When I asked Alex Harsley if he knew who owned the 1968 Dodge Dart parked outside his gallery, his response was “that is mine…I purchased it in 1974, and have enjoyed it ever since…my car is all about the good times.” Complete with a penguin in the driver’s seat and an owl in the navigator seat, it certainly reflects the creative and historic atmosphere of the 4th Street Photo Gallery right behind it. Alex opened his gallery in 1973 and described it as a “museum of the past.” Although certainly showcasing past techniques, scenes, and individuals through its extensive collection, Alex has always been one step ahead of the curve throughout his long career in photography and videography. Alex developed his photography skills by playing around with the different techniques he had created as well as by learning from his mistakes. His career as a professional photographer began in 1959 when he got a job with a New York Attorney’s Office. After being drafted into the army, Alex was able to become a supervisor in the photography department at Color Lab due to his knowledge of photo chemicals and his ability to be “very good at getting weird kind of situations that no one knew anything about.” In the 1970’s, Alex began to focus deeply on experimenting with the photo chemical process. He became interested both in increasing his understanding and in spreading his knowledge to other photographers. He was able to open an art organization with the help of other artists that he was working with at the time, which he used as a platform for research, collaboration, and teaching. His organization, 4th Street Photo, is as much a community as it is a gallery. Since 1971, Alex has offered his space as a showcase for photographers of all backgrounds, as well as a meeting place where ideas are exchanged, portfolios are reviewed, and new friends are made. It has been instrumental in giving distinguished photographers their first significant New York City solo exhibits. Throughout his career, Alex has done an immense amount of work freelancing in both photography and video, collaborating with other artists on projects, and even producing video that would be displayed in the Whitney. He has also had the incredible good fortune of having spent time photographing both John Coltrane at the Apollo Theater and Muhammad Ali when he was a young fighter. However, in the early 2000’s, Alex realized that he was doing very little of his own work and decided to return to his own collection to begin the process of printing. He eventually produced around “2,000 or 3,000” of his own prints, many of which are displayed or stored in his gallery.
So many of us tend to take photos on our phones these days, and then we are never quite certain what to do with them – whether to print them out, and where to place them in our home or office if we do - while others have acquired meaningful pieces of art over the years, but have no concept of how to hang them. This is where David Kassel and Michelle Conrad, the husband and wife team behind ILevel, come in.I had spoken on the phone with Michelle prior to our meeting, and I had, of course, read about ILevel on line. I was not at all prepared, however, for what I discovered upon entering their gallery on East 7th Street. The fantastic space is vast - absolutely ideal for displaying artwork in any form.David and Michelle greeted Lucas, the photographer, and me and invited us to sit on their couch as we began to chat, and play with their adorable new puppy. It was a perfect, relaxing atmosphere for anyone who is interested in receiving some great advice about decorating their walls.David began by sharing a bit of his background with me. I had to stop him immediately when he related that he had attended SUNY Purchase, for my family and I lived on the same street as the university for fifteen years. I, of course, knew the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase where David worked while a student. Following this, he secured a job at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In the 1980s, when David became aware of the "crazy purchasing" of art that was going on with corporations, he decided that it was time to go out on his own and begin an art installation business. He has not looked back since.What came as another surprise to me was when David mentioned that he has lived in this brownstone for over forty years, only recently (2016) deciding to open a brick and mortar space, downstairs, for his thirty-year-old company. Today, the walls are covered with photos from Michelle and David's own family, as well as work from private dealers who do not have space to display paintings.When we were there, it was an eclectic mix with contemporary pieces, botanical works, and eighteenth century Hindu art. In addition, several walls were devoted to the fifteen members of their staff - all of them artists. Michelle added that they are constantly changing things up - creating unique configurations, as they want to be able to inspire those that come through their doors. "There are endless creative possibilities as to how one might choose to hang their artwork; we like to allow our clients to see what they, potentially, can do with their own collections."Michelle is from Chicago and has had an interesting, successful career in marketing. Today, however, she chooses to work along side her husband, sharing ideas in any and every aspect of the business, as well as raising their two children. They appear to be one terrific duo.David shared several amusing stories with us from his encounters with clients. Who gets to share lox and bagels with someone in the Dakota building, or a cup of coffee with some of the most fascinating people in New York, hearing their stories, and looking through their photos? When I inquired as to whether or not the business continues to make them happy, David had no hesitation in responding, "We love what we do, even after all of these years... However, it is the relationships we form that are the most meaningful to us." Elaborating, Michelle shared that people are always pleased to see them. "Often, we are the last step in what was otherwise a challenging renovation or move." At the point that their team comes in, all the dust is, literally, settled, and the boxes are unpacked. ILevel is simply putting on the finishing touches by placing beautiful art on the bare walls.
Aicon Gallery was created from the positive feedback that two brothers received from their online gallery of Indian art that they had created in 2000. As one of the first major outlets for Indian art in the US, the gallery continues to highlight the work of artists from the Indian Subcontinent and to demonstrate its relationship with the rest of the world.
Had we not been personally escorted through the unmarked double doors that lead to Kenkeleba Gallery, Manhattan Sideways might not ever have known it was here. The only sign on the building reads Henington Hall, etched into the stone facade along with the year it was built, 1908. According to Joe Overstreet, in the 70’s the building was condemned until he and his wife, Corinne Jennings, were able to strike a deal with the city in 1978. Although 2nd Street was teeming with drug activity back then, the arrangement proved worthwhile for Overstreet, as it gave him, his wife, three children and the emerging Kenkeleba House a home in an area that eventually cleaned up its act and became one of the most important neighborhoods for the arts in New York City.Since its founding, Kenkeleba House has flown under the radar as a not-for-profit gallery space and artist workspace. Joe and Corinne were only interested in promoting new ideas, emerging artists, experimental work, and solo shows for those deserving of the recognition. They preferred to showcase artists whose works were not typically featured in commercial galleries, focusing primarily on African American art. Joe and Corinne’s vision of Kenkeleba House - as a space for artists to grow, to showcase African American that oftentimes would have been lost, and teaching African American history through gallery shows - was only possible due to their extensive background in art as well as their immense individual efforts.Corinne was born into a family of artists in an isolated part of Rhode Island, and until she was about twelve or thirteen, she thought “that’s what everyone did- I thought people made things.” Her father, a talented printmaker who studied under Hale Woodruff, is widely known for his black and white wood engravings and costume jewelry. The Wilmer Jennings Gallery - across the street on 2nd Street - is named for him. Jennings’ mother was a Yale graduate and painter. Corinne came to New York in the 1960’s, originally wanting to be a scenic designer. Even though she was qualified, she was turned away by the head of the scenic designer’s union with the explanation that they did not want any women or black people. She instead started to do art projects, and eventually decided to “tackle some of issues that prevented African American artists from fully developing.”Corinne and Joe spent a lot of time speaking with artists from different parts of West Africa and the Caribbean, eventually coming upon the realization that “they needed to find a different way for people to develop, for people to have space to work, [and] to find alternative educational routes for people.” In 1978, Joe and Corinne purchased an abandoned building on second street, fixed it up, and opened up their first art exhibition in 1980. From then on, they began amassing their extensive and remarkable collection.The exhibits on display in this gallery recognize the rarely explored contributions that people of African descent have made to the art world. It is here, hanging on the walls and filed away in the deepest recesses of their private collection, we were showed a portrait of Dr. John DeGrasse painted by a largely forgotten African-American artist by the name of Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901). Banister won a national award for his most famous painting, “Under the Oaks.” The magnificent framed picture of Dr. DeGrasse is easily worth more money than we could count, but the history lesson we received from Joe was priceless. Dr. DeGrasse was a native New Yorker and also one of the first African-Americans to receive a medical degree. He gained acceptance to the Boston Medical Society in 1854, making him the first African-American to belong to a medical association in that state. And to boot, he was also the first African-American medical officer in the U.S. Army serving as Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War. In addition, Manhattan Sideways viewed works dating back to 1773, by the late Hale Woodruff, an African-American abstract painter who lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1980. In addition to being an artist who aspired to express his heritage, Woodruff was also an art educator and member of the faculty at New York University.“We are African-American, so that is what we do,” said Corinne, “but we are also interested in artists from the Lower East Side.” Corinne’s personal art collection reflects much of her parent’s amazing work, as well as that of other African-American artists, both well-known and yet undiscovered. Kenkeleba Gallery aims to teach the younger generations about African-American history. “Every nationality walks by here on a daily basis, but they have no idea who we are as a people.” Joe and Corinne were well aware of the contribution African-Americans have made to the arts that began right here in this community. Their private collection is made up of over 30,000 paintings, artifacts, art books and jazz records that tell the rich history of African-Americans in this country.
Kenkeleba Garden, named for an African healing plant, is simply magical. We followed the densely forested greenery around to the back, arriving at a clearing that transported us to another world far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. We were completely surprised when we landed in front of the sculpture garden, which is only visible from 3rd Street. From large African sculptures to collections of scraps or bricolage, a specialty of the Lower East Side art scene, we could not help but linger before doubling back and re-emerging onto the concrete sidewalks of 2nd Street. It was not until many months later, when we had the pleasure of meeting Joe Overstreet and his wife, Corinne Jennings, that we learned that this is affiliated with their gallery next door, Kenkeleba House. It is their life-long dream to someday use these grounds to build a museum that would house their massive collection of African-American art.
The space is fabulous at Billy Reid, furnished with vintage southern pieces and housed in an amazing Bond Street building. Billy began his fashion business in Alabama and opened up his inviting menswear enclave here in 2008. Soft flannel shirts, great suede boots, woven skinny ties, colorful bow ties, well-made blazers, beautiful striped shirts and more…I love everything about this boutique, and each time I stop by, I am inspired to makeover the men in men in my family. Billy designs much of the clothing in the store (minus the Levi jeans). He has gorgeous fabrics to choose from for suits and sport jackets. And, there is a tasteful selection for women.
Pageant Print Shop’s entirely glass storefront bordered by light blue is instantly eye-catching and proudly displays the treasure within. Inside its bright, buttercream interior, an immense assortment of old prints and maps line every wall and fill neatly-labeled display racks.This sanctuary of beautiful historical pieces was created by Sidney Solomon and Henry Chafetz in 1946. It was originally one of the many second-hand book stores on Fourth Avenue, an area that was then known as “Book Row.” Now under the leadership of Sidney’s daughters, Shirley and Rebecca, Pageant Print Shop primarily sells old prints and is thriving at its current 4th Street location.Having worked with historic pieces her whole life, Shirley knows how to get the best prints. She has amassed her impressive collection from antique book auctions as well as other various sources that she has built up over the years. Rodger, who has been working at Pageant Print Shop for over a decade, told Manhattan Sideways that “what we are looking for are old books with the bindings broken that are really not in very good shape on the outside, but still have good quality prints, maps, or illustrations on the inside.” Although they search for old books based on the contents within, the shop also sells the old bindings for creatives looking to make decoupage and other fun art projects.Pageant Print Shop is definitely a fixture in the East Village, and in the words of Rodger, is “one of those neighborhood jams.” They enjoy “a loyal group of people that have been coming here for eons," tourists looking for something authentically New York City, and neighborhood people walking by. Rodger told us that newcomers are often “surprised that they are able to buy a piece of history,” and return for more of their authentic, beautiful, and historic prints. Pageant Print Shop is unique in its extensive, high quality, and affordable selection. Rodger affirmed that “It’s going to be hard for you to find someone who has this kind of a collection at these kinds of prices - it’s just true.”
With a bowl sitting on the floor labeled “Dog,” a small children’s table set with books slightly ajar, and a wooden drying rack covered in aprons, walking into Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks is like entering a well-kept early twentieth century home. Out back is a casual collection of lawn chairs surrounded by greenery, the perfect place to sit and chat or get lost in a good book. We were guests first and customers second, peering at the shelves of authentic cookbooks adorned with spatulas, match boxes, teddy bears, rolling pins, a type-writer, an antique Hope Pride oven, and other trinkets under the domain of kitchen and library.More than a store of antiquarian cookbooks, Bonnie Slotnick offers an experience. The space is active, inviting you to delicately handle the old kitchenware, fumble through the books, and fraternize with Bonnie. The more we spent time with Bonnie, the more we realized how interdependent Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks and Bonnie Slotnick are, each filling the other, and those around them, with life and breath.Bonnie started collecting books, which she strongly distinguishes from the stocking she does for her store, when she attended Parsons School for Design. After graduating, she began her career in publishing. (She is still a freelance editor to this day, though her customers may not realize it). In 1984, she took on the side job of looking for books to help stock Kitchen Arts and Letters, where scouting out books became as much a mission as a hobby.When Bonnie picks up a used cookbook, she first looks for the aura. She fumbles through the pages, catches the familiar old book smell, and senses the synergy of the words, illustrations, and typefaces: the book as a complete object. She told me that she often feels like she is saying, “Oh there you are old friend, you nice old friend!” She picked up The American Woman’s Cookbook, first published in 1938, which featured a hologram-like cover, thumb index, and photographs sourced from marketing campaigns. “This is a wartime edition, published in 1942,” she explained, “…things like sugar, fat, and white flour had to be rationed.” She went on to show me some of the cooking utensils in her shop – a rotary egg beater, a tomato slicer, and some tools to make butter, amongst others. The Manhattan Sideways team agreed that they were reminiscent of pieces we had in our own homes growing up, a nuanced nostalgia that made our first visit to Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks both comfortable and familiar. Her passion in showing us the cookware and books not only fueled our own interest, but also engaged others wandering around shop. They could not help but listen to what Bonnie had to say, her eyes smiling the whole way through.Aside from books, what Bonnie wanted to talk about most was her supporting community. Though she at first feared the East Side, viewing it as an entirely different environment than the West, she now is familiar enough with the neighborhood that she could not stop listing other small businesses that she admires nearby, wishing to promote each one of them. Her website even has a section called The Neighborhood, where she promotes other bookstores that she hopes will be as successful as hers has been. These are not her competitors, but her friends.Nothing is more revealing of Bonnie’s character than her immense appreciation for her current landlords. Bonnie has lived on West 10th street since the mid 1970s, and when she lost her lease on her old West Village bookstore location in 2014 after being in business for seventeen years, she was devastated. Luckily, in 2015, Margo and Garth Johnson stepped in, offering her a lease on a commercial space in their house. Book lovers themselves, the two have adopted Bonnie into their community and saved her dream of “keeping bookstores and a love of reading alive.” They also adopted a dog, which Bonnie admits was as much for her as it was for them.Bonnie’s new lease offers ten years of permanence, rather than the three of her previous one. The new space is also three times the size of the old. With more room, supportive landlords, and a sense of stability, Bonnie is able to diversify the use of her space. She is now open to hosting literary and culinary gatherings, such as book clubs for food literature. She also hopes to expand her stock of books when she accumulates enough funds. The supply is certainly there: potential sellers often send her pictures of books they would like her to buy.Bonnie goes to work six days a week. She says, “Each day I create something. My store is my art.”