Framing Space

Talk about getting into the head of an artist.  Go to their home.  Go to their studio.  Three years ago, Donald Judd Foundation completed a $23 million restoration of the cast iron building he bought in 1968.  I got to visit and really get into his head.

At the time, Judd spent a year rehabbing the industrial building in Soho, that he picked up for $68,000–not much for a building, but a clear indicator that the 40-year-old, Minimalist artist was doing well financially.  By the time of his death in 1994, he had created a space here with intentional installations, the way he wanted the space kept and seen. 

Little has changed since that time, other than the rust was removed from the exterior and the interior gleams.  What we can now enter is the artist’s vision for space installed according to Judd’s philosophy and aesthetics.


The two black boxes above are Judd’s work.  He was interested in making us aware of space–framing, capturing, measuring space, using clean lines and simple colors.  He was a theoretician who studied philosophy and carried both over into his work.

Shunning the language of sculpture and architecture, he called his works “objects.”  He wants to make us aware of the space itself as an object.  To make space material.  Are you lost yet?  Being in his living space grounds these ideas out of the theoretical realm.

You can see here the four-ton Judd cube placed in the large open space of his “studio.”  The cube frames a chair facing out toward the windows.  The entire floor is full of contained spaces. 

Judd’s studio was not for making, but rather for thinking, reading, and writing.  I can imagine an idea forming from where we are standing, traveling through the cube, past the reflecting chair, and out into the world.

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The studio wasn’t off limits to his family.  You can make out the children’s desk and chair in the left corner where the children would come do their homework.

In that sense, the house isn’t precious.  It was meant as a family home.  I was delighted to learn that Judd designed furniture, created out of pine and Douglas fir.  His trademark straight lines and straightforward designs transfer to the home.

Here you see the table and chairs of the dining room.  Note that the top of the chairs is flush with the top of the table, creating a pleasing line and another cube-like shape.  Judd himself was very tall, well over 6′, and I wondered how he could tuck himself into the straight-backed, low-to-the-ground chairs.  But they look smashing.

In case you’re curious, you can buy a replica for about $2000 per chair or $10,000 for the table, all still handmade to Judd’s specifications.

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For the same space, Judd designed a banquette on wheels shaped like a cube and a table doubling as a clever storage piece, with hinged doors on top opened to reveal glassware and tableware.

The second floor (of the five we visited) is the most overtly public space with Judd-designed built-ins.  There are two doors flush to the wall, sized according to each child’s height.  They open to closets.  Nearby is another door, again flush, that opens to reveal a puppet theater. 

Judd loved industrial materials and collected gadgets and restaurant equipment for the kitchen.  When they lived in Soho, the area wouldn’t have been full of restaurants.  They would have cooked and entertained in this space, with its huge windows connecting to street life.

He subdivided the spaces with their tall ceilings by designing lofts with ladders for access.  In the bedroom here, he built a loft space for his son, Flavin.  His son was named for Dan Flavin, a good friend and also the artist for the room-long, neon light piece on the right.

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By 1974, Soho had become an artsy area, which for Judd meant the end of its appeal.  He shunned the commercialization of art.  After searching for larger spaces outside of New York, he moved his family to Marfa, Texas.  There he built a compound of buildings that supported his experiments in framing space,  including the vast plains and mountains around the small town.

While his marriage didn’t survive this move, his work and influence grew outside of New York.  Experiencing the space he so carefully crafted, both in Marfa and now in New York, brings his sensibility profoundly alive.

Advanced Style

Feeling 18 without all the burdens.  That’s the assessment of her life by one of the older women featured in “Advanced Style.

No matter your sense of style, no doubt you will love these New York women who dream and live out those dreams. 

Whether you are feeling creaky or don’t recognize yourself when you look in the mirror because you feel so young, give yourself a treat with this documentary.  Maybe you’ll want to sign up for the blog for that ocassional pick-me-up!


Loving Kindness

As we wrestle with massive incivility in the American public sphere and greater racial tension than in several decades, today I experienced a microcosm of the issues enmeshed in this current.  And it was helpful.

In my Kabbalah class, we talked about the Tree of Life.  The Tree has always been my deepest connection to Judaism, and each revisit, I learn something new or hear just what I need in that moment.  Today, I felt the cord between Chesed, loving kindness, and Givurah, the judgement and balance needed to most effectively apply our hearts.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

We talked about our speech, the importance of what we say, and avoiding ‘bad speech’.  Words are the expressions of spirit ( as in, from God came the word), so our speech is holy.  You know that experience of speaking joyfully and how you then become filled with joy.  How different that feels from whining (all words used with intention).  Do what you say you’re going to do, and you will be filled with the deep satisfaction of integrity.

I left class feeling calm, recommitted to kindness, and ready for my encounter with Anna Deveare Smith and her new one-woman show “Notes from the Field.”  Long an admirer of how she makes political and sociological points by giving voice to everyday people, I was interested in how she would bring her reenactments of interviews to the raw topic of racism by the police, our schools, and the justice system.

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When the show started, I grew impatient with the retreads of recent events, the inevitable pain and outrage focused mostly on Freddy Gray.  Take me somewhere new.  I expect this is Smith.

But, I realized, this inhumanity to humans is not new.  Smith’s responsibility is not to say something new, but to be a voice for those not usually heard.  I heard the school principal’s shock when a young man said prison wasn’t so bad because he had enough to eat and could play basketball.  She vowed to stop the school police from arresting students.  Make them stay in school.  Break the pattern.

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I started to hear hope in the possibility of words and actions.  Not be victimized into inaction by incivility of wannabe leaders or cruelty from other forms of institutionalized power.  By Act 2, I resonated with the small uplifts–the prisoner who trains service dogs for the disabled, the teacher who focuses on changing one life, John Lewis who forgave the man who beat him in 1961, now calling him brother.  I spent much of the second act in tears.

We live in a very tough world, and I don’t want to be victimized by it with a continual onslaught of pain.  I don’t want to turn into teflon either.  The Kabbalah suggests a balance—to use good judgement and hold each encounter with loving kindness.  It sounds so simple, but for me, it is the work of a lifetime.

The Sole of Connecticut

Loving the quirky little exhibit here and there and relishing shoes as art, the shoe show at the Connecticut Historical Society is just the thing.


These well-heeled shoes for the well-heeled woman were not only owned, but also made by Hannah Edwards in about 1746.  Looking pretty sharp for 260 years old.  I would let Hannah make me a pair of shoes any day.

Like many Colonials, she made and repaired shoes at home, buying leather tanned by Native Americans.  Vegetarian spoiler alert:  the Indians used animal brains to tan the hides.

Even from early on, when shoes were made in small workshops called tanneries, chemicals from the process were dumped in our rivers.  Sigh.


These shoes were made from a military flag carried in the American Revolution.  Really!  Red silk damask and painted with gold.  Made in about 1780, they are a remarkable blend of patriotism and “waste not, want not.”

These shoes come from an era when many people went barefoot.  See this 1776 ad that offered a $5 reward for the return of an African-American man named London, who had run away with a coat, vest, leather breeches, two pair of trousers, and notably two pairs of shoes.


I’m very committed to flats, so marveled at this wisp of a shoe.

Colonial Ballet Flats

Colonial Ballet Flats

2016-10-13-17-31-49Owned by Ann Francis Darling in about 1865, I don’t see how this shoe could get a lady through a war.  These wedding shoes on the right from 1876 look like they would only last for that special day.


Mid-1800s N. Hayward & Co. shoe advertisement

1888-1893 Colchester Rubber Co. advertisement



Rubber has been big business in Connecticut since Charles Goodyear figured out how to vulcanize it for durability in 1844.






Rubber shoes and boots showed up not long after.  In 1893, displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair, U.S. Rubber displayed these miniatures as advertisements for their full-sized counterparts.  They were sold as tchotchkes, too.  Instant nationwide marketing.

Attach canvas to a rubber bottom, and you get that feeling of walking barefoot.  Yes, back to our roots, when shoes were a luxury good.

Comfort and canvas and rubber and voila!, you get sneakers, a Connecticut invention.  These shoes were dubbed sneakers because the rubber soles allow you to sneak around very quietly.  Shhhh.


In 1916, U.S. Rubber consolidated 30 companies to form the Keds brand.  Soon athletes adopted Keds, as did just about everyone else, me included.  I’ve had some pretty sharp Keds in my day–colors, patterns.  Pretty groovy!

As was the pop culture section of the “Growing Up in Connecticut” exhibit also at CHS (it could have been Growing Up in Anywhere, U.S.A. after WWII).

This tv is so cute, it makes me reconsider having one of my own.


I was a Beatles fan, but don’t recall the baseball cards, like the one here on the left of John Lennon.  My brother and I would have loved those.


We did definitely play with lots of plastic dinosaurs and creepy figures.


Oh what memories!


Docomomo in New Haven

Docomomo had its day today.  All over the U.S., preservation groups were leading Docomomo tours.  So what is Docomomo?  “Documentation and conservation of bulidings, sites, and nieghborhoods of the modern movement.”  Read that as modernist architecture from the mid-20th century.

Walter Malley house, 1909, designed by Grosvenor Atterbury

Walter Malley house, 1909, designed by Grosvenor Atterbury

In New Haven, land of great architecture, New Haven Preservation Trust took on the awesome duty of touring us to see modernist residential architecture.  And where better to visit that elegant St. Ronan Street?  Wait?  What?  Yes, among those classic beauties, crafting the first “streetcar suburb” in the area, are emblems of modernity.

2016-10-08-14-21-23After the Civil War, when New Haven became an industrial powerhouse, estates were built in the country outside New Haven on St. Ronan Street.  Yes, St. Ronan is walking distance from much of Yale, but that just shows how small New Haven was at the time.  Eli Whitney was among the notables to build leafy green estates here.

By the 1920s, with a wave of modernism, the estates were broken up into small lots.  Streetcars carried people the easy distance to downtown jobs.





Adolph Mendel house, 1913, designed by R.W. Foote

Adolph Mendel house, 1913, designed by R.W. Foote





By the 1950s and ’60s though, like so much of the country, car culture created real suburbs, and neighborhoods like this one were in radical decline.  Large houses were converted to rooming houses.  Lots were subdivided again with urban renewal and back filled with smaller homes.

Architecture students graduating from Yale were building experimental houses on these small lots.  Established architects, like H.W. Foote, who designed stately homes like the Adolph Mendel house above, shifted to constructing modernist designs.

Jose Delgado house, 1959, designed by Gualtier & Johnson

Jose Delgado house, 1959, designed by Gualtier & Johnson

Houses like the Jose Delgado house applied a California philosophy to the modernism.  Low pitched roof lines overhang garages placed near the street.  Behind the garage, the private part of the house opens onto garden spaces behind, melding the indoor and outdoor spaces.

But having the garage up front “deadens the streetscape,” we were told.  That’s why traditional houses with front porches will hold a place in people’s hearts.

It’s all a tradeoff.



Mrs. E.H. Tuttle house, 1956, designed by E. Carleton Granbery

Mrs. E.H. Tuttle house, 1956, designed by E. Carleton Granbery


You can see an earlier California design again in the Tuttle House from 1956.






Stanley and Margaret Leavy Residence

Stanley/Margaret Leavy house, 1967, designed by Granbery, Cash & Assoc.

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Piet Mondrian, Lozenge Composition, 1921

My favorite was the Leavy house.  I just love the geometric lines and blocks of color, reminiscent of a Mondrian painting, and what must be bright, open interior spaces.

Dr. Leavy saw patients in the home originally.  Now, the patient area is rented out as an Air BnB.  Let me know if you stay here!


Robert/Judith Evenson house, 1979, designed by Kosinski Architecture

Robert/Judith Evenson house, 1979, designed by Kosinski Architecture

By the 1970s, architects were concerned with energy conservation, as we can see in the solar-designed Evenson house.  Skylights allow heat to radiate through the space, heat water, that then circulates through radiator piping to heat the house.  Heavy walls and small windows provide solar gain, too.

The eclectic architecture of the St. Ronan area shows a pattern of architectural history in towns and cities replicated across the country.  The desire to build large homes in traditional, European styles gets intermixed with a robust American modernism.  Eye candy all!