Dr. and Mrs. Stansley Orchard St
We had just returned from a camping trip in Georgia. There had been mornings of deep grey fog and of black trees, there had been forests of muted colors and there had been places of intense quiet.
What a difference it was to come back from this to the chaos of Orchard Street. There were people and there were dogs, there was shouting and there was music, there were colors of neon-like brilliance and walls so dirty that no two bricks were of the same shade.I couldn’t wait to begin this painting.First came the Beckenstein sign in the foreground. When the colors of the other signs took over too violently I placed them in the shadows, and whenever the buildings of Orchard Street allowed it I flooded them with sunlight. Then I put in as many people as the spaces I worked with would allow.In the front of the painting towards the middle stands Officer Talvey...Stanley Talvey grew up in one of the buildings towards the back of the painting. The storekeepers remember him as a child.“Such a fine boy! I remember when he used to run up and down these stairs. His mother and I were like family.”“You’re telling about his mother? A saint. She used to sit in front of the store with me and talk. So much she used to worry about Stanley. He was a policeman in Chinatown. Chinatown...if she knew that he works here and if she would see what it’s like now...”Once, long ago, when I first began to work on Orchard Street, he had helped me to deal with a very unpleasant situation. I kept watching him deal with people and thought I’d show him helping someone.“Stanley, how should I paint you? What should I have you doing?”“Giving out summonses...that’s all I do here anyway.”And so I did. But as for the man arguing about getting the summons, well, I didn’t feel right about it being someone who really existed. So I watched Stanley giving out summonses a few times, watched how people reacted, and created a vendor of my own.It’s a way of life- the giving and receiving of summonses.“Why did he give you one?”“One! That’s the third I got today! But what you gonna do? They don’t let us sell on OrchardStreet because it’s supposed to be bad for their business. So when we go to a different street we don’t get customers like here. But when you gotta eat you stay and pay for the summons!”The man in back of the vendor with the dark hat and the newspaper under his arm was on Orchard Street. But once, on the way there, I saw him on the subway platform. I sketched him and used him in the painting. He was just what I needed for that spot. On the left hand side of the painting is Menasha’s Bargain Store. It is owned and run by Nissim Menasha and his two sons Jack and Ike. Jack is the bearded young man partially hidden in back of the stand, and Ike will be in another painting. Nissim Menasha came from Greece in 1955. At 17, he had begun his first business there and twenty six years later he began his first business in America.The last years which he had spent in Greece were the war years and they were terrible ones. The first years in America were not easy either.His first job in America was in a factory where he made watch bands for a salary of $28 dollars a week. A year later he began his own business as a pushcart vendor selling dolls and underwear. From this he went to a space on Orchard Street which measured 2’ by 4’. After that it was a space of 10’ by 12’ and now, many years later, he’s the owner of a large business. It is a long narrow store filled with menswear.Pauline and Phillip Stansly are the couple in front of Menasha’s.Orchard Street has one face on weekdays and another face on Sundays. On weekdays, the shoppers come from the suburbs and the five boroughs, but on Sundays they seem to come from all over the world and from all over America.The Stanslys have travelled extensively. I met them on a Sunday in fall when I was doing a painting of the street and I met them again the next year.They were so good to talk to. They knew so much and were interested in so many things and they loved the street as much as I did.“Markets have always fascinated me,” Phillip wrote to us. “I love the activity, color, the noise, and the chaos of such places. We don’t have markets and market days in New York like those in Europe. Nevertheless, Orchard Street comes close to them. And so, when we’re in this city, we spend a few hours on Orchard Street.Also, my family lived in the Lower East Side once- long ago. Pauline has a special interest in Beckenstein- one of the few old woolen fabric stores still going strong. In fact, her father was a master tailor in Detroit in the 20’s, bought much of his goods at Beckenstein. So there were all those feelings and connections which brought us down there.”I don’t know which fascinates me the most- whether it is how the colors of the people and the buildings give the rhythm or the ways in which the lives of the people whom I meet there weave and blend into the story of the street itself.