B. Dehnert Orchard St
I met Brigitte Dehnert on a hot morning in the summer of 1973. She had come from England a few weeks before, and on her last day in New York City she went to visit Orchard Street.
The sun was beating down, music blared from the loudspeakers, shoppers thronged the street, and it seemed as if the area had turned into a carnival.
I was painting a scene with the Adler building as its center. The colors were as loud and as hot as the street itself.
“Could you do a painting for me with reds like those?”Before she returned to London we planned the scene. I took the loudest and most joyous sign on the street- that of the “Lace-Up Shoe Shop”- toned it down with the white building next door and went wild with the colors and the people of United 4 L.T.D.Brigitte returned to America in the middle of winter. We met for coffee around the corner at Galishoff’s Dairy Restaurant, and I sketched her. She stands in the painting right in front of “Modern Woolens”, carrying a yellow shopping bag from the Lace-Up Shoe Shop.The boy wearing a blue hat and a blue and black patterned shirt is Javier Almonte. When we first met, he was just learning English. His job was to work in front of United 4 L.T.D., and his main responsibility was to watch that no one stole anything. When the music blared from the loudspeakers he’d clap his hands. I don’t know if he did this in order to attract customers or because he was young and loved the music.Frank Mata stands next to him. Frank came from the Dominican Republic in 1965 and for the last five years he’s been working for United 4 L.T.D.. He is married and has two daughters.He would always be one of the first workers to arrive in the mornings. It is never easy to work on Orchard Street- customers hunt for bargains and the haggling is often fierce. But I have never heard him lose his temper, and he has one of the friendliest smiles I’ve ever seen.The awning casts shadows over the people who work and shop under it, and because of that, it’s not possible to see much of his face. Someday, I’d like to put him in another Orchard Street painting and show his smile.United 4 L.T.D. is owned by four Israelis, and they are all related to each other. There are two brothers and two brothers in law and that’s why they call it United 4 L.T.D.. One of the owners is William Dancour. He came from Israel in 1969 and I met him four years later when I did a painting of the building directly across the street from him.I had begun to work before he and his employees put out the orange stands. An hour later, I noticed that I was blocking off his customers from them.“I’m really sorry. I just noticed that I’ve been in your way.”“Don’t worry. I’m just sorry that my area is in your way.”I don’t think anything he could have said would have affected me more. I had been so afraid that he would ask me to move. William is one of the three men pictured at work under the left side of the awning. He is on the right of the group, and he is just showing his nephew Avi how to arrange the tapes on the stand. The man in the yellow shirt at the left of the group is David, who is also the nephew of William. Both are young men. Avi is single and David is married and the father of a child.On Sundays the street is festive. There are men with balloons for sale, and men selling whistles, which sound like twittering birds. The people shopping are in holiday moods and because cars are banned from the street on that day, no one ever seems to hurry.I always get there early before most of the shoppers arrive. Since I did this painting during the warmest days of spring and summer, the street was always busy then. But one Sunday, when I arrived in order to put the last touches on the painting, the street was not the same. Across the street from the scene represented here, on the spot where I always stood when I worked, the sidewalk had been roped off. Detectives were in the process of taking photographs, and policemen and spectators were everywhere. A trail of blood led from the middle of the block to the corner. An hour later, the blood had been washed off by one of the employees of the store in front of which the body had fallen. It was the body of a young man who had been stabbed. He was just coming from the bar around the next corner- there was a fight.By 10 A.M. the street was mobbed by shoppers, the music blared, and few people knew that someone had died there in the early hours of the morning. In New York City, in the year 1974, you cannot even ask about such events because the spectators themselves have forgotten them. No one could tell me who he was. Perhaps I know him, perhaps he’s someone I painted yesterday.