Daylighting Tibbetts en Plein Air

In the “Daylighting Tibbetts Brook en Plein Air” series, Noel Hefele invites us on an intimate journey through the landscapes of the Bronx, where personal history, community bonds, and nature’s resilience intermingle. Each painting extends beyond the canvas to reflect a narrative steeped in generational ties, the artist’s family once traversing the very railroads he now depicts amidst a call for ecological revival.

Initiated in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s destructive wake, these works underscore the immediacy of climate change and urban adaptation. Hefele’s brushstrokes, informed by on-site dialogues and the community’s shared experiences, illuminate the Bronx’s beauty and the urgency of sustainable cohabitation with the environment.

The project’s heart lies in its engagement with residents—from conversations sparked by a child’s curiosity to dialogues with locals who see their stories in Hefele’s hues. These exchanges, some leading to collaborative brush strokes, affirm the paintings as communal portraits—chronicling not only a locale but its living essence.

As we navigate Hefele’s watercolors, we traverse more than a geographic path; we experience the potential rebirth of Tibbetts Brook. This envisioned daylighting—a stream once buried, now poised for reemergence—symbolizes a broader reclamation of natural spaces within our urban tapestry. Here, art becomes an advocate, painting a future where water and city dwell in harmony.

This exhibition, set against the backdrop of a community on the cusp of transformation, serves as a visual catalyst for action. With the use of QR codes, Hefele extends an invitation to delve deeper into the project’s roots, connecting viewers to historical maps and stories that enrich the visual experience.

“Daylighting Tibbetts Brook en Plein Air” is a series of paintings and an evolving dialogue where each brushstroke, each captured light, and each shared story becomes a step toward the collective stewardship of our urban environment. It’s a testament to the power of art to document, inspire, and mobilize—urging us to listen and act in concert with the rhythms of nature that persist amidst our city’s hum.

(Thanks to the Kingsbridge Historical Society for the excellent maps and historical documentation of the area)

  • 1. Van Cortlandt Park South Bridge

    1. Van Cortlandt Park South Bridge

    Yesterday, I positioned myself precisely where Tibbetts Brook is envisioned to emerge from Van Cortlandt Park, transitioning into the CSX rail line. Just the day before, this abandoned rail corridor had transformed into a raging river, a result of Ida’s torrential rains. Now, it lay calm—still damp, yet reclaimed from its brief life as a…

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  • 2. Putnam Ave West

    2. Putnam Ave West

    I returned to the site of the historic Major Deegan flooding and painted the largest watercolor I’ve done in some time. #DaylightingTibbetts is about inviting water in and it felt necessary to think in watercolors. The highway is also a river, but of oil. Oil and water don’t mix, but coexist, articulate in expressing their…

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  • 3. Crescent Park

    3. Crescent Park

    Yesterday’s painting session found me beneath the intermittent shade of a black locust tree along W 233rd Street, near Crescent Park. The sky was a vivid blue, the sun’s warmth a touch too intense. Thankfully, this spot offered both shade and an unobstructed view, unlike the fenced areas. Directly across the Major Deegan Expressway lay…

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  • 4. TJ Maxx

    4. TJ Maxx

    Last Thursday, I returned to Albany Crescent, this time to paint directly above the highway. There, I was acutely aware of the fiery essence of this scene – a river-like flow of combustion engines, a stream of vehicles consuming oil. I spotted this particular parcel on It is labeled Bronx block 2, lot 10,…

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  • 5. Below Van Cortlandt Ave South Bridge

    5. Below Van Cortlandt Ave South Bridge

    In this session, I found myself back at the Van Cortlandt Park South bridge. Yet, unlike before, my vantage point shifted beneath the bridge, immersing me in the pathway carved by IDA’s raging flood waters – the future route of the Daylighted Tibbetts Brook. I’m painting a landscape that is technically fenced off. But there…

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  • 6. Verveelen Place

    6. Verveelen Place

    I positioned my easel on the quaint dead end of Verveelen Place, situated directly across from the proposed Tibbetts Path and adjacent to 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…

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  • 7. Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond

    7. Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond

    Seated on a bench atop the dam in Van Cortlandt Park, I painted the serene Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond, a waterbody recently christened with its new name. This waterbody was created in 1699, when Van Cortlandt had his enslaved people dam Tibbetts Brook in order to power saw and grist mills. Piero was an…

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  • 8. W 230th + Irwin

    8. W 230th + Irwin

    Initially, digital maps hinted at a car-free Tibbetts Avenue, part of NYC’s open streets initiative. This avenue overlays the original path of the long-buried Tibbetts stream.  I headed out intending to paint from the middle of the car free road. I felt the need to go looking for the lost stream to see what I…

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  • 9. Siren Slope

    9. Siren Slope

    I painted at “Siren Slope” – a small, overlooked hillside on the edge of Albany Crescent, next to a fire station. This is an official NYC Park, .28 acres in size, right near entrance and exit ramps for the Deegan. As a community member put it – “I didn’t know that spot had a name…

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  • 10. View from the Target parking lot

    10. View from the Target parking lot

    I painted from the rooftop parking lot of a Target. Standing atop ‘River Plaza’—once an industrial site transformed into a commercial hub—I reflected on its layers of history and change. The complex was built on the site of a former industrial site with a large warehouse housing New York Presbyterian Hospital medical records from 2002…

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  • 11. 234th st Bridge

    11. 234th st Bridge

    Residing atop a hill, each venture out to paint becomes a pilgrimage downhill, a ritualistic merging with the watershed’s embrace. Under autumn’s azure sky, the sun cast an unseasonably warm glow, painting the day with contrasts. I explored a bit looking for where I’d paint, – checking the Bailey playground along the fence line. No good…

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  • 12. Riverdale Crossing Mall parking lot

    12. Riverdale Crossing Mall parking lot

    I painted in the BJ’s warehouse parking lot, the former site of the Stella D’oro cookie factory. This was another spot I knew of with no fence blocking the view. It’s under a sign for the larger complex, RIVERDALE CROSSING. These type of name choices are funny, solely meant to capitalize on the nearby affluent…

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  • 13. The Broadway Drain

    13. The Broadway Drain

    I painted the culvert where Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond descends underground into the broadway sewer, spilling approximately 5 million gallons of fresh water a day over the waterfall into the darkness. Earlier this summer, the poignant struggles of ducklings, Canada geese, and a swan cygnet caught in the challenging waters below the falls left…

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  • 14. The 233rd St Bridge

    14. The 233rd St Bridge

I painted on the 233rd street bridge. This is a short hop down from the 234th street bridge. I almost painted facing south to get a view of Albany Crescent, but looking toward the sun for the session didn’t seem like a good idea. I set up looking north over the highway with the…

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  • 15. 238th Bridge over the Major Deegan

    15. 238th Bridge over the Major Deegan

    Just a day before embarking on this project, the IDA floods transformed this highway section into a watery expanse, stranding over 80 vehicles in the aftermath. Drawn back to the 238th Street Bridge, I set out to paint from the very spot where I had captured a poignant image on that tumultuous day.   At…

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  • Daylighting Tibbetts en Plein Air

    I recently finished this video overview for my City Artist Corps project from last fall. Take a look below, and you can read the text from the project here

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