The City that Never Sleeps

We are just back from New York City, the City that Never Sleeps. It’s taken me a few days to catch up on my own sleep after logging hours and miles on the subway, visiting the Whitney Museum of American Art (usually just referred to as “The Whitney“), the New York Public Library, Central Park, Union Square, Chelsea art galleries, Hell’s Kitchen and most importantly, the campus of Columbia University where our beautiful daughter graduated with honors. Grateful to our hosts, Dwight and Colleen Olson, who moved lock, stock and barrel from Cleveland to Brooklyn in order to be close to their grandchildren, we traversed the city from one borough to another, marveling at the art, the energy, the diversity and the overwhelming sights and sounds of the Big Apple.

IMG_6525
New York Public Library

There’s something about New York–ask any New Yorker. Where did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a woman of unlimited independent means, choose to live out her life? Actors, writers, artists–they gravitate to New York City. People with means, who want to be where the action is, find their way to New York. Woody Allen has used the city as a set for most of his movies. Carrie Bradshaw made it her own, professing her love in every episode of “Sex and the City.” New York comes with a playlist, and I couldn’t help bursting into song without provocation: “Start spreadin’ the news…” or “They say the neon lights are bright on Broad-WAAAAY…” And when we thanked our hostess and insisted we reciprocate, asking “Won’t you come to Chicago?” she demurred with a smile, “No, thanks.” After all, what’s in Chicago that you can’t find in New York? (Besides us.) They call it “Second City” for a reason.

Now that I’ve nearly recovered from the trip, I’m left with images, impressions, judgments and a new kind of longing for that wider world where it seems anything goes. You can find any kind of food there you might want to eat. If you grew up feeling “different” for any reason–gay, bisexual, transgender, shy, outrageous, immigrant, glamorous, homely, tatooed, awkward–New York is a place where you fit right in. There’s poverty and fortune. Little old ladies are dressed up in their Chanel suits and propped on a bench in Central Park next to their caregivers who are in turquoise hospital scrubs and texting on their phones. Fifth Avenue should come with a warning label: Window shop at your own risk, and beware of deep-seated envy. Beautiful girls, handsome young men, moms and dads pushing strollers, the theater-hungry, the arts aficianado, parents walking their kids to school, older couples drifting arm-in-arm toward their apartments: they all have a place in New York City.

Could I handle that pace for very long? I don’t know. Just as the city nurtures and nourishes, it depletes one’s reserves. Perhaps if I, too, lived in a cozy brownstone in Brooklyn or on the seventh floor of an old building on the Upper West Side, I’d find my place, get my groove, fall into the rhythm that beats louder than the drummers in Washington Square Park and with all the force of a train pulling into Grand Central Station. When we stopped at that venerable landmark to admire the clock and the ceiling and to grab a cold drink, my husband observed, “It sure is crowded here.” Wryly I replied, “Where do you think we got that saying, ‘Man, it’s like Grand Central Station in here!’?”

And since said husband is an artist, New York has an even bigger appeal. There’s a gravitas to the city from an artist’s point-of-view, the ultimate destination for those who are fully committed to art. The galleries of Chelsea intrigued me with their clean, white spaces, almost antiseptic save for the art. The young assistants, each skinnier and more beautiful than the next, pored over their MacBook Pros, ignoring us unless we insisted on discourse. The unlimited menu of possibility, from events at the New York Public Library featuring famous authors to the rich choices of exhibits at the world-renowned museums, offers a tempting glimpse of what it would be like to live there.

But for now, back in our sleepy suburb of Chicago, I’m content to upload my photos and muse about a week that included graduation celebrations, Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island. a reading by Garrison Keillor at a local bookstore in Brooklyn and the loving connection of family and friends. Whether New York is on loan to me as a tourist or luring me as a potential residence, tossing its mane as the High Priestess of Art, remains to be seen. In the meantime, I have homework to do: my mission is to get my husband’s artwork out of our basement and onto a NYC gallery wall. Wish me luck!

[Masthead photo: Public art by Sol LeWitt, New York subway station]

An Homage to Mothers

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and like many women of my generation, I’ll be missing my own mom on this invented holiday. My mom, Geri Axford, passed away in 2009 and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. She left me with a wealth of memories, a valued practical streak that offsets the idealism I inherited from my dad, and a treasure trove of “Momisms.” (One of my favorites: “Anything’s good if it’s deep-fat fried.”).

I was startled to learn that as the tradition of Mother’s Day turns 100 years old, the founder–Anna Jarvis–was vehemently against the commercialism of the day. Originally, Mothers’ Day (then plural) was intended to inspire mothers who were mourning the loss of their soldier sons to fight for peace. According to an article in National Geographic Daily News by Brian Handwerk, Anna’s own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was her inspiration: Mrs. Jarvis rallied other mothers to work for sanitary conditions and later cared for wounded soldiers from the Civil War. In 1914, Mother’s Day (now singular) was hijacked by U.S. President Herbert Hoover and, in spite of Ms. Jarvis’ protestations, some of which got her thrown in jail, the holiday prevailed as an opportunity to up the profits of restaurants, flower shops and boutiques. According to Mr. Handwerk, Mother’s Day spending this year may top $19.9 billion.

A lot has changed since I became a mother back in 1979. When I entered the work world in earnest in 1981 as a hospital communications specialist, women were just starting to make inroads in the business world. We underplayed our roles as wives and mothers, hoping that we could fly under the radar so that the badge of motherhood wouldn’t handicap us. Even if it meant working that “second shift,” handling all our housework and domestic affairs between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., we didn’t want to be stereotyped. Our suits of armor–the ubiquitous navy blue suit and the ridiculous maroon bow tie–were a reflection of our desperate desire to fit into a man’s world. There was no maternity pay, no family leave law, no flex-time, no telecommuting. We hid our commitments to soccer games and school plays from our bosses lest they impede our climb up the career ladder. Now, of course, the rules have changed–thank God. Moms can be moms, fully integrated as workers committed to families and their jobs and careers.

Geri AxfordSo here’s to mothers, all of them–those who stay home and work the relentless cycle of childcare and homemaking, those who work outside the home in order to make a living and provide for their families and those who set an example in the workplace that we could, indeed, do both. I thank my own mother who, although sometimes befuddled by my relentless ambition, supported me all the way. And I thank my children, Kitty and William, who made me a mother, subject to all the joys, heartaches and satisfaction that role brings. I celebrate my sister and sisters-in-law who shared in those early years, providing maternity clothes, hand-me-downs for the kids and the trade secrets of motherhood that kept me sane. I’m grateful to have been on the receiving end of the many women in business who inspired me along the way, and thrilled that there are now so many more choices for our daughters.

Happy Mother’s day, Mom.

 

[Masthead photo: www.jewelryhottopics.blogspot.com]

Having Lunch with Alexander Calder

I’m in Chicago today, having a late lunch on the mezzanine of the Formerly-Known-As-Sears-Tower, AKA “The Willis Tower” although no hard-core Chicagoan likes to call it that. And I’m looking out over the balcony to see the famous moving sculpture by Alexander Calder, “The Universe.” Unveiled in October of 1974, this huge sculpture has three distinct moving parts, all of them mesmerizing.

Calder mobile Sears TowerPublic art is a passion of mine and Chicago is a great city for people with a passion for public art. I see it everywhere and I always stop to admire, no matter how hurried I may be. This very lobby recently hosted a show featuring Donna Hapac, a local sculptor introduced to me by my own beloved coach Jackie Sloane. Donna was featured in a show with several other talented sculptors and I asked for an introduction to learn more about the world of art since I’ve recently taken on a new artist client–my husband, Bill.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about the artist community, thanks to insights from Donna and other artists I’ve interviewed:

  • Art, like any business, depends on relationships. To a person, each artist I’ve asked to interview has granted me their time and shared generously of their vision and experience. Mike Bauer, a sculptor who works in concrete and steel creating sculptures of considerable beauty and magnitude, opened his home and his studio to Bill and me and told us of his own journey as an artist. Lennée Eller, program manager of the Phoenix Airport Museum at Sky Harbor International Airport, joined us for lunch and gave us insights about marketing art in the Valley of the Sun. And Donna Hapac graciously invited us to another show featuring her delicate organic sculptural forms held at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago. (The show is up through June 8–go see if if you’re in the Chicago area!)
  • People love sharing their stories. Most people–not just artists–love to share their own stories of how they got from where they were to where they are, their challenges, triumphs and horror stories. If you’re interested in pursuing any niche–whether it’s sky-diving or swaps, haute cuisine or haute couture, find people who are in that niche and ask them to share their stories with you. For the price of a latté and an hour, they will share their stories with you if you’re respectful and they know you’re serious about learning.
  • “Stories sell art.” These are the wise words of wisdom from Ms. Eller, who not only runs an extensive collection of art at the Phoenix Airport Museum but is an artist herself. This is something I hear over and over again as a member of the National Speakers Association…stories sell everything.

I’ve only begun to research the business of art. In the meantime, I get to revel in the fruits of this world-class city of art, venturing to galleries, museums and institutes that hold a world unto itself. Like this Calder sculpture, there’s movement and grace, symmetry and mystery. There are secrets but also experts who are more than willing to share. I hope you find that in whatever world you’re exploring. All you have to do is ask.

Note: If you are eager for an “artist’s date” and you’re in the Chicago area, please join us for an artist’s reception, Then & Now: Paintings by Bill Austin,” at the DuPage Framing Center (DFC) from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. next Friday, May 9. Bob Greene, owner of DFC, kindly agreed to host this reception which is at 276 E. Geneva Road in the elbow of a shopping center at the southeast corner of Main Street and Geneva in Wheaton, IL.