Bryant Park Studios’ Vault Museum Helps Keeps Artists’ Pasts Alive – WWD

Like the style business, New York Metropolis actual property is massive on turnover, however one Garment Heart handle protects the current and the previous.

A spiderweb of scaffolding covers the Beaux-Arts facade of the Bryant Park Studios at 80 West 40th Road. So far as historic Midtown buildings go, it’s just about a gem. By the a long time the turn-of the-century construction has housed a litany of photographers and artists — Bert Stern, Irving Penn, Norman Rockwell, Fernand Léger, Edward Steichen, J.C. Leyendecker, Florine Stettheimer, Kurt Seligmann, Leon Gordon, Haskell Caffin, Brad Corridor and Edward Suydam amongst them. Remnants of its lore may be present in its “Vault Museum,” the basement house that doubles as Mountain Improvement Corp.’s New York workplace.

Its lofty, largely naturally lit studios not often come up for lease, as Stan Herman can attest. The 91-year-old designer has labored there because the early Seventies and lately renewed his lease for 2 years. Frances Valentine, Nick Graham, Trina Turk, Eleventy, Moose Knuckles Canada and inside designer Thad Hayes are a number of the tenants on the Bryant Park property.

Whereas most New York Metropolis museums blast information of their exhibitions through social media, this underground one is extra prone to be found by a dogged artwork historical past pupil or curious vacationers. Property supervisor David Seeve is the unofficial historian and the constructing’s superintendent; Charlie Saliba is the intrepid restorer. Throughout a tour of the subterranean exhibition — a mishmash of images, letters, artwork and different mementos, Seeve stated, “Our job is to protect it, preserve it but also to restore anything that we can find. That’s really our passion. Managing a building is the same thing every day, the same thing every year. But what we love to work on is finding parts of the building that we can restore and put on display.”

Taking a look at a photograph of Steichen, Seeve famous the late artist labored on the ninth flooring. He then turned his consideration to a shot of the sculptor Jo Davidson, a former sixth-floor tenant. The bronze of Gertrude Stein that may be discovered throughout the road close to the doorway to the Bryant Park Grill was based mostly on a mannequin of Davidson’s, Seeve stated. There are pictures, menus and blueprints from the members’-only girls’s membership, the Beaux Arts Café, that occupied the bottom flooring and a part of the basement a long time in the past. “This area here that is now our workshop was originally a ratskeller, a German beer hall. Our office where we are standing was originally the kitchen. This shaft directly above my desk was a double dumb waiter so that tenants upstairs could order from the restaurant and have the food go directly up to their space,” Seeve stated. “It’s amazing when you think about it.”

After residing in Paris earlier than the flip of the century, the New Jersey-born portrait artist Archibald Anderson returned to the U.S. and got down to construct an artist-friendly constructing for creatives like himself who had been getting back from Europe. That mission was achieved with the development in 1901 of Beaux Arts Studio, which was the mixture of 4 tons on the southeast nook of West 40th Road and Sixth Avenue. He additionally had the foresight that artists and tenants would by no means lose that gentle even when tall buildings had been erected, due to Bryant Park. Anderson lived within the constructing’s higher two flooring till his dying in 1940.

Anderson’s eclectic circle of buddies included Theodore Roosevelt, who named him the primary superintendent of Yellowstone Nationwide Park. Different traces of his fabled life may be discovered on the museum’s partitions — together with a black-and-white picture of him on skis with Prince Pierre of Monaco on Anderson’s ranch in Wyoming. Gesturing towards a photograph of him in uniform, Seeve stated, “He invented the hunting season to try to save animals from being hunted into extinction, which made him incredibly unpopular out west. He really had to come back here.”

The aspect notes that he shares have been mined from his analysis of Anderson and the handle. Seeve has additionally explored the constructing’s historical past with the assistance of testimonies from former tenants and residents. When photographer Douglas Kirkland paid a go to final 12 months, for instance, he settled a gentlemanly dispute between Herman and Hayes about whose ethereal house beforehand housed Penn. Kirkland, who labored for Penn early in his profession, sided with Hayes (a call that Herman nonetheless disputes). Motioning in the direction of a photograph of a person with a large smile, Seeve recognized him as Tony Vaccaro, who stopped by a number of years in the past unannounced to say he lived within the constructing within the Thirties. Vaccaro had talked about that he was a photographer, however what he didn’t say was that HBO filmed a documentary about his life, or that he was first a World Warfare II photographer after which a significant league trend one.

The Vault Museum doesn’t promote, however Seeve provides excursions a few times a month based mostly on e-mail requests. On common, two to a few individuals — typically artwork historians, historical past buffs or vacationers who discover the Landmark plaque — drop by every month. As a rule, they do not know there’s a mini-museum.

Anderson’s appreciation for artistry may be seen within the Penthouse West that he used to dwell in. Renovations in 2008 uncovered a stained-glass skylight. There may be additionally an onyx and crystal hearth that Anderson had made with stones from his Wyoming ranch. In what was as soon as known as an “Ocean Bath,” Anderson constructed a shell-shaped brass sink with a line of abalone shells used to trim the partitions. The glass greenhouse he used for rising all of his greens has been broken past restore, although. A picture of his former residence exhibits an organ piano within the wall, tapestries, antiques and antiquities. An Italian door in his New York Metropolis residence was stated to have been obtained by him from a church in Greece, Seeve stated. Current renovations for Ole & Steen unearthed authentic flooring — courting again practically 120 years or longer — from the Beaux Arts Cafe, which Saliba completed with resin to show within the museum.

One other rehab mission led to a momentous discover in one of many ninth-floor areas. After chipping away on the 10-foot plaster hearth that had been painted fluorescent inexperienced for a photograph shoot years in the past, it was decided by appraisers that the hearth could possibly be as much as 300 years outdated. That makes it a rarity within the U.S., Seeve stated. The museum’s curiosities embody an outdated handwritten letter from Penn to his stepdaughter Mia Fonssagrives-Solow, which had been trapped within the constructing’s mail chute for many years. After discovering it a number of years in the past, he tracked down Fonssagrives-Solow, who determined it should have been written in 1954, whereas she was in boarding college. A framed picture of her encased in glass with a number of of the purple postage stamps that Penn had been making an attempt to ship her hangs on one of many partitions.

All in all, the Vault Museum opens a window to a now largely forgotten time in New York. Seeve stated, “People who are into art and art history are blown away by it. It really is an amazing, and almost undiscovered piece of history. Engineers love the space because it is cool. Tourists, who are walking around and might not be able to see the inside of a building, get a kick out of it. They may have gone to the [Public] Library or Grand Central. But this is the sort of building that unless you were inside here, you would never know about it.”


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