Impressions in the Garden

Ideal Violets at the New York Botanical Gardens

Ideal Violets at the New York Botanical Gardens

This heat has gotten to your intrepid blogger, so with some friends I headed up to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx to see the current exhibit, Impressionism:  American Gardens on Canvas, a small but well-curated exhibit of paintings by American Impressionist artists active at the turn of the twentieth century.  Influenced by their French counterparts, the work of the Americans shares many of the same characteristics; an emphasis on the overall composition; capturing the ephemeral quality of light; thick, rapid brushstrokes and scant attention to detail. Outdoor subjects were particularly well suited for this impressionistic style.

The exhibit, in the Mertz Library, is divided into about half a dozen sections, each with 3 to 5 paintings, by both noted artists as such as Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent, as well as lesser-known painters like Maria Oakey Dewing and David Putnam Brinley.

As cities became more crowded, dirty and industrialized, the late 1800’s saw the rise of the urban beautification movement, with the construction of large rambling parks such as Central Park and Prospect Park (both by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux), built to provide green lungs for city dwellers who couldn’t escape to large private estates far outside the city such as those owned by John Rockefeller (Pocantico) and James Deering (Vizcaya) – take a look at John Singer Sargent’s watercolors of the fountains on their grounds. In the suburbs and cities, homeowners with land began employing a a simplified domestic garden style inspired by the informal dooryard gardens of the colonial era.  Plantings would change with the season; depending on the time of year, you’d find  crocuses, daffodils, pansies, violets, poppies, hollyhocks, roses, sweet peas, morning glories or sunflowers.  I lingered over  Maria Oakey Dewing’s Rose Garden, a 1901 oil which hearkens back to the Old Master’s in its realism and technique.

Celia Thaxter's Garden 1890 by Childe Hassam via Wikicommons

Celia Thaxter’s Garden 1890 by Childe Hassam via Wikicommons

During this period, artists colonies started becoming popular, not only as places to work without the distractions of the metropolis, but also as retreats where artists could meet each other to exchange ideas and gossip. Two were especially noteworthy:  in Old Lyme, Connecticut,  Florence Griswold operated a boarding house at her home that became known as the “American Giverny,” while  on Maine’s Appledore Island, many artists stayed at the hotel owned by the family of writer Celia Thaxter – her home on the Island was noted for it’s garden as well as for the salon she hosted.  Two of my favorite pieces in the show were painted there, both by Childe Hassam:  Celia Thaxter’s Garden 1890, with it’s view of the sea from the garden; and Summer Sea, Isles of Shoals, a1902 oil depicting the coast line at Appledore Island, with an especially brilliant blue sea.

Because this is a small exhibit, you’ll have the luxury of being able to take the time to look at all the works closely – they’re all lovely.

After the show, you might want to take a leisurely stroll over to the Conservatory, where you’ll find an interpretation of Celia Thaxter’s old-fashioned, cottage-style garden, evocative of the smaller gardens often depicted by the American Impressionists. 

If you’ve worked up an appetite, I can recommend Hudson Garden Grill, close by on the Garden’s grounds, which serves a tasty lunch in a delightful setting.

Impressify version of my photos of daisies

Impressify version of my photos of daisies

Two last things:  before you go, read the on-line exhibition guide  which will give you a good overview of what you’ll see. And try Impressify,  the Garden’s on-line tool that allows you to upload a photo and transform it into an impressionist painting either as a still image or a moving one (GIF).  It’s a lot of fun! You can see my transformed daisies on the left.

The exhibit runs through September 11.

MAD Summer Exhibits

Two exhibits recently opened at the Museum of Art and Design, in addition to the Studio Jobs show (reviewed previously here) .  Eye for Design is a look back at graphic design in the 1960’s and 70’s, through catalogues, invitations and posters created for the Museum in that era, when it was known as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts.  This show not only affords you an overview of design ideas and techniques, and how they create a visual identity, but also allows an appreciation of the many innovative exhibits the Museum held.

4 Fearless Phoenicians by John Reiss

4 Fearless Phoenicians by John Reiss

I especially liked the installation of John Reiss’ work for Amusements Is, a 1964 show which featured artist-designed toys and games.  On one wall is a blown-up version of the catalogue, which eschews the typical photos of objects and explanatory text.  Instead, it was designed like a children’s counting book, on vividly colored pages which mixed photography and typography, as well as absurdist word-plays, such as “4 Fearless Phoenicians,” capturing the playful nature of the exhibit.

One room is devoted to the work of Emil Antonucci, whose work is defined by repeated motifs, clean graphics, bright colors and a certain whimsy that clearly convey their message.  Take a look at the invitations he created for The Art of Personal Adornment, with their hand-rendered drawings of jewelry, as well as The Bed, where the invitation for the exhibition  folds into a bed.  His work on invitations and catalogues for exhibits such as The Bakers Art, Stitching, Tools of Design, and On SOUND also illustrate the ways in which the Museum was expanding the definition of craft to include “mundane” practices, such as cooking, and sensory experiences, such as sound – a definition which is often considered overly expansive. In a nice instance of synchronicity, the On SOUND exhibit also included work by Harry Bertoia, the subject of a current exhibition at the Museum (reviewed below.)

Be sure to check out Linda Hinrich’s work, with it’s Pop art and psychedelic flavor;  in the same room, be sure to watch the video showing submissions for Levi’s 1974 denim art contest, many of which are very imaginative: most images were of flowers and birds, but I also saw a jungle scene, and one of the Golden Gate Bridge. The contestants (over 2,000) employed a wide variety of techniques – appliqué, studding, embroidery and patchwork.

Eye for Design closes on September 18th.

Jewelry by Harry Bertoia

Jewelry by Harry Bertoia

Two floors are devoted to the work of Arri (Harry) Bertoia (1915-78), whose minimalist ethic is manifest not only in the shapes, forms, movements and line of his monotypes, but also in his exploration of the limitless possibilities of metal , both visual and sonic. 

Bent, Cast & Forged: The Jewelry of Harry Bertoia   is a wonderful display of his jewelry from the 1940‘s, with their spare, biomorphic shapes, inspired by nature.  Many have loops, allowing for kinetic movement, and are made from recycled metals (because of the war).  Several of Bertoia’s monotypes are displayed alongside his jewelry, highlighting the connection between them. Presaging his interest in sound, you’ll also find pendants entitled “Gong.”

Sonambient sculptures by Val Bertoia

Sonambient sculptures by Val Bertoia

Atmosphere for Enjoyment concentrates on Bertoia’s tonal sculptures: groupings of metal rods of various heights and thicknesses – sometimes weighted on the top – mounted into a low pedestal, which produce sound when strummed, plucked, or struck.  It’s a bit hard to describe the sound – somewhere between bells, wind chimes, harp, gong – some soothing, some harsh, some lush – it all depends on how the rods are played.   As you walk through the exhibit, you’ll hear excerpts from his archive of “sonambient” recordings, played on a four-channel algorithmic continuous loop created by John Brien.  For a closer listen, go into the exhibit installation – an unenclosed room lined with photos of the Sonambient Barn Bertoia created in 1968 in Pennsylvania, which still stands today.

Throughout the show you’ll find several of the “Diamond” chairs Bertoia designed for Knoll, that you can sit in (very comfortable!) Take time to peruse Bertoia’s monotypes from 1940-1978, whose sinewy, elegant lines are a perfect pairing with his sculptures.

Untitled by Harry Bertoia, monotype

Untitled by Harry Bertoia, monotype

If you take a guided tour of the Museum (our docent, Marjorie, was very knowledgable and personable)  you may actually get a chance to “play” some of the sound sculptures created by Bertoia’s son, Val, who used the same metals as his father had.  I did, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for their construction and sonic abilities. 

Both exhibits of Bertoia’s work close on September 25th.

You can find more photos from these exhibits on      my Instagram feed.

On September 16th, at 6:00pm, the Museum will host a panel discussion with John Brien and New York–based musicians Lizzi Bougatsos and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe about the continued relevance of Harry Bertoia’s sonambient sculptures. The program will include a screening of two films by Jeffrey and Miriam Eger, and a presentation by Val Bertoia, who will play his sonambient sculptures in the exhibition immediately following the talk.

Throughout the year, MAD has numerous lectures, films, workshops, and activities for the whole family.  You can find the schedule here 

Technology Giving Us a New Way to See Art

This year, at the Northside Festival, I attended several of the international tech pitch/demo sessions. I had a chance to chat with Alexandre Catsicas, Co-Founder & CEO, ARTMYN, which has developed a technology that allows you to have a 3-D visualization of a painting on your computer/tablet/mobile screen. In these excerpts from our interview, Alex shares his thoughts on art and how technology can serve it.

Liz Daly (LD):  Tell me about ARTMYN in your own words.

Alexandre Catsicas, ARTMYN co-founder & CEO

Alexandre Catsicas, ARTMYN co-founder & CEO

Alexandre Catsicas (AC):  ARTMYN mixes art and high tech. Art and technology have been evolving together since the beginning of mankind, starting with the first handprint on the caves in Lascaux, France and continuing up to today when you can create art with digital instruments. With ARTMYN, we hope to transcend this barrier between physical art and digital art. For the past two decades, art has been represented using   2-D static images, and it hasn’t really changed until today. We are trying to enhance the way art can be spread and democratize access to culture.

LD:  How else are you applying this technology?

AC:  While we started with paintings, we are also looking at using this technology on other media. We’ve already used it to take a closer look at the first photographic formats, the daguerreotypes and ferrotypes – it’s used by the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne.

LD:  Some years ago, I led a project in which the participants embroidered a flower onto fabric squares, which were then sewn together to make a quilt. As I moved from sketching, to pattern making, to embroidering, I saw first hand the thread that runs through ancient tapestries and modern day digital pixels.  

AC:  We haven’t done textiles yet, but it would be interesting to apply ARTMYN to a tapestry and then compare the weave with the digital pixels.

LD:  Let’s talk about you for a minute: you’ve studied and worked in Lausanne, London, Glasgow and New York.

AC:  After high school in Lausanne, I studied in an exchange program in California, which I really enjoyed, as I had a chance to mix art history classes with business classes, with biology classes… Then I returned to Lausanne to study economics, but realized I wanted to study other subjects as well, so I transferred to Fordham University in the Bronx, where I majored in business and finance, with a minor in medieval history.   After working for a commodities trading company in Switzerland for a while, I realized I needed to pursue my passion, which is art, so I studied art history at Glasgow University. That was when I decided to combine art history and the business world. Then I worked for Christie’s in London, where I had access to museum-quality art, and could talk to art experts and collectors – it was a fascinating combination of art, business and passion.

LD:  What brought you back to Switzerland?

AC:  I knew that the digital world was something auction houses couldn’t avoid, but the environment wasn’t right.

In Switzerland there was a growing interest in new technologies, as well as research on materiality, on texture, which fit in with what I wanted to do. Ms. Adrienne Corboud, Vice President for Innovation and Technology at EFPL (Ecole Fédérale Polytechnique de Lausanne), introduced me to two great scientists and engineers, Loïc Baboulaz and Julien Lalande, who were also passionate about art – we connected immediately. It’s a funny story: When I told Adrienne about my desire to connect the business world and the art world, she gave me two contacts: one, a famous Swiss gallerist, the other, these two unknown engineers.   The gallery never replied to me; the two engineers did. We laugh about it now, but back then I was wondering “why would I want to meet two engineers” and they were wondering, “why should we meet with an art historian” but we met, and magic happened.

Golden octadrachme of Arsinoe II, ca. 180-116 BC. Image courtesy of ARTMYN

Golden octadrachme of Arsinoe II, ca. 180-116 BC. Image courtesy of ARTMYN


Loïc and Julien have almost become art experts because we interact so much with curators, museum directors, art experts… actually one of my partners has now decided to start a coin collection, after digitizing a collection of ancient coins at the Fondation Martin Bodmer in Geneva.

LD:  I noticed on your website you list several government agencies and academic institutions as partners.

AC:  There’s now a nice hub in Switzerland that helps start-ups get exposure.  The Swiss government gives a lot of help, backing very tech oriented projects that can have a global impact. They’re helping us build better scanners and enhance our technology. I think there will be a domino effect: once you get attention from one of these institutions, then you’re eligible for bigger grants. We won the IMD (International Institute for Management Development) competition. We’ll meet with some of their faculty and executive MBA’s, who will review our business plan, tear it apart, and rebuild a stronger one with us. We’re also among the finalists in the MASS Challenge (which is also in Lausanne), so for the summer we’ll benefit from mentoring by experts in specific industries. These competitions are helpful because they bring you money, mentorship, expert advice, and visibility; these are all things that a young start-up like ARTMYN needs.

LD:   How do you want to move forward? Where do you want to go?

AC:  ARTMYN needs to go where fine art is. Switzerland is interesting because it has very important art institutions. It also has the Freeport in Geneva, one of the largest storage facilities for fine arts, but it can be very difficult for the owners to access it, because they may be living in another part of the world, or moving between homes. Galleries also store works in free ports, which they need to show to their clients, who are all across the globe. Right now the only way owners and gallerists have of viewing their art is through the traditional 2-D image, which does not really render all the richness of these pieces. We hope to reduce the distance between the artworks and the collectors with our technology.

We would like to export this Swiss technology to places where art can profit from it. There are also other major art centers like Paris, London, New York. Asia is growing a lot…

LD:  So, to turn away from technology for a bit, what do you think is the importance of art?

AC:  I believe that without art, there’s no society. I think one of the things that differentiates humans from animals is that we can create; for me art is a way of better understanding our history. I hope that our technology will allow people to better understand different art movements, whether modern or antique. We provide various features allowing an art expert to really explain the details, the artist’s technique(s), and the historical background to the viewer. Take Brueghel, for example. In his farm scenes there’s actually a political message – this was the time when Spain and the Dutch provinces were fighting. If you don’t know this, you’ll just see a rural scene with lots of drunk people, and soldiers in the background. But if you have an art expert who can explain the references to you, then it all makes sense; then you can draw the parallels between different eras and today. You’ll also see that art as propaganda is not a modern invention, but was used in earlier times. So I hope through this technology to show how society has evolved, but yet how we’re still trying to answer the same questions, find solutions to the same problems as in previous eras. Artists can evoke, they can express these very things.

LD:  So who’s your favorite artist?

AC: Brueghel, I really like Brueghel. I also have a fondness for Renaissance artists who traveled, like Albrecht Dürer – at the beginning he was copying prints of other artists’ work that were circulating in Germany, but then you see an evolution, bringing back new techniques from his travels in Italy, combining them with his strengths.

LD:  You’ve lived, worked and studied in Switzerland, the US and the UK; what cultural differences have struck you?

AC:  I’ll give you a very funny example that happened yesterday after the Northside demo.   In Switzerland, it’s all about being humble; if you’re good at something, you don’t say it. When you pitch before European and Swiss investors, the first question is, “How much revenue do you generate?” Now if you say to a European investor, “I’ve just started making revenue, but I want to raise about $1 million,” he’ll look at you and say, “No, come back when you’re generating a million dollars in revenue and we’ll talk.” Yesterday, an investor approached me, asking “Alex, what’s your strategy, short-term, how much money are you aiming to raise?” Now I know I’m in the US, and I need to think big, so I said “I need to raise about $1 million.” Then he says, “A million, I’m not interested; but if you’re looking for $5 million, then we can do business.” So there’s a big cultural difference: in the US, it’s all about the vision; Europe likes facts, although this is starting to change.

photograph of Zinnien, by Lovis Corinth, 1924

photograph of Zinnien, by Lovis Corinth, 1924

LD:  Over the years, entrepreneurs have told me pretty much the same thing: that it’s easier to raise $10, $15 million than five hundred thousand dollars.

AC:  That’s true, American investors, they want big projects – it’s the culture of risk. They won’t wait for a company to start making lots of revenue and then say, OK, I’m interested.

LD: What is ARTMYN looking for?

AC:  We’re looking for people who believe in us, will support our project, bring us the connections we need. We’ve been approached by VC’s who want to just inject money, but that’s not what we want– we want people who are passionate about art, who are passionate about our technology and what it can do, and people who can open doors for us.   We just closed a round with angel investors, who will help us, introduce us to their networks – they’re almost like partners.

Detail of brushstroke in Zinnien by Lovis Corinth. Image courtesy of Artmyn

Detail of brushstroke in Zinnien by Lovis Corinth. Image courtesy of Artmyn

LD:  What’s up next?

AC: We’ll be doing an interactive sale with the Swiss auction house Koller in Zurich on July 24th. There will be good press coverage. They’ll be selling Zinnien, by the German painter Lovis Corinth, who was important in the transition from Impressionism to Expressionism. I hope someday that in every auction house buyers will be looking at the artwork using tablets with ARTMYN software, instead of the catalogues.

LD:  When will you be setting up your NYC branch?

AC: As soon as someone introduces us to the museums and auction houses – I would love to come back to New York! (actually if things keep going the way they are…2017 !)

Fibre Art With a Message in the Bronx

Modren-Graves Russian Tiger, hand-knit by Ruth Marshall

Modren-Graves Russian Tiger, hand-knit by Ruth Marshall

I got to Charm & Vinegar at the Bronx Arts Space  just before it closed last week.  Featuring works  of various styles – soft sculptures, embroidery, knit textiles and dolls – by four artists, this exhibit wore it’s title well.  Two of the artists were at the gallery, and I was able to talk with them about their work. 

Ruth Marshall  hails from the state of Victoria in Australia, and even though she’s been living in the Bronx since the 1990’s, the broad vowels of her homeland still pepper her speech.   She came to New York to study art at Pratt Institute, after which she made sculptures in steel and resin.   But it was her work at the Bronx Zoo that impelled her change to fibre art – as a means of raising awareness of endangered species, and raising knitting from a craft to a fine art.  At the Zoo, she worked by the snow leopards, and fell in love with them.  Through her job, she had access to the storage areas of the Museum of Natural History, where she could see animal pelts up close.  And that’s where she realized she wanted to talk about the animals in her art.  Ruth’s mother and aunt taught her how to knit as a child, but she put it aside for a number of years.  It was on a trip back to Australia that she took it up again, knitting socks for her family members in an Estonian style, with lots of color and patterns. 

Detail, Ocelot #6, hand knit by Ruth Marshall

Detail, Ocelot #6, hand knit by Ruth Marshall

Which, in many ways, gave her the skills to make the intricate, detailed stitches needed to render endangered animals in knitted textiles. Starting around 2005, in the back rooms of the Museum, she would make drawings from the specimens, which she used to create a chart she could knit from.  Ruth spends about three months on the larger animals.  Her attention to detail is striking, and is easy to see in animals with distinct markings or contrasting colors, such as the siberian tiger, or the possum, or the numbat.  It really hits you with the animals that are seemingly one color; for example, when you look at the black jaguar from far away, he appears to be made from one shade of black yarn;  get closer, and you’ll see she’s used two shades of black, and recreated the rosette patterns found in the jaguar’s fur in nature. Each of her pieces are unique, even though she may do a series of one animal (i.e., 4 ocelots).  Ruth has also knit a series of 70 species of coral snakes, whose images she found in a reference book on reptiles.

Je ne sais quoi, by Cinnamon Wilis

Je ne sais quoi, by Cinnamon Wilis

Cinnamon Willis peopled the room with Melandollies  –  art dolls that are sad, melancholic… As an only child, Cinnamon would often get dolls, which she noted,  were all smiley, happy … not always the way she felt.  So Cinnamon decided to create dolls that expressed our other, darker feelings – she also likes horror movies – and around 2010 started making them from paper clay, with wire armature, wild hairdos and hand-made costumes.  Some of the dolls are based on actual people – one is based on an Instagram musician.  Her emphasis is on the face of her dolls (and busts) – you can really feel their individual personalities.   

Also in the show is a larger sculptural piece that Cinnamon created in response to the loss of neighborhood identity which often accompanies gentrification – in an attempt to create a new “identity” for neighborhoods that have seemingly negative connotations, realtors and developers will

Sculpture by Cinnamon Willis

Sculpture by Cinnamon Willis

propose new names (i.e., the “Piano District” for part of the South Bronx, “Bedwick” where Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant meet) or attempt to have cultural markers erased (apparently there was an attempt to have “Ave. of Puerto Rico” removed from some of the “Graham Avenue” street signs in Williamsburg.)  I’ll be interested to see how her art develops in this vein.

Crocodile, embroidery by Edith Isaac Rose

Crocodile, embroidery by Edith Isaac Rose

The show also featured embroideries by Edith Isaac Rose,  whose images revolving around war and power are not easy to decipher, but her masterful stitching – wolves and weapons juxtaposed with delicate flowers – creates haunting works. 

The Peruvian artist Liliana Avalos Mendoza  had several soft sculptures, some incorporating indigenous Peruvian imagery on original silk-screened fabric.  Her household appliances were enhanced by her beautiful embroidery.

Escudo 4 by Liliana Avalo Mendoza

Escudo 4 by Liliana Avalo Mendoza

Even though this show has closed, take a look at the work these artists are doing.  I’d also recommend that you get up to see the new work at the Bronx Art Space  which showcases emerging and underrepresented artists, and often hosts talks with the artists.  Every Saturday through August 13th, they are having spoken word workshops, led by Bobby Gonzalez, that are free and open to the public – ages 14 through senior!

The Storming of the Bastille Starts This Weekend

Seige of the Bastille, by Claude Cholat, 18th century artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Seige of the Bastille, by Claude Cholat, 18th century artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Even though the official National Day of France falls on Thursday, July 14th, it will be celebrated this weekend.  With joie de vivre!  You don’t need to wear a beret or sabots – just take your pick of fêtes across la Grosse Pomme.

You don’t need to confine your celebrations to just one day: French Restaurant Week (eat more than just cake!) which started on July 4th, continues on until July 17th .  Find more here 

On Saturday, July 9th, La Defense  restaurant in MetroTech (downtown Brooklyn) kicks off the festivities at noon with a pétanque tournament, and festivities continue until 8:00pm.  Information here 

On Sunday, July 10th, start the day by viewing the parade of vintage Citroën cars, Starting at 9:00 am, the caravan will wend its way from Grant’s Tomb at West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, down the West Side to Union Square Park, then up 3rd Avenue to 86th, then along 5th Avenue down to 60th Street.  Find complete information here  

Many of the vintage Citroëns will be parked at the Bastille Day Celebration which runs along 60th Street between 5th and Lexington Avenues, hosted by the French Institute Alliance Française. In addition to tastings of wine, beer, cheese,champagne and chocolate, there are activities for children and adults including live music, a performance by cast members of An American in Paris, a puppet show, and a broadcast of the finals of the European soccer championships.  And can-can dancers!  Sunday, July 10th noon to 5:00 Information here 

Brooklyn, having become la Petite Paris, has for many years boasted it’s own Bastille Day celebrations on Smith Street in Boerum Hill. On Sunday, July 10th, the road bed is transformed into pétanque courts starting at noon until 6:00 pm, at Bar Tabac  and at Provence en Boîte  

If you can’t make this weekend’s events, all is not lost.  On July 11th, join the Paris-American Club’s pre-Bastille Day Happy Hour  Mix, mingle, parlez with old friends and make some new ones.  You’ll also have a chance to win tickets to Out of the Mouths of Babes, a new comedy at the Cherry Lane, by Israel Horovitz, the most produced American playwright in France. From 6–8, at Brasserie Ruhlmann, 45 Rockefeller Plaza at West 50th Street. Information here

Les fȇtes continue during the week, with the official Bastille Day Ball on Wednesday, July 13th at 404 10th Avenue, where there will be live music by Brick City Gospel Chorale and turntables will be spun by DJ Super Jaimie.  From 6:00 pm to 1:00 am Information here 

On evening of the 14th, celebrate in Prospect Park, where Celebrate Brooklyn will be screening Les Tripeletes de Belleville, with the original hot swing score performed live by its composer Benoît Charest and his 9-piece Orchestre Terrible de Belleville band accompanied by chanteuse Jessica Fichot.  8:00 pm.  Information here

Also on July 14th, Le District at Brookfield Place will have a celebration of all things French, starting at 5:30.  Which is only Part 1;  on July 16th, they’ll have pétanque and live music, as well as food! Information here  Throughout Brookfield Place you’ll find Bastille Day celebrations with music, films, games and other activities.  Information here  

On Saturday, the 16th, head over to Long Island City Queens, where you can catch the pétanque tournament hosted by the restaurant Tournesol starting at noon  More information here 

And don’t forget the fabulous exhibit of monotypes by Edgar Dégas (see my review here ) at MOMA which is on only until July 24th!

A Taste of France When It’s Not Bastille Day

The French language and French culture is found throughout the globe.  According to the Organisation international de la francophonie, French is spoken by 274 million people on 5 continents.  This article focuses on France, which has the largest French-speaking population in New York City that has grown exponentially over the last dozen years or so; in other posts I’ve covered the NYC cultural activities of countries where French is also spoken. 

There are 67 French-related organizations in New York City, under the umbrella of the Committee of French-Speaking Societies.   I’m just going to talk about a few of them.

If you’re looking for French film, theatre, lectures, books or even lessons, here are three great places to start:  the French Institute, Alliance Française (FI:AF) which has all of the foregoing, all year round.   In addition to their midtown facility, FIAF also has language classes in Brooklyn.  There’s still time to catch their New French Filmmakers series on Tuesdays.  On July 14th,  you can see the theatre production, An Attic Full of Hope,  performed by Bronx en Seine, Franco-American creative collaboration featuring thirty students from the Bronx and Nanterre.

The Maison Française at NYU  and the Maison Française at Columbia offer a wide variety of lectures, screenings and exhibitions, in both French and English. 

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in NYC has been a  force for spreading French culture in NYC.  Thanks to their efforts, there are now 9 dual-language French-English programs in the public schools at the elementary grades and 1 in middle school.  Let me give a shout-out to Fabrice Jaumont, who’s spearheaded this effort.  More information here 

If you want to know about French goings-on in La Grosse Pomme, check the Cultural Services calendar of events   This summer the Paris-New York Tandem presents more than fifty cultural events in both cities and encompasses a range of disciplines, including music (France Rocks Summerfest) dance, film (Films on the Green), literature and theater.

If you’re looking for books – in both French and English, head over to  Albertine   the book store located in the Cultural Services building, or Idlewild bookstore, which has locations in Manhattan and Brookyn

If you’d like to be part of an on-line community of French speakers and people interested in the French language, check out New York in French  

For more general information about the French in NYC, take a look at French Morning which publishes in both English and French, and covers French activities in LA, Miami, San Francisco and Texas

You also might want to take a look at French District, which has 10 editions in the US (three are also in English), and a large directory of service providers.

Amusez-vous bien, mes lecteurs! 

Spotlight on Canada!

Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) with a Nicon Coolpix 3200. (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) with a Nicon Coolpix 3200. (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

July 1st is Canada’s national day, or Canada Day, celebrating the anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution Act of 1867, which created the Dominion of Canada, a federation of four provinces:  Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Québec, within the British Empire.   Canada is the US’s largest trading partner, accounting for over 15% of our trade with the world.  In addition to the numerous Canadian businesses that have established branches here, there’s also a very cool Canadian tech accelerator (CTA)  in New York City.  Our neighbor to the North has been the birthplace of many artists we think of as quintessentially American:  Mary Pickford, William Shatner, Lorne Greene, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Shaina Twain (to name a very, very, few).  Additional Canadian contributions to our cultural landscape include South Park, Cirque du Soleil and hockey – the list goes on….

To keep up with what’s happening in Canada, or to find out about Canadian artists in New York, take a look at:

Canadian Consulate’s Facebook page:  

Quebec Government in New York’s Facebook page  

Canadian Association of New York’s website  lists social and cultural events, but also business luncheons with Canadian ministers

The Art in American Finance

10 BerkShares bill, local currency for the Berkshires region; image on bill is "Turnips on Table" by Janet Rickus

10 BerkShares bill, local currency for the Berkshires region; image on bill is “Turnips on Table” by Janet Rickus

Have you ever wondered how US financial markets work?  or why gold is so revered?  or how the US Dollar came to be?  If so, head on down to the Museum of American Finance, appropriately located on Wall Street.

When Europeans first landed on these shores, they encountered various tribes of Native peoples, who used beads, beaver pelts and other items for trade, which were then adopted as legal tender in the Colonies during the 17th century.  Even after the US Mint was established in 1787, other forms of currency – foreign, private, local, and bank-issued  – were used along side official US money.  In the Museum’s display cases, you’ll find hundreds of specimens of bills and coins from colonial through modern times. 

US Fifty Dollar bill

US Fifty Dollar bill

It’s clear that currency is more than just a means of payment; the images that decorate it – often historical or mythological – are chosen to convey and reinforce the issuer’s view of the society’s beliefs, ideals, and values.  It’s hard to do that with block chain technology!

In the cases you’ll find several novelties such as as Raymond’s Oyster 2-bit bill, a shilling bearing the inscription “‘tis death to counterfeit”, and a wooden nickel that circulated during the Depression. Be sure to use the touch screens that explain and let you examine these items up close, and allow you to appreciate their artistry.

Starburst Jewelry, 1940, Tiffany & Co.

Starburst Jewelry, 1940, Tiffany & Co.

The Museum has several displays on gold:  one which explore’s this precious metal’s uses (in finance, medicine), religious significance, and role as a signifier of quality (think Gold Medal flour).

Another display illustrates gold’s role in US history:  how it was discovered in the US, how it is mined (lots of nasty chemicals – a ton of ore contains only 1/10th of an ounce of gold) and turned into objects, as well as how it is used in finance.  Lest anyone get the idea to revive alchemy, the exhibit also informs us that since gold is an element, it can only be created from gold atoms, rendering the transformation of base metals into this precious one impossible.  You’ll also find a small exhibit with gold jewelry – contemporary pieces by Marla Aaron, some vintage ones from Tiffany & Co., some from private collections.  Next to it is a separate exhibit with work by jewelry artist Sidney Mobell, who renders everyday objects such as mailboxes and garbage cans in gold. 

NYC Tax Relief Bond

NYC Tax Relief Bond

The largest pat of the floor is devoted to financial markets:  you can watch videos which explain how the NYSE, as well as the futures, options, commodities and bond markets work.    Bonds have been used to finance everything from the Louisiana Purchase to railroads, and a large case displays bond certificates issued by the Federal government, as well as ones issued by state and local governments and corporations.  A lot of care has gone into designing these instruments, and they’re often a delight to look at. You’ll find the NYC Tax Relief Bond of 1869; the Erie Canal Bond of 1848; as well as as the 1945 US War Bonds sporting images of Disney characters, among others in the Museum’s extensive holdings. 

Not surprisingly, there’s a room dedicated to Alexander Hamilton, who was not only George Washington’s “principle and most confidential aide,” but also the first US Secretary of the Treasury,  who created a national bank, and put the new republic on more solid financial footing, among other things. In addition to displays on Hamilton’s life, there are also his letters and examples of his published works.  The Museum sits on the former site of the Bank of New York, which was founded by Hamilton, and his room in the Museum was originally the bank president’s office.

Fortune Magazine cover

Fortune Magazine cover

There’s lots more to see – so if you want to deepen you knowledge of US currency and markets, while appreciating the artistry of financial instruments, a visit to the Museum of American Finance is in order.

The Museum also holds events throughout the year.  On July 12th, Jeff Gramm will talk about his book “Dear Chairman, Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism” 

Mutilated Money – One Man’s Passion

IMG_2080Tattered, torn bills and rusting coins may not seem like something you’d want to spend a lot of time with, but Harley J. Spiller does, and he’s written a book sharing his passion for them, showing us the beauty in items we might discard without a second thought. Spiller is not only an educator at the Museum of American Finance , he’s also the deputy director of avant-garde art space Franklin Furnace.   In Keep theChange:  A Collector’s Tales of Lucky Pennies, Counterfeit C-Notes, and Other Curious Currencies, he delivers a lively account of not only how he came to hold these objects in such esteem, but also delves into topics such as how US Dollars are made (using Swiss presses and Crane’s “paper”), how it’s destroyed (officially, by the US government), and, most interestingly for me, how artists have used currency in their works – from William Michael Harnett’s 1877 recreation of a $5 bill to contemporary artist J.S.G. Boggs’ freehand illustrations of money.

In one chapter, Spiller provides us with slang terms that have been used to describe money – I was familiar with many, such as Benjamin, cabbage and smacker, but was completely stumped about a number of others, like frogskins and rhino. 

The book contains a number of fascinating factoids: “it takes four thousand double folds (forwards and backwards) before a banknote begins to tear”; or that banknotes created by Benjamin Franklin, in addition to”images of blackberry, willow and other leaves… bore the frightful inscription “‘To Counterfeit is DEATH’”; or that what we call paper money is really made from cotton and flax…

This delightful book is sure to answer many questions and pique your curiosity further.  You can listen to Spiller talk about his book in a video on the Museum of American Finance’s website.