|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following article by Constance Rosenblum was published in The New York Times, September 24, 2010.|
In a fourth-floor loft on Spring Street near Greene Street, where a century ago workers cut fabric for hospital scrubs, a fragment of the old SoHo is preserved as if in amber, removed from the tourists and shoppers who now crowd the streets.
The loft’s residents are Murray Reich, 78, a painter, and his wife, Elizabeth Weatherford, 65, the founding director of the film and video center of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in lower Manhattan. Occupants of the loft for nearly four decades, the couple were present at the creation of SoHo as a residential neighborhood.
Mr. Reich, who was born in the Bronx, and Ms. Weatherford, who grew up in Memphis, had met in Paris in the summer of 1967 when she was backpacking around Europe. Mr. Reich was immediately smitten, but Ms. Weatherford slipped away before they could exchange phone numbers.
“And so when I got back to New York, I went into a phone booth with a handful of quarters and called every Weatherford in Memphis,” he recalled. “They’d say things like, ‘We had an Elizabeth, but she died.’ ”
Then one day he got a phone call. The mystery woman from Paris had turned up in New York. In short order, the two were sharing an abandoned industrial space in Chinatown.
That was the late 1960s, a time artists were colonizing the empty cast-iron buildings south of Houston Street. In 1972, just after Mr. Reich won a Guggenheim fellowship, he was approached by a friend. Would he like to join three families who were buying an old garment factory and converting its lofts to residential space? For a total cost of $146,000, each family would have an entire floor containing 3,200 square feet of space.
“So we put down $10,000 and got a mortgage of $26,500,” Mr. Reich recalled. “Sounds cheap, right? But remember, these were 1972 dollars.”
Even today, Mr. Reich struggles to describe the chaos that greeted them. Rats scurried about as if they owned the place. Every window was broken. Decades’ worth of lint was embedded in the floor. The rackety boiler reminded Mr. Reich of a 19th-century steam engine. Heat, hot water and electricity were sometime things.
Relations among the building’s owners, a group that shifted over the years, compounded the problems. Mr. Reich got on famously with the artist Stephen Posen, father of the fashion designer Zac Posen. But a few relationships were less harmonious, especially early on, and this proved an issue when it came to the freight elevator, which was originally hand-operated.
“If you were downstairs and the elevator was upstairs,” Mr. Reich recalled, “you needed someone to bring it down for you. And if you and the person on the top floor weren’t speaking, you had a problem.”
Sleeping on mattresses and living like vagabonds, the couple gradually transformed the old loft. As an artist, Mr. Reich knew how to work with tools. Together they covered the original floor with lengths of pine and refinished the floor-to-ceiling columns — actually pine tree trunks — left over from the loft’s industrial days. Friends helped patch the holes in the tin ceiling.
In many respects, the undertaking was daunting.
“We had no money,” recalled Mr. Reich, who along with his wife was a college teacher at the time. “And we literally had to rebuild the place. But it was very exciting. I think of that period as the good old days.”
When it came to furnishings, the neighborhood’s rapidly changing face proved their salvation. With factories closing, castoffs were increasingly easy to find on the street, among them oak office chairs with iron hardware.
Other items were scrounged from other sources. The couple found a pair of handmade Adirondack chairs on a Long Island lawn and bought them for $20 apiece. They also acquired ’40s-era cast-aluminum Magnalite cookware from a store on Canal Street, and, for $400, a six-burner Garland stove from a place on the Bowery. From a salvage operation in Connecticut came a pink sink embedded in a huge slab of oak. Somewhere else they found cabinets with milk-glass tops and shallow drawers for dental instruments, still smelling faintly of anesthetic.
As with most lofts at the time, half served as a studio and the rest was residential. The couple’s son, Zeke, was born in 1981 and his space (don’t call it a room; there are almost no real doors) shifted from spot to spot as he grew older. Though Zeke is long gone from the premises, the army of Japanese robots that he played with as a child, outlandish creatures of red, black and silver metal that convert to guns and airplanes, remain perched on a shelf above the kitchen, ready for action.
Both Mr. Reich and Ms. Weatherford are inveterate collectors, and many pieces they own recall a forgotten moment in America’s past. They have, for example, two dozen hat forms carved from ash by Italian craftsmen, each for a different style of headgear. The sculptural-looking creations, which come apart like Chinese puzzles so the finished hats can be removed, are a relic from the time when no man ventured outside with a bare head.
The couple also have a remarkable collection of tramp art. Beneath the glass on the coffee table is a tiny quilt made of strips of golden silk used to wrap cigars in the late 19th century. There are intricate wooden fans, each carved from a single strip of pine; “crown of thorns” frames; a house made of matchsticks; and a box built of Popsicle sticks. Faded photographs of other people’s ancestors hang near 19th-century memory jugs, plastered with such odds and ends as buttons, bobbins and a tiny doll with a broken leg.
Many furnishings from Ms. Weatherford’s family home have made their way north, among them a grandfather’s clock from the 1830s, its face bearing painted images of a setting sun and a rising moon that move with the hours. The loft is also home to Mr. Reich’s paintings, which in recent years have featured images of arrows, a symbol he finds both powerful and ambiguous.
A couple so deeply rooted in old SoHo might be expected to mourn its passing. Yet much as they savor the memory of the neighborhood’s earlier years, they have considerable affection for what SoHo has become.
“It’s a successful and dynamic part of the city,” Ms. Weatherford said. “People leave each other alone. And they shop. There’s something great about that.”
Her husband agrees. “The street life is so interesting,” he said. “These days, everyone comes to SoHo.”
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Of the dominant symbol in many of his paintings, Murray Reich wrote: "The arrow seems to be a universal sign. It is so simple and clear in its meaning that it can be described in a vast amount of styles, from a childlike scrawl to an intensely designed and sophisticated graphic image. Arrows are signs found everywhere, from the cursor on the computer, to street signs, to markers at complex country intersections and beyond. They are (as)signed the task of pointing. We are asked to respond to them by looking or moving to where they are pointing. Arrows involve time.|
Born and raised in New York City, Murray Reich attended City College and received his M.F.A. in Painting from Boston University. As a younger artist, he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and studied at Hunter College with Robert Motherwell and Richard Lippold.
Following his first solo show in New York at Max Hutchinson Gallery, Reich was awarded a Solomon R. Guggenheim Fellowship. His work was exhibited in two Whitney Annuals, as well as solo shows and group exhibitions.
Reich was Professor Emeritus of Painting at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where he taught for 25 years. He served on the faculty of the Graduate Program in Art at Hunter College in New York. He was the inaugural director of Tanglewood's Summer Program in Art in Massachusetts, and also taught at Boston University.
Reich lived and worked in New York City and Mt. Tremper in upstate New York, where he was involved with several long-standing interests, including fly-fishing and playing squash. Beginning in 2003 he pursued his "Arrow Project," taking street photographs that offered an interesting counterpoint to his paintings.
1981 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
1972 Solomon R. Guggenheim Fellowship in Painting
1980 Memphis Mural," 16' x 3', GSA Art in Architecture Program, Clifford Davis Federal Office Building, Memphis, Tennessee
978 "Mural," 8' x 25', Bard College (wall demolished)
Artists Space, New York,
Huntington Museum, Huntington, West Virginia
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
"Abstract Vocabularies," Studio 18 Gallery, New York
American Academy of Arts and Letters, Invitational Exhibition of Painting & Sculpture, New York
Edith C. Bloom Art Institute, Bard College
Charles Cowles Gallery, New York
Long Point Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts
"23rd Annual of Contemporary American Painting," Lehigh University, Lehigh, Pennsylvania
"For the Reconstruction of Udine," Grey Art Gallery, New York
"Whitney Annual, " Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
"Painting on Paper," Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut
"9 from New York," Festival of Perth, Australia
"New Acquisitions," Power Institute of Fine Arts, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia
"Small Works," Museum of Modern Art, New York
"The Structure of Color," Whitney Museum of American Art
"8 from New York," Gallery A, Sydney, Australia
"New Work: New York," American Federation of Arts Traveling Exhibition
"Lyrical Abstraction," Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art
"Whitney Annual," Whitney Museum of American Art
"Insights," Parker 470, Boston
"Younger American Painters," American Federation of Arts Traveling Exhibition
"Painting without Brushes," Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
The National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Website of the artist at suggestion of Elizabeth Weatherford
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