Great “Open Studios” from Greenpoint’s Past

Union Porcelain Works ad from 1916 (via Brooklyn Eagle Archives)

Greenpoint Open Studios is the weekend of June 8th and 9th and is a special time in the area as about 400 artists open their studios to thousands of art lovers who get to see the amazing creativity that is Greenpoint’s beating heart.

However, this creativity is nothing new locally. Throughout its long history our area has been a home to highly creative artists and artisans. So let’s travel back in time and visit some of the great studios and workshops of Greenpoint’s past.

Many clay and porcelain artists work locally today, but these present-day potters are merely following in a long tradition. Walt Whitman in his 1857 visit to the area wrote an article about the American Porcelain Works, which once turned out beautiful pieces of porcelain at Franklin and Freeman Streets, but this workshop was only one of many local potteries.

Perhaps the most beautiful pieces of porcelain ever made locally came from The Faience Manufacturing Company, which opened in 1881 at 98 West St. The pottery company produced ornamental, white-bodied earthenware. In 1884, Edward Lycett, one of the greatest American potters joined the firm and produced pieces that still grace the collections of America’s best museums.

Greenpoint has been the home of many great painters. George Inness, who lived at Franklin and Java, before the construction of the Astral Building was one of the best American painters of his era. The Barbizon school of France powerfully influenced Inness. Barbizon landscapes were famous for their looser brushwork, darker palettes, and creation of a mood. Inness quickly became the leading American exponent of Barbizon-style painting, which he developed into his own unique style. Today his works hang in major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

His close friend Ralph Blakelock lived on Milton Street. A true genius whose abstract forms were too avant-guard for the conservative tastes of his day, Blakelock was driven mad by the struggle to support his family through art and was committed to a mental institution. Years later, his genius was recognized and his art also hangs in America’s top museums.

If we could travel back to the 1920s we could visit the Roman  Bronze works on Green Street where such famous American sculptors as Fredrick Remington and Gutzon Borglum had their works cast. We could also visit Bedd Makki Art Foundry on India Street where, in 1950, the Iwo Jima Memorial was cast.

One artist of the past who had not gained the recognition that he is due is “Crazy Joe” Bartnikowski who painted numerous pretty local scenes in his studio on Bedford Avenue. A self-taught painter, Bartnikowski’s canvases evoke an earlier era of local history in soft colors.

Some of the artists you might visit during open studios weekend could become even more famous than some of the figures from Greenpoint history we profiled here. If they become famous you can brag that you visited their studios before they achieved fame.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over 20years and is the author of a book on the history of the area, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past."

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