The Art of Tattooing on Display at New York’s Historical Society

Eli Jacobi (1898–1984)
Tattoo Artist, ca. 1935
New-York Historical Society Library

The New-York Historical Society is presenting an exhibit to fire up the imagination: Tattooed New York will explore the origin and development of the art of tattooing in New York City.

The exhibit is current and will be open until April 30, 2017. It will focus on the past 300 years of tattooing and the central role New York played in its development.

Over 250 works reaching back to the early 18th century until today will be on display. Included among the works are Native American body art, tattoo craft which was practiced among sailors, circus sideshow culture, and tattooing which took place during the infamous ban of 1961, which drove the practice underground for thirty years. Also exhibited are tattoo pieces reflecting the post-ban renaissance of this unlikely and not well known art form.

“We are proud to present Tattooed New York and offer our visitors an immersive look into the little-known history of modern tattooing,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “At the convergence of history and pop culture, the exhibition will track the evolution of this fascinating form of self-expression and the city’s influence on the phenomenon.”

After the tattoo ban was nullified in 1997 the practice flourished. Today there are more than 270 tattoo studios all over New York. The influence tattoo artists from the city is demonstrated by the many works of artists on display from all over the world, including Denmark, Japan, Mexico, China, Brazil, the UK, and Italy.

Weegee’s Bowery on Display in Jersey City

Rubber stamp used by the photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig) for signing his pictures.

Rubber stamp used by the photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig) for signing his pictures.

If you hurry you can still catch an exhibit well worth your time. Until August 5th Jersey City’s Mana Contemporary will be showing the work of Usher Fellig, better known as Weegee, depicting the Bowery when it was deep in its “Skid Row” phase.

Usher Fellig, born in what is now Ukraine in 1899, was an ‘infamous’ New York City press photographer. Usher was changed to Arthur upon his arrival to US shores, but he became Weegee somewhere along the way because of his uncanny ability to arrive at crime scenes within minutes of their occurrence. (Weegee is a misspelling of Ouija, as in the board that connects this world to the “other world.”)

His black and white renderings of urban life are shocking statements about the harsh realities of life in New York during the 30s and 40s of the 20th century.

The exhibit, Weegee’s New York,  focus on the down and out population that gathered in the Bowery, living in the shadow of the Third Avenue El, on the street, in flea-bag hotels, and flop houses which could be had for only 25 cents/night.

The International Center for Photography in New York City was given Weegee’s estate in 1997. In 2015 ICP opened a branch at Mana in Jersey City in 2015 as an expansion of it Manhattan campus. The exhibit, which closes on August 5th, was organized by ICP in honor of the opening of a new branch in the Bowery.

ICP at Mana is open only by advanced appointment. To make an appointment contact:
Hours Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Admission is free.

Mayor de Blasio Co-Names 42 Places Throughout the City

It is a long tradition in New York to honor those beloved residents who are no longer with us. There is Joey Ramone Place, which is part of the Bowery; and there is Jerry Orbach Way on West 53rd Street at Eighth Avenue. Now there are 42 more such places.

"Evacuation day" and Washington's triumphal entry in New York City, Nov. 25th, 1783.

“Evacuation day” and Washington’s triumphal entry in New York City, Nov. 25th, 1783.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law so that the present names of the existing streets and public places could share their names with an honorable co-name. When the mayor signed the bill he said that the action honors “individuals, cultural icons and entities that made lasting contributions to New York City.”

Manhattan will receive seven of the 42 new names. Here are just three:

  • 1783 Evacuation Day Plaza will be the new co-name of Bowling Green Plaza to honor the lowering of the British flag and raising of the US flag at the end of the American Revolution on November 25, 1783, known as Evacuation Day.
  • Normal Rockwell Place is the new co-name at the intersection of 103rd Street and Broadway.
  • Ms. Aida Perez-Loiza Aldea Lane is the new co-name of the southeast corner of East 105th Street and Lexington Avenue. A native of Puerto Rico, Aida Perez-Loiza Aldea was an activist for Puerto Rican culture.

MCNY Exhibit Celebrates Yiddish Theater

Yiddish theater actors and personalities in 1888: from left to right: Jacob P. Adler, Zigmund Feinman, Zigmund Mogulesko, Rudolf Marx, Mr. Krastoshinsky and David Kessler

Yiddish theater actors and personalities in 1888: from left to right: Jacob P. Adler, Zigmund Feinman, Zigmund Mogulesko, Rudolf Marx, Mr. Krastoshinsky and David Kessler

A new exhibit set to open on March 9, 2016 at the Museum of the City of New York is “New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway.” The exhibit is the first time a major museum displayed a major survey of this fascinating subject, says Edna Nahshon the guest curator for the show.

“It is a topic that begged to be dealt with,” Nahshon, who is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, told the New York Times.

The presentation documents the rise and blossoming of New York’s Yiddish culture from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. As Jewish immigrants arrived by the thousands from Eastern Europe and other countries, a thriving Yiddish culture in New York, especially in Manhattan’s Lower East Side was established. The exhibit will feature items which were donated by the family of Boris Aronson, the Tony Award-winning set designer who worked on Fiddler on the Roof and The Diary of Anne Frank.

The MCNY website describes the show:

“From the late 19th to the mid- 20th century, a thriving Yiddish theater culture blossomed on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, entertaining over 1.5 million first and second generation Eastern-European Jewish immigrants.”

“Second Avenue became the ‘Yiddish Broadway,’ where audiences of new New Yorkers celebrated their culture and learned about urban life in the city via cutting-edge dramas, musical comedies, and avant-garde political theater. As stars of the Yiddish stage gained mainstream popularity, New York’s Yiddish theater became an American phenomenon. This legacy resonates today through enduring dramatic themes, classic New York humor, and a large crop of crossover actors, directors, and designers who found work on the mainstream New York stage and in Hollywood.”

Among the memorabilia on display will be Aronson’s original wooden set model of the Anatevka home of Tevye the dairyman, the hero of Fiddler on the Roof.

MCNY is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue.

Tattoo Parlor Raising Funds for Museum of Tattoo History

When tattoo parlors were re-legalized in New York City in 1997 Daredevil Tattoo opened on the Lower East Side. It is one of the few from that era still open, but it has had some ups and downs. A few years ago their landlord upped the rent at 174 Ludlow Street by 50 percent, forcing them to find new digs. Lucky enough to find housing at 141 Division, that address is now permanent, not unlike the wares they peddle.

For the almost twenty years that co-founder Brad Fink has run his business he has gathered together an interesting assortment of tattoo memorabilia.  Much of those artifacts were utilized in the new premises décor, but Fink would like to do more for his collection. Daredevil co-owner Michelle Myles agrees that they can and should do more to preserve the objects of tattoo history. To that goal they have been active in promoting the creation of what might be the world’s first “Museum of Tattoo History.”

In order to raise the estimated $30,000 for the project, Fink and Myles have launched a Kickstarter campaign. The following is how they are promoting their pet project.

“Last year Daredevil moved into a new larger location on Division Street a few blocks from Chatham Square and the Bowery. The new space incorporates Brad’s collection into the tattoo shop for customers and visitors to enjoy. Michelle and Brad have been doing extensive archival research to document and map out the earliest New York tattooers in the Bowery area. We need your help to complete the work on the space and finish the display cases so the entire collection can be brought in and put on view.

     “Small businesses are having a harder and harder time staying in place in New York City. After we were priced out of our old location with a 50% rent increase we chose our new location because we had the option to buy the storefront we moved into. In December last year we closed on a mortgage and bought the space making us the only shop in NYC to own the property we’re in. We’ve managed to secure a forever home for our shop and the collection but we need help to finish a few more things. Getting to where we are now was the hardest thing we’ve ever accomplished but we feel we have something important to bring to the tattoo community and that we have something valid to contribute to the heritage of the Lower East Side.”

The Bowery’s History in Pictures

delancey-mcnyThanks to the Museum of the City of New York for preserving this photo which shows what Delancey Street looked like during a major widening of the road in 1904. The view of the photo is from Bowery eastward to the newly constructed Williamsburg Bridge, which can be seen in the far background. The goal of the street work was to make Delancey Street wide enough to accommodate the traffic to the approach to the bridge.

The following is an excerpt from a memo from New York Mayor Low’s administration:

On May 29, 1903, the board of estimate and appointment voted to widen Delancey and Suffolk Streets, and to extend Delancey Street to Elm Street (eventually incorporated into Lafayette). Delancey and Suffolk Streets are each now 50 feet wide. Delancey Street will be widened to 150 feet between Clinton Street and the Bowery. West of the Bowery to Elm Street, it will be 80 feet wide. The completion of the Williamsburg Bridge is promised in early 1904.

Bowery’s Salvation Army Retreating to New Headquarters in Brooklyn

the salvation army

Last Bowery outpost of the Salvation Army is no more

A true testament to the times we are living in was the recent closure of the Bowery’s last branch of the helping institution, the Salvation Army. The Army moved in a little over 100 years ago into what was called then “Booth House.” The veteran institution came to the Bowery to help down and out men, a population that has frequented the Bowery for almost as long as the neighborhood existed.

During World War II the country’s economic situation improved and the number of homeless men declined. Services for populations at risk improved. Many of the alcoholics, prostitutes and vagrants who had inhabited the area fled as a result of a concerted effort by the city to remove them.

Through the decades since the war the neighborhood has gone through many changes. The latest upheaval has been the hurried gentrification of the Bowery with an increasing number of renovations, new restaurants and other shops opening up to satisfy a new population of upwardly mobile residents.

As a result institutions like the Salvation Army play a smaller role in the neighborhood’s culture. Perhaps even more of an influence is the real estate boom Manhattan is experiencing now, where even old, dilapidated apartments and buildings are fetching awesome prices.

The building at 223-225 Bowery is one of the tallest along the one-mile stretch of street, its height a symbol of the hope the Salvation offered to the most downtrodden among New Yorkers. Now the building will take on a whole new meaning, as it is turned into a high-end hotel and luxury condominium. The developers paid $30 million for the premises, and will most likely be able to recoup their investment many-fold as apartments in the area are fetching as much as $2,500 per square foot.

The Salvation Army will be setting up their new shop in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. That neighborhood was chosen as it is also has burgeoning ethnic Chinese population similar to that the Bowery.

New York Cabbie Turned Author Tells Tales of Celebs and More

More Stories than the Empire State Building

More Stories than the Empire State Building

Gene Salomon has been a New York City cab driver for over 36 years and has, as he puts it, “more stories than the Empire State Building.”

Those stories are the focus of the book Salomon wrote, which is scheduled to be released on January 28, “Confessions of a Taxi Driver.”

The book tells the many tales of Salomon’s encounters with celebrities over the years. According to Salomon he met 114 stars throughout his career. The veteran cabbie explains that although his job lacks many perks, the incredible tales he has been collecting over the years has more than made up for it.

In Salomon’s book he describes a ride he gave to the young Leonardo DiCaprio before he rocketed to stardom after playing Jack in “Titanic.”

In 1996 DiCaprio entered Salomon’s cab and exclaimed, “Don’t you know who I am?” Salomon said, no, he didn’t. So DiCaprio started to list the films that he had starred in. The two really hit it off as Salomon drove DiCaprio to a nightclub. Before leaving the cab DiCaprio asked Salomon, “Who was the biggest celebrity tipper you ever had in your cab?” Salomon told him that John McEnroe had given him double the meter price. To Salomon’s delight and shock, DiCaprio one-upped McEnroe and gave Salomon triple the meter.

Some of the other celebrities Salomon has chauffeured around were Lauren Bacall, Sean Penn, Dennis Hopper, and he even had Paul Simon twice.

Salomon says he told Simon that he should buy the Yankees. “Me? You want me to buy the Yankees?” Simon replied. “I don’t have that kind of money. You should talk to McCartney.”

Bowery was First Manhattan Street

Bowery Theatre (as rebuilt in 1845 after a fire), 46 Bowery, New York.

Bowery Theatre (as rebuilt in 1845 after a fire), 46 Bowery, New York.

Did you know that Bowery, a 1.5 mile street is the oldest road on all of Manhattan? During the time of the Native American settlement Bowery was just a dirt path created by the constant walking from the lower tip of Manhattan by the Native Americans in bare feet and moccasins.

When the Dutch arrived they established their farms along this road, the first residents being ten families of freed slaves in 1645. Later in that century, when the Dutch settled the island, the path was dubbed Bouwerij Road, the old Dutch word for ‘farm.’ It was a descriptive name since the road connected the farmlands and estates which were outside the city to the area which was the heart of the city, where Wall Street and Battery Park are today.

Within 100 years the Bowery was acknowledged as New York’s most elegant street. Graceful homes and mansions, great theaters, ostentatious banks and elegant shops lined this noble avenue.