Helen Clay Frick, always an art enthusiast, founded the Frick Art Reference Gallery in 1920 as a public reserve and in loving memory of her father, Henry Clay Frick. Originally housed in the basement bowling alley of the Frick Collection, the library moved to its current location in 1935, transformed from its previously residential identity by Russell Pope. To date, the library offers access to comprehensive collections of photographs with complementing texts as well as other resources to better understand Western Art, adhering to the intentions of both Helen and Henry.
“It has the vibe of being lived in, ” Nicole Hudson, the Associate Director of Mnuchin Gallery said as she guided me around the townhouse that houses the gallery. The building dates back to the early 1900s and has been landmarked, thereby retaining its grand yet domestic design. It is not hard to imagine a time when the space was occupied by a well-to-do family who might have decorated their walls and floors with the kind of art that the gallery has on display. As Nicole pointed out, the unique location makes it easier for clients to picture the work in their own homes and see how the pieces could add to their lives. “Art has to enrich the day to day, ” she said with a smile. Nicole expanded on the origins of the gallery, explaining how the founder, Robert Mnuchin, became an art dealer after leaving the world of finance in the mid 1990s. He had been an art collector during his career in economics, and so he smoothly transitioned to owning a gallery. He began by forming partnerships with James Corcoran and Dominique Levy. The resulting galleries, C& M Arts and L& M Arts, both resided in the Upper East Side townhouse in turn. Robert then went solo and changed the name to Mnuchin Gallery in 2013. He deals primarily in the secondary market and uses multiple floors of his magnificent building. Nicole went on to show me the exhibition that was on display, called “Carl Andre in his Time. ” Originally, the gallery wanted to solely feature Carl Andre, a minimalist artist from the 1960s-1970s, but decided to open up the exhibit to his contemporaries as well. I was intrigued by how many sculptures were installed on the ground in geometric square patterns. Nicole noted that in the late 1960s, the pieces were created to be walked on (“It was part of the experience”), but because of their historical significance, Mnuchin preferred that visitors refrain from walking on the sculptures. One corner of the gallery that caught my eye featured two pieces of art juxtaposed - one was a series of stacked shelves by Donald Judd where each shelf had to be nine inches away from its neighbor. On the floor next to it was “32-Part Reciprocal Invention” by Carl Andre, made of found steel rebar, in which the distance between each bar in one row was designated by the length of the bar in the row above it. Both were interesting examples of how the world of math and measurements influences art. Another intriguing piece taking up a full wall was “Wall Drawing #69, ” designed by Sol LeWitt in 1971, which was previously on display in the Guggenheim. I would have missed it if Nicole had not pointed it out, since the swirling colored pencil designs that covered the flat white space were so delicate and light. Nicole explained that if the piece is purchased, the new owner gets a certificate of authenticity and then draftspeople come to their house to recreate it on their wall. Sol DeWitt provided loose, organic instructions, so each iteration of the piece is slightly different. It takes two people about ten days to replicate the design. After it is completed, Mnuchin’s own version will be painted over. Nicole then smiled and said how she loves seeing the faces of visitors who realize that there is a piece of art hidden on Mnuchin’s walls.
The first ground hall we visited at L'Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, a gallery that celebrates art from the eighteenth century and earlier, is the only section that features art from the twenty-first century. Helen Fioratti, the owner of the gallery, has put her daughter, Arianna Loreto's work on display. The modern, familial pieces leading to the elevator provided a perfect complement to the gilded and dazzling older antiques that we were about to visit. I was taken by Arianna's whimsical drafts and sketches that decorated the elevator, appreciating that visitors are surrounded by art at every turn. Upon stepping out onto the second floor landing, I noticed a collection of chandeliers with candle fixtures instead of bulbs. Helen promptly informed me that each one is from the eighteenth century. With a slight smile, she went on to say, "I was told by a chandelier gallery that there are very few eighteenth century chandeliers on the market. I have ten, which I think is more than anybody else. " As we wandered around the gallery, Helen pointed out treasures and told us about her life. Along with owning the shop, she is an interior designer who has worked with members of the Kennedy family and the Royal Family of Kuwait. She grew up in the art world, since her mother was Countess Ruth Constantino, the first female fine art dealer in the United States. Her mother started collecting art at a young age. The countess's uncle would pay her money to go to bed on time, which she would then spend on antiques when she went to Europe with her family. When Ruth grew up, she worked for a German art dealer as an unpaid intern, because her father claimed that well-bred girls did not have jobs. She eventually persuaded her father to let her open a gallery, but soon married an Italian diplomat whom she met at the New York World's Fair in 1939. As Helen paraphrased her father, "Wives of Italian diplomats didn't work. " Ruth opened a new gallery, but did not use her name, instead calling it "The Connoisseur Inc. " This is the gallery that Helen would merge with her own in 1982. I asked Helen about her earliest memory having to do with art and antiques, and she responded with a story from when she was five years old: she picked the paint off of the antique Venetian commode in her bedroom and colored it back in with crayons. Helen added that when she first got married and opened her gallery, she already had a furniture collection put aside and needed no more to furnish their apartment. Helen has the magic ability of breathing life into each of her pieces through suggestive storytelling. She showed me a cabinet that had belonged to the King of Portugal. There are twenty-eight secret compartments and a mirror on the top, which Helen said, "is where the king would model his crowns. " I could immediately picture the regal purposes of the piece of furniture. Similarly, Helen said that a clock that caught my eye had been made by an Englishman for the se de Medici's in Florence. The clockmaker then decided to stay in Florence. His son became the greatest Scagliola master - meaning he was an expert in a specific form of decorative work. Since she seems to know the story behind all of her inventory, I asked Helen if it is ever difficult for her to have to sell a piece and part with it. "It's like having a marriageable daughter, " she responded. "You don't want someone to take her, but it would also be sad if no one wanted her. "Some of the most interesting pieces in the store were the games tables. Helen has written many books in her life, including one on old games and the antiques that teach us how they used to be played. She then brought out a little bag that Louis XV would have given to one of his courtesans. It has carved ivory "fiches" that function as game pieces and have little fortunes wrapped inside. "It's a very rare thing, " Helen said with a sparkle in her eye. There was also a collection of inlaid wood game tables, complete with clear outlines showing where to put cards, players, or pieces. Pointing to one that was signed with the artist's name, "RENOLDI, " on an arch in the wooden landscape design, Helen told us that she looks for authenticity in her entire collection. "What I care about is that things are real all the way through, " she said. "I even want the tips of feet to still be original. "Despite being in her antique business for thirty-five years, Helen is surprisingly spry and still does in-depth appraisals herself. "I may have to turn it over and crawl on the floor, but I can tell you if something is authentic, " she stated. "In this gallery, if it's painted, the paint is original and if it's gilded, the gold is real. " After exploring more of the multi-floor antique wonderland, with treasures like sixteenth century Italian ceramics, a fourteenth century illuminated manuscript leaf, and rare globes made of wood and paper mache, I returned to the first floor and Arianna's drawings. In a little corner of the room, Helen pointed out a picture of a cat that Arianna had drawn when she was twelve years old.
The West Side Institutional Synagogue, with its towering stone walls and ornamental turrets, is a building of religious importance, though the worshiping that takes place inside may not be clear from the outside. This is because the building was originally erected as a Methodist church in 1889, but then became the home to the synagogue in 1937. Chet Lipson, a member of the congregation, and the temple’s Rabbi, Daniel Sherman, offered to give us a tour of the magnificent structure. The annex, which was added to the main synagogue in 1958, as the stone plaque outside indicates, houses both a preschool and a senior center. Our two guides led us past small children and strollers into the room where the morning services take place. The space is primarily used by Tifereth Yisrael, the Yemenite group that rents the room from West Side Institutional. We then entered the main sanctuary, which, given that WSIS is orthodox, is split up into a men’s and a women’s section. Rabbi Sherman elaborated, however, that the gender separation is only enforced during prayer and that co-ed seating is allowed during lectures and speeches. I was amazed at the size of the room, which the men boasted seats some 600 people and is considered to be the second largest sanctuary on the West Side. On a separate occasion, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rabbi Aaron Reichel, a practicing attorney, whom the other two men referred to as the synagogue’s historian. He explained that the congregation was formed in 1917 and began holding events in theaters in Harlem. In the early twentieth century, Harlem had the third largest concentration of Jews in the world, after Warsaw, Poland and the Lower East Side. During its heyday, the Institutional Synagogue’s Hebrew School contained a thousand students and over three thousand people passed through the doors of the synagogue each day. When the Jewish population started shifting away from Harlem, the synagogue ultimately moved downtown, landing in its current location. The congregation changed the stained glass windows of the old church, covered the murals, and removed the organ, turning the structure into a new kind of religious home. In the 1960s, however, there was a fire that destroyed the interior. They managed to save the torahs, but the sanctuary had to be rebuilt. While sharing photos of the reconstruction with me, Aaron spoke of the highly regarded Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, who founded the synagogue and was an incredibly influential figure in Jewish-American history. Aaron's passion for this great man, which inspired him to write The Maverick Rabbi, is especially understandable, considering Rabbi Goldstein was Aaron’s grandfather. Aaron gave me the shortlist of the Rabbi’s accomplishments, including making kosher food available on a national scale, becoming president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and being one of the first American-born orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Goldstein’s goal for the synagogue was to make it both 100% orthodox and 100% American, with an equal emphasis on Judaism and patriotism. I was particularly touched when Aaron mentioned that the synagogue hosted monumental Thanksgiving parties and that many of its congregants joined the army to fight in both World Wars, with Rabbi Goldstein sending them rousing letters throughout their time in service. Aaron’s interest in the synagogue is both personal and academic. He has done an extraordinary amount of research on the building and its influential members, but he also has been an active member of the synagogue for a large portion of his life... it was his father who married Rabbi Goldstein’s daughter and took over in 1960. Aaron would sometimes unofficially fill in for his father when he was away, as he was the one who had his finger on the pulse of the temple. He noticed that after the fire, the synagogue took a while to return to its former glory. He thanks Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, however, for reinvigorating WSIS in the 2000s. He credits the rabbi with “building up the synagogue again. ” He also believes the synagogue is fortunate to have the dynamic Rabbi Sherman as its spiritual leader today, "to lead it into a future that will hopefully not just match but exceed the synagogue’s glorious past. "
There are very few items that the husband and wife team, Carlisle and Daphne, have not monogrammed at some point in their shop. Filled to the brim with hats, robes, sweaters, lunch boxes, and even stuffed animals and piggy banks, Monogram Cottage has a plethora of clothing and other gifts that are begging to have initials or names put on them. The pair, originally from Jamaica, can add lettering to a variety of materials, including plastic. Their creative juices appear to always be flowing, especially when they monogrammed hospital slippers to bring to patients. Though the Cottage functions mainly as a gift shop, Carlisle was quick to tell me that he and his wife are always happy to monogram pieces that people bring to him. In addition, they create custom designs and fonts for their customers. Going down to the basement with Carlisle, where most of the stock is kept, I was surprised to learn how high-tech the monogramming art is: Carlisle creates a design using a specific computer program that converts the lettering into a stitching pattern. That pattern is then sent upstairs to Daphne’s computer next to her sewing machine, where she sews the design onto the chosen item. Apparently, it was Daphne who piqued his interested in monogramming – she was trained to do this through her former job, ultimately allowing the couple to enthusiastically open up Monogram Cottage outside of Manhattan, in Dobbs Ferry, NY. From the moment they opened their store in 2004, the pair had many New York City clients, ultimately causing them to decide to open another shop in Manhattan. Their first one, in 2013, was on 78th Street, but two years later they were forced to move (the building was being demolished), thus landing them on 76th. Today, they are content to focus their energy solely on the Upper East Side, having given up their Dobbs Ferry location. In the basement, in addition to shelves full of labeled gift items and Carlisle’s massive computer, there is a small cot. Carlisle told me that the bed is a very important part of the business. Sometimes, Daphne has so much work to complete that she is at her sewing machine long into the night and has to have a place to lie down for a little bit. Sure enough, during my visit, Daphne was sewing the entire time. The couple works hard to earn the second half of their store’s name: “Best Personalized Gifts. ”
Though I spent a year and a half living in London in my younger years, I did not become nearly as attached to English cuisine as Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, did when she lived there. I realized this when her eyes lit up as Arjuna, the executive chef of Jones Wood Foundry, brought out plates of English pies and fish and chips for us to sample. With a huge smile, she dug into the mushy peas, made with fresh peas instead of the traditional canned, and the flaky battered cod. She and Sideways photographer Tom then tackled the meat pie of the day, made in a rosemary crust. I tried the accompanying mashed potatoes, which were impossibly soft and fluffy – I later learned that the kitchen goes through twenty pounds of potatoes and four pounds of butter to make them. We were in taste-heaven. We dined outside in the charming backyard garden as we spoke to Arjuna who told us about his Indian heritage and his time traveling through Europe. He began by saying that food is deeply tied to love and happiness in Indian culture. “If the mother’s in a bad mood, Indian families eat nothing.... So the moral of that is: make your mom happy. ” Though Arjuna is a dual citizen, British and American, he has always chosen to stay in the States. He pointed out, “All the kinds of cuisine you could ask for are right here in New York. ” He explained that though he had spent a little time in Cornwall in St. Ives, he had not cooked very much traditional English food until joining the Jones Wood team. He learned a lot from Jason Hicks, the owner and former executive chef, who designed the menu and has since taken on more of a consulting role. Jason wanted Jones Wood to be a “food-driven pub, ” where people can come in with no expectations and then be wowed. As Arjuna stated, “There’s something for everyone” on the menu, pointing out that they had changed the recipe of the French fries to use canola oil instead of beef fat, so that they would be vegetarian-friendly. Moreover, they are triple cooked and slow fried so that they are extra crispy. It is not just the food at Jones Wood Foundry that is authentically British – the interior of the restaurant, designed by Yves Jadot, is filled with touches of English culture. There are pint mugs, hunting horns, photos of the English military and Winston Churchill, cricket bats, British bus stop signs, and the obligatory “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. I expected Arjuna to tell me that the restaurant is home to numerous ex-pats yearning for well-made English food, but instead he said that there are actually a lot of locals who come four to five times a week. “They give me a big hug, ” he said with a smile. The name, despite being Anglican, is possibly the most American thing about the pub. In the nineteenth Century and earlier, the pub's current neighborhood was a forest known as “Jones’s Wood. ” It almost became the main parkland for Manhattanites, but lost the bid to Central Park. Shortly afterwards, the building that now houses the restaurant was constructed and occupied by a foundry that produced railings, weather vanes, manhole covers, and many other metal works. When Jason Hicks opened his restaurant in 2009, he chose to name it after the original business that was housed in the space. After we told him how fun we find it to explore the kitchens of the restaurants that we visit, Arjuna invited us downstairs to watch him make Sticky Toffee Pudding, a traditional English dessert composed of fluffy cake, often with currants, with molten toffee sauce poured on top. Though he appeared to be at ease with us while sitting in the courtyard, it was when he entered these quarters that we noticed he came into his own, like a fish in water. It makes sense: a large part of Arjuna’s life is connected to the culinary world. He even met his wife, now a successful playwright, in a restaurant. At Arjuna's urging, we ascended the steps back to the garden, where he served us his masterpiece. The dessert, smelling of rich molasses with a scoop of ice cream on the side, was positively scrumptious. Beautiful weather, a lovely setting and a terrific, dedicated chef made for a perfect afternoon.