By Stanley Wlodyka.
There’s a black line spray painted 10 feet off the ground in the basement of Westbeth Artists Residency. The entire basement—every hall, every room—is marked. It’s a stark reminder that some of the artists who live there lost everything on October 29, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York. Hugging West Street, the former Bell Labs building was directly in the path of the overflowing Hudson River. That black line shows the level to which the basement flooded with water.
Pre-deluge, the basement hosted a few workspaces for the artists and served as a storage area for their artwork. For a week or so after Sandy ravaged New York, causing $32 billion in damages, the “bowels of Westbeth” was off-limits. Resident’s had to wait with bated breath, knowing that their paintings, sculptures, creations of every kind were soaking in a salt-water bath. When the cordon was removed, several of the artists descended into the depths only <to find that their entire life’s work was damaged beyond repair.
It’s hard to imagine the effect this must have had on them. The flood myth motif pervaded many cultures throughout the ancient world, from the Mayans to the Mesopotamians, the Chinese, the Greeks, the Aboriginals of Australia and, most familiar to Western audiences, the story about a man who built an ark that held two of every living breathing thing on this blue planet. It’s usually a tale that teaches the value of purging, of the cutting off of excesses, but it also speaks of survival, of renewal, of life persisting.
Hurricane Sandy was the second most destructive Atlantic hurricane in history, until it was supplanted last year by Hurricane Maria, and then again by Hurricane Harvey. The seven most destructive hurricanes have all occurred within the past 15 years. Who knows why these things happen? There are theories, of course, ranging from climate change to God’s wrath. One thing is for sure: it does not do to dwell on the misfortunes of the past.
As Ella Fitzgerald croons, “To illustrate my last remark: Jonah and the Whale, Noah and the Ark. What did they do, just when everything looked so dark? Man they said, ‘We better ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.’ ”
Westbeth artists—creators by definition- know the value of this virtue only too well. They survived the flood and are coming out of it stronger than ever. Scaffolding is erected throughout the landmarked building, facilitating much-needed repairs in preparation for Westbeth’s 50th Anniversary in 2020. Also, a little vegetation goes a long way; the flea market taking place in the basement this month will put the proceeds towards beautifying the grounds.
If you enjoy second-hand shops for things like clothing and furniture, you’re likely to find the familiar faces of shop-owners waiting in line at 10am on Tuesday, November 6th, as they hope to get the pick of the litter. They’ve gotten wise to the fact that artists have good taste! In addition to the vintage wears and wares you’re likely to find, there’ll be numerous works of art donated by the residents. You can get an amazing bargain, particularly on the striking pieces by artist and original Westbeth resident Edith Isaac Rose, who passed away this year.
The Westbeth Flea Market opens on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6th from 10am-8pm. Then again, from November 10th to the 12th from 11am-5pm.