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Lower East Side Years

“The Bird Lady of North Conduit Avenue”/  acrylic on canvas/ 20” x 26”/  

© William Arthur Mills 1987

A Brief History of Geppetto’s

LOWER EAST SIDE/ EAST VILLAGE YEARS



Geppetto Studios’ roots deepened considerably with a move to New York City in the Summer of 1984, eventually taking hold in a part of town known as “Alphabet City” (on the Lower East Side of Manhattan). The nearby East Village in the early 80’s was the epicenter of a fresh and lively period in art history-  and the energy was contagious. Something radically shifted artistically for Geppetto’s owners, William Mills and Scott Molampy (aka Damaru), during those years. It was an extraordinary time, and the Lower East Side- with nearby East Village- was the perfect climate for their wild imaginations to flourish.

Will, having lived in New York City in the late 70’s, frequently wandered about the colorful animated streets of the East Village, being very attracted to the fresh- often makeshift- art happenings there. After several years of living upstate, he was getting rather itchy to move back to the city- maybe even to his old haunt: the East Village! It didn’t take too much effort on his part to convince his partner, Scott, to journey down to the city with him. In retrospect, they arrived in bustling Gotham right on time, eventually nestling into two connected storefronts in a tenement on East 8th Street between Avenues C and D.

    “Priscilla of Wichita”/ Acrylic on canvas/ 35” x 28”/  © William Arthur Mills 1987

Collection of Mr. James Derham, Collingswood, NJ 

The quirky faces...  bizarre hairdos...  surreal mustaches and beards...  have been a Geppetto trademark from the beginning... especially during those drafty storefront days on the Lower East Side. Will was busy exhibiting his paintings and ‘cartoon portraits’ in East Village galleries at that time. Scott was taking on commissions for masks, costumes, puppets, and all kinds of things. Working within just a few feet apart in their studio, it is quite easy to recognize how the two artists deeply influenced one another.


Many of Will’s images had a tremendous influence on Geppetto’s masks and full-body costumes; and Scott’s bizarre costumes and puppets worked their magic on Will, as well- more than satiating his creative appetiite. Delightful (and some down right demented!) characters like Horrace, Lotta Luv, Mona, Gino, Malcomb T. Megabucks, Darlene Delectable, and many others, emerged one after the other. Will’s highly imaginative drawings and paintings; coupled with Scott’s exceptional three dimensional crafting skills, were now an inseparable team.

Scott Molampy and Friends, Geppetto’s Lower East Side storefront days (photo:  © Krasner/Trebitz).

“Zeubrothka”/ Acrylic on canvas/ 60” x 48”/ 1986

© William Arthur Mills

GEPPETTO’S “WEST STOREFRONT” GALLERY

(1984-1990)

Above left: This mask of “Mona” is a very good example of how Will’s work influenced Scott- as well as vice-versa. Above center: Will posing with “Zeubrothka” (acrylic on canvas / 60” x 48”/ 1986). Above right: “Brad the Bulldog” (puppet-mask 1988).

Above left:  Will at work on something or other.  Above right: Scott- under Kong’s mighty grip!

Above left:  An ailing Chef Gino being attended to by Dr. Gunnison (you may notice that the doctor is not always appreciated for his bedside manner).  Above center:  And -viola! Chef Gino is fully recovered and back on his feet- presenting a three-tiered commemorative cake at the Firemen’s Memorial Garden (this event was attended by more than 400 firemen from all over New York City).  Above right:  © “Anthony”/ William Arthur Mills 1988

Above left: ”Darlene”/ acrylic on canvas/ 42” x 26”/ © William Arthur Mills 1988.  Above right: “The Young and Eager Alchemist” (for John Leslie Mills, 1955-2005)/ acrylic on canvas/ 24” x 24”/ © William Arthur Mills 1986.

One of the highlights for Geppetto during this era was collaborating with legendary Lower East Side luminaries, Normand Valle and Reinaldo Arana, of the Green Oasis Community Garden. Scott and Will crafted many puppets and costumes for Reinaldo’s “The Enchanted Garden”  -a very successful community stage venture with highly creative productions spanning several years. Many other interesting projects soon followed for Geppetto, including characters that they fabricated for the Earth’s Birthday Project in Central Park.

A small sampling of drawings from the notebook pages (1984-1990) of © William Arthur Mills.

The growing A.I.D.S. epidemic hit the Lower East Side particularly hard. Perhaps to transform some of tremendous fear and grief that many were feeling on their block, Will, Scott, and several other neighbors, naturally turned to planting trees, flowers, and vegetables in the once ‘vacant’ lot next door. The Fireman’s Memorial Garden (an Operation Green Thumb project), evolved into a very passionate and committed endeavor for many of them. Gradually, a huge thriving garden stood amidst the empty, drug dealer-ridden, burned-out shells of buildings.

“Aunt Ruth” /acrylic on canvas/ 30” x 20”/  © William Arthur Mills 1987 Dedicated to Tanya Ransom (aka Michael Norman).

Gallery of various colorful characters/ Felt-tip markers with colored pencil/ 8.5” x 11”

© William Arthur Mills

                                       

When two artists with distinctly different visions merge their talents, there is no end to what could happen...

Also at this time (with much gratitude to Tanya Ransom), Will and Scott became increasingly attracted to the creative expression of theater. This period of theatrical experimentation played an enormous influence in the development of Geppetto Studios (in fact, a little over decade later, they co-founded their own theatrical production company named Theater of the Devaloka). By the mid 80’s, they were merging with projects of other Lower East Side artists and visionaries- like home-spun children’s theatrical programs right there on their own block.

One summer, several of the neighbors got together and decided to throw a dedication-  and BIG party-  for the all these brave firemen who often come into harm’s way; including a memorial service for those who had lost their lives battling rampant fires throughout scores of empty tenements in those years. To everyone’s surprise, over four hundred firemen from all over New York City showed up! The Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, Henry Stern, and the family of fallen fireman, Marty Celic, also came to the event- it was quite a magical day! On that very afternoon, in particular, Will and Scott learned a lot about how much a like-minded and well organized community could actually accomplish.

“In the art of William Mills, one sees precision and detail that comes right out of traditions like Flemish painting. His bizarre portraits perfectly combine that delicate northern touch with the warped plastic world in which we live today.”                     

                                                                          -Tom Sliwinski (Village Voice) 1989

Above left: King Kamayamaya sculpture installation for an HPM/ Jhada of New York Hawaiian Theme Party. Above center:  Will “strumming Elvis” in the Firemen’s Memorial Garden, 358 E 8th St, New York, NY.  Above right:  Malcomb T. Megabucks arriving at the Plaza Hotel, NYC.

Above left:  10’ x 12’ Antique Royal Typewriter (client: Tri-State Productions).  Above right: Scott Molampy as Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz” -and Toto, too! (client: Ted Cronin Display).

Geppetto Studios’ “A Celebration of Dinosaurs” 1989 (photographed with some of the neighborhood kids in the Firemen’s Memorial Garden, 358 E. 8th St, New York, NY).

Also, this same year, Scott Molampy created 20 airbrushed headings for actress, writer, producer, and director, DIANE KEATON, for her artsy, cult-film favorite, “HEAVEN”. 


CLICK HERE  to visit HEAVEN!

In 1984, 8th Street between Avenue's C and D was a very different world compared to today. It was authentically raw and edgey then. During these years much of “Alphabet City” stood in charred ruins, with high levels of illegal drug activity and violent crime. A musty, exotic, charred tenement ‘aroma’ completely filled the air. In particular, 8th Street, east of Tompkins Square Park, was a surreal urban blight-scape, where even many seasoned New Yorkers did not venture.

It’s difficult to imagine now, but in those years the streets of “Alphabet City” had social niches and watering holes with themes straight out of the devastated streets of downtown Beirut; or Dresden, Germany after World War 2. In every direction in this area of town were burned out, vacant, rat infested, deteriorating, buildings- and artists from all over the world flocked to the neighborhood for cheap rent. Taking root all around them was the legendary East Village Art Movement, which, practically overnight, became a world class epicenter of it's own unique brand of art and culture-   and Will and Scott felt very much at home!

Will seated on the north side of East 8th Street, between Avenues B and C (check out those bright white sneakers- and the cat under the steps). Photo:  © Scott Molampy 1985

Above left: Loisaida!  Above right: Our old, sacred, stomping ground- Tompkins Square Park.

It was actually quite surreal for visitors who would venture upon this thriving oasis of greenery, the “Firemen’s Memorial Garden”, surrounded by so much urban blight. In Mid-Summer, when the garden was in full bloom (with much thanks to Ansley Carnahan), one could smell the intoxicating fragrances of a vast array of flowers before even turning down the block. Continuing to this very day, this sacred site pays homage to all New York City firemen, in particular to the memory of Martin R. Celic (1952-1977).

IN MEMORY OF THE VISIONARY GARDENERS OF EAST 8TH STREET

Left:  Scott absorbed in his favorite job- weed-whacking in the Firemen’s Memorial Garden.

Right:  Just down the block- the pond in Normand and Reinaldo’s exquisite “Green Oasis”.

Will and Gilbert (John Gilbert Ingram) chatting in the Firemen’s Memorial Garden. Gilbert, the superintendent of the building Will and Scott lived and worked in, was a very accomplished wood sculptor. Gilbert Ingram was also a very sweet and gentle soul.

A Brief History of the


FIREMEN’S MEMORIAL GARDEN




The Firemen’s Garden on East Eighth Street between Avenues C and D honors the memory of all New York City firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. The site pays homage in particular to the memory of Martin R. Celic (1952-1977), a young member of Ladder Company 18 who lost his life fighting a fire in the tenement that once stood here.


On July 2, 1977, at 3:10 P.M., a fire broke out on the fifth floor of an abandoned building on this site. Ladder Company 15, including Celic (of Statan Island), who was working overtime, spotted the smoke on the way back to the station after a false alarm. When the firefighters arrived, the blaze was spreading up the building. After the men entered the building, the teenager who had started the fire went back in and set another fire, on the second floor, trapping the firemen in the blazing structure.

Ladder Company 11 raised its rescue platform to the fifth-floor window, and the firemen had to crawl onto the fire escape and jump to the “cherry picker.” Struggling through smoke and with heavy equipment on his back, Marty Celic missed the cherry picker and fell 70 feet to the ground. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he died eight days later, on July 10, 1977. He was twenty-five years old and had been planning to be married that October.

Marty Celic received the Fire Department Medal of Valor posthumously, as well as the Medal of Supreme Sacrifice from the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the United Firefighters Officers Association. He was honored as Fireman of the Year by the Crime Victims’ Rights Organization. His former company, Ladder 18, established the Martin Celic Scholarship Fund, which awards a yearly scholarship to a junior at Monsignor Farrell High School who combines academic achievement with excellence in track. The Marty Celic Four-Mile Run is held annually in Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island to raise money for the fund.

Longtime neighborhood residents Ansley and Kelly Carnahan had begun gardening in the lot adjacent to the abandoned building in 1975. After the burnt-out building was condemned and torn down, the Carnahans and other local residents expanded their garden to the new lot. Beginning with planting beds across the front, the garden grew slowly to its present size, with a grassy plot in the center and woodsy pathways at the back. The gardeners received help from the Green Guerrillas, GreenThumb, and other organizations and individuals. They named the garden in honor of those who risk their lives daily in every borough and district. Marty Celic’s family donated benches made of cedar and wrought iron.

The garden was leased through GreenThumb in 1980, and incorporated as a non-profit in 1989. The Fire Department held a dedication ceremony in the garden in December of 1988, and a plaque commemorating Marty Celic was installed. The Firemen’s Garden was transferred to Parks in 1999. The transfer grants the garden the security of Parklands status while leaving the administration and maintenance to the local residents. Birthday parties are celebrated here, as well as Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. A special ceremony is held in mid-July in remembrance of the sacrifices of all New York City firemen.


Copyright © New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

Left:  Scott, Will, and Kelly Carnahan partaking in a 4th of July picnic in the thriving garden.

Right:  From left to right: Gilbert, Will, Samantha and her husband, Mike, Kelly, Ansley (Kelly’s wife), and Veretha (Gilbert’s wife) in the foreground. Apparently Veretha is giving everyone a high spirited demonstration with the ever-popular weed whacker. Incidentally, all present were in agreement that Veretha’s cornbread was the most delicious on the planet!

LINKS


Some inspiring links to explore on the gardens of East 8th Street (between Avenues C & D). Also, more interesting stories about the Lower East Side, East Village, etc.


*This is the official website of the Green Oasis Community Garden and Gilbert’s Sculpture Garden. It’s difficult to imagine now with all the time that has passed, but 2011 will mark the garden's 30th anniversary! This site contains some very inspiring stories, articles, and photos about these two lovely gardens affectionately known as the “Sister Gardens”... the combined legacies of Normand Valle, Reinaldo Arana, and Gilbert Ingram (as well as many others who rolled up their sleeves and didn’t mind getting “dirty”):

http://greenoasisgarden.net/default.aspx


*A touching video of the Green Oasis Community Garden/ Gilbert’s Sculpture Garden. Some soul searching thoughts shared by neighbors, regarding the beauty of community gardening:

GREEN OASIS COMMUNITY GARDEN (VIDEO).


*A very interesting video on the inimitable spirit of the ever-changing Lower East Side:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CphnLmemFLw&feature=related




*“The Gentrification of Alphabet City” (a look at a neighborhood in perpetual transition):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3P54KVshBM&feature=related

A sad footnote to add here about our East 8th Street garden friends...

By the close of the decade, Will and Scott’s block lost so many extraordinary souls to one of the earliest waves of AIDS. Reinaldo Arana, who founded the Green Oasis Community Garden with his partner Normand Valle, was among the first of their friends to die of AIDS. Normand also tragically passed away a couple years later.

Quite suddenly, many others also became ill. Memorial services for fallen friends and acquaintances were tragically becoming all too common. The ashes of many of these beloved souls were scattered in various places right there on their cherished block.

John Gilbert Ingram (known to all of us as Gilbert) passed away on January 2nd, 1999, due to serious health complications. Gilbert was quite a remarkable man, including being a very talented wood sculptor. Today, Gilbert’s Sculpture Garden still stands proudly next to it’s long time friendly neighbor, the Green Oasis Commnity Garden. A few years back the two gardens merged, and are now very affectionately known as the “Sister Gardens”.


One of the qualities of true gardeners is that they are not afraid to get their hands dirty. In our experience, real gardners love to just dig right in! The vision that a gardener projects onto a tract of land is truly profound-  and the earth literally moves in miraculous ways. With this in mind, it is quite evident that the vision of these three extraordinary men- Gilbert, Normand, and Reinaldo- still lives on. We like to imagine that they are all still gardening today somewhere-  perhaps right there in the Sister Gardens!

    Firemen’s Memorial Garden Letterhead/ designed by Scott A. Molampy/ 1988

The Art of William Arthur Mills


www.williamamills.com