The Society of Illustrators leaves anyone who enters with a yearning to create. At its core, the Society seeks to “promote the art of illustration through education and exhibitions,” as described by Executive Director Anelle Miller.
This mission takes many forms. Visitors can attend a regular Sketch Night, where novice and advanced artists alike can gather to draw nude and costumed models or still-life pieces. As the only illustration society in the world that also houses a museum in its space, those seeking inspiration may meander through the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, peruse the illustrated exhibits on display, and watch video shorts in the screening room as they wait for the muse to strike.
Under Anelle’s tenure, the Society has reached out beyond its doors to offer art programs for underserved and incarcerated youth and a wealth of online work-shops and lecture series. “We embrace everyone, and that’s what art is supposed to do.”
Even those who have not personally visited the Society may be familiar with its reputation for hosting four of the biggest illustration competitions in the world, including the Illustrators Annual, a student scholarship competition, and a children’s book illustration competition — which Anelle referred to as the “Academy Awards for children’s illustrators.”
In 2014, one of the best children’s books selected, Papa Is A Poet, was written by Manhattan Sideways founder Betsy Bober Polivy's mother, Natalie S. Bober, and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon.
The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is named for its founder, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she invited me to No. 152. Having first opened in SoHo in 1982, by the late nineties, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that by the late nineties she was ready for a change, and so she moved the gallery closer to home – in fact, into the building on 65th Street where she had been living for twenty-two years. Since 1997, the gallery and Mrs. Shapolsky have shared a home. The relationship is truly a symbiotic one. "What would you do in a house without art?" she exclaimed. "They take the paintings down between shows, and I'm sick with nothing on the wall." Her bedroom is tucked into the second floor of the building, concealed behind accordion doors, and in another room of the gallery, a shoe closet is just ajar.On the day that I sat down to speak with Mrs. Shapolsky, the feature exhibit, , was by the artist Russell Connor, whose art riffed on classic painters, pairing them and their masterworks with references to other, more modern pieces. Mrs. Shapolsky said that she thinks of it as an educational show, as it exposes visitors to art history, and brings the old and the new together. Having been invited to a lecture by the artist, I had the pleasure of meeting Russell Connor, and listened as he elaborated on a number of the paintings; each one has a hidden joke for the seasoned art historian. This exhibit was a change from Russell Connor's accustomed style; he usually prefers abstract art for which the Anita Shapolsky Gallery is best known.When Mrs. Shapolsky opened her gallery, she decided to focus on the Abstract Expressionists of the fifties, especially those of the New York school. She had no experience at the time working in or running a gallery, only a great passion for art. "It was madness, sheer madness," she told me. But despite the mad ambition of the project, the gallery has been a great success. Mrs. Shapolsky drew on her connections to other artists and friends in order to bring the appropriate pieces into her space. Although she knew that the aesthetic was not popular at the time, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that she had grown up with the abstract expressionists, and felt that they represented an important artistic avante garde.The Anita Shapolsky Gallery excels not only at exhibiting important art, but also at connecting that art to people. To be both in a gallery and a home is a unique experience, and meeting Mrs. Shapolsky was a privilege. She is as much a part of the gallery as is the art. On the day that I met her, she was wearing a piece of art around her neck. Her jewelry was made by Ibram Lassaw, whose work can also be seen at the Guggenheim.
The Roosevelt House is primarily an educational institution, housing two of Hunter College's undergraduate programs and hosting a number of book talks, panels, and other public events. But, as the name reveals, it began as a family home. The Roosevelt's moved into this double townhouse in 1908, with matriarch Sara Roosevelt living on one side, and Franklin and Eleanor on the other, along with their five children. On my visit to the Roosevelt House, I participated in a guided tour that illuminated some of its history for me.The building itself, was designed by architect Charles Platt, who also made the plans for the nearby mansion that was home to The China Institute for almost seventy years. This elegant townhouse among the rows of brownstones would set the tone for many of the other structures in the area to be renovated or replaced.Deborah, the tour guide, took us through the many rooms and their pasts. I was surprised to learn that the house was built with two elevators, one on each side, a rare architectural choice for the early twentieth century. The elevators became especially important after 1921, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt fell ill with polio and was confined to a wheelchair. One of the elevators has been retained in its original state, and is shockingly small – the wheelchairs we use today would never fit - but Roosevelt's had a profile similar to that of a dining chair, and so was able to wheel in and out without difficulty. The second elevator has been expanded to allow full accessibility to Hunter College.Upstairs, the library functions as a little museum, containing a selection of books on the Roosevelt's, along with some historic artifacts. The real history though, is in the building itself. "A lot came out of this house," Deborah explained. President Roosevelt appointed his initial cabinet members in the upstairs library, and among them, the first woman. That same library is where President Roosevelt practiced tirelessly on crutches until he could stand and move sans a wheelchair during political gatherings. A few steps away, the drawing room was the site of Roosevelt's first radio address as president. One floor up is the bedroom where he recovered from polio, and where he often held meetings so that he could continue working minus the discomfort of his leg braces. I found myself lingering close to the walls, hoping they might whisper some of the things they overheard all those years ago.In 1941, Sara Roosevelt died, and the family put the townhouse up for sale. It was a difficult time to sell a house – everybody was at war except the United States, and the whole country knew that conflict was in the immediate future. The Roosevelt's still managed to find a buyer. Eleanor had a strong relationship with Hunter College, and so when they expressed interest, the family lowered the price, making it possible for Hunter to acquire this historic home in 1943. It was dedicated as the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House.Today, the Roosevelt House works to balance its legacy and contemporary function. The house retains all its original crown molding, but the furniture is new, allowing Hunter students and visitors to sit comfortably and not worry about causing damage to antique sofas or rugs. Students at the Roosevelt House study Public Policy and Human Rights, a fitting tribute to the Roosevelt family's influence on this country.
Watching over the fascinating conversation that I was engaged in with Emily Lansbury, chairwoman of the board and Laurie Sanderson, executive director, was a blue elephant statue, once Florenz Ziegfeld's personal mascot. Today, it guards this small office where a hidden piece of theatrical history lies. Located on the fifth floor of the Central Presbyterian Church - where the women who originally founded the Ziegfeld Club were members - are a few remnants of old show posters and photographs of Mr. Ziegfeld and his "girls."I learned from Emily and Laurie that the club was founded in 1936 by Billie Burke, the widow of Florenz Ziegfeld - and the actress who played Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz. During a time when there was no social security or unions and there were no safety nets for many women in the theater world, the Ziegfeld Club was founded in an effort to raise awareness and finances for the dancers who became destitute. Yes, some of these women married well, usually to men in the business, but many suffered great hardships when they were no longer able to perform.Once upon a time, the Ziegfeld Club was a million dollar charity. Although they have managed to maintain its office inside the church all these years, Emily and Laurie have now taken on the task of deciding what should happen next. Together, they are firmly focused on the future, and are working hard to find a balance between honoring the group's past, and finding its place in the present day Broadway community.
Specializing in nineteenth and twentieth century masterpieces, Achim Moeller opened his first gallery in London in 1972 followed by his New York gallery in 1984. On the day that I visited, I was able to view sketches by Lyonel Feininger. The exhibit focused on his early years, and was mainly composed of studies of houses and landscapes. I was especially drawn to a picture of a small cottage covered in snow, which was delicately mapped out using only charcoal.
Aaron gallery was founded in 1923 Paris by Jean Aaron. Just after World War II, it was taken over by her son, Didier, and formally renamed Didier Aaron. This 67th Street location was opened in 1977. Dating between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the gallery's art is comprised of paintings, sketches, and a sprinkling of antique furniture. "Just look at it, it is a beautiful space," explained Alan Salz, director and head of paintings and drawings, and an art history admirer. He was referring to the space and the natural light that the windows allow. Alan was pleased to share with me that he lives only a seven-minute walk from the gallery, enjoying his time in this part of the Upper East Side. "I look for what clients will like," he told me, "Something high-quality, with an interesting provenance."
"In a family business, everybody works," Robyn Pocker announced when I first met her. She went on to tell me that her first job as a little girl was making paperclip chains in her family's framing establishment. Over the years, she was promoted through the ranks, learning to wrap packages with bakery string, how to please customers, and simply to absorb advice from her parents, until she became a full employee, fresh out of college. Robyn went on to say that she feels "very rooted on 63rd Street." Asking her to transport me back in time, as I knew that the Pocker's had been in this area for generations, Robyn spoke of when the Lexington Avenue subway was being constructed and the city wanted to get rid of the building where her grandparents had begun their business. Many important clients, however, including Mrs. Rockefeller, wrote to City Hall declaring that they should not drive J.Pocker out of its home. Although they did have to move just around the corner onto the side street, the company has been able to remain on the Upper East Side since 1929. Not only that, but the business has expanded, opening multiple locations in Connecticut and Westchester County, including a 10,000 square foot factory in Mamaroneck. Robyn proudly stated that despite the expansion, J.Pocker is still the "friendly neighborhood framer." When I asked Robyn where she pulls her inspiration for the variety of frames that they construct, she spoke of her travels abroad and told me that they send scouts to museums to take pictures of certain historic styles so that they can be replicated. Robyn has also been known to wander into the antique stores in London to find unique pieces to mimic. Along with period framing, using classic Spanish, Dutch, and tortoise-shell frames, the company effortlessly steps forward in time and has framed flat-screen TVs and a photograph of an eighty foot whale. One of the main reasons why Robyn believes J.Pocker has successfully remained in business through the years is that they treat every item to be framed like a priceless piece of art, and every client with the same care and precision.
Within a serene, residential environment, the Lowell’s goal is to make its guests believe that they are living in a luxurious private townhouse - a glamorous “home away from home.” The landmark building, which was built in 1928 and became the Lowell in 1984, has a reasonably small number of guest rooms with twenty-seven deluxe rooms and forty-seven suites emphasizing quality over quantity with no two stays being exactly alike. Before guests arrive, a story is developed for the time they will be on 63rd Street, including bedding, food, and drink preferences. And when welcomed, guests are provided with age-appropriate amenities, a welcome beverage and an in-room orientation. “Guest relations is one of the most important jobs,” explained Marketing Director Sarah Bolton.Each room has its own set of unique décor, handpicked by designer Michael Smith, revered for his cohesion of European classics with American modernism. Even the bathrooms are garnished with DDC 28 amenities from the hotel owner’s exclusive line, and rare urban amenities like terraces and wood-burning fireplaces are included in many of the rooms. Five of the suites are also themed: the garden suite, the Hollywood suite, the Manhattan suite, and two Lowell suites.The penthouse suite, complete with a full kitchen, Mac computer, and four terraces, controls the seventeenth floor, and every inch of the 2500 square foot space is tastefully decorated. Hand-painted de Gornay wallpaper lines the master bedroom, depicting a natural environment in soft hues. Patterned-rugs interact nicely with specially selected furniture, and shelves are filled with books and intriguing sculptural objects. The suite can also be used as a private event space when not reserved for guests.On the second floor, the Pembroke Room offers breakfast, a daily afternoon tea, and pre-theater dinner. Seating sixty, the room is filled with delicate chandeliers, adorable teapots, beautiful flower arrangements, and cushy seating. The chef de cuisine, Michael Fred, prepares French and American fare.When asking friends to describe the experience that they could recall from their stay at The Lowell a few years back, the words that came to mind for them were elegant, small (in the best possible way) and the phrase "attention to detail." They described the rooms as being decorated so beautifully that they felt as though they were a guest at a friend's elegant Upper East Side penthouse apartment, rather than at a hotel. "Nothing uniform or commercial about the Lowell." They went on to say that the Lowell staff was the ultimate in professional and met their wants and needs before they even realized that they wanted or needed them. And, my favorite was the comment from their daughter, who said it was her favorite hotel and her best memory is of the fresh fragrant smell of flowers in the lobby.A glamorous “home away from home,” the Lowell is a perfectly situated on 63rd street - a tree-lined, quiet location just a few blocks away from some of the city’s classiest commercial centers. The hotel prides itself on being timeless – it blends classic and contemporary styles to best create a residential character, and does so impeccably.
The greatest treasures on the side streets often take the form of art studios, theaters, non-profits, innovative exercise spaces, and specialty lodging. I was delighted, therefore, to find all of these facilities inside the West Side YMCA. According to Wyndy Wilder Sloan, the senior director of the Y, I was not unlike numerous others who admitted to having had no idea that this extraordinary building existed on West 63rd. Sharing the fascinating history of the Y with me one morning while touring the building, Wyndy simply stated that not many people stroll down their street and those that do rarely notice what has been here since 1930.Wyndy was crowed that they have at least 5,700 active members, 397 guest rooms, an off-Broadway theater, and an art space in addition to its vast array of fitness facilities. At the start, the Y even owned the McBurney School next door, which is still marked with a sign for "BOYS." Wyndy informed me that the West Side Y is the largest YMCA in the country.My first stop on the tour was on the newly renovated tenth and eleventh floors to see the selection of guest rooms, which Wyndy described as "a hostel that is not a real hostel." Wyndy shared with me that guests are frequently European travelers, mostly form the UK, with the average age between eighteen and twenty-four, but national youth groups, like the boy scouts, also take advantage of the facilities. Traipsing down the white walls marked with shapes in cheery bright colors and the names of countries from around the world, I peeked into a room and found a spotlessly clean bunk bed that had a view of Central Park.Descending down some flights, I went to the fitness floors, which were astonishing. There, I found enormous studios that offered classes from Aerobics to Zumba and everything in between. Learning that the YMCA "invented" basketball and volleyball, I gazed upon the spacious court encircled one floor up by an elevated track. When I commented on the spectacular racquetball courts, squash courts, and, particularly the original machinery still decorating the walls in the boxing room, Wyndy proudly admitted that they were available for promotional shoots. In the gym, I was met with one of the most enormous collection of ellipticals and treadmills I have ever seen. "You never have to wait for a machine," Wyndy said. "We have every piece of equipment you can imagine," and she went on to tell me that all Y's in the country lease their machines for three years so that they can easily update to new models.Through the clean, flower-filled women's locker room, I arrived at the magnificent pool. The space is a palace, decorated with red and yellow tiles in a stunning mosaic pattern. Wyndy explained that King Alfonso of Spain donated all the tiles to the Y as the building was being erected. Slipping inside to view the smaller pool - used more for classes and therapy sessions than for laps - was possibly even more extraordinary, with dazzling white and blue designs covering all four corners.Tearing myself away from the pools, I walked into the art annex to see a painting class in progress. Down the hall, students filled a ceramics studio that boasted two kilns. I now understood from where the cases full of colorful mugs for sale in the lobby hallway came. On my way to the "Little Theater," which sported sloping bannisters and comfortable audience seating, I caught a glimpse of rounded traditional Spanish doors and more of the magnificent tiles in an event space named the "King Alfonso" room.After a whirlwind tour, where I saw so much original architecture, artistic craftsmanship, first-class facilities, and happy members, I was shocked that I had not heard more about the building as a lifelong New Yorker. Though I knew of its existence, I had no idea of all the valuable resources and facilities inside. Wyndy conceded that is a challenge that the West Side Y is trying to overcome: "When you're a landmark building on a side street, it's hard to maintain visibility." It is, however, definitely worth seeking out. As Wyndy noted, "We are unique among other gyms because we are non-profit. When you sign up as a member, you know your money is going to a good cause."