Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Vesuvio part 5


Had some time today so I figured I should continue work on my latest block drawing.  I suppose I could have stayed home to do it, but I do like getting out of my apartment and up to my Studio on a regular basis.  The one thing I did at home was check the photo of my standing figure on the right, the one whose arm I wasn't happy with.  In my sketchbook copy I had cut off her left arm and had been unsatisfied with my attempt to fix it yesterday.  Turns out in the photo the whole arm can be seen, so I just sketched it as it was originally in my source photo.  I brought the block and everything else with me to the Studio in the afternoon.


My main concern today was in fixing architecture and furniture, since I don't think I need to add any more figures.  My depiction of the dining room follows the photo in general, but I did remove several tables in my initial drawing, mostly to improve sight lines and space in the image.  Which means at times I can't copy the photo, but have to invent what I am showing, but based on what was originally in the room.  So today was a lot of tables and chairs, the framed works on the wall, the one visible window. I also filled in some dark masses, because I think this print will have some.  The light in the original photo is a bit dim, so there are some serious shadows, and the floor can barely be seen.  The shadows may serve to contrast the bright colors of the furniture and other things, so potentially a good thing.  I don't know if any of the shadows I put in today are permanent or just place holders to get a feel for the value balance.  Still a lot of details to add, but so far it's coming along.

Molly's stuff was untouched since yesterday and I seemed to have the place to myself, so went with music.  One I had brought from home- Briefcase Full of Blues from the Blues Brothers.  The Blues Brothers characters were not musicians. but comedians John Belushi (Joliet Jake) and Dan Ackroyd (Elwood) developed the act as a fill in on Saturday Night Live, based partly on an interest they developed in blues during their Chicago training, and used on tv, and later in film.  The backing band were all professional musicians, many of whom backed or toured with Atlantic's R&B acts, or had been part of the NBC orchestra. I wouldn't call them a great blues band, but that album (from a live show in the 70's) did make me want to see the movie, which included a scene with John Lee Hooker as a musician on Maxwell Street, which made me want to buy some Hooker albums, and the rest is history.  Had it on vinyl as a kid, picked up the cd in a discount bin years later for convenient listening.  When that disc ended I went with one from my Studio library, a copy of Tom Waits' Beautiful Maladies, a greatest hits collection from his years on Island Records.  If you don't know Waits, it's hard to characterize him, except to say that he's eclectic.  There's jazz, rock, vaudeville, all delivered in his very gravelly voice, the songs often about society's lowlifes and rejects.  Good to make art to.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Vesuvio part 4


Had a plan to meet with my deer print patron this morning around 11:00, but I always like to get places plenty early, so I was there a little past 10.  No one else in the Studio, so music time.  Today I went with one from my library- T-Bone Blues by T-Bone Walker.  Walker was one of the great guitar players of his era, deep in the Texas tradition (I don't know the words to describe it, but his style was definitely Texas, and he sounds nothing like but exactly like Lightnin' Hopkins, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and so many others who learned guitar in that state) but became famous after he moved to Southern California.  In the 1950's, Atlantic Records brought him in to cut a bunch of sides (all records were 78 rpm singles in that era) and in the 70's the label put 15 of these songs on one LP.  A favorite in my early radio days, and a favorite again when issued on CD in the late 80's.  Remarkably clear for recordings from that long ago, one of those albums that should be in everyone's collection.  Molly wasn't there, but she had been- there was a large board on one of the tables with a pencil line drawing, what appeared to be a large jetty type structure with a weather station in the middle of it. Small figures were walking all over it- alone, in pairs, adult with child, adult walking a dog, etc.  Everything is to scale, with the figures less than an inch high.  The sky (most of the block) is completely empty right now, so I'm curious as to what she has planned for that area.

One part of getting there early was to finish labeling all the prints.  I had done the numbers already, but now I added titles, signatures, and the studio chop mark, a stamp that indicates where the print was produced.  I have a custom made Arrabbiata stamp, but I discovered my ink pad was dry.  Do they even still make ink pads?  I'll look later, and for today I just rolled out some suitable ink, used some of my old canned screen printing ink- comes is bold colors and is loaded with drier so it dried very quickly.

With that settled, I could concentrate on my visitor.  I knew that she knew where the building was, but finding my Studio is another matter.  Over the years I've seen a lot of people wandering around the basement lost.  So at 11:00 I was upstairs by the front door and saw her just outside.  Invited her in, and down the stairs to where my space is.  Said it reminded her of college- where they were always working down in a basement.  She paid me in cash, and since the threatened rain hadn't shown up, I just carefully rolled it up to take home. She plans to get it framed very soon.  Seemed very impressed with both the print and the block that I made to generate the print.  She is a photographer, and mentioned the difficulty that can come with negatives getting reversed.  For me, that mirror effect if just an every day part of the process- can even be to our advantage sometimes.


Did want to get a little more done on my new Vesuvio block.  There's a hanging plant in the far corner, indistinct on my printed copy, so I opted to turn in into a philodendron.  I had one for many years in various places I had lived, and used it as a drawing subject regularly in drawing classes, then I moved to my current apartment and it died.  Replaced it, and that one died, too.  The apartment just kills plants I guess.  Luckily I have several good examples of student drawings of it, so I used those at a starting point for this new one.  I had no memories of the floor at Vesuvio, so I looked at my printout of my photo of the interior and is was still hard to tell.  It appeared to be a checkerboard type pattern, but not with single tiles, more like large squares made from several tiles each.  Not much difference in value in that checkerboard.  Put in some basic lines for now and I'll deal with it later.  Also added to the cut off arm on the standing figure on the far right, but I don't like the results, so I'll probably erase it and try something else next time.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Vesuvio part 3


I got up to the Studio in late morning for two reasons.  First was reconnaissance.  Got an e-mail from my deer print patron telling me she couldn't meet on Saturday, but asked about Sunday or Monday.  No problem for me, but perhaps problem for the building, with a federal holiday this week and a new alarm system expected, so I replied with this information and hoped to find out more today. When I got there, Nichole was in, so I asked her.  As I suspected, the place will be in holiday mode the next few days, a few hours open and not much else, so Tuesday it is.  That settled, I went downstairs to my space to do a little work.

Before I worry any more about the room furniture, I wanted to rough in a few more figures, so last night I went to my photo source and copied a few more into a sketchbook. Figures that might be a possibility in my composition.  Today I had my Vesuvio block with me and the sketchbook, and went about filling some gaps.  No Molly meant that I was free to listen to music and I chose my Homicide Life on the Street Soundtrack.  One might wonder how a tv show that had some loyal fans but perpetually low ratings ever got a soundtrack album, and the answer is it didn't- I made it myself back in the days when you could easily buy and record blank cd's. I had mentioned how the inclusion of a song by the Iguanas in an episode caused the network switchboard to be swamped with calls asking what the song was.  People took notice, and that kind of information started getting published to the web and other places, such as a book I have about the series, which even includes a chapter on the song choices, with an episode by episode breakdown. I had acquired the Iguanas album to get that song, but a lot of them were already on my shelf, just things I had always liked- jazz, blues, classic rock, contemporary (to the era of the show), etc.  Turned out I had 14 songs that came from that list, about an hour's worth.  Which is about as much time as I needed for today's task.  So while that played, I roughed in 3 more figures, bringing the total to 8 in the restaurant.  All the figures, and the spaces around them, still need more work, but I think I have enough of them now.


Back home I sent word to my patron that Tuesday would be the best day to meet and exchange print for money.  The rest of the day I could relax.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Deer Print part 15


I may have finished cutting my new deer block, and taken a suitable proof, but the life of a print goes well beyond that.  The original print of this scene has appeared in numerous shows, even in recent years decades after I created it.  The reason I decided to redo it was because recently I had a few people specifically ask about the possibility of buying it.   So my first big project in 2020 was to do a new deer print, since the original block was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.  Got the block done (copied from the one surviving copy of the print, so it is actually a mirror image of the first print), got a suitable proof of the image, declared that part done, and sent a jpeg to the person who was most insistent on buying one.

Last night she finally replied, citing computer issues for the delay, which I have dealt with sometimes myself.  (one nice thing about woodcut is that it always works, even when the power is gone for days at a time for weather related issues, and no computers are required) But I figured I should check the proof to make sure it was ready to go first, and maybe pull another one to have one ready if this one goes away.  So after my lunch break, I set aside my newest block and got the deer print block back out.  Removed the blue tape from the previous printing and used gouges to cut away the extra ink that it had picked up.  Then put out some black relief ink and inked up the block.   The repeated process of cutting away places that took unintended ink may be having an effect, as I needed significantly less blue tape for this 3rd printing, or maybe I'm just getting better at inking this block.


With our perpetually gray skies and cold rainy weather, it felt like a blues day, so I chose something from my library there- a home burned disc of Buddy Guy concentrating on two loud albums- Stone Crazy (1981 Alligator) and Sweet Tea (2001 Silver tone). Once long ago I was asked to put on some blues music and chose the Stone Crazy album, and my friend thought it might be too much, describing it as "end of the night, dreading the hell you know you will have to pay tomorrow and being too drunk to care about it kind of music."  Probably an accurate assessment, but I always liked this album.  Though I have great appreciation for his 60's Chess releases, what I liked about Stone Crazy was that with it's simplified sound (during my radio years, his new albums won grammys, but were way too overproduced for my tastes and never made my playlist) it sounded most like his live band.  During one of his live shows, when someone from the audience shouted out a question about whether he'd be doing any more albums for Alligator, he gave an emphatic no, putting down all things Chicago.  Sweet Tea lives up to that idea, a North Mississippi blues sound, very heavy and raw, and the first album in a long time I thought worth owning.

The two Buddy Guy albums got me through the process of pulling my proof, and then ended, so for clean up I put on The Devil's Slide by Bob Brozman.  Since my radio show was blues, when I started it was decided I would be part of the jazz department, and so I trained with a jazz dj, and he was a fan of Bob Brozman.  And during the time I was there, the Devil's Slide album came out, which sat on our B list (new releases, not college rock) shelf for a while.  The whole album featured slide guitar in all kinds of forms- blues, jazz, Hawaiian, calypso, etc.  I liked it enough to add it to my own collection years later. Took the time to number the two prints, but I'll save the titles and signing for next time.

When I got home, I sent my patron an e-mail to suggest Saturday as a day to meet. No time today (plus rain is no friend to works on paper) or tomorrow. Haven't heard back yet.



Vesuvio part 2


Tomorrow's schedule is quite full, leaving me today to get a bunch of things done.  (finished all my school stuff yesterday, so I don't have to worry about that) I spent some of yesterday looking up visual references for my latest block.  For example, the original color photograph on the monitor shows more than the printed version on paper I have, so I made a few adjustments to my block sketch.  The view of the ceiling fan in my photo is partly blocked, so I simply looked on the web for images of ceiling fans, picked one that seemed similar, and used that as a reference.  When doing a big figure or portrait piece, I insist on working from life, but for small characters in a relatively small piece (like a supermarket print), I have no problem borrowing from other sources, such as video freeze frame or photographs, or even just making it up. I do have a source for images of people sitting in chairs at tables- me.  Over the years I have taken hundreds of photos for various blogs, and at Belmar we created small cafe tables many years ago, which they put out at most events.  It's my job (unpaid) to photograph these events, so I just had to go through all this on the computer, and do quick pencil sketches of suitable people, to be added later.  Also took a lot of color notes, but that's not relevant until after this is cut and proofed.

I began that process today, when I got to the Studio in the late morning. Looked at my block, the composition of the original photo, and chose several figures that seemed like they could be fit in.


These are just rough sketches, all of which need much refining, but I think they work.  Plus I still need to add a few more, so I'll have to search my files for figures that could fit in the spaces I still want to fill, or just make them up myself.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Vesuvio part 1

I'm not quite sure yet what the title of my new print will be, but I do know the subject- Vesuvio, an Italian restaurant that existed in Belmar for a very long time.  This can be considered part of the series that resulted in my Circus Drive In print last year, in that both places were around for decades, were shore area landmarks that served food, and now are gone.

Vesuvio was located on 10th Ave, between the railroad tracks and Main (or F Street for the old timers), a business that seemed trapped in time.  The chairs and banquettes were all done in turquoise vinyl.  The menu they let me take home for calling in orders mentioned being open for over 60 years, but I don't know how old that menu was, however it's safe to say that the place was around as far back as at least the 40's.  That 21st century menu included a dish just called Three Meatballs and French Fries.  A hand painted sign asked people not to run in the "dinning room".   No liquor license, so it was BYOB and many people did.

If you looked it up on the restaurant review websites, the two most common themes were that the wait staff was rude and that the pizza was great.  As for the former, I never had that experience, so I don't know if that was a lie or if I was just there on the right days.  As for the latter, I have to agree absolutely, some of the best pizza to be had in the region and I've eaten a lot of them. A classic Jersey shore pizza, not too thick, and not too thin, brick oven baked, sometimes overbaked whether you wanted it that way or not, but I don't object to that.  The other classic dish was their salad, the star being what they called "Our Famous Jim Salad" a very large antipasto type salad, which contained the typical lettuce, tomato, onion, but also bits of carrots, cold canned green beans (!), lots of thinly sliced cheese and salami, a generous helping of grated cheese, and very doused in their vinaigrette.  (my brother has been trying to duplicate it for years, and I think he is close) They would give you a large bowl of it and plates to dish it out, and you could easily feed four people, with all getting seconds and leaving some leftover.  Still not sure who Jim was, but a salad and a pizza made for a good meal.

Owned by one family the whole time.  Often an old woman at the counter- stiff, silent, looked to be about 150 years old.  They typically closed for an extended vacation in winter (might make sense in a beach town), but after one a few years ago they never reopened.  For over a year it was closed.  Then another famous pizza place from the other side of the county took it over and made it their eastern location.  Brought in their style of pizza, but kept a version of the Jim Salad on the menu, though they also redid the dining room, putting in large wooden booths, and a muted brown decor.  I find it lacking.

On a day in 2016, I stopped by in late afternoon on my way home from the Studio to pick up a pie to take home, probably a large "Vesuvio Around the World Special", which included sausage, peppers, and mushrooms, and under $10.  During typical meal hours the place would be quite full, but at that time it was still empty, the only other person present a teenage girl at the counter.   I asked for and received permission to take a few photos of the dining room for artistic reference, as long a I agreed not to post them to a restaurant review site, which I never did.  But the place no longer exists, and hasn't for years, so I figure it's now safe to show them here.



Once the restaurant had closed, it was inevitable that I would eventually use my references to depict it, and now seems the time.  Yesterday I cut a hunk of birch to the size I wanted and today I began the block drawing.  Based it on the first photo, but reduced the number of tables, and I'm not worried yet about getting the tables and chairs perfect, as I plan to insert figures all around the piece.  (not as crowded as a typical meal crowd, but not as empty as when I took the photos)  And of course there will be some pizzas and salads around.  I had brought with me today a print out of the top photo, but some details were missing (may need to get a new color cartridge for my printer), so I brought the block home, so I could copy the digital photo.  The first day's block sketch can be seen below.


Once I work out the locations of the furniture and figures and some of the rest of the room, I plan to go in with brush and ink as I do on the large figure prints, before I start cutting, to give the piece a more painterly quality.  I figure that will work better with the bold colors of the location, which I plan to duplicate.  This will be a long process, but you have to start somewhere.  For music today, I went with something that seemed appropriate, volume 1 of my Springsteen set, which is heavy on the early Jersey Shore stuff.  If you want to know more, you can read about it on this blog last fall.

By the way, this place has nothing to do with my friend Dave's favorite bar in San Fransisco, which he took me to when I visited him there in early 1991.  That place, also called Vesuvio, was a very large bar, once upon a time favored by the Beats. We sat in a booth up on the 2nd floor balcony.  The John Wilkes Memorial Booth was already taken, so we had to settle for the Booth for Lady Psychiatrists, whatever that means.  (psychiatrists who work with ladies, or who are ladies, I didn't know)  What I did know was the sound system was playing Robert Cray's newest album, and Dave's favorite bartender was sending us free shots of Benedictine, an unusual beverage to say the least, and a change of pace from the Anchor Steam Beers we were enjoying.  A very nice evening.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Next Project

Seems like it's time to start a new print.  I have a plan for what it will be, so the first step is to prepare a piece of wood.  The next one will be the same size as one of the supermarket prints (or near to it) to take advantage of the large number of frames I have that fit that size print. Two reasons for this- the stores that I used to buy frames from have all gone out of business- I'm sure that I could find other stores that carry them (came from a separate business that made them) but that is a bit of work.  Plus, framed work takes up space, more than is required for proofs, so using frames that I already have and don't need right away keeps me from adding to that clutter.  So with that in mind, I chose a size, and the chunk of plywood left from the last one was big enough to accommodate it, and I cut off a hunk this afternoon.

No Molly around while I was there, so it was a music time, and today I had brought with me two albums from the Iguanas.  This is a band I learned of through television.  My all time favorite police show is Homicide: Life on the Street, produced by Barry Levinson and airing back in the 90's.  One thing it was known for was creative use of music from outside sources, often included at full volume- over what would have been silent scenes.  One late 90's episode included a fake documentary, made by one of the characters, a guy who video taped a lot of stuff for news programs, and after one of those videos helped them crack a case (and the tv news program fired him for helping the police), the squad hired him to tape everything.  Twice during this episode we got lengthy segments of a song that resulted in the network's switchboard being overloaded, so many people called to try to find out what this song was.  (if I knew the number, I might have called, too) The internet was just getting started in those days, so it took a while for me to track down this information, but I learned the song was "Boom Boom Boom" by the Iguanas, and that it was on an album called Nuevo Boogalooo and eventually I acquired a copy, along with another album from the same band, Sugar Town.  Had those with me in the Studio today.  Classifying the band is not easy- actually from New Orleans, and do occasionally show a hint of zydeco, but not a lot.  I see the biggest similarity to the Neville Brothers, but with less percussion, horns, and keyboards, but a lot more reference to criminal life, and more basic rock and roll.  Good to listen to while working in an art studio.

Besides preparing a piece of wood, I also finally repaired the plastic sheath that holds my large metal ruler/straight edge (40 inches) and heard a lot of noise coming from the rebuilding of the new tintype studio down the hall.  As for my new piece, I'll save any description of what I have planned, along with images of the block, until I have something drawn, which will likely be very soon.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Short Visit


A much shorter visit than usual to the Studio today.  All caught up on work, and I won't start a new piece until sometime next week, so today was for other purposes.

Stopped in the office on the way downstairs, to verify that Nichole received some photos I e-mailed her yesterday .  Nothing of importance, just some things I had run across (I've probably taken some 5000 photos over the past decade or so for the purposes of various blogs) and thought she'd appreciate. She did get them, and today gave me a tax statement for 2019, as the place was one of my bigger employers last year.

Went right to my space after that.  Partly it was to check on the drying progress of my latest print proof, the one I pulled a few days ago.  (had sent an e-mail to the person who ordered it a few days ago to let her know where I was at)  Mostly I was picking up my old wooden chair, a relic of Czechoslovakia that I picked up in Carbondale, which I've been using as a prop for years, for an exercise in negative space.  Stowed it in the black of my car for the next college class.

Everything else that needed to be done today was done at home, so I went there next.


Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Deer Print part 14


With the block all ready to go, all that remains in finishing this deer print is to go ahead and pull a good proof.  Found a supply of Rives Lightweight White, my preferred paper for this, and packed a sheet for the trip.  Right after lunch I headed up to Ocean Grove.

First stop was the office, as I had something to show Nichole.  She had mentioned recently that she was thinking of organizing a series of lectures about things of interest to artists- business related. It has been done before, and in the process of doing some cleaning, I found a flyer promoting a series of a similar nature back in 2016.  I had it in my bag for the last week, but this was the first time we had crossed paths.  She seemed happy to get it.

With that done, time for work.  Had all my print supplies in from the car, and again no Molly so I had the place to myself.  As I expected, inking the block went faster this second time, between the sealed wood and the stuff I removed yesterday.  Still got some stray ink here and there, but I didn't have nearly as much to tape today as the first time I proofed it.  Inked the block thoroughly, and was more careful placing the paper this time, as this proof could be a good print.  For music I started with one from my Studio library- Glen Miller and his Orchestra/A Legendary Performer. Of course, in his era, Miller didn't have any albums, just singles on 78 rpm records, just like everyone else. And those are widely available, but this album is a collection of live radio broadcasts from various ballrooms, a very common type of radio broadcast in those days.  There are 22 songs, plus some occasional talking and introductions, all recorded between when he started that band in 1940 and 1942, when he left his regular radio slot and joined the army.  His predictions (made on air) of returning and rejoining his band never came true; he disappeared in 1944, likely his plane went down at sea.  One of the things I like about live radio broadcasts (I have many in my collection and listen to them frequently in studio settings) is that they sound just as they did when the band played live and it was first broadcast, or with disc jockey shows playing records and talking, they are good at transporting the listener to that time and place.  When that disc ended, I went with one from home, a collection of Dexter Gordon songs from 3 of his 60's sessions for Blue Note, some recorded at the legendary Van Gelder studio here in New Jersey, but most in Paris where he was living at the time.

From start to finish (including cleaning up the ink) it took the equivalent of those two discs, about 2.5 hours.  This one is slightly reduced in size from the original print, but it's still fairly large and such things to take time to hand print.

The white paper this time (as opposed to the buff I had last time) results in a more pronounced contrast, helped by more thorough application of the black ink, and better printing of it.  More detail in the recut cranes and other parts of the block as well.  I'm satisfied with the results.  I decided to call this new print, "Time to Move Again", which pretty much sums up the idea here.  I will eventually pull an additional copy, but now I can start thinking about my next print.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Printmaking on television


Got a call from my mother tonight telling me that there would be some printmaking on television this evening.  A cooking show for kids had them making cookies that would make use of potato prints.  Potato prints are a form of relief printing I suppose, though I prefer wood myself.  Of course wood is much harder to eat.  Potato prints work by carving a relief image into a chunk of potato, which is much softer than wood and easier to cut, though less precise than wood allows.  The way I was taught  this process once upon a time was then to place the cut side of the potato down onto the ink type material, creating a sort of stamp.  That was an option for what they did on this show, but mostly what they did was hand color the relief surfaces with a brush and food coloring.  Then the potato images were printed onto the surface of cookies.   Had nothing to do wit h the flavors/textures of the cookies, just surface decoration.  But I guess it was printmaking.  For now, I'll stick with wood.


Deer Print part 13


It's been several days since I pulled my first proof of the new deer print.  I figure it's safe now to go back and work on it some more.

I don't think I need to make any major changes, just clean up what I had, and pull a better proof.  So back to the Studio, where I had left the block last week.  In case you don't remember, I had to use a lot of tape to cover over accidental inking but that is what I almost always have to do. In fact, in my classes I show the technique to my students. So the first step was to remove all the unneeded painter's tape I had used.


Made for quite a pile.  Can't be saved, and no need as I have a pretty big roll and you can get the stuff almost anywhere.  The next step was to use my woodcut tools to remove any unneeded black areas that were under that tape.  This is not particularly exciting a task, but one that had to be done.  Not only does it take away any potentially wet ink that I don't need, but removing the wood that took ink last time might mean that I don't get unwanted ink in those sections next time.  No guarantees it will work, but it can't hurt.  After having removed all these excess bits of ink from places I didn't want it in the first place, I went back with my tools and fixed up some areas that I had cut, but not well enough apparently.  Like details in the cranes, parts of the deer, the white trees, etc.  When I was done, I had this:


Probably doesn't look too different from what was there before, but as someone who spent a lot of time on this image, I can see all the differences.  I will find out for sure when I pull the next proof, but I'll do that another day.  And I'll have the tape handy just in case.

A few weeks ago I noticed that one of the doors on our main basement hallway had a hasp and padlock on it.  This space had been a storeroom, and was expanded to a larger room by adding what had been a hallway between the main hallway and the cafeteria (and what had functioned as our gallery annex for the crit sometimes), but now I wondered if it was to become another artist studio, as had been announced years ago.  Today that door was open and I saw someone busy making things in there and doing cleaning.  I didn't get her name, but her process is tintype photography, a very old fashioned variety that was mostly popular in the 1860's, after daguerrotype was popular and before modern photography.  Part of her work today was construction on what will be a dark room.  Not something I need to worry about, and my process is even older, considered cutting edge about 500 years ago.

Molly had been in since I was last there, but wasn't today, so I had music on. Didn't bring anything with me today, so relied on stuff from my library there.  Ended up listening to two albums from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.  Wrote about them last summer, so if want to learn more, that's where you'll find it.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Volunteering in Belmar


For well over a decade, I have been part of an organization that was originally known as the Belmar Arts Council. I joined in 2006, when they had just gotten off the ground.  I wasn't one of the founders, who I later learned had met for years in an effort to create such an organization, but did join in time to participate in their 2nd Annual Juried Art show. All in borrowed spaces of course.  There was a plan in place back then to redevelop Belmar's downtown, and a large commercial building decided it was a good time to move things elsewhere, and our organization was given the opportunity to hold a large exhibition in the space before the tear-down.  (the previous year's exhibition had been held at the old Taylor Pavilion, a large public space on the beach, which they could use for just one day)  During the exhibition run, we also had access to other rooms in this building on Main Street- I took a one night workshop there.  The BAC had fixed the place up for the occasion, and then the owners felt that the place could be rented out, so when the show ended, the organization was homeless again.  The earliest meetings I attended were in a loft at a coffee house on Main Street in Belmar, but eventually that ended, as the owner sold the building and there was a plan to gut it and build something else.  For a while they were meeting in the main room at the Taylor Pavilion, a large echo-ey room where people were always wandering in off the boardwalk, wondering what was going on.   Not very well insulated, so it was chilly in winter, but it was a large space we could use.

Meanwhile, redevelopment marched on.  A major contractor had an idea for rebuilding the facades of all of Main Street, and an entire block in the lesser used part of town would be knocked down, replacing the old municipal building with a new one and a large parking garage.  Then there was a problem- the redeveloper had decided that the key to their plan was to take down a large commercial building in the middle of town.  What they planned for the space I have no idea.  Problem was that the judge declined to condemn it, declaring it a functioning business, and if they wanted it, they'd have to buy the property.  The redeveloper couldn't get out of town fast enough, and the town wide plan was abandoned.  Things would have to be just done piecemeal, and they were, such as our old coffee house location, and a record store nearby became a restaurant and condos.

After one of the many interruptions to our meeting by wandering people, someone asked if we could use the old Connolly Boatworks. It occupied part of that now unneeded block, once a boat repairs and sales shop, but now an abandoned property owned by the town.  Used as the headquarters for the effort to build a new route 35 bridge, but that was over.  Really just a concrete shell with a leaky roof. but it had power and water, and artists have a history of working with less, so we got permission to squat and fix it up, and we've been there ever since.  We fixed the roof, and eventually replaced it.  Added inside walls to cover up the 2x4's and insulation, a new floor, and painted murals on the two large sides.  A small addition by the original owners was replaced to give us a better stage for performances.  A mixture of professional contractors and member help resulted in a much larger addition on one side, to become a gallery space (had a show there last fall) and storage room.  And with a regular space of our own, instead of just one show per year, they started doing many, so now the galleries are in constant use.  Since the town still technically owns the property, they retain the rights to do things there, and during Hurricane Sandy we had to shut down for a few months while the place was used as a headquarters for aid distribution (floods did a number on the town), but eventually they emptied their stuff out, we fixed up the damaged drywall, and opened again.  The town fixed up the road (more potholes than pavement at one point) and paved some parking lots around it, which make the place harder to use in summer when beachgoers and party boat fishers take those spaces every day, but still we are the envy of a lot of arts organizations .  Most arts groups have temporary borrowed spaces in larger buildings, but we have year round exhibition space, control the hours, etc.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to come to a Volunteer Appreciation Day, a lunch and celebration of the many volunteers that keep the place going, and I am one.  When we painted the first mural, I was one of the principle artists (ability to draw and paint things, knowledge of how to mix colors, and willingness to climb the scaffold no doubt helped), and I documented my part on this very blog, and a past president found it a very useful way to monitor progress on the job, leading to a request to start a similar one for them.  A lot of members claim an interest in being part of it, but few have ever been willing to help, so it's pretty much my baby and I've been doing it for more than 12 years. Because it's not actually part of the official website, whenever that gets hacked, and taken down, and redone (3 or 4 times now), my blog just continues.   When the town closed our building to us and we couldn't access the computer, my blog was still there.  Most of the founders are long gone, but my blog goes on.  The blog has covered almost every activity of the past 12 years, really the only complete record of our existence, in words and images.  So I figure I'm entitled to some free lunch.  I assumed they would also use the opportunity to ask for money and more help, but I got nothing else to give, so they won't be getting anything.


So that happened this afternoon.  About 25 people in attendance, including two former woodcut students (cause I also teach that when they want it) Food included two pitchers of mimosas, a large platter of fried foods from a local place, and a large plate of mini-cupcakes from another local place. The fried food include chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, fried ravioli (big in the midwest), fried zucchini sticks, all in thick crunchy fried breading.  So I had a good lunch. My kind of refreshments.


We were all asked to introduce ourselves, so I could mention the blog, my art, my classes, my t-shirt, etc. Just a few things, less than a minute. Learned that the Art on the Edge exhibition may be coming back later this year.  Always brought in an interesting crowd.  Don't know if I have anything suitable right now, so I'll have to think about it.  The town may be holding an event in our building soon- such is life in our situation.  Also learned that there is another plan to redevelop our block.  That there is an interest in doing something more commercial with our property is quite plausible (that part of town is a lot more popular now than it was when we moved in), but I'll believe it's going to happen when it does.

This seems a good a time as any to put out there that I have been asked to do the woodcut class again.  I saw it listed on the website and figured I should go ahead and schedule it.  The class will be on Wednesday evenings, 6:30 to 9 pm, April 8, 15, 29, and May 6.   If people sign up- the last two times this place scheduled it, we got a total of one person to sign up- not enough to run it.