I set up the easel on a small dead end street, Verveelen Place, directly across the proposed Tibbetts Path from the Albany Crescent. A parking lot for the big box mall with the TJ Maxx was to my right. An unidentifiable parking lot is across the street. There are a handful of unmarked doors, some look like service bays. The street feels like an afterthought. There is one address. 195.
But the street is busy, cars stream in and out of the parking lot directly behind me. A few cars turn around at the dead end, one awkwardly parks right in front of my easel; the driver watched me for about 15 minutes.
There are 2 “END” signs and chain link fence, newly put up to discourage people from walking onto the Old Putnam railroad right of way.
A medium sized Black locust grows just beyond the fence. I spotted some enchanters nightshade, low smartweed, Japanese knotweed, tree-of-heaven, among others. A sign declaring “Area protected by 24 hour video surveillance” was posted on the fence, and I counted 6 cameras along the walls on the short street, yet none of them pointed directly at the fenced in railroad right of way.
When Tibbetts Brook is rerouted and this area is a new park, this dead end would make a natural access point, one easily connected to the broadway commercial corridor a block away.
The grade is flat, and I noticed a little bit of erosion from the street into the the right-of-way behind the fence. I imagine this street was flooded during the IDA rains.
Verveelen sounded Dutch. The historical figure, first name Johannes, attempted to run a ferry service in the 1600s to 125th street in Manhattan from the Bronx. He was successful in setting up an inn somewhere near this location, on a hill that was sometimes an island surrounded by water. It’s flat now, perhaps regraded 100 years ago when the waterways were filled in. One of the first toll bridges in the US was near this location, over a waterway that is no longer there. I read that the inn served oysters.
Nearby “Fordham” suddenly makes sense in a new way. Water was all around here.
There is a person sized hole cut in the fence on the left hand side. Someone took a hacksaw to the fence post at the door on the right hand side.
The door remains padlocked, but because of the cut above, a person can easily push the door to create a space to fit through. I did not see that access route right away, it was nicely hidden in plain sight.
The sleeping bags I saw from across the highway are most likely still there right around the corner out of view.
The first hour is quiet and I can’t tell if people respond to painting or more abstracted activations of place. It’s as if it takes some time for the vibe to warm up. The painting is mostly horizontal, so it’s hard to see how far along I am from afar.
A Yellowjacket landed on my palette, like several other times I had been out—this time I got a picture.
Art follows a pollinator model in some ways. Seeding new connections of growth, opening up possibility. Aesthetic functioning. Painting rooted in land culturally pollinates.
An older stylish man named Joe with oversized glasses and a can was the first to approach. “I’m an artist too you know.”
He told me how he has work in the Bronx Museum now. We had a wide ranging conversation, from the perils of social media “It’s leading to war” to his experience working as a gang mediator. He wants to get into carving wood because there is so much free wood around here, but his wife is worried about the space in the apartment. He told me about a painting he is working on—about a big waterfall, and the title had something to do with god or divinity. I told him about the Daylighting Tibbetts project and he gave the cynical New Yorker response. “Yeah well” – like “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
He lives in Marble Hill, the area with the most complaints about street flooding per square mile in NYC.
I gave him my card and he told me he would call me, only after he left I remembered I don’t have my number on my card anymore and he said “I’m not too good with computers.”
Another man approached with a suitcase on wheels, asking from a distance if it was okay if he looked. I said sure and asked him if he was an artist, as it seems like many folks are.
“Nah, I just appreciate the finer things in life – which apparently you do too”
He asked “How long will this take you to finish? 6 months? By then the leaves will have fallen, snow on the ground, might be tough!”
“I can see what you are doing, but you have your work cut out for you” – not impressed with my progress so far.
I asked him his name “They call me shorty!” gesturing at his height, ”I’ll see you around!”
At a certain point I was aware that someone was watching from inside the parking garage. He asked me if he could see the painting in Spanish, and it took me a second to understand.
I held it up and he said “watercolors are hard.” I asked him if he was an artist – “I paint a little bit.”
An hour or so later he is standing behind me again and says “oh it looks much better now!’ and proceeds to share his work with me from his phone. He paints watermelons, but in blue, not red. I asked why and he responded “Why not? It’s art you can do anything you want!”
The paintings looked very well done. He gave me a fist bump after we talked for a while and I felt like I earned his respect.
A security guard walked by a few times, on the job. He smiled and said “Oh you are drawing the street! I like it!”
Two younger guys came by saying “We saw you down here and wanted to see what you are doing. That’s really good bro!”
An older man with a cane parked his car and went behind a dumpster to pee.
The traffic started to congeal on the Major Deegan as the afternoon went on, half of it underneath the structure propping up the Albany crescent.
The painting was a bit wet as I made bigger moves at the end of the day trying to get the painting into shape. I walked with it uncovered on the way home.
On Orloff Avenue another artist named Adam stopped me to have a look and we had a great chat. He’s lived in the area most of his life.
We traded instagram handles and YouTube artist recommendations. I gave him a flyer about Daylighting Tibbetts. He had not heard of the project but thought it was a good idea for the area. It turns out we live about a block or so away from each other and plan to meet up again. He said “it’s good to see another artist in the area.”
It got me thinking that perhaps we should also be thinking about Daylighting Artists. There seem to be many beneath the surface.