Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Grandfather's carvings, part 2

My Grandfather, Harry Levine, when he came to the United States from Vilna, Russia (or actually Lithuania, but it depends on the "when") had been trained as a woodcarver, a furniture maker. In the US he found himself in Brooklyn, and his life included sculpture classes at the Educational Alliance Art School in NYC. A cool aside here: I spent some time in NYC at the Center for Jewish History, researching Grandpa's time at the Educational Alliance. My big "find" was minutes from a faculty meeting where Grandpa Harry was in attendance (he must have taught a class) as they all discussed a grievance. The faculty at the meeting included Chaim Gross, Abbo Ostrowsky, and more, including Louise Nevelson!! How cool is THAT!?

Anyhow, going through old papers at home I found, in an Educational Alliance Art School exhibition booklet a writeup about Grandpa that said he had been commissioned to carve a series of satyric faces on fenceposts at an estate in Croton. EUREKA! Confirmation!!

Around the same time, my brother was back in Croton, showing around the photos. In the public library, someone recognized the lintels over the garage doors and windows, and the next thing I knew, I had a phone call from my brother who was standing in front of the garage doors looking at our grandfather's carvings (photo below). Except the carved panels in the doors had been removed, and all that was left was the lintels. No sign of a totem pole anywhere, no fenceposts.

Note: I've been separating paragraphs in this post with some photos of the lintels as they can be seen now.

He was taken inside the Jewish Center, where upstairs there is a preschool. Staring down from the ends of ceiling beams were more carved faces! Nobody in the Jewish Center knew anything about the history of the carvings, and surprisingly little about the history of the building. Amazingly, the little pre-schoolers didn't seem to notice the scary-ish faces. And as you can tell by the condition of them, they have not been given much (or any) TLC over the years. The wood is cracked, and they are dusty. :-(
Here they are, plus the one at the top of this post. My husband is looking directly at one:

I arranged to meet my brother at the location (currently the Croton Jewish Center) in late Autumn (last year) when the leaves were off the trees, so we could more thoroughly scout the woodsy grounds. After a couple of hours, about to give up, my husband spotted a pile of stones, right near the entry road. On closer examination, we realized they had been cemented together, and there is a nice hole in the center. It matches the stones in our photos; it's the base for the totem pole! Proof it had been there!!

And further exploration found a little log building on the site, which appears in the background of some of the fencepost photos. But there is now a condo development where the fence/bridge/stream would have been. So our photos are probably all that is left of the carved posts. But where is the totem, and where are the carved garage door panels?

We found other carvings that we didn't know about, in particular these two little gargoyle-like men by the front door. My husband (left) and brother (right) are doing their best imitations.

So why am I spending so much time posting this stuff? Two reasons, really. First of all, simply to share, because of my artistic family heritage. I'm (understandably) proud. But also, you never know when somebody might see something or read something that sparks some memory, that might establish for us a new place to look.

Our trips to Croton have led us on wild goose chases - from a call about totem pole in Croton that turned out to be a Boy Scout project, to a claim that someone so liked the garage door panels that they "copied" them for their bathroom vanity. Hmmmm.... We've learned that the Croton Jewish Center isn't really in Croton, it is in Cortlandt, and we've been sent back and forth and all over the place talking to assessors and historians. We've learned that Croton-on-Hudson's history is rich in the arts, and also that there was a lively community of anarchists around the time Grandpa Harry was taking the train north from NYC to do these carvings. We've put stories in the local newspaper, placed ads asking for information, and tried to make it clear we are trying to establish a historic family record. There was even a story in the Westchester version of the New York Times.
We want to find these items to photograph them, not to take them away from anyone who has given them a home. It's been an interesting ride, but I'm out of ideas. Let me know if you can suggest where we might look next!

My Grandfather, wood carver extraordinaire, part 1

These two photos above, which I've had forever, started a search a several years ago, first by my older brother, then picked up by me. We knew that these were carvings by our grandfather, Russian Jewish immigrant woodcarver/artist Harry Levine. We believed that they had been done in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, but had no idea why we knew that, and what would have precipitated our grandfather carving a totem pole. And what exactly are the significance of those carvings on the garage lintels and the panels in the doors?
The problem is that our parents and grandparents are all deceased, Grandpa Harry before any of us were grandchildren born. So how do you go about finding a missing totem pole? First I dug up an envelope of negatives that included the building in the second photo, which my brother had enlarged.
In the photos he enlarged were also these pictures of carved heads on fenceposts on a little bridge.

Imagine our surprise! Were these in Croton as well? Did Grandpa carve these too? Actually, was ANY of this stuff in Croton at all? Could we find them? Careful examination of the photos found my grandfather's initials on a couple of the fenceposts, and stylistically, they seemed like his work. (*Note the statue visible in the lower left of the center bottom photo. I wonder if that was Grandpa's carving too?)

So my brother, who was often on the road for his job, made stops in Croton from time to time, asking around, and visiting the historical society. No success, and the search was suspended for a while. Maybe a year down the road, I got interested and began my own searching. Between the two of us, some doors began to open.

Tune in for part 2 of the totem pole saga, in another day or two!!!

Meanwhile, below are links to the two pieces of Grandpa Harry's work that are owned by the Brooklyn Museum. They are displayed in their Luce Center for American Art, Visible Storage area, on the 5th floor of the museum (How cool is THAT?) :

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I got my sketchbook in the mail today for the Sketchbook Project, and am I extremely intimidated! My theme is "science project gone wrong" and the sketcbhook is mine to transform and mail back to the Brooklyn Art Library by January 15th.
Breaking news! Due to a recent flurry of sketchbook requests, they are extending the deadline for signups to November 15, so if you still are interested in the project, here's the link again:

Anyhow - back to my new sketchbook - there are 40 empty pages, the last 16 perforated (why?). It would seem so simple, if I didn't look through the website and discover what people actually have done to their sketchbooks. Things like: they take the thin paper out and replace it with heavier paper, re-sewing it in the center. They make the pages fold out to poster-size. They don't just SKETCH in this little bitty sketchbook, they transform it.! How ironic that I'm in the middle of an altered book project with my 6th graders that seems to be going on FOREVER, and now I've got my own and I don't know where to start.

I'll keep you posted on my progress (or lack thereof)!

Friday, October 29, 2010

TEXTURE, TEXTURE! Learn All About It!!

Today was a potentially crazy day at school. I knew that after lunch there would be Halloween parties everywhere, costumes put on, and a costume parade in the gym. With the potential crazies, chocolate, and sugar, I decided the morning's lessons had to be simple.

I planned to begin texture with my three 1st grade classes. A lot of you have posted images of leaf rubbings, but I've got to say, I don't have much success doing texture rubbings of leaves. They move around, and if I find it frustrating, I can't imagine how difficult it would be for the kids.

What we did:

Students drew a giant bare tree (on 18 x 24" manilla paper) with a big black crayon. Then we filled the paper with texture rubbings, using rainbow crayons I made in a muffin tin, and cut pieces of textured wallpaper.

The kids thought this was spectacularly amazing, and the morning was a terrific success!

Project Runway Rebellion

OK, fellow art teachers, are you a fan of Project Runway? It's a reality show that shows off some real talent, and it has been one of my favorite television guilty pleasures. Last night was the season finale, and I was (and still am) really annoyed, and I have the feeling other viewers concur.

Why didn't Mondo win? His stuff was out there, but also fantastic, original, and striking, and, having won three challenges in a row, he seemed the clear winner. And frankly I loved Andy's lovely and elegant collection too, though I would have liked a little more color variety. But GRETCHEN? Ick. The judges said her collection was the most wearable, that people would buy this stuff. Seriously, folks, are you going to wear ugly brown patterned "granny panties" paired with a flowing top? Who would dare walk out of the house in those hideous shorts with ANY kind of top???!!!

The judges were split on their decision, but in the end Heidi Klum lost the battle. I thought it was HER SHOW. Why didn't her opinion take precedence over (ick) Michael Kors? I can't imagine that sweet Tim Gunn was satisfied with the winner.

OK, I promise my next post will be an art teacher-y post. But meanwhile, if you are a Runway fan, weigh in with your opinon please!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2nd graders' interpretation of Matisse's Goldfish

My 4th graders are still completing their interpretations of the art room Matisse-like still life, but the 2nd grade is DONE with their fishbowl artwork! Yeah! They loved all the steps and were so proud of their work. I don't know why the colors in my photos are not looking right today - must have had something set wrong in camera, but the true colors are SO much brighter than they appear here. Anyhow this is a smattering of all the finished paintings. Enjoy!

Cleanup fun

My kids love when it's their turn to clean up at the sink. A big part of cleanup is "towering the water bowls". I don't know how it got started, but it's become a competitive sculptural opportunity, and it enables them to all dry out nicely. This is today's version.

I don't know where I got all these nice blue bowls from, but they are great for short-handled brushes. By the way, the top water bowl is a Kool-Aid container; I have lots of them. I love the way they slope in at the top. They are very stable for using long-handled brushes,and the inward curve makes wiping off brushes less likely to be problematic.

Would of, should have, could have....

A week ago, the tree colors were vibrant reds and brilliant oranges, but they've been changing to amber, ochre, rust, burgundy, and olive. In the past week, the weather has dipped below freezing at night and the air has been quite chilly during the day too. So last weekend we walked the beach at Lake George in the fresh crisp air.

But - did someone say GLOBAL WARMING??! The last two days have been in the 70's! Very weird. Yesterday I had a meeeting after school, but today I stayed in school and hung up artwork.
This is the view out my classroom window (the stone covered part is a roof area) just before I left this afternoon. When I walked out of school a little after 5pm, I had my "would of, should of , could of" moment. My camp is only 5 minutes away, and if I had thought ahead, I could have been there at 3:30, and had a couple of hours with my kayak on the lake. Tomorrow's weather forecast isn't so good. I blew it!