Times Square 1985
One of my favorite places in which to wander with my sketchbook had been the Times Square area. It was known that it soon would undergo massive renovations, but its history was so much a part of this city, that I wanted to record it as it was, at the moment, in the year of 1985. But when I watched the changes technology created through the large electronic billboards, I realized that small sketches could not express my feelings at the loss of what still existed, and that only a large canvas could do so.
But how to do this would take planning. Unless I sat down in the middle of the hustle and bustle and noise and confusion and became a part of it, nothing would do it justice...and so I planned.
Whenever I did a street painting, and this was to be my 70th one, I needed to study the nearby area. What are the nearest spots in which to take a rest break during this exhausting work? The parking lot was blocks away, and my car was the only place in which to store my canvas, easel, chair, paints, etc. I knew that after a few days of sitting and being known and accepted that would not be a problem. But it turned out that I didn't have to wait that long. Tina, the wonderful young woman who did the computer work in our picture and framing gallery, "Follow Your Art," had a friend who worked at TKTS, the popular place selling Broadway tickets which can be seen towards the middle of the painting. He said that I could keep my things there whenever I needed a rest break. He stands in the middle of the painting wearing a white sweat shirt saying TKS. It was not until years later that I noticed my mistake of leaving out the second T on his shirt, but by then we had already made and sold countless posters of this painting and it was too late to correct my mistake. The amazing thing is that neither I nor anyone else had noticed the mistake for so long. His help was such a gift to me, and it was because of his kindness that I decided to fill this painting with some of the wonderful people who, up to then, had made painting this city a possibility. Let's start with the right corner. The red van is what we used for our framing deliveries, and the driver is my husband. It was Eric who gave me the courage to sit on a crowded sidewalk and paint. When he knew how I ached to do so, but was timid about it, he said."Do it! What can they do, arrest you?" Next to him are three people, the Durst brothers. Seymour Durst is the one on the right.Years ago I had read an article in "The New Yorker " about his collection of books dealing with the old buildings of our city. I had always planned to get up the courage to call him and to ask for information about some of the interesting buildings which I had painted. However, I felt timid about calling a stranger. In 1980 I received a commission from Goldman Sachs to do a series of paintings of 85 Broad St. where their new building was to go up. The first one was to show the archaeological dig currently taking place on that site. It was there that I met Nan Rothschild, the archaeologist. She was a fascinating person, and as interested in the area's history as I was, and one day I mentioned my hope of one day getting the courage to speak to the man who has this library. She asked what his name was, and I said, Seymour Durst. "Hedy, he's my uncle! Do you want to meet him?" He came down to where I was painting, and it became a wonderful friendship of teacher and student. He was a man who loved this city, and a man who cared deeply about the plight of the homeless. His ideas were instrumental in a large canvas which I did in the year 2000 of the Amtrak waiting room, which shows the homeless trying not to be visible. In it I placed him buying a copy of "THE STREET NEWS," a newspaper which allowed the homeless to earn some money by selling it on the street. Seymour Durst was one of its supporters. When I could not understand the back of the huge sign I was painting, he took me to Artcraft Strauss who had made the billboard. There the knowledgeable Ms. Tama Star explained everything to me, and one of their photographers even taught me how to compose panoramas. I never met the man next to Seymour because he had passed away, and therefore I did him from photographs. His name was Royal H. Durst and even though they gave me so many pictures of him, it was Seymour's description that worked. "He was a kindly man," he told me, and we worked on it until he felt that it was perfect. A while later he and his brother, David Durst, asked me to do a painting for them, and said that the subject would be of my choice. I had done a series of paintings of the area which I had found the most fascinating, Manhattan's Lower East Side, and had always wanted to do something which could explain its spirit and how it created so many outstanding citizens out of poverty-stricken immigrants. I wondered if they could have a thought on that. David immediately came up with the perfect answer, and I began a painting which was to teach me more about what makes N.Y.C. the miracle it is, and the greatness of so many of its people. David at that time was the president of The Hebrew Free Loan Society and painting it gave me access to their board meetings and the privilege of learning that the world, in spite of the day to day news, does go forward. This organization gives interest- free loans to the needy, regardless of religion, race or political affiliation, and the only stipulation seemed to be that eventually they would pay it back so that it could then be loaned to others. I picked the location where they originally met before moving to midtown, and sat down on the sidewalk on 2nd Avenue and began. Sometime later, when I had already painted "Hebrew Free Loan Society" on the pictured building, two men stopped short and one asked me: " Are these guys still around?" I told him that they were, but in a different location. Then he turned to his friend and said :" When I was a cop and struggling to keep up with the bills, I asked another cop how he managed to survive, and he told me that he went to these people and they gave him an interest free loan until he could catch up and be solvent again, and he told me that I should go to them. I said but I'm not Jewish, I'm Irish Catholic. He said so was he, but these guys give to anyone who needs it. So I went there, they loaned me the money, and bit by bit I paid it back when I was able to. These guys saved my family and me." In back of their group is a police car. One day I had locked my keys in my car, and the policeman who drove by unlocked my car door and saved my day. I never wanted to forget this, and memorized his good deed by painting his car there. Two men in suits, next toward the left, had made it possible for me to do a whole group of paintings of the Plaza Hotel area. I had received a commission to paint the Plaza Hotel from a couple who had spent their wedding night there. I sat down across the street from it on the sidewalk of the General Motors Building and began to paint. A guard came over and said. " Lady, you have to move. Nobody is allowed to sell things from here."
"I'm not selling anything, this is a commission I'm doing for someone." He looked puzzled and said that he'll ask Chief Henry. Chief Henry is the man with the brown suit and red tie carrying a briefcase. He listened carefully and said that he does not remember anything like this ever happening before, and that it would would have to be decided by the building manager, whom he then brought over. He is Rod Johnson and is pictured walking next to Chief Henry. I had the most wonderful painting periods for a number of years through their help and kindness. They called me their "artist in residence," I was allowed to park my car in their garage, they gave me advice on the buildings around the Plaza, and they became dear friends. I received a number of commissions when the painting was done, and did the Plaza from various angles , feeling that this area was my second home. A number of years later I did the General Motors building itself, with the Plaza Hotel and the area including Central Park as well, sold the painting, but made signed and numbered limited edition prints and named them " The Edge of The Park." When I needed to create a title for the prints, one of the office renters in the building suggested that wonderful name for them. The man with the Sabret's hot dog wagon is Jimmy Rose whom I know from my 3rd painting of Orchard St. I painted him here because the umbrella and the wagon were perfect shapes which I needed for the composition. Also, I loved his story. Jimmy had come here in 1966 from North Carolina. At the beginning he only worked on Orchard St. on weekends, and when his regular job became slow he worked there every day. His work was not easy. When the days became hotter, the shoppers were fewer and since the carts were not allowed on Orchard St. the summons from the police against all vendors of pretzels, ices and hot dogs were plentiful. But when you asked Jimmy or the others why they continued to come there, the answer always was, "What can you do? It's still the best place to get customers." The man with the green shirt walking with the man in the white shirt is Tom O'Shay. He was invaluable with information when I later needed to do a side of the Plaza which showed the surface of its roof as well. Though Tom worked for the General Motors Building, he was friends with the people in charge of surrounding buildings, and rearranged for me to work on the top floor of one and it made that composition possible. He definitely belonged with the friends who made my work be a joy. Johnny Lau is the man in the white shirt walking next to him. Johnny is included in a few of my paintings, as is his wife. He is a computer wizard who taught Eric book keeping by computer when very few people understood how to do this. He taught me so much about training my memory, that I needed to include him among the people in this painting who were so helpful in my work. Next to the TKTS man is a red van saying "Lou Singer Tours". He runs tours called "Noshing In New York" where he advertises "eat your way around the world, without leaving New York." I so enjoyed conversations with him, because he loves doing his work as much as I love doing mine. After the Art craft Strauss truck further back in the left, there is one labeled "Triplet's Romanian Restaurant" which my nephews, the triplets, ran. It was a wonderful place, and when it closed I wanted to have a place for it in this painting. In the middle , toward the left side, is the delivery van of the Second Ave Deli. Of all my paintings of NYC, few are as meaningful to me as this one is. When I did the painting of the deli, I met one of the kindest people I have ever known. Abie Lebewohl, the owner, never refused food to a homeless person. If anyone came in to ask, he or she would leave with a huge sandwich. The atmosphere created in that restaurant was that of a warm and friendly family home. The waiters, the chefs and Abie's family were all similar in that. When I worked to do the outside of the building he would bring me a hamburger and say, " you shouldn't be hungry." Later on, he commissioned me to do a painting of all his family, and I found the same goodness in each one. Abie was murdered one day when he was robbed while taking the earnings to the bank. He never let an employee do this errand, because he was afraid that they might be hurt. He himself felt safe because he had so many people who loved him. When he died, the whole community mourned. These are the people I am remembering with this painting. Not all of them are pictured here because during the year of sitting on 48th Street and Broadway I was lucky enough to meet so many who remain as a part of it in my memory. There was the first person who stopped to talk to me, Father George W. Moore from St. Malochy. His church was nearby and his congregation seemed to be composed of actors and former actors and homeless people. We talked on many mornings and through him I learned much about the neighborhood. So many people stopped to talk, each with a history to tell of his or her life. Some of them are in the painting, some are only in my memory. The actor Michael Beck who was "Swan" in the Warriors, Louis Lefkowitz, Paul Lublin from the Circle in the Square Theater, Al Star from "Slides in Motion,"and so many others who walked by and told their stories and added to my knowledge of the world around me. The other figures were not of people I knew, but were shapes and colors needed to give the feeling of this fantastic city of ours. It was and still is, one of the most exciting places in which I have worked. NYC is felt by many of its citizens and tourists to be cold and rude. Perhaps it would be easier to get to know New Yorkers, if people would sit and paint on a city sidewalk...I strongly recommend that...I would never have met the wonderful side of New Yorkers if we had formally met.