Home is Where the Art Is

Home is Where the Art Is

The E.U.’s architecture of international relations may be taking a beating, but one international organization at least is still building cultural ties in Europe. The Artist’s Studio Museum Network links the cottages, castles, and farmhouses that artists once used as homes and studios. The buildings now serve as museums of the artists’ domestic lives and work routines; where Monet tended his waterlilies, where Rosa Bonheur could wear work pants without a government permit, and where Beatrix Potter fed lettuce to the furry inspirations for Peter Rabbit. From Croatia to the Canary Islands, the goal of artist house museums isn’t just a history lesson—it’s a 360-degree understanding of the lifestyle and context of an artist’s work.

While some studio museums are front and center in bustling metropolises like Paris, many are tucked in far corners of the globe. When the founding Network museum, the Watts Gallery Artists’ Village, put out a call for the Network, they weren’t surprised when house museums came out of the woodwork. “Many artists seek seclusion in which to work,” says Kirsten Tambling who administers the Network. “Many of the studio museums we found are set in picturesque and inspiring, though remote, locations.”

The curators share a passion for keeping alive the soul of the artist whose home they steward, from preserving tubs of oil paints, to polishing the silverware, to asking visitors to be respectful in the crypt. “There’s a strong tradition in many studio museums of artists both building and then being buried in the estates,” says Tambling. 

We selected ten of our favorite studio museums for your next road trip through Europe – with a few suggestions for additions to the Artist’s Studio Museum Network

Galerija Meštrovic

Built as a summer villa for Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrovic and his family, this museum perches like a Greek temple over the sparkling Adriatic. Visitors on art pilgrimage can rent bicycles in Split and peddle the cliff trail, stopping at pebble beaches along the way. Once there, you can wander the sculpture lawns and pass through the galleries, contemplating Meštrovic’s larger than life figures, which range from serene goddesses to the tormented figure of Job asking his eternal question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Meštrovic was imprisoned during WWII for refusing to exhibit for the Nazi regime. Much of his life was spent in expatriation to Paris, Rome, Yugoslavia, and the United States. His sculptures, most notably his emaciated Pietà in Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, dot the global map and once you become a Meštrovic expert at this gallery, you’ll notice them everywhere.

Šetalište Ivana Meštrovica 46, Split, Croatia

Ivan Meštrovic

Ivan Meštrovića, museum, gallery, sculpture, art

The Galerija Meštrovic overlooks the sparkling Adriatic. Image courtesy of Zoran Alajbeg © Muzeji Ivana Meštrovića.


The Hortamuseum isn’t just for fans of the Baron Victor Horta’s architecture. It’s a hub for lovers of the organic whimsy of the art nouveau style. From the doorbell to the dishware, the aesthetics of art nouveau invade the home of the Belgium architect. Horta’s self-designed house presents the leaps and bounds in functional capacity that the Industrial Revolution meant for iron and glasswork. There are few straight lines at the Hortamuseum. Botanical figures blossom from every corner and grow into load-bearing architecture. Voluptuous windows suffuse light. Wall-paintings and mosaic are in petal-like interplay. Parade up and down the stairs and into the tiled dining room, which can be rented for private dinner parties. 

25, rue Américaine, Saint-Gilles, Brussels, Belgium

Château de By, studio of Rosa Bonheur

It shouldn’t take the full American Indian regalia presented by her friend Buffalo Bill Cody and the walls of taxidermy animal heads displayed at the Rosa Bonheur studio to tell you that this painter was a badass. Bonheur is famous for her action-packed landscapes populated with powerful animals. To learn to paint her subjects, she frequented farms, horse markets, and slaughterhouses, inspiring generations of women artists with her no-shits-given attitude and her internationally-renowned career. When Bonheur moved from painting horses to lions, she ordered several of the large cats for her castle estate at Fontainebleau. There are no lions at Fontainebleau now, but a tour of Bonheur’s former studio is a dose in the robust energy of a woman who took a close-minded society by the scruff of the neck and shook it until it awarded her all the top honors the 19th century had. It’s a little off the beaten track to make the forty-minute trip from Paris. But hey! If Bonheur could go off the beaten track, so can you.

Chateau de Rosa Bonheur, 12 rue Rosa Bonheur, Thomery-By, Fontainebleau, France

Painter, museum, gallery, Rosa Bonheur

Taxidermy animal heads and antlers are displayed alongside paintings at the Rosa Bonheur studio.

Red House

William Morris fans sometimes make strange bedfellows – they include design and decorative arts aficionados, wallpaper lovers, architecture buffs, socialists, Medievalists, and art historians. If Morris was a midwife to the birth of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Red House is the birthplace. Morris’s home was a nerve center for a fellowship of Pre-Raphaelite thinkers, writers, and painters whom Morris hosted in his Gothic Revival dining room. The house manifests Morris’s conception that modern manufacturing had corrupted the decorative object and that home décor should be made by guild-style artisans and handcraftsmen. In addition to Arthurian inspired tapestries and Gothic stained glass, you can see the origins of Morris’s design company: Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., a furnishing and decorative arts manufacturer founded on the principles Morris’s circle and developed at Red House. While the company disbanded in the early months of World War II, Morris’s focus on the handcrafted and the artisan has certainly seen a resurgence in the early 20th century.

Red House Lane, Bexleyheath, London, United Kingdom

Foundation Claude Monet

This museum in Monet’s country home in Giverny is for all those who ever wanted to live in a painting. The house, with its floor to ceiling windows thrown open to the flower gardens, makes you realize that Monet’s passion was the outdoors. En plein air, or outdoor painting, may be a staple of the vacation watercolor workshop now, but back in the day, Monet’s move to turn the garden into his studio was revolutionary. Don’t leave without strolling through the gardens, where you can see the Giverny waterlilies that Monet made famous around the world.

84 rue Claude Monet, 27620 Giverny, France
Claude Monet

Claude Monet, museum, gallery, painting, art, garden

The Monet Museum’s kitchen windows open onto the vegetable and water gardens. Image courtesy of Fondation Claude Monet-Giverny/Droits réservés.

Hill Top

Hill Top is a charming country cottage where Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated more books in the vein of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Her affection for farm life as a retreat from London suffuses the whole property, from the parlor, to the bedrooms, to the vegetable garden. From dust pans to dolls houses, the building is stuffed with the accoutrement of Potter and her stories. The staff frequently rearranges the furniture–as Potter often did when she magpie-like added new trinkets and trophies to her décor. The staff is knowledgeable, but the only guide you need is The Tale of Samuel Whiskers; many of the scenes are recognizably set in the different rooms of Hill Top. When you’re through, hop next door to the Tower Bank Arms for a drink before the fire. The pub was around in Potter’s day, and it makes a cameo in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck.

Near Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria, United Kingdom

Halosenniemi Museum

If your dream house is a log cabin by a lake, the museum dedicated to Finnish painter Pekka Halonen might be the place for you. Halonen built the timber villa with his brother, allowing him to self-design the two-story studio he had seen while studying in Paris. From here, alongside his eight children, Halonen painted many works that contributed to the Golden Age of Finnish painting. Visitors can stroll down to the lake to watch the ice-skaters or tramp through the forest that inspired Halonen’s works. Halosenniemi Museum is a quick twenty-minute car ride from the airport – perfect if you have a layover in Helsinki and a few hours to kill.

Halosenniementie 4-6, Tuusula, Finland

Pekka Halonen

Museum, gallery, painting, artist, Pekka Halonen

Halonen designed the two-story studio after ones he’d seen in Paris. Image courtesy of Museokuva / Tuusula Art Museum.

Camille Claudel Museum

Until 2016, it was a cruel irony that, to see some of the best work by a sculptor whose artistic legacy has been overshadowed by her relationship to Auguste Rodin, one had to visit a museum with his name on it. But recently, a museum dedicated to Camille Claudel opened in her former childhood home. Claudel never gained prominence in her own time. Many of her onyx and bronze sculptures were considered too erotic by her contemporaries. Claudel herself destroyed much of her own work out of paranoia that her ideas would be stolen. Sadly, the decades it took for Claudel’s star to rise from obscurity means that the interior of the house museum in Nogent-sur-Seine was not preserved. However, the exterior has been restored and the interior is the best collection of Claudel work in the world.

10 Rue Gustave Flaubert, Nogent-sur-Seine, France

575 Wandsworth Road

The Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache bought this Georgian townhouse in 1981 and almost immediately began decorating every inch with hand-cut salvaged pine. Several homes on this list might be called a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’a total artworkbut 575 Wandsworth Road beats everyone in square inches of handmade décor. Some art critics also use the home as an example of ‘horror vacui’ or the fear of empty spaces. Figurines and geometric forms dance along the walls, lintels and mantles. Perhaps not surprising, given his love of latticework, Asalache’s life partner was basketmaker Susie Thomson. The museum has recently launched a composer in residence program, which will interpret the house carvings into music. 

575 Wandsworth Road, Lambeth, London, United Kingdom

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2AVYuG7

Departures: Tel Aviv

Departures: Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is known by jet-setters the world over as the raity that really never sleeps (sorry, New York), by culture aficionados as a hotbed of avant-garde art shows and concerts, theater and dance, and by architecture fans as home to the astonishing White City, a diverse collection of Bauhaus-inspired architecture from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s in the city center. In short, Tel Aviv bustles with a street life that rivals cities 10 times its size, crackling with the sounds of different languages – Hebrew and Arabic, English and Russian – and the buzz of cross-cultural creativity. “I don’t think Tel Aviv is beautiful in the way Paris is beautiful. But I think it is beautiful, although it’s also a bit ugly,” says architect Dana Oberson. Here are some of the spots Oberson, and Ninety Nine U, consider Tel Aviv must-sees.

Israeli architect Dana Oberson, a Tel Aviv native, wasn’t supposed to be an architect. Her father became one of Israel’s first haute couture designers, and her sister followed in his footsteps. Dana sidestepped fashion by studying graphic design, but in her first year, she says, “I figured out graphic design is too flat for me.” That realization has led Oberson to become a tour de force talent, in her own country and beyond, whose projects are as diverse as the cultures and countries from which she draws inspiration. “With some kinds of architects,” she says, “everything they do looks like they’ve done it. But I like moving from one space to another, creating a different dialogue with every client.” Besides her hometown’s vibrant mix of cultures, Oberson has been inspired lately by the architecture of Greece and Turkey, and Morocco and Namibia, in thinking about Israel’s identity as a Mediterranean country, and a country in the desert. “More than looking outwards to the States or to Asia, I think our lives and our climate really leave us, and should leave us, in the Mediterranean. The desert also makes you think of the environment in a way that is very interesting and very correct.”

Habima Square

Located in central Tel Aviv, Habima Square brims with culture: Habima Theatre, one of the world’s first Hebrew-language theaters (ha bima means “the stage”), and the Frederic R. Mann Auditorium, home to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and the largest concert hall in the city, flank it, and both were renovated extensively for the city’s centennial in 2009. But the square is beloved in its own right for its chill sunken garden, filled with flowers, trees, and people. “It has great design on a human scale that’s both inviting and friendly,” says Oberson. Dizengoff Street at Rothschild Boulevard

Habima Square.

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

This national treasure, filled with Israeli, European, and American gems from the first half of the 20th century to the present, got an enormous boost in 2011 with the opening of the Herta and Paul Amir Building, built by American architect Preston Scott Cohen, on the museum’s western side. The striking white edifice doubled the museum’s exhibition space, and enabled the creation of a new architecture archive, sculpture garden, and photography center. Sderot Sha’ul HaMelech 27, Central 

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

The White City

No city in the world has a more extensive collection of Bauhaus or International-style buildings than Tel Aviv. A great number of the 4,000-odd, predominantly white structures, which feature heavy walls and recessed windows to stave off the heat (unlike their window-centric precursors) were built by Bauhaus proponents who studied the style in Europe and fled to Palestine with the rise of the Nazis. UNESCO designated the neighborhood a World Heritage Site in 1993, and a great way to experience it is on a Bauhaus Center tour. Oberson’s personal favorites are the Anchor House by Phillip (Pinchas) Hitt (1935) and the Robinsky by Lucian Korngold (1936).  The Bauhaus Center, Dizengoff Street, 77

The White City

Fine Lab

Stop in at Fine Lab for some of the design shop’s “white grey & black inspiration,” as its website puts it. As you may have guessed, virtually everything the company does lies along the black-and-white spectrum, yet the effect is anything but stark. Rugs inscribed with text like “Hello/ I Love You/ Can’t You Tell Me Your Name?” share space with pillows, bed linens, and even a line for baby cribs. If you’re redoing a room, consider the white-and black-painted tree stumps that beg to be grouped together in an impromptu sculpture. Shabazi 7, Neve Tzedek

Market House Hotel

Though its decor is fundamentally modern – think white walls, spare furnishings, and straight lines – what gives the 44-room Market House Hotel in Jaffa its charm is that this is just the backdrop for such eclectic homespun flourishes as carefully curated artwork, contrasting textile pillows, quirky hanging lamps, and bathrooms that feel at once ancient and modern. You get the immediate sense that no two rooms at this boutique hotel are alike. Says Oberson, “Its art and wonderful atmosphere remind me of the small hotels in Marrakech.” 5 Beit Eshel St, Tel Aviv–Jaffa

Know Hope Studio

Sometimes called the Banksy of Israel, Addam Yekutieli, the artist better known as Know Hope, gained a following in Tel Aviv once he took his poetic, provocative art to the streets. Whether indoors or out, his site-specific works – from mixed-media installations and sculptures to murals and text-driven events – make an impact by blurring the line between political narrative and intuitive emotional intelligence. Oberson calls his artwork “invigorating.” Various locations



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Roz Chast: From Free Fall to Full-Time Cartoonist

Roz Chast: From Free Fall to Full-Time Cartoonist

Roz Chast is one of the lions of old school New York. She grew up in Brooklyn and began publishing cartoons for The New Yorker in the late ‘70s. Years and thousands of cartoons later, her loose line work, handwritten quips, and the frenetic, sometimes anxious, energy of her drawn world have become emblematic of the magazine’s cartoons, and the entire experience of New York.

Lately, she’s joined the legions of creatives who work remotely. She sends her The New Yorker pitches in as PDFs from her home in Connecticut. In the initial transition of moving out of the city, Chast worried that her family would become mall, lawn, and Republican politics obsessed. Instead, she happily reports that she still hates driving and that one of her children is a Socialist.

Days in Connecticut involve errands, drawing cartoons, and playing with her two parrots—who serenade her from the kitchen countertop with demands for waffles, toast, and apples. With her latest book, Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York, Chast has joined a fellowship of writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, E.B. White and Walt Whitman who capture the experience of arriving in New York City.

Chast sat down with 99U to talk about navigating a successful career as a working artist, her thoughts on the best ways to experience New York, and how to spot—and write about—the delightful in every hydrant and pigeon.

What’s a ritual you have when you’re in New York?

I love to walk. There’s something about walking around in New York. It’s inspiring for my work and as a person. I get distracted by what I see and get so many impressions. So walking is almost effortless; it doesn’t take any physical effort at all. Whereas, if I’m on a hike—not that I take many hikes—I’m very aware of walking in this boring way. I think, “Oh roots. Oh snakes. Oh bears. I hope I don’t get lost.” I don’t feel that way in the city. I’m a sedentary person, so it’s a surprise and delight how much pleasure it is to walk around New York.

The above and following images are from Chast’s new book, Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York.

You’ve successfully navigated making a living as a working artist. Were there times when you weren’t sure if it would all work out?

Yes. I was twenty-three and I had my own apartment on the Upper West Side, on 73rd Street. I had gone to art school at RISD and I did not have much positive feedback for my cartoons there at all. Even I thought, “I don’t know where these are going fit in. Because they don’t look like anyone else’s cartoons.” I really did feel like my life was probably going to be a disaster. I thought, “I know this little rowboat is going over the falls. I just know it.” And the only thing I could do was draw cartoons.

Then you started to sell cartoons to the New Yorker and this career seemed possible.

I started selling my cartoons and it was around then that I started to get this idea that maybe I would be able to do what I wanted to do for a living. It was the first time that I felt like maybe things were not going to be a complete disaster. A lot of it had to do with Manhattan and living in that apartment, and making friends with other people like me who had put all their little pathetic eggs into one little pathetic basket.

When you’re pitching cartoons how do you prep your submissions?

I sit at my desk and I sift through the ideas I’ve written down. I wish I had a notebook, but I’m too disorganized. So, I have these scraps of paper that I write stuff down on and put in my back pocket. I have a box to keep all these scraps of paper in and I pull them out, and I look at them, and I see if anything inspires me.

How does pitching The New Yorker editors work?

I’ve had three cartoon editors. I had Lee Lorenz for many years, and then Bob Mankoff, and now we have Emma Allen. There are about forty cartoonists on staff at The New Yorker. We each submit a group of cartoons, which from the beginning has always been ‘the batch’. This can range from five or six to ten or twelve. In the early days people would come and bring them in person. Then they have an art meeting. And then they tell you a few days later.

You’ve been publishing in The New Yorker since 1978. Does that mean you usually get a ‘yes’?

The odds are stacked against you. Let’s say there are forty people under contract. Each person submits ten cartoons: that’s four hundred. And then about another four hundred come in from non-staff people. So you have eight hundred cartoons. The New Yorker buys twenty a week. So, the rejection rate is at least 90%. I do as well as anybody, but most of what I do is rejected.

How do you feel when your pitches aren’t accepted?

It’s kind of horrible. You don’t get used to the rejection. If I don’t sell one week, I’m sad and unsettled, but also philosophical: “I can’t sell every week, life goes on, etc.” At two weeks, I’m more unsettled, somewhat less philosophical. After that, it’s a slide to “They know how terrible I am, they’ve realized their mistake, I suck.” I seriously don’t recommend this to anyone unless they can’t do anything else.

Do you see things everywhere that inspire you for cartoons?

That’s one of the reasons I love the city so much. Not just for the sights. It’s the density of it. I was in the city yesterday and I was with an old friend, hanging out at Bethesda Fountain. The weather was perfect and we’d gotten these ice coffees. And there were these funny things happening all around. Somebody was taking photos of this couple and we didn’t know if they were photographing an advertisement or engagement photos. She was wearing a sheath sort of dress and these four-inch spike heels and he was very well groomed and in a suit. But the funny detail was that he was carrying a Barney’s bag in this sort of obvious way. I just kept looking at that Barney’s bag saying, Do they think this is a glamorous New York photo? They’re at Bethesda Fountain with a Barney’s bag. And I just watched them and there were some people singing opera in the background and it was just so heartbreakingly beautiful and funny too. The Barney’s bag just added that little funny thing.

How does an idea like that become a cartoon?

Mostly, I start with the words. I always do sketches before the final cartoon. My “roughs” often have patches and white-out on them. Once in a while, I get an idea, draw it, and it’s done. Mostly, I have an idea and I have to play around with it until I get it—the drawing, the rhythm of the joke—as right as I can get it.

What’s the first cartoon you drew?

Golly, I drew cartoons when I was little little little, like four or five years old. I remember being a little kid and drawing a weird comic strip about two characters. I can’t remember if they were birds or cats. It had panels and everything. They were making cookies and the punch line was one of them dumped the whole thing of chocolate chips into the batter. At five or six, that seemed so funny to me.

I know you as a cartoonist, so I was surprised to turn a page of Going Into Town and see photographs you took. How do you pick which medium is right for an idea?

I like the variety. For instance, the stand pipes section—they’re so bananas. If I had drawn the one with a million arms, people might think I had exaggerated it and stuck in an extra four. So, there are certain things that I feel like “Look! It’s a photograph; I didn’t make it up!”

It is incredible how much character you brought to street stand pipes.

Once you notice them, you’ll never stop. They’re a little bit anthropomorphic. There’s one cartoon where one is looking away and says, “Shut up, I’m not talking to you.” And the other one is saying “What did I do?” And I can hear her voice. There’s a real Brooklyn kind of twang to it. It’s an old couple. Maybe they just came home from some party, and he made some joke and she’s offended. They just had a fight and she’s pissed at him. And she’s turned away. 

How do projects find you? Or do you find them?

All different ways. The main thing for me is my weekly batch of cartoons for The New Yorker. Everything else revolves around that. Some weeks, I might be working on a cover. The other projects usually contact me—sometimes through my website, or a literary agent. Sometimes it’s through friends. There certainly are fewer outlets for cartoons as far as magazines go. Also, cartoonists get paid less for cartoons that appear online, if they get paid at all. But even when I started, in pre-Internet days, it wasn’t possible to make a living solely by selling cartoons to The New Yorker. One had to supplement with other jobs: illustration, selling cartoons elsewhere, doing book projects, etc. I know a lot of people who teach. Bruce Eric Kaplan writes scripts for TV and is a producer on various shows. Zach Kanin writes for SNL. I give talks and do books.

You’ve also collaborated with writers like Steven Martin and Calvin Trillin. What’s that process like?

Collaborating is a lot of fun. I like the sense of humor of the people that I’ve collaborated with, so we can make each other laugh. With Steve, after he wrote the alphabet poems, but before I did the drawings, we went through the alphabet trying to think of good, funny words for the drawings. I often collaborate with writer Patricia Marx. With Patty, there’s more of a back and forth because we see each other frequently and we enjoy collaborating. For process: Patty, Steve, and Calvin Trillin’s manuscripts were done, and were then given to me to illustrate. I have the final say on artwork, but if something’s not working, we talk about it.

Looking back to the 23-year-old who thought her boat was going over the falls, are you surprised by how things worked out?

I’m still happy and amazed that I get to do what I love for a living. Going Into Town is not just a love letter; it’s a thank you letter. I feel deep gratitude and surprise by the fact that I was able to be a cartoonist. New York allowed me to do what I wanted to do.

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A Business Built to Last as Long as Bronze Sculpture

A Business Built to Last as Long as Bronze Sculpture

There’s a DNA, an origin story, that bridges the Iwo Jima Monument, the crucifix Pope John Paul II leant on during mass, the coiled muscles of Arturo Di Modica’s Bull of Wall Street, the folds of Lynda Benglis’ sculpture, and the figures who march behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s funeral carriage at his Washington monument. These bronze pieces, along with countless other monuments, adornments, and portraits scattered across the globe, were all made with the same tools and cast in the same furnace in Brooklyn. Bedi-Makky Art Foundry has lasted as long as the sculptures, a company passed down from partner to friend, father to son, producing bronze art work for over a hundred years.

The bronze business has changed dramatically since the golden age of foundries in New York City, however, and the demand for public sculpture, the bread and butter of the industry, has shifted. But Bedi-Makky’s current owner, Bill Makky, still carries on the tradition, filling commissions designed to become iconic public symbols. The foundry’s most recent project? A bronze hockey glove as big as a sea turtle, designed for Madison Square Garden as a good luck symbol for Rangers fans.

Bill Makky wearing his fireproof apron.

Bill’s foundry, where the liquid bronze for the sculpture is poured, is one of several businesses that emit a cacophony on Greenpoint’s India Street. Auto repair shops line the street, with gleaming classic Lincolns hiked up on the pavement. The gritty whine of sanding and the pop of an air compressor blend with the roar of the furnace in the foundry workshop.

The noise is intense, but the space feels sacred. “More than one sculptor has come in here and called this place ‘the Cathedral’,” Bill says. The outer room of the workshop is a luminous nave under a peaked skylight. A layer of fine dust silts the floor. It captures the details of shoeprints that cross from the tool bench, to the man-high ovens, to waiting plaster molds that Bill will cover in more sand to make a cast. In the room next door, the furnace Bill uses to melt down bronze for castings is so hot it makes the bronze inside glow green.

On a pouring day, usually a Monday, two assistants help Bill tip a crane away from the furnace to drain hypnotic gold rivulets into molds. “No running,” Bill orders to anyone skipping out of the way, like he’s a lifeguard overseeing the deep end of a pool. Drops of liquid splash onto the sandy floor. The bronze gurgles like a stew. “Sounds good.” Bill can tell the temperature of the molten bronze by the sound. One of the assistants leaning close to the heat waves simmering off the equipment wears a mask. Bill wears only an FDNY baseball cap.

The foundry itself is both functional and beautiful. Tools hang like a museum display on the wall. A Colonial figurine glares down from a top shelf, as does a bird with wings spread like a rising phoenix. Beside them are rolls of duct tape, repurposed Chock full o’ Nuts cans, tubs of oozing rubber, hanging ladles. Nudes are stacked on filing cabinets. An extension cord coils around the legs of a knee-high bronze girl. A crucifix staff leaning in a corner is a cast of the one Bill made for the Pope.

The models and bronzes aren’t aesthetic and they aren’t clutter. They are core to the long-term business models of Bill’s industry. Business-savvy artists request that Bill make multiple castings of one sculpture. The first is the commissioned work. The rest are an investment in the hope that later buyers will want replicas. Bronze is a big commitment – to make, to buy, and to display – a lifetime commitment at least. “We have customers for fifty or sixty years,” Bill says of his artists. “They’ll sell one bronze edition, then maybe twenty years later, they’ll sell the second. So, we have everything in storage.” Even when an artist passes away they’re still Bill’s clients. He keeps their casts for the estate, in case they can get a buyer. “It’s an old-fashioned business, like life insurance,” he says. The Bedi-Makky foundry is itself a product of old school models of intergenerational business planning. Bill is the fourth generation of owners – the last one being his father, István – that stretches back to the foundry’s start at the turn of the century.

Bronze art foundries mushroomed in New York at the end of the 19th century under the umbrella of a nationwide financial boom. Capital from railroads and factory network poured in. The time was called the Gilded Age, and in celebration of its namesake and the extra cash flow, burnished ornamentation became the new craze. Sculptors like Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Frederic Remington led the trend, setting out to create a particularly American sculptural identity. Marble spoke to a European tradition, so Gilded Age sculptors chose bronze as their medium – setting a gleaming Diana atop Madison Square Garden to catch the light and a somber President Lincoln in Chicago to contemplate the state of the nation. The labor that went into bronze work – lost wax and French sand casting, mold making, the application of patinas – required new expertise and new labor. Leaping into the emerging space, a new industry of bronze casting art foundries blossomed in New York.

A Hungarian immigrant named Kunst was one of many entrepreneurially minded founders who launched with the new era. Before arriving in New York, Kunst had labored in the foundries of France. There, he had learned a technique called French sand casting that he hoped would differentiate him from his New York competitors. For it, he needed one ingredient, unobtainable in New York City – French sand. Kunst made his way to the docks where French ships were offloading goods onto the piers. He tore into the ballast bags that stabilized ships on the rolling crossing from Europe. A fine dust was packed inside. When the sand was moistened, it took on a dark, earthy quality that could almost keep the shape of a fingerprint – perfect for building a mold. Kunst gathered several five gallon buckets worth, and hauled it back to his foundry on York Avenue. He was now uniquely able to offer the process of French sand casting as a product – at no capital outlay cost to the business.

Seventy years later, another Hungarian immigrant disembarked in New York. István Makky had escaped the Soviet workhouses of Communist Hungary at the age of eighteen. Had he stayed a few more months, he would have witnessed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, when citizens revolted against Soviet influence on elections and troops in their cities, demolishing statues of Stalin, and ripping the hammer and sickle emblem from the Hungarian flag. Soviet tanks hammered the revolution into submission in just five days, sending waves of Hungarian emigres to the United States.

István joined two other Hungarian immigrants – Bedi and Raccy – who had worked under Kunst and bought the business from his widow. The foundry moved to a sunny side of Brooklyn in 1940, where it is today. István eventually bought out the two second-generation owners in 1970 and re-christened it the Bedi-Makky Art Foundry. His son, Bill, worked alongside him for decades. Now Bill runs the business on his own.

With his vast knowledge of foundry history and granular familiarity of the artists he casts for, Bill might feel like an embodiment of all four generations of owners, but he is not running a museum. He is as conversant in his foundry’s competitive space as he is in the history of the business. Corporate foundries have spread from upstate New York to Kentucky and dramatically changed the landscape of New York local manufacturing. In the old days, Kunst employed a fireman to monitor the temperature of the coals overnight to ready it for pouring.

Now foundries employ heat technologies like the same ceramic shells used to cast spaceships. Then an even newer technology emerged. “When the computer first came out, I couldn’t compete,” Bill admits. “But now,” he grins, “They’re getting wise guys.” Bill says “wise guys” like he’s in a James Cagney film. “There are generations now where people don’t know how it’s done the old-fashioned way.” Bill’s point? An experienced manufacturer with a new technology is a formidable competitor. A technician who knows the technology but is untrained in the medium or the craft is not.

But Bill has been shouldered out of the big public art contracts – like the Iwo Jima Monument renovation last year -that used to go this father. Those go mainly to corporate bids now. When pressed on why the foundry didn’t try to integrate new technologies, he smiles like he’s answered the question a hundred times. “We said, ‘we’ve been doing it for so many years, we’re making money, why switch it?’” Bill doesn’t want to compete at the scale of corporate foundries. In a fireproof apron and work gloves, he’s a hands-on CEO and he loves working directly with his clients. “I’m just an extension of the artist,” he says. “That’s the way we want to keep it.” He loves artists who are as hands-on as he is, the ones who Bill saw working alongside his father back when István ran the workshop. Dealing with artists in this capacity requires wearing a variety of hats: craftsman, manufacturer, artist, alchemist, engineer, businessman – and when interacting with New York creatives –  a psychologist. “I do everything,” Bill says.

Just as it was at the onslaught of computers, the Bedi-Makky Foundry is currently at an inflection point. István died unexpectedly in a car crash last year. In December, Bill was hit by a car and broke his back. “I was on the ground with a broken back,” Bill recalls, “And I wasn’t thinking ‘I almost died.’ I was thinking, ‘I have to earn a living.’” The foundry didn’t do a pouring for three months. Under his purple, sweat-soaked shirt, Bill’s wrapped up in a back brace. It’s covered in plaster dust. “It gives you a new outlook,” he says. “It used to be that just doing the job was hard. Now, I say, ‘thank God I’m doing it.’”

For his first pouring after the accident, Bill and his assistant create a set of pieces called A Cry for Freedom. The sculptures are representations of the Hungarian flag from the 1956 Revolution – the flag with a hole in the center where the Russian hammer and sickle were torn out by demonstrators. These are presented at a ceremony at the Hungarian Consulate on the Upper East Side, the old Gilded Age territory of Saint-Gaudens and Remington. The Cry of Freedom statue recipients are allies of the spirit of the 1956 revolution. At the consulate, Bill examines the final products resting on a grand piano. Glasses of champagne clink in the background as ambassadors from the Philippines, Australia, and Denmark arrive.

“I had no idea Bill was Hungarian,” the Hungarian ambassador, Katalin Bogyay says of her first visit to the foundry to commission the piece. “I was in the car, looking out the window at the mechanics, and I think: Where am I?” During the ceremony, she reads a quote from Bill, which she has included in her book on the revolution: “My job memorializes events into bronze, a medium made to last many lifetimes. A Cry for Freedom deserves to be remembered.” Bill stands up and smiles to the applause and fingernails tapping on champagne glasses. He’s as at home surrounded by ambassadors as he is with his foundry-workers.

Working with bronze, like the medium itself, is a longer-than-lifetime commitment. It is an exercise in centennial thinking and legacy planning – from the artists who leave unsold editions to their estate, to Kunst, Bedi, Raccy and both Makkys who passed their warehouse and clientele down through the generations. Bronze sculptures will last even longer – centuries of weathering atop spires and in public parks. The oldest bronze sculpture is dated to 2,500 BCE.  

Bill’s business may not be designed to last quite so long, but hints of its foundations in multi-generational longevity are everywhere in his workshop. There’s no sign of planned obsolescence in any of the equipment. The tools scattered on benches are heavy – totally unlike today’s lightweight tools. “Tools made past the 1960s go bad,” says Bill. The foundry furnace and ovens are similarly maintained through the years. Bill repairs them himself. “If something goes wrong with the furnace,” he points to the flaming green roar. “I can’t really call an oil guy or a home heating guy.” Like the sand that sits cooling under a tarp, everything is used over again ad infinitum. The recycling of materials leads to an ontological legacy that attracts artists to Bill. “This sand made the Iwo Jima Monument,” Bill explains, showing his fingerprints in a dark handful – the same sand, he says, that Kunst brought up in pails from the docks. “It made the Bull on Wall Street. It’s making statues today.”

The next sculpture the sand will make is the hockey glove for Madison Square Garden, which once supported Augustus Saint Gaudens’ statue of Diana. The commissioners hope that generations of fans will rub it for good luck, constantly burnishing a new gleam into the piece so that it shines for many years to come.


from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2zbuJ6r