Historic, but not famous

Clayton Patterson, artist, photographer, videographer, historian

Clayton Patterson (born 1948) is a Canadian-born artist, photographer, videographer, member of the No! Art movement and folk historian. He moved to New York City in 1979 and focused almost exclusively on documenting the art, life and times of the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

In 1972, his partner, Rensaa gave him his first camera and in 1980 he began photographing life in the Lower East Side of New York City. In 1985, Patterson began photographing kids from the neighborhood in front of his front door. Over the years, he has taken hundreds of photos, and displaying them on his “Hall of Fame” in his storefront window. As more photographs appeared in the window, more kids demanded their photo be taken in front the graffiti covered door.

Kids at the grafitti door for the “Hall of Fame”

His painting and drawing is heavily informed and influenced by tattoo and graffiti culture. Some of his large scale murals have appeared throughout the Lower East Side. From 1980-1982, Patterson’s work was shown in a number of downtown galleries. As Patterson grew disenchanted with the SoHo art world, he distanced himself from the traditional gallery scene and moved deeper into the underground scene of Lower East Side.

In 1983, Patterson and Rensaa bought a two-story former sewing factory and storefront at 161 Essex Street. In 1986 he converted the small storefront into an art gallery and Clayton Cap store. From 1986 to 2003, they showcased a variety of New York artists, writers, neighborhood personalities. The Clayton cap was the first baseball cap to have the embroidery all around the cap, and had the first signature and label on the outside of the cap. An embroidered signature on a repeated design, and a hand signed label for the custom one-of-a-kind designed caps.

A Clayton Cap

In August of 1988, Patterson began taping the Tompkins Square Park incident in full detail. He had come to the area with his video camera to get footage of a band performing at the Pyramid Club across the street from the park, but was pulled away by the police invasion of the park to remove the people living there. His footage from the night’s events (some 3+ hours) became instrumental in exposing police brutality in New York City that was often reported but never videotaped. As a result, the New York District Attorney ordered Patterson to surrender his tapes and camera. Patterson refused the order and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. After a 10-day hunger strike, Patterson’s lawyers negotiated a deal that would allow the city to get a copy of the tape while allowing Patterson the right to keep the original.

Patterson left NYC in 2014 leaving a legacy of over 1/2 million photos, hundreds of thousands of digital photos, thousands of hours of video tape in multiple formats and numerous artworks. You can learn more about him in the documentary Captured from 2008.

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Historic, but not famous

Arthur Wood, Broken Angel House

Brooklyn artist Arthur Wood purchased a 4-story brick tenement building in 1979 for $2,000 in the Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy neighborhood. He proceeded to add on to the building with his wife Cynthia over the next 27 years.

The house was a mix of pieces from various projects and Arthur had a camera obscura on the top area and a room that looked like it floated in the air. The inside was like a huge cathedral with arches and colorful “stained glass windows” that were made from the remains of bottles and glass. (I looked out my bedroom window and saw the house every morning shining in the sun from 1999-2005 – Cherie).  The structure reaches 104 feet, or about 9 stories above the sidewalk and was considered by many to be a cultural landmark and example of folk art. It was used as a back drop to Dave Chapell’s Block Party video.

In November of 2006, there was a fire and the structure was declared dangerous and the city tried to kick the Woods out of the home. They defied the order and were arrested. They lived in a car outside the building over the winter while working to fix it and find financing. They found partners and were going to turn the space into condos and artists lofts, but the deal fell through. Faced with a foreclosure from Madison Realty Bank, and Cynthia being diagnosed with cancer, the Woods struggled to fight the foreclosure and get their house back. Cynthia Wood died at the age of 72.

The house was lost to a developer and completely demolished in 2014.

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Historic, but not famous

William Dunlap, Artist, manager of Park Theater

William Dunlap (1766 – 1839) was a pioneer of American theater. He was a producer, playwright, and actor, as well as a historian. He was an artistic painter and managed two of New York City’s earliest and most prominent theaters, the John Street Theatre (from 1796–98) and the Park Theatre (from 1798–1805).

In 1783, he produced a portrait of George Washington, now owned by the United States Senate. He studied in Europe for a few years, but returned to New York in 1787 and worked exclusively in the theater for 18 years, returning to painting only when economically necessary. He produced more than sixty plays, most adaptations or translations from French or German works. He also wrote original plays based on American themes with American characters. He may be best known for the three-volume History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States. The encyclopedic work was published in 1834, and considered an invaluable source of information about artists, collecting, and artistic life generally in the colonial and federal periods.

In 1825 Dunlap was one of the founders of the National Academy of Design, and taught at its school. The academy is located near the Guggenheim museum on 5th Avenue across from Central Park.

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Historic, but not famous

Mark di Suervo, artist, Socrates Sculpture Park

Marco Polo “Mark” di Suvero (born September 18, 1933) is an abstract expressionist sculptor and 2010 National Medal of Arts recipient. He was born in China, but his family moved to the United States at the beginning of World War II. He went to San Francisco City College and the University of California Santa Barbara, where he studied art and learned sculpture making after leaving his philosophy major behind. He eventually graduated from UC Berkley which a degree in philosophy, but concentrated on sculpture.

After graduating from college, di Suvero moved to New York City in 1957 to pursue a sculpting art career. He worked part-time in construction and began to incorporate wood and metal from demolition sites into his work. Shortly before his first solo exhibition at Green Gallery, di Suvero was involved in a near-fatal elevator accident on March 26, 1960, while working at a construction site. He suffered spinal injuries and doctors feared he would not walk again. It was during this time that he learned to use an arc welder, which had become very important in his work. It took 4 years, but he was able to walk without assistance and begin his work again in ernest.

He left the United States during the Vietnam war but returned and established studios in California and New York City. In 1986, he established the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City,  Queens. The park still functions today as a place for artists to bring large format sculpture to the public. It was put on an abandoned landfill and illegal dumpsite and the four acre site is the largest outdoor space in New York City dedicated to exhibiting sculpture.

For more information on the Sculpture Park, visit Socrates Sculpture Park dot org.

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