiercely devoted to the waterfront and cannot conceive of living elsewhere. What happened in the Rockaways forces us to consider how we are going to face similar recurring events. We can rebuild on raised foundations, but also must tend to the ecological health of our surroundings. If any good has come out of the terrible loss of life and property, it is that we can no longer ignore the threat to our coastline. We can agree to take thoughtful action to respect, protect, and maintain our waterfront.
- George Boorujy
- Spencer Finch
- Melinda Hunt
- Nathan Kensinger
- Eve Andrée Laramée
- Marie Lorenz
- Mary Mattingly
- Joel Meyerowitz
- James Walsh
“Those of us in the First World are able to go to a lot of places.We swing in wide migratory arcs, growing familiar with a widerworld, establishing homes in the places where we land for a while. For the first time in history it’s possible that we conceptualize theEarth in a way similar to that of migratory birds. It’s a shame to thinkthat this moment, when we understand these birds more than ever,corresponds with their decline.” – George Boorujy from the New YorkPelagic website.
New York Pelagic is an ongoing project by George Boorujy. Hisoriginal pencil drawings of pelagic (open ocean) birds are put intobottles, along with a questionnaire, sealed with wax and launched into New York waterways. The aim of the project is to highlight our connection to, and impact on, the ocean and its wildlife. George Boorujy was born and raised in New Providence, New Jersey. He now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He is represented
by P.P.O.W. Gallery in New York.
“This edition was inspired by my recent project on the High Line.It was developed in conjunction with the Brodsky Center forInnovative Editions in a process through which color pigments areinfused in each unique handmade piece during the paper-making process.” – Spencer Finch
“Finch carefully records the invisible world, while simultaneouslystriving to understand what might lie beyond it. Whether he is relying on his own powers of observation or using a colorimeter,a device that reads the average color and temperature of light,the artist employs a scientific method to achieve poetic ends. . . .Contrary to what one might expect, Finch’s efforts towardaccuracy – the precise measurements he takes under different conditions and at different times of day – resist, in the end, a definitive result or single empirical truth about his subject. Instead, his dogged method reinforces the fleeting, temporal nature ofthe observed world, illustrating his own version of a theory of relativity. In Finch’s universe if you wait a few hours, the sun mayvery well change a leaden hue into gold. Like the ancientpractitioners of the hermetic arts, who saw changes as the most fundamental truth of the universe, the artist doesn’talways provide an answer in his investigations. For Finch art can do more; it can ‘ignite our capacity for wonder’.” Excerpt from Susan Cross, What Time Is It On The Sun pp. 9-17, 2007
“Adult Mass Grave with Burial Records is half of a diptych pair integrating public burial records with images of mass graves on Hart Island from 1992. The pair includes an image of a mass burial performed in February 1992 and the grave closed later in March with a numbered marker representing the erasure of the 150 personal identities of the buried.
Hart Island, an American Cemetery, a documentary begun in 1999 and completed in 2006 follows four families as they go through the process of locating a relative buried in a mass grave on Hart Island. Each family represents a larger group of those buried, often in error, on Hart Island, including infants, victims of epidemics or crime, immigrants, and many others. Following is an excerpt from the film’s introduction: ‘Their stories are separated into chapters within the Nineteenth Century poem by Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass.” This poem is set to music composed by Fred Hersch and sung by Kurt Elling. It portrays the beauty and darkness of Hart Island that is unchanged since Whitman’s lifetime.’” – Melinda Hunt
Melinda Hunt is an interdisciplinary artist and founding director of the Hart Island Project, a non-profit organization. She began working on Hart Island with Joel Sternfeld in 1991 and has produced a range of creative works in collaboration with other artists, composers and writers. Most recently, she produced the Traveling Cloud Museum, an on-line storytelling portal with Studio AIRPORT in the Netherlands with funds from a new media grant from NYSCA. Hart Island, an American Cemetery will be looped throughout the exhibition Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront in a darkened space within the gallery.
“I have been exploring the abandoned and industrial edges of New York City since 2000. The spaces I photograph are typically off-limits to the public, located behind fences and walls. They are often in New York City’s most desolate and remote neighborhoods. These spaces contain hidden beauty, unwritten histories, and artifacts that are overlooked by society. My work documents what has been left behind, and what will soon vanish
from New York’s constantly changing landscape. Many of the places I’ve visited have already been demolished or are slated for demolition. All that remains are the photographs.” – Nathan Kensinger
Nathan Kensinger’s photo essays on forgotten, historic places have been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, the Brooklyn Library and at galleries around New York City. His photographs have been published in all of New York’s major newspapers, and his waterfront explorations have been featured in Wired Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.
Eve Andrée Laramée
“I am an interdisciplinary artist and researcher working at the confluence of art, science and technology. Specializing in the environmental and health impacts of atomic legacy sites, my recent projects investigate water resource contamination from industry, nuclear weapons development and testing, and RadWaste waste disposition. My creative research on East Coast sites focuses on the North Brooklyn, NY waterfront: the Newtown Creek and Bushwick Creek, historical waterways in Brooklyn and Queens, New York. My multidisciplinary work includes installation, video, social interventions, performance, and works on paper.” – Eve Andrée Laramée
Laramée’s work has been exhibited in New York, England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland, Israel, China, Japan, Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic. Her work is included in the collections of the MacArthur Foundation, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, and in numerous other public and private collections. Laramée has received two grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, an Andy Warhol Foundation Grant, two fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and grants from the Mid-Atlantic States Arts Foundation in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Museum Sculptor-in-Residence Program. Laramée is a seasoned educator, having taught at MIT, RISD, Cooper Union, Sarah Lawrence College, the Maryland Institute College of Art, among other institutions where she has taught sculpture, installation, performance art history and space/place/psychogeography.
“Since 2002, I have been exploring the waterways of New York City in boats that I design and build. I study tidal charts of the harbor and use the current to push the boat. From this perspective, things I encounter every day take on a new significance. I believe that the act of floating has an impact on observation. The viewer maintains an awareness of their balance and form as they absorb the details in their surrounding. This kind of observation creates something new out of something familiar. My boat projects are an attempt to un-know the metropolis by continually exploring it.” – Marie Lorenz
Marie Lorenz received a B.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design in 1995 and an M.F.A. from Yale in 2002. She has received grants from Artists Space, the Harpo Foundation, and the Alice Kimball English Travel Fellowship. In 2008 she was awarded the Joseph H.
Hazen Rome Prize for the American Academy in Rome. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, from High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree, California to Artists Space, in New York City. She has completed solo projects at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, Artpace in San Antonio, Texas, and at Jack Hanley Gallery in New York. Her ongoing project Tide and Current Taxi is an exploration of the coastline in New York City.
“The Waterpod, a floating, sculptural structure designed as afuturistic habitat and an experimental platform for assessing the design and efficacy of living systems was fashioned to create anautonomous, fully functional marine shelter. The Waterpod offered a pathway to sustainable survival, mobility, and community building through a free, participatory project and event space that visited the five boroughs and Governors Island, for a voyage lasting from June to November 2009. The Waterpod’s mission has been to prepare, inform, and offer alternatives to current and future living spaces.” – Mary Mattingly
Mary Mattingly is an artist based in New York. Her work has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, Seoul Art Center, the New York Public Library, the Palais de Tokyo, Tucson Museum of Art, and the Neuberger Museum. She has received fellowships through Yale University School of Art, the Bronx Museum of Art with the U.S. Department of State, and Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology. Her work has been awarded grants from the James L. Knight Foundation, the Harpo Foundation, NYFA, the Jerome Foundation, and the Art Matters Foundation. She recently launched the Flock House Project: three spherical living-systems incorporating rainwater collection that cycled water through edible gardens, solar panels, and enclosed living spaces. These spheres have been choreographed through New York City’s five boroughs. Mattingly also founded the Waterpod Project, a barge-based public space containing an autonomous habitat. Her work has been featured in Aperture Magazine, Art in America, Artforum, Art+Auction, Sculpture Magazine, China Business News, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Financial Times, Le Monde Magazine, Metropolis Magazine, New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, the Brooklyn Rail, the Village Voice, and on BBC News, MSNBC, Fox News, News 12, NPR, WNBC, New York 1, and Art21.
“I completed the project of documenting and creating an archive of New York City’s 29,000 acres of parkland in 2008. It is the first long term visual documentation of NYC parks since the 1930’s when they were photographed as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA program. Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks was published by Aperture in the fall of 2009, accompanied by a large scale exhibition of the same name at the Museum of the City of New York. The image above was also part of the parks project.” – Joel Meyerowitz
Joel Meyerowitz is an award-winning photographer whose work has appeared in over 350 exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world. He was born in New York in 1938. He began photographing in 1962. He is a “street photographer” in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, although he works exclusively in color. As an early advocate of color photography (mid-60’s), Meyerowitz was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of color photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance. His first book, Cape Light, is considered a classic work of color photography and has sold more than 100,000 copies during its 30-year life. He is the author of 17 other books, including Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks released book by Aperture.
“For the past five years I’ve been learning botany by identifying, pressing, and mounting plants in my neighborhood, which has resulted in two ongoing multi-media projects, The Arctic Plants of New York City and The Flora of the Gowanus. This installation of elements from The Flora of the Gowanus project uses pressed plants and traced texts to document and reflect on the rich array of plant life flourishing along the banks of the Gowanus
Canal.” – James Walsh
James Walsh was born in Brooklyn, NY, studied literature at Hobart College, Geneva, NY and Oxford University, England, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. He has been making visual work in a variety of media since 1986, and has shown throughout the United States and Europe. He is the author of three books, Foundations (1997), Solvitur ambulando (2003), and There was Something in the Weather (2012), and numerous unique and limitededition artist’s books. Awards and residencies include a Fulbright Fellowship to Turkey and residencies at the MacDowell Colony, The Edward Albee Foundation, Art Omi, The Center for Book Arts, and apexart. His work comes out of a love for natural history, particularly the history of natural history.