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An Era That Has Gone VI

By       Message Peter Duveen       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Corrie played her hand. She promised Stanis, as Rembski began to informally be called, a show in Brooklyn Heights, where he would make contact with an illustrious group of artists that preferred the quiet and intimate neighborliness to the hectic and rapacious atmosphere of Manhattan. It was an offer he could hardly ignore. And there was quite a bit of studio space in Brooklyn that he could avail himself of.

The combination of Corrie's personal lobbying, her charm, her determination, her love for Brooklyn culture and society, and her personal interest in Stanis was becoming a tour de force that even the stalwart and stubborn European could not ignore. He was succumbing, bit by bit, and perhaps to his benefit, for the competitiveness of the Manhattan environment, its inherent unfriendliness, and the high cost of living were wearing on his nerves. But he was still re]luctant to make the move.


Willie Winkie by Stanislav Rembski
(Image by Brooklyn Life magazine)
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One evening in March, Corrie braved the cold winter air with her pet pup, Willie Winkie, who, for protection from the chill of the still-lingering frigid winter season, huddled under Corrie's coat as the two left their home and walked several blocks to the Borough Hall subway station. Corrie shuffled down the stairs, put her token into the turnstile slot, pushed firmly with her torso as the large wooden paddle-like appendages, designed to keep out all but fare payers, gave way with a series of clicks and rattles, tiptoed down some stairs and waited patiently on the stark gray subway platform. When their subway finally arrived, they entered one of the cars and pushed through a crowd of standing passengers to an empty seat. Snuggled between two riders on the wicker-like cushion of old, they awaited their stop amidst the eerie hum of the speeding train, Winkie whimpering now and then in ecstasy as he laid his head close to Corrie's shoulder underneath her coat.

It wasn't long before the car doors opened, and, rising from their seat and struggling toward the door as passengers politely gave them the bare minimum of space they needed to pass, Corrie and Winkie disembarked, climbed the slick cold steps to street level, and were off to Stanis's studio only a few blocks away, Winkie now walking alongside Corrie on a leash which she had carefully fastened to him. This inter-borough journey was to be an important salvo in Corrie's lobbying effort.

Arriving at the address she had written down on the back of an envelope, she nimbly climbed the stairs to Stanis's studio, and upon knocking at the door, was greeted by the man with sharp dark eyes, dark complexion and animated but polite manner. She removed her coat and unleashed Winkie to run the gamut of the studio, sniffing at some of the painted canvases and gnawing at lose pieces of paper lying about. Winkie was good at finding objects in the trash, and bringing them to the attention of his boss, even among important company such as the young Polish artist. But once Corrie settled down, she put Winkie out of her mind and focused on the task at hand.

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Again she plied her charm--the sparkle in her eyes, the endearing smile, and lively conversation peppered with laughter--describing to Rembski the many benefits of a life in the fashionable Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. But she was careful not to lose her feminine demeanor in the process. She was not on a begging mission, but rather one of gentle persuasion. Rembski began to listen more seriously. He wanted to be where he was liked and appreciated. Why should he fight the teeming masses of Manhattan, the cold stone facades of its buildings, the brusque nature of people who could not stop for more than a second or two, and were always rushing to the next destination, without a moment to hold on to the present?

And what would he be giving up? Certainly, there was no lack of culture in Brooklyn. It had a major museum, a daily newspaper, a grand concert hall where the best orchestras and opera companies would perform. Opera was one of Stanis's favored art forms, and he would often hum a tune from the Magic Flute of Mozart or a more recent aria crafted by Puccini, who at that particular moment was probably in the midst of composing his last opera, Turandot. There was a strong, active art community in Brooklyn that had thrived there for at least a century. The borough lacked nothing. And Manhattan was only 10 minutes away by subway. Stanis began to think about the future. He needed to find a fertile ground not only for adding clients, but for engendering the kind and quality of art work he wanted to produce.

The two sat conversing for over an hour and a half, sharing what meager culinary resources--a coffee pot and a refrigerator--Stanis had to apply to the task of entertaining guests. Munching on some cheese and crackers and downing some of Stanis's home-brewed coffee, the time passed quickly as each told the other something of themselves and their aspirations. Stanis then walked Corrie around the chilly and dimly lit studio. He showed the work he had accomplished over the last few months. Two lovely portraits were still in the works--the one Nancy had posed for, which was in need of some final improvements, and one of Nancy's close school mate, a lovely girl of fourteen. Others had been finished, and were awaiting delivery to Stanis's clients. The subtle Rembrandt-esque technique, coupled with a dash of contemporary flair, characterized them all, and Corrie stood in awe of the breathtaking likenesses.

Not to waste this journey to Manhattan in the chilly winter air, Corrie had one more ace up her sleeve. She would invite the young artist to one of her personal soirees at the Henshaw home, usually reserved for close friends and family. Stanis's politeness did not allow him to decline such an invitation. But he may also have seen it as an opportunity for him to explore Brooklyn more deeply. How he would be treated, and how he would react, would be important steps in determining whether he would make the move to Brooklyn. So the date was set.

***

Two weeks passed as if it were two days, and the hour arrived when Stanis would be initiated into the inner sanctum of Brooklyn Heights society. As a seasoned socializer, Stanis knew that by chatting with the natives, eating, drinking and playing with them, he would be able to assess his chances in Brooklyn. So on that Saturday evening in March, he put on his muffler, donned his overcoat, walked to the corner, and down the subway steps, purchased a token and put it in the token slot, pressed his body against the old wooden turnstile, which gave way easily enough. Lucky for him, a subway came just as he alighted the passenger platform. He boarded the nearest car and took a seat with the other travelers who were headed for their own engagements that evening, his mind drifting to what the party would be like, what he would say, how he might impress those he had not met before. His thoughts turned to Corrie, whom he was already fond of, in spite of her being 18 years his senior, a fact she tried to conceal by using a fictitious age ten years less than her true age.

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The subway screeched to a halt, and Stanis's mind snapped to attention. He rose, waited for the doors to open, and as they gave way, exited onto the passenger platform, walking out through the turnstile in turn after the other passengers that had disembarked with him. After trudging up the stairs leading to Court street, he met with the frosty air and the dank scent that is so characteristic of New York City. Lifting his head from the downward position he used to keep in the warmth, he scanned around for some street signs. Corrie had given him excellent directions to the house. After finding State Street, he hooked a right and walked down, past Clinton Street, then Henry Street, and now, he would watch the numbers on the right side of the street. He passed 83, then 81, finally, 79. Taking a deep breath in the cold night air, he proceeded to climb the 12 or so steps of the typical Brooklyn Heights townhouse, stopped at the door, and rang the doorbell--an action he would be repeating frequently in the coming years.

The door opened, and he was greeted by Cornelia, Esther and Nancy, as well as Herbert and Dr. Childs and his wife-- the Henshaw clan. Bruce Bromley, a corporate lawyer who would later gain notoriety for his legal advice to Congress on removing Harlem Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. from office, came with his wife who, incidentally, was the sister of famed novelist Faith Baldwin. Also present were Porter Steele, an attorney who moonlighted as an accomplished pianist and composer for the stage, and Nancy Ford, who, like Corrie, wrote for Brooklyn Life. The rest included a smattering of close family friends from the neighborhood.


The parlor of the Henshaw home on State Street, by Stanislav Rembski
(Image by Brooklyn Life magazine)
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Upon entering, Stannis, like the other guests, was asked to write on a piece of paper something that he would not himself like to do, but that he would like to witness someone else doing. Parties at the Henshaws were no ordinary endeavors. They were filled with entertaining tasks that guests must participate in, thus keeping the event interesting and memorable. Stanis, having a bit of a conservative streak, submitted his suggestion. He was a rather serious person, and probably felt disarmed at having to participate in such antics. But he took it well, and fell into the fabric of the event.

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Born in New York, March 14, 1949. Staff writer for the New York City Tribune, Economic Growth Report, Register-Star. Presently publish on OpEd News. Mr. Duveen heads up a project known as "The Museum of Brooklyn Art and Culture,' which explores (more...)
 

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Series: "An Era That Has Gone"

An Era That Has Gone (Part 10) (Article) (# of views) 01/25/2017
An Era That Has Gone IX (Article) (# of views) 12/23/2016
An Era That Has Gone VIII (Article) (# of views) 09/06/2016
View All 10 Articles in "An Era That Has Gone"
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