A Monument to Raoul Wallenberg on First Avenue

Sometimes I just choose a neighborhood or street in New York City to walk for a few hours, looking for things I haven’t noticed before. Even when I’ve been to that neighborhood many times before, I still find something new every time. That’s the beauty of the city – it’s impossible to ever see everything, do everything. Not long ago I decided to take a walk north on First Avenue in Manhattan, starting on the Lower East Side and ending by the Queensboro Bridge. I walked 60 city blocks in all, a distance of three miles. And, as always, I discovered new things. The most interesting to me was this monument, located on a traffic island in the middle of First Avenue at East 47th Street.

As I approached, I wondered what it might be. Thankfully, the five stone pillars gave a good basic explanation. This site, technically part of the NYC Parks system, is a monument to Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Like me, you might wonder what a monument to a Swedish diplomat is doing in New York City. I had never heard of Raoul Wallenberg before, but the description on the monument, along with more information about Wallenberg on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website, educated me about Wallenberg’s importance.

I learned that Wallenberg, who was born in Sweden in 1912, attended university in the United States in the 1930s. After he returned to Sweden, the U.S. War Refugee Board recruited him to go to Budapest, Hungary, in an effort to save as many Hungarian Jews as possible. Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in July 1944, and between that time and January 1945, when Soviet troops entered the city, he and his colleagues were credited with saving approximately 100,000 Jews. He did so by issuing certificates of protection from the Swedish government.

While Wallenberg’s actions helped to save many lives, his personal story had a more tragic ending. The monument explains that he was detained by Soviet forces in January 1945, and no one knows what ultimately happened to him.

By looking closer at the ground surrounding the pillars, I learned more about the the monument’s materials. The five columns are made of black diabase, a type of stone quarried in Wallenberg’s native Sweden. Even more symbolic are the paving stones at the columns’ base; a gift from the city of Budapest, the stones come from the streets of the city’s former Jewish ghetto. I found the replica of Wallenberg’s briefcase, cast in bronze in Sweden, particularly poignant. Further research gave me the names of the monument’s designers: Swedish artists Gustav and Ulla Kraitz.

In 1981, the U.S. Congress voted to make Raoul Wallenberg an honorary U.S. citizen. Wallenberg’s monument is located near the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, and there are also other things named after him in the city, including a public school (P.S. 194) in Brooklyn, the Raoul Wallenberg Forest in the Bronx, an the Raoul Wallenberg Playground in Highbridge Park in the northern part of Manhattan.

A Return to the First Street Garden

More than a year ago I wrote about my discovery of the First Street Garden, a community garden supported by the Lower East Side Girls Club. (You can find that earlier post here.) What first drew my attention to the garden were the murals painted on the walls, but I only had a limited glimpse through the padlocked fence. I returned multiple times, hoping to arrive when the garden was open, and my persistence finally paid off! This time I got much better views of the murals, which commemorate women who have had an important influence on New York and United States history.

Here are some of the murals I discovered. First, there is this one of journalist and activist Dorothy Day, by an artist named Nicolina.

Next, there is this colorful portrait of Shirley Chisholm, by artist Lenora Jayne. A New Yorker, Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968.

Peering from behind the ivy was this mural of Rosie Mendez, a former NYC councilwoman who served from 2006 to 2017. The artist’s signature says “Carolina.” Mendez was a leader of the LGBT Caucus within the City Council, and is also known for sponsoring the law that ultimately banned the use of wild animals in circuses in the city.

A ladder and more ivy partially obscured this portrait of African-American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, most known for her covered of the terrible lynchings that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an artist’s signature on this one.

Here’s one of urban activist Jane Jacobs, usually credited with helping to save Greenwich Village from urban development in the 1960s. (Once again, there was no artist’s signature.)

There are murals of two major leaders in the suffragist and women’s rights movements, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. There was no signature on the Paul portrait, but the Anthony portrait was painted by street artist Lexibella, with the help of Gianesina and Lizabeth.

This unsigned portrait of civil rights activist Rosa Parks may be a little faded, but I still loved it.

There are more portraits as well, but I will leave you to discover them when you visit. As I end this post, I wanted to share this important message that’s been added to the garden since my first visit.

The First Street Garden is located on First Street between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway station is the Second Street station, which is accessible from the F train. (Additionally, an access point for the First Street Green Cultural Park is located just down the street from the First Street Garden. You’ll always find original, fresh street art there.) According to the sign on the garden’s gate, the it is open on Friday afternoons, 4:00-6:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.

The Magic of New York City: Central Park in the Snow

New York City is a crowded city, with almost 9 million residents and countless tourists. A noisy city, with the roar of jet engines overhead (especially if you live in Queens, home to both LaGuardia and JFK airports), the revving motors and honking horns in constant traffic jams, the clanking and disembodied announcements of the subway trains. A smelly city, particularly on trash collection day – especially in the hot summer months. A gritty city, not always clean despite constant efforts, trash blowing if there’s a strong wind. A busy city, with everyone seeking to get to their destinations, little time to spare to enjoy the unexpected or connect with a stranger on the way.

It’s stimulating, but exhausting as well. That’s why a snow day in the city is so wonderful. The snow blankets the city, softening its harsh edges and creating a new world. And there’s nowhere better to go when the snow is falling than Central Park. The park is magical in the snow, and the cares of the day melt away as I walk for hours along the winding paths.

New York City had this kind of snow last week, resulting in my classes being canceled. We seized the opportunity to explore Central Park in the snow, meandering until we became too cold and wet to continue (and then stopping at a pub for a while to warm up). Here’s a few of my photos from my walk – I hope that you enjoy!

 

It’s been a while since I’ve joined Jo’s Monday Walk – and, as always, I never do it on a Monday. If you haven’t checked out Jo’s blog, Restless Jo, I recommend it!

Pieces for Peace: A 2005 CITYarts Mural

On the north side of Manhattan the Jacob H. Schiff Playground, part of the NYC Parks system, is host to a special mural. Titled Pieces for Peace, the mural was created by artist Peter Sis with the help of community volunteers in 2005. I spotted the mural quite some time ago, but there are usually soccer players practicing – or even games – on the weekends when I have the chance to walk by. Finally I had the chance one day to edge my way around the soccer field to see the mural up close, and it was certainly worth my efforts.

Here are a few glimpses of the mural’s details. Time has dulled the mosaic tiles in some places, but the message of diversity still shines through.

If you’d like to see the mural yourself, the Jacob H. Schiff Playground is located on Amsterdam Avenue in northeastern Manhattan, between 136th and 138th Streets.

Hunting a City-wide Art Installation: Ai Weiwei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Imagine an art installation with more than 300 separate pieces, scattered throughout all five boroughs of New York City. The scale seems almost impossible, but that is exactly what Chinese-born artist Ai Weiwei has accomplished with his new exhibition, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. The exhibition, which is sponsored by Public Art Fund, draws its title from the line of the Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall.” Ai Weiwei uses his art to draw attention to the plight of the millions of refugees around the world seeking shelter from violence in refugee camps and through immigration. Some of the sites symbolize the types of barriers that exist for refugees, while others personalize refugees’ experiences. Some are constructed of heavy, cold metals; others of flimsy panels that are moved by the breeze. It’s a rich treasure trove to discover, if one is persistent and has some endurance.

Because of the scope of the exhibition, I’ve focused my attentions so far on Manhattan, where the largest number of sites are located. Over the course of two days I walked more than 15 miles, scouring neighborhood after neighborhood: the Lower East Side; the Financial District near the World Trade Center site; Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park; the Flatiron District; Midtown and the southeast corner of Central Park; the Upper East Side; and East Harlem. During my walks, I found numerous parts of the exhibition, usually with the help of this online map, but I have so many more that I want to discover. I guess it’s a good thing that the exhibition continues through February 11, 2018. Each piece I found added another nuance to my understanding of the whole, and it was just as delightful to find a small banner as it was to see a large installation.

So let me give you a visual sense of the exhibition, starting with the larger, metal structures. My favorite of these is Gilded Cage, located on the southeast corner of Central Park. When I clicked on this site on the map, I found this explanation of Gilded Cage:

For the entrance to Central Park, Ai has created a giant gilded cage that simultaneously evokes the luxury of Fifth Avenue and the privations of confinement. Visitors are able to enter its central space, which is surrounded by bars and turnstiles. Functioning as a structure of both control and display, the work reveals the complex power dynamics of repressive architecture.

From the outside, Gilded Cage looks like this:

From the inside, the view depends on where you look. The installation very much feels like a cage, as you can tell from this photo (and makes a good backdrop for personal photos as well).

But when you look up, the view is different, with the open design at the top somehow giving me a sense of hope, an alternative perspective of the problem.

Then there is this 37-foot tall structure, titled Arch, placed in the center of the Washington Square arch.

Or how about Five Fences, with each “fence” covering a window of the Cooper Union building near Astor Place.

There are smaller structures built around certain bus shelters, less imposing, like the one visible here.

There are also Greek-style friezes and photos on advertising platforms around the city, but my favorite parts of the exhibition are among the more than 200 banners attached to lampposts around the city. Each one has an image from a different photograph, historical and modern, of immigrant and refugees. The online map provides more information about when and where each banner photo was taken, but I’m going to focus on the images on the banners in my photos below. These photos also show the interesting contrasts you’ll sometimes see between banners and nearby buildings, as well as the challenges associated with finding and photographing banners among the trees. The images are reach, showing the full range of human emotions.

For my last photos, I’ll show you the banners at the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. These banners are attached to the side of the building and are in stark contrast to the vibrant mural painted below. If you look closely at the banners, you can see a scene of refugees attempting to make their way to safety.

A final note: One of the benefits of writing this blog over the past couple of years is that I’ve had the opportunity to read many other blogs as well, and in the process of made some blogging friends around the world. Today’s post is dedicated to two of those blogging friends. First, to Meg, an Australian who writes the blog snippetsandsnaps ~ Potato Point and Beyond. Meg celebrated a birthday last week, and I want to wish her a happy birthday! She recently read a NY Times article about the subject of this post and has been patiently waiting for me to get my post up. Second, to Jo, an Englishwoman with Polish roots who craves the sun of the Portuguese Algarve region. Jo writes a wonderful blog called Restless Jo and hosts the weekly Jo’s Monday Walks. Since I walked so many miles on my hunt for Ai Weiwei’s installations, I will offer this post for next week’s Monday Walk as well. So here’s a blog toast to two blogging friends, Meg and Jo!

A Leisurely Sunday Stroll through Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

As Halloween is fast approaching I thought I would take you on a leisurely Sunday stroll through Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Cemeteries often have the reputation of being spooky or haunted, and Green-Wood likely has it’s share of ghosts, but it’s a lovely, serene place for an afternoon walk.

Founded in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark, not only because of its longstanding role as one of the city’s cemeteries but also its status as the site of a major Revolutionary War battlefield, the Battle of Long Island. In the 19th century, New York City residents would pack picnic lunches and spend weekend afternoons wandering the cemetery’s park-like grounds. In fact, in the second half of the 19th century, as many as half a million people a year visited the cemetery. Today, it is still a great place to spend an afternoon. The cemetery is large, encompassing 478 acres (1.9 square kilometers). I spent almost five hours meandering along the paths among the graves and still did not see the entire cemetery. (More than 500,000 people are buried in the cemetery, just to give you a full sense of its magnitude.)

The grandest entrance to the cemetery is this Gothic Revival structure on the northern side, accessible from Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue. The gate was built in the 1860s.

A closer view shows detailed religious carvings above each entryway. The gate above was designed by Richard Upjohn, while the carvings were by John M. Moffitt.

Throughout the cemetery we come across many mausoleums – in fact, Green-Wood Cemetery has one of the largest collections of mausoleums in the United States. They represent a range of architectural styles and tastes, and many offer beautiful details as well. Here is just a sampling of what we discover.

Here’s my favorite mausoleum, an Egyptian-inspired pyramid with statues of Mary and Jesus, a male Catholic saint (anyone know who it is?), and a sphinx.

Then there were the monuments and memorials. First, there was this one to DeWitt Clinton, former governor of the state of New York in the 19th century and credited with building the Erie Canal.

There’s this Revolutionary War monument by sculpture Frederick Ruckstull titled Altar to Liberty: Minerva.

Or how about this monument dedicated to New York City soldiers and sailors who fought in the U.S. Civil War? It has some beautiful details.

Then I found this simple memorial with a tragic story I hadn’t hear before. In 1876, a fire at the Brooklyn Theater killed at least 278 people, although some accounts say that the number was closer to 300. This monument marks the common grave of the 103 victims who were never identified.

There are so many more to discover but I will show this one last one, a bronze statue by sculptor John Coleman titled “The Greeter,” which marks the grave of 19th-century artist George Catlin. Catlin was most famous for his depictions of the American West and Native American culture.

Green-Wood Cemetery is home to the graves of numerous famous people, but my favorites were some of the most simple. Here is composer Leonard Bernstein’s grave, among the most humble I saw in the cemetery. Visitors have left the small stones on his grave in his memory.

And here is the grave of Louis Comfort Tiffany, most known for his stained glass windows and other glass art. (As you can see, he outlived two wives.)

Although I’m not the biggest baseball fan, I loved the gravestone of Henry Chadwick, known as the father of baseball. Visitors had also left offerings at his grave, this time baseballs that are now in various states of deterioration, and there was a giant stone baseball on top of the pillar. (I felt a little sad for Chadwick’s wife, the former Jane Botts, who had to share this monument rather than having something that celebrated her life independent of her husband’s.)

I found graves of two founders of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They are significantly different from each other. My favorite of the two was this one, James M. Hart’s.

Here’s a close-up view of the decorative plaque.

The other one is Henry Bergh’s another pyramid with an interesting sculpture by Wilhelm Hunt Diederich and John Terken titled “Humility of Man Before a Group of Ageless Animals.”

The cemetery grounds have gentle hills, providing ample opportunity to stretch my legs. At the top of one, I caught this view of the Manhattan skyline, a little hazy in the distance.

Not far from this spot, I found these flowers laying on a park bench. A small plaque on the bench had this poignant inscription: In loving memory of our mummy, Ranjani, 1952-2011.

On one hill is this unusual art installation by Sophie Calle, titled “Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery.” Visitors are invited to write their secrets on sheets of paper and insert them into the slot on the obelisk. Calle will return to the cemetery periodically over the next 25 years to remove the secrets and “cremate” them in ceremonial bonfires. The art installation is unexpected in the middle of a cemetery.

Now I think we’ll wander further, admiring some of the other statues and gravestone throughout the cemetery.

And finally, we’ll stop by the chapel, which was completed in 1911.

The chapel’s interior is small but intricately decorated, with beautiful stained glass windows.

Want to visit Green-Wood Cemetery yourself? You will find directions on the cemetery’s website, here. If you wish to tour the cemetery on your own, you can pick up free maps at the entrance. The cemetery also offers ticketed trolley tours on Wednesdays and Sundays. You can find more information about the tours here.

I think this would be another good post for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

Socrates Sculpture Park: Nari Ward Exhibition

We’ve visited the Socrates Sculpture Park before, quite some time ago (you can find that post here), but I kept seeing photos of the summer exhibition on social media and had to get there before it ended. For the first time in its history, the park hosted an exhibition featuring a single artist, Nari Ward. Ward was born in Jamaica but currently makes his home in New York City. The exhibition, titled Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again, was both challenging and intriguing.

One of the things that makes this exhibition unique is that the art was created on site. As visitors roamed around the park, the most common features of the exhibition were the concrete goats. The park’s website contains this explanation of the exhibition’s name and the artist’s use of goats to convey his message:

Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again examines how hubris creates misplaced expectations in American cultural politics. … G.O.A.T. is an acronym for Greatest of All Time, a phrase commonly used in American sports, made famous by Muhammad Ali, and in hip-hop, most notably, as the title of Queens native LL Cool J’s best-selling album. The title alludes to the African-American experience and political theater – common themes in Ward’s work.

The figure of the goat features prominently in Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again as the artist’s articulation of social dynamics, conjuring the animal’s attributes and symbolic connotations, from an ambitious climber of great heights to an outcast. A flock of goats cast from lawn ornaments traverse the landscape, both in groups and as solitary individuals, manifesting the show’s title. The appropriation of the word goat, turning an insult into a moniker for excellence, demonstrates the power of wordplay, while the modifier again implies historical repetition. Scapegoat, a forty-foot long hobby toy further develops the goat metaphor and highlights another strand of the show: the satirization of virility, masculinity, and monument.

Intrigued about these goats? Here are some photos of the exhibition. It had rained heavily the day before our visit, hence the puddles, but there were plenty of dry spots to walk on.

The exhibition also included a piece titled, “Apollo/Poll.” Here’s a description of the piece from the park’s website, as well as a photo of what it looked like.

The visual anchor of the show is Apollo/Poll, a towering sign that reads ‘APOLLO’, the letters ‘A’ and ‘O’ blinking on and off to spell out “POLL.” The red LED-lit letters echo that of the iconic neon beacon hanging over Harlem’s Apollo Theater, a renowned venue for African American musicians and entertainers. Ward imagines the sign as a reflection on the enterprise and art of self-promotion, performance, originality, and the meaning of communal acceptance.

But the Nari Ward exhibition was not the only thing I found in the park. There were also these examples of community art projects, although I couldn’t find specific explanations of them.

And there was also this discovery, a free mini-library. Visitors were invited to take a book or leave a book at the site.

This exhibition has now ended, but another great exhibition has recently opened. If you’d like to visit the park, you can find directions here on the park’s website.

A Late Summer’s Day in Washington Square Park

Summer’s gone, but the memories remain. Here’s a glimpse of a late summer day in Washington Square Park. The park is a hub of activity, drawing local city residents, tourists, and students from nearby New York University. Whether you wish to people-watch, hear some music, or watch some performance art, there’s always something for everyone – regardless of the season.

 

 

Want to visit Washington Square Park? The West 14th Street subway station is only a couple of blocks away to the west, accessible by the A, B, C, D, E, F, and M trains, or you can take the R or W trains to the 8th Street station and then walk to the southwest.

A Saturday Stroll at Wave Hill

I’ve titled this post “A Saturday Stroll,” but it took a little more effort to get to our destination, Wave Hill. We decided on Saturday to go somewhere we’ve never been before, but we didn’t want to travel too far. Ultimately, we set our sights on Wave Hill. Wave Hill is a public garden located in the Bronx community of Riverdale. Although it is located in New York City, it is not directly accessible by subway. Instead, we set out on the Metro North Railroad. If I’d read Wave Hill’s website carefully, we would have known that a shuttle van picks visitors up at the train station; instead, we walked to the garden’s entrance. It was a fairly steep uphill trek of a little over half a mile – although doable, I’d likely wait for the shuttle on a return visit. The road was narrow, and much of it didn’t have sidewalks.

Our uphill efforts were rewarded when we arrived at Wave Hill’s entrance. The gardens are beautiful! Wave Hill started out as a wealthy family’s private home, and it has an interesting history. As a child, Theodore Roosevelt stayed at Wave Hill with his family, and later the famous American author Mark Twain leased the estate. In 1960, the owners deeded Wave Hill to the city, and it eventually opened as a public garden and cultural center.

Almost immediately we came across the flower gardens, which are beautiful at this time of year. The vibrant colors were the first things that drew my attention, but then I noticed the butterflies! There were gorgeous Monarch butterflies everywhere I looked. I can’t even count the number of butterfly photographs I took while we were there, but it was a wonderful experience to see them.

The was such a variety of flowers blooming, and plenty of bees collecting pollen as well. If you enjoy macro photography, this is the place for you.

Nearby, we found the greenhouses. More treasures are located inside, particularly cacti and succulents.

We meander down various paths to other parts of the gardens. Dodging a water sprinkler, we arrive at the arbors. Although I expected to see grape vines, I was fascinated to find squash and gourds hanging from above as well.

Let’s explore further. At the end of another path we found Wave Hill House, the estate’s former mansion, now home to the cafe.

There were paths to walk through the shaded woods. Along the edge of the woods stood these evergreen trees, showcasing the range of colors and textures provided by nature. There were so many shades of green!

Coming through on the other side of the shaded woods, we climbed back up the hill to experience the views of the Hudson River and steep cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey. Across the wide expanse of lawn we discover pairs of wooden chairs, perfectly situated to appreciate the gardens and river views. We had to stop for a while and take everything in.

Just when we thought we had exhausted all paths, we discovered Glyndor House, another large house on the property that is now home to the Glyndor Gallery. The current exhibition is titled “Call and Response,” and includes art responsive to the gallery’s location in the midst of Wave Hill. Here are just a few of the art installations we enjoyed at the Glyndor Gallery.

Lynn Koble, Tell-Tale, 2017
Daniel A. Bruce, Wanderfolk Whirligig, Fall, Winter, Summer, Spring, 2017
Steven Millar, Many-eyed object, 2017
Tai Hwa Guo, The Floristry in Wave Hill, 2017

 

Jung Eun Park, Denizens, 2017
Amie Cunat, Arbor in Tar and Charcoal Gray, 2017

From there it was time to take our walk back to the train station. This time, the walk went much quicker, as it was all downhill.

Want to visit Wave Hill and see the gardens for yourself? If traveling by public transportation, you’ll be glad to know that I discovered (after our trip, of course) that Wave Hill runs a free shuttle van between the gardens and the train station, as well as to the West 242nd Street subway station (1 train). Details about travel to Wave Hill, as well as directions for those traveling by car, are available here.

I think our stroll at Wave Hill is a good one for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

Exploring Elizabeth Street Garden: Nolita’s Little Gem

Throughout the summer and early Fall I’ve tried to stay outside as much as possible, and New York City has offered up many treasures for me to explore further. One of my favorites is the Elizabeth Street Garden. The Elizabeth Street Garden is unique. I’ve found many beautiful gardens in the city’s public park system, and others that are local community gardens. But the Elizabeth Street Garden is of a different type altogether. Although there are many trees, shrubs, and flowers throughout the garden, the main draw is the sculptures and other architectural details salvaged from torn-down buildings over the years. (Some are evidently reproductions as well.)

The site of the Elizabeth Street Garden has a long history as a public space, tracing back almost 200 years to its time as a public school’s open space. Eventually, the school closed and apartments and other businesses were constructed on the school property, but the open space remained. The property became overgrown, and in 1990 the owner of the Elizabeth Street Gallery leased the space and began using it to display some of the gallery’s sculptures. The garden became a beautifully landscaped space, and it was eventually open to the public during limited hours. Unfortunately, in the past few years local residents have learned of the lot’s inclusion in an urban development plan. The garden’s supporters have organized to find a way to protect the garden for the future, but if something doesn’t change the space will likely become a housing development for senior citizens on limited incomes.

The garden is a magical place, a little wild and eclectic. There’s something delightful to see anywhere you look, and plenty of places to sit down in the shade or sun, depending on your preferences, and enjoy the sights, eat a picnic lunch, or read a book. The Elizabeth Street Garden is a neighborhood space. You’ll find parents pushing their babies in strollers, employees of nearby businesses taking their lunch break, and the occasional wanderer (like me) seeking a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.

If you want to visit the garden, it is located on Elizabeth Street between Spring Street and Prince Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Nolita. This website shows its open hours. If traveling by subway, the closest stations are the 2nd Avenue Station (F train), the Spring Street Station (6 train), the Prince Street Station (R or W trains), or the Broadway-Lafayette Station (B, D, F, or M trains).