Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A studio and a story

I was asked in the comments about the photo I posted of the tenth street studios, so I will tell you a little more about them. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the brother of William Morris Hunt. It was built in 1857 and stood in Greenwich village at 51 west tenth street between 5th and 6th. It had a central domed gallery and the studios radiated out from that. The facade of the Fenway studios in Boston resembled It enough that it must have influenced that design. Some of the artists who worked here over the years included ,
  • Frederic Church
  • Albert Bierstadt
  • Sanford Gifford
  • Jervis McEntee
  • William Hart
  • Winslow Homer
  • William Meritt Chase
The wonderful paintings of Chases lavish studios draped with oriental rugs and filled with antiques were painted in his studio in this building. A studio here was a sign of success in the art world of the late 19th century.The artists in the studios held lavish events in order to market their art, in which wealthy patrons were invited to the studios. The building was torn down in 1956 and replaced with an 11 story apartment building.

I will return to the history of the American tradition in landscape painting, but I thought I would tell you a little story this evening first. You may recall my post The Commonwealth Avenue years from about ten days ago. I recalled a story from that era that I thought I might add. This story is going to appeal to Frank Ordaz, a jazz fancier over there at On Being Frank

I have made some musical references in this blog and I have mentioned my love for fine guitar mastery. I have met a few really great guitarists over the years, and will be the first to admit I have always idolized them a bit. I have been to A LOT of concerts and seen many bands play. I became a painter, and that is fine, but If I could have played guitar it would have been nice. I unfortunately had zero talent. Is there negative talent?

I told the story of a burgler kicking down my door and finding NOTHING worth stealing in my apartment. Several other apartments in the building had been broken into before. I suppose because so many of the residents of the building were musicians, there were a lot of musical instruments to steal. The apartment across the hall from me was broken into in the same fashion as mine, with the door smashed to pieces. I didn't know the tenant terribly well but I had sat and talked with him a few times and I had enjoyed listening to him and his friends play their guitars while I painted. The fellows name was Mike Stern, and he played in Blood, Sweat and Tears at that point, about 1976, but a few years later went on to play in the Miles Davis band .

I secured the door to the apartment and found a phone number for his parents who I think I remember lived in Washington DC ( it has been a long time). I believe Mike was on a European tour with BST. When he did return, he thanked me for securing the apartment and I
remember hanging out with him a little, although he was virtually never around.

Some months later Mike found out, (I suppose I must have told him) that my rent was unpaid. He immediately handed me 300 dollars to pay it. That was more money in those days than now, but he was very well paid as a musician. A month or so later, I recovered financially, as I had discovered the fine art of taxi cab driving in the nighttime, and knocked on his door to return the money, he wouldn't take it.

I moved out, or he did, shortly after that, and I never saw him again, although I did speak to him once on the phone.I suspect he wouldn't remember my name now and may have even forgotten the event, but I still remember his generosity to me almost 35 years later. Here is a clip of Mike Stern below.

The point of all of this is, that the LAST thing I am is a self made man, if indeed my success (best defined as survival in this art) counts as making it. Repeatedly mentors and teachers, acquaintances, crazy persistence and just stupid luck have allowed me to continue to paint and grow better at it. I am thankful to so many people that I couldn't begin to name them all. Although I suppose it might be good to begin with my patient wife. .

I will return tomorrow with another of the posts detailing the American Landscape tradition. Those of you who come to the blog for how- to information, understand that this is essential for you to know. You need to know what good painting looks like, if you intend to make good paintings yourself. You wouldn't try to be a guitarist without studying Wes Montgomery would you?


Gregory Becker said...

Great story. I've been a guitarist for over 23 years and I love hearing these kind of stories. You certainly have interacted with some interesting people along the way.
I bet he does remember you.

willek said...

Well, I played a lot over the years, but only for my kids and grandkids as few others would listen. I made guitars for a 10 year strtch there. Mike Stern? Never heard of him. After seeing that clip, I won't forget him. Just an amazing talent. I can't imagine that building not being on the list of historic places if it was still standing. It would be a mecca today. Terrific stories. Thanks, Stape

sworbej = Sorbet for vegitarians said...

Hi Stapleton,
You asked in your last blog comment when you would get to build a mansion (like Church's Olana) Well, I have thought a lot about this actually. Way back then there were fewer painters (narly all males)compared to today (students mostly female). Supply and demand has a lot to do with art sales. Artists then also had multiple streams of income including family money and patrons. With the arrival of immigrants to the US, the number of painters from Europe increased especially in NY. Painters (artists) then became a working class profession. Look at Hopper's career. Yet, he was still able to buy a new car with the money from his first painting . I think he was almost 42 years old by then. Who now expects to sell their first painting for the equivalent of a new car, $20 000. In another shift most people see artists as elitists. Yet the prices we get for our paintings, materials, time and labor are pretty minimal.Though we work all the time, we never know when we will get paid . Not to mention all the gallery closings. Did Academia kill art? Are people saturated with concepts they can't relate to (Damian Hirst)? I ask myself these questions frequently because I feel the rumblings of seismic shift and I am trying to figure out survival plans. It does not include building a mansion.

Unknown said...

You can see a painting of the interior of the studio (10th Street Studio) at the Brooklyn Museum. He also lived in Brooklyn and then Long Island. Too bad the 10th Street Studio was torn down.

Another interesting studio is the Holbein Studio on West 55th Street where Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, Cecilia Beaux and George Inness had a studio. You can read about it from a New York Times article at

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are more stories I need to bring the series of posts on American landscape painting history to a close. That looks like it might take a while. But if my intention is to be a primer for landscape painting it is essential even if it ism a little dryer than the more how-to stuff.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mike Stern may not be a household name, but he has been nominated for 5 Grammys.He is a guitar players guitar player.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that the seismic shift is towards the kind of art I value. But there won't be much movement until the economy straightens out. I have this awful feeling I may not get the mansion built either.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for that I checked out the Times article. I wonder if that studio building will survive. There was a time in the 70's when I used to walk around Boston relieved that the historic architecture had survived urban renewal and was now valued. Then the energy crises came and owners of historic properties ripped out the historic windows and replaced them all wiht one over ones in white vinyl.

Unknown said...


You are a great story teller. I was spellbound.

I looked at an old American Art Review and saw an ad when you had your gallery. The painting was called Vermont Village in Snow and it blows me away. The mood and composition are masterful. Color is restrained but vibrant. So many good things there. I keep stareing at it. Its going up on my wall. It makes me feel alive...isnt that what we are supposed to do...inspire each other?

now back to my Wes Montgomery tunes....have you seen Peter White in concert?