Events

Oct. 27: A Message from Harley Spiller, Inspector Collector and Charter Board Member

Harley Spiller (aka “Inspector Collector”), Guinness World Record holder for largest collection of menus, with his highly rare “More Menus Please” sign

Dear friends and fellow Reliquarians,

We are proud to announce that our Sustainability Drive met its half-way goal last week!!  Now, we need to keep this momentum up.  There is still a long road ahead of us to make sure we can keep our doors open by Sunday, November 22nd with $3,000/month of sustainable funding!

Have you ever been Othered? Mocked? Felt like the weird kid in the back of the room? Does that feel good? We hear your resounding NOs and invite you to the City Reliquary, a unique spot in NYC where no one is shunted to the side, where all are welcome, where civicness and civility take precedence over money, status, and power, where equity and openness rule the roost with kindness and fun.  
 

I’m Harley Spiller aka Inspector Collector and I LOVE the City Reliquary, the tiny but vital artist- and community-led museum in the heart of NYC, a place where little becomes large, where choruses unsung are made audible to the masses. City Reliquary is an altruistic organization, a haven where ego and greed take a back seat to neighborliness.

I used to keep my oddball collecting passions secret – until I was introduced to City Reliquary, a supportive home for collectors of every stripe. It was in the City Reliquary’s modest galleries that I found a welcoming public for my passion to present exhibitions about overlooked subjects including Mr. T, the first Black live-action superhero, Chinese restaurant workers, fortune tellers, even the humble chicken (only after exhibiting my collection of wishbones in CR’s Community Collections case, from a tiny quail’s all the way up to an 8-inch long pelican’s, did I learn that wishbone collections are rare and valued by paleontologists who call them furcula and link them back to flying dinosaurs). 

A compassionate, public-spirited, and noble place is hard to keep afloat in our capital-crazed world but that’s exactly what City Reliquary has been doing since its inception in 2002. Please join with the legions of fans who have visited and supported the CR, from YOU and me, to Borough Presidents and Shirley Chisholm, to professors galore and the free-spirited members of the Puerto Rican Schwinn Club. There’s a home for all civic individuals at the Reliquary!

It’s hard to find oxygen in these days of Covid-19 but there’s no more worthy and humanitarian organization than City Reliquary. Please dig deep and join today to help City Reliquary keep on keeping on, forevermore!

Harley Spiller

Ken Dewey Director

Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.
 

In honor of Harley’s award-winning collection of Chinese menus, we have renamed our membership tiers this week after Harley’s favorite vegetarian Chinese dishes:

$10/mo. Snow Pea Leaves Level

$20/mo. General Tso’s Tofu Level

$30/mo. Mock Duck Level

$50/mo. Eight Treasures Vegetarian Fried Rice Level

Oct. 20: A Message from LuLu LoLo, City Reliquary Charter Member

LuLu LoLo dressed as Valentine
The Fabulous LuLu LoLo takes Manhattan (Photo by Eric Harvey Brown)

Dear Fellow Reliquarians,

As of today, Tuesday 10/20 at 2:00 PM, we are just 1 sustainable member short of our half-way mark!  YOU can be the one to get us across that half-way goal by signing up TODAY!

Hi! You might remember me as a museum docent at the City Reliquary front desk, or from my favorite annual event Collector’s Night, where as a passionate collector I’ve shared my collections of dead bugs, paper clips that my dog chewed, vintage hats, Eiffel Towers, Ladurée macaron boxes, and my mother’s vintage holiday greeting cards—joining all of the obsessive collectors who contribute to the rich and unique City Reliquary community.

As a life-long New Yorker and a playwright/performance artist my work is rooted in the history of New York City. The exhibits at City Reliquary rekindle so many memories for me: the 1964 World’s Fair, the changing sizes of the subway tokens, the Seltzer bottle collection (reminding me of Harry our seltzer man who arrived every Saturday with a case of seltzer), the Jackie Robinson display brings back my childhood  memory of receiving a Jackie Robinson doll for Christmas from my father (a New York Giants baseball fan), the fun of researching the history and costume for the Reliquary’s famous Little Egypt display, and the magical sparkle of Manhattan Schist that is the bedrock of New York City. These collections were all built by passionate New Yorkers like me. 

The City Reliquary's Little Egypt display.
The City Reliquary’s Little Egypt display.

I have witnessed many beloved New York City sites vanish: Penn Station, the Third Avenue El, and CBGB’s—Now, I’m asking you to help prevent the City Reliquary from vanishing too. 

You can keep the Reliquary doors open by becoming a Sustaining Member for as little as $10 a month—less than a ticket to the movies or some fancy phone apps. If you prefer,  make a one-time or annual contribution and we’ll pro-rate a customized membership. 

In order to keep the City Reliquary as we know it, we must have 300 Sustainable Memberships by November 22nd! We want to thank all of our members who have joined in the first half of our sustainability drive, and ask you to help us by encouraging your friends to join us in the second half!  

I’m a civic New Yorker—I’m passionate about my city and the City Reliquary Museum—and I hope you will show your passion too by becoming a part of this vital community museum celebrating the unique history of New York City.  

LuLu LoLo as Joan of Arc in a performance of "Where are the Women?" at Union Square.

LuLu LoLo as Joan of Arc in a performance of “Where are the Women?”. (Photo by Keka Marzagao)

In honor of The Fabulous LuLu LoLo’s ongoing performance series “Where are the Women?” we have created the following membership tiers in honor of these great New Yorkers. 

$10/mo. Emily Warren Roebling Level

$20/mo.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg Level

$30/mo.  Shirley Chisholm Level

$50/mo.  Mother Cabrini Level


Oct. 13: A Message from Nik Sokol, CR Resident Geologist

Nik Sokol underground at the 2nd Avenue subway excavation
Nik Sokol underground at the 2nd Avenue Subway excavation

Last week, City Reliquary Founder Dave Herman told me that my sister Marienka had just become the 100th sustaining member of the City Reliquary. A great coincidence, but I wasn’t surprised that she had stepped up to support the City Reliquary. Like me, she treasures the City Reliquary’s enduring mission to preserve the spirit of an ever-changing New York City. Our great grandparents Rose and Josef Kratina arrived in New York in 1907. Our grandmother Lydia was born just after they arrived (apparently almost on the boat!). They were a family of artists, and Josef, having spent several years as Rodin’s lead apprentice, was seeking to make a name for himself in the United States. 

The Kratina’s struggled but were resilient, like so many other families of that time. But also like the City Reliquary of today. The story of the City Reliquary’s 18-year history, as an unlikely Williamsburgh storefront institution, has many parallels with the stories of the immigrant artist. The realization of a dream in Brooklyn. To share openly with the community and enhance the daily life of the passersby. And the inevitable reliance on patrons to pay rent.

Sculptor Josef Kratina in his studio at 81 Prospect Place, Brooklyn
Sculptor Josef Kratina in his studio at 81 Prospect Place, Brooklyn

About 100 years after my family came to Brooklyn, the City Reliquary opened up the storefront museum – a small museum the likes of which New York had never seen. A museum with a mission as much about contributing to the community of today as it is about displaying gimcracks and tchotchkes of the New York City we all treasure and love. Not only is the City Reliquary where I learned about the history of seltzer, Little Egypt and just how many layers of paint a subway station could have… it is where I met Charlene Mitchell, the first African-American woman to run for the President of the United States, where I created the only known display of rocks and minerals from the World Trade Center and 2nd Ave Subway excavations and, most importantly, the City Reliquary is where I discovered how deeply a group of like-minded folks can positively impact a community.

The City Reliquary's Geology of New York exhibit (samples courtesy Nik Sokol).

The City Reliquary’s Geology of New York exhibit (samples courtesy Nik Sokol).

Please join me and my family in helping to preserve the cultural landscape of New York City by becoming a sustaining member of the City Reliquary Museum and Civic Organization. For just $10 a month…a few cups of coffee, you can help maintain a true gem of New York. And if you ever want to talk about the geology of New York, meet me at the Reliquary!

Nik Sokol

Resident Geologist Emeritus, The City Reliquary

Now, by popular demand, new sustaining members can choose to make contributions above to $10 per month level. Existing members can also increase their monthly contribution. In honor of Nik Sokol’s long standing support of the City Reliquary, we are introducing new tiered levels of membership:

$10/mo. Manhattan Schist
$20/mo. Staten Island Serpentinite
$30/mo. Ravenswood Granodiorite
$50/mo. Rosendale Dolomite


Oct. 6: A Message from Eliana Ritts, CR Board Member & Curator

My name is Eliana, and as a Reliquary Board Member I’m following on to the messages here to share my own experiences with the museum and ask for your support.

I made my way to the Reliquary shortly after moving to NYC in 2013 and started by volunteering at the front desk. I still remember the feeling of turning on the lights at the beginning of each shift and watching the dense treasure trove of objects suddenly illuminate around me. I loved knowing that my time in the Storefront would always hold something unexpected, from the colorful troll dolls of the latest Community Collection to a conversation about mudlarking with a visitor from London.

As I spent more time with the Reliquary I gradually got involved in object research and exhibit curation. This work let me dive into the stories behind our artifacts, like the NYC schist cores, barbershop photographs, and Petrella’s Point. There’s the SJD subway token – one of my favorite objects, created in 1986 when the Assistant Controller of the MTA thought it would be cool to sneak his initials into the token design. And then there’s the Empire Rollerdrome roller skate that sparked our exhibit about the origins of roller disco. As I co-curated this exhibit, I learned about the city’s histories and had the honor of collaborating with incredibly talented members of the NYC roller skating community today.

This to me is the heart of the Reliquary, the way its objects link New York’s layered histories with present communities, opening up the city in new ways and asking us to consider our place within it. With the Reliquary I feel like I’m simultaneously diving deep into the past and expanding outwards in the present. I’ve traveled to different places around New York, from my first roller rink to the remarkable Treasures in the Trash collection. I’ve tried new things, like Manhattan Special espresso soda (verdict: you should try it once, but once is probably enough). And I’ve met incredible people, most recently the wonderful artists Jason Eisner and Liz Beeby, who have generously donated artworks that are available in our Museum Relief Fund

You only have to visit the Storefront once to know what I mean when I say the City Reliquary a special place. We each have our own connection to its story, and whatever yours is, I ask you to consider becoming a sustaining member – for just $10 a month –  and help us save our physical space. By becoming a member you also support the work the Reliquary does, allowing us to continue sharing New York stories and connections through exhibits, special events, and annual programming like Collectors’ Night and Panorama Challenge.
 

If we can reach 300 sustaining members by November 22, we will be able to preserve the museum and reopen to the public. Until then, on October weekends we’re offering private visits to members, as a way to minimize health risks while you explore the collections at your own pace. Become a Member today and you can reserve an appointment. And if we are able to fully reopen, we look forward to welcoming you through our doors for many years to come.

Thank you, so much, for your support.

Best,

Eliana Ritts

Sept. 29 Sustainability Drive Update From Jacob Ford

It has been one week since we launched our Sustainability Drive to help us reopen the City Reliquary Museum to the public, and avoid closing our doors permanently in November. So far, we have raised $820, of which $480 are sustaining monthly contributions from new members. It’s a strong and very hopeful start! Thank you, so much, to all who have already joined.

But we’ll need precisely 252 more sustaining members by November 22 in order to keep the Storefront. If we make it there, we can pay our rent and keep the City Reliquary as we know it.

My name is Jacob, and I discovered the Reliquary through my involvement with other small museums in NYC. When I would docent at various tiny interesting spaces and cozily cramped galleries, visitors kept bringing up the City Reliquary and asking if I’d been there. I hadn’t, but I biked over and immediately fell in love. I became a member in 2017, and by 2019 wound up on the board.

In a strange, beautiful way we’ve become exactly what we aim to preserve: a physical place full of reliable magic, matter-of-fact quirk, and serious strangeness. A microscopic institution, large enough to do powerful things but small enough to keep the personality of the people who make it all happen. It’s very a New York phenomenon, I think: a place of absolute wonder, presented with a straight face. It’d be a shame to lose this unsung landmark.

Several of our fellow New York City museums and galleries are beginning to re-open, and we deeply want to join them. But before we can even begin to lay out a reopening plan, we must prove our financial sustainability.

We are proud to say our labor is provided entirely by caring volunteers, and our collections are all loaned, gifted or found. This loyalty and dedication has allowed us to reduce our expenses to a bare minimum. We’ve been able to survive these past few months only through the success of our recent fundraiser and many generous one-time gifts, but without the dependable sources of revenue that we once relied on, we are struggling to hold onto our tiny hand-painted Williamsburg storefront of a home.

Our rent is below-market but not free, and it comes every month. Rent is by far our largest and virtually our only expense. Unfortunately, it’s making the question of reopening our galleries into one of reopening at all.

We’ve been near this point before, and each time generous friends and family and strangers have come forth to keep the Reliquary going. Now, though, we’re hoping to escape that pattern by boldly re-launching the Reliquary Membership program. We’re asking you, our friends and supporters, to directly help us keep the Reliquary alive. 

We’re keeping membership simple.

One tier: $10/month

One goal: 300 members

One deadline: November 22

Becoming a member makes you an official card-carrying Reliquarian: someone who keeps a museum alive. A benefactor in the utmost sense. I’d inscribe your name on a plaque if they weren’t so expensive, but instead we’ll celebrate over beers and vinyl records as soon as it feels comfortable to do so.

Until then, we’re exclusively allowing members to visit on October weekends, as you are the ones who will make it possible to one day reopen to the wider public. Become a member today and you can book your private viewing appointment, on the house, as soon this Saturday.

And of course, if and when we do fully reopen, you’ll receive free admission for you and your household, as long as your membership is active, as often as you care to visit. After all, you will have made it possible.

cityreliquary.org/join

No matter what’s next,

Jacob Ford

Designer About Town

Board Member, 

The City Reliquary Museum & Civic Organization

Become a Sustaining Member of the City Reliquary – Deadline Nov. 22!

Dear Friends & Neighbors,

We have sobering news and a plea for help: after fourteen years on Metropolitan Avenue, the City Reliquary storefront museum is in danger of closing. Numerous factors have brought us to this point, not least of all the economic impact of the COVID pandemic, and the changing cultural and economic tenor of the city. We are dependent on admissions and public events for revenue, and, after 6 months of closure, this model is no longer sustainable.

In order to reopen our storefront to the public, we will need to transition to a new, sustainable funding model based on monthly membership donations. Our minimum threshold to stay open is just $3,000 of sustainable funding per month. If we can meet this modest monthly goal by 11/22/20, we will be able to secure the storefront and reopen our doors to the public – with utmost care for public health and safety. If we are unable to raise these funds, the doors to the storefront museum will remain closed and this chapter of City Reliquary history will come to an end.

As we face these difficult decisions, we are also exploring alternative ways forward. We are building partnerships with NYU’s Special Collections Library and Columbia University’s Center for Archeology and the Museum Anthropology Graduate Program to ensure that our community and collection will continue to have a life. If we have to close our doors, we will turn to these partnerships to continue the Reliquary mission. However, neither institution can offer space for collections display or management, so we would be forced to put our beloved artifacts in storage, where they would be inaccessible to the public.

With these different paths in mind, we ask for your support in this critical moment. We are continuously working to shine a light on the underappreciated areas of our city’s history through our exhibitions, programs, and special events so that we can help young people and others to be informed, civically engaged citizens. We can only be successful in our mission with your help. 

With the support of generous benefactors and the success of our Museum Relief Fund, we are able to cover overhead costs on the storefront through November. To remain open beyond November 30, we must raise $3,000 of sustainable monthly funding by 11/22/20. We are profoundly grateful for the support you have shown us, and ask if you would consider making a recurrent monthly donation to help us meet this goal.  

You can find more information about our monthly membership program, along with newly added benefits, on our new sustainable membership site at this link. We are also pleased to announce that in October we will open the Williamsburg storefront to members only, with new health precautions in place, and we invite you to visit us if you are able to do so safely.

We remain a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, therefore all donations are 100% tax-deductible. Your sustainable support is crucial for the survival of the Reliquary.

We are still reachable through our social media accounts and at info@cityreliquary.org. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have.

We hope that you and your loved ones are well, and we send our deepest thanks for your support. 

Always civic,

Dave Herman

Founder, The City Reliquary

Digital Exhibition: Mediocre Portraits of Outstanding People

Mediocre Portraits of Outstanding People is the most recent series in the City Reliquary’s slate of digital programming on Instagram! From June 12, 2020 to September 4, 2020, the City Reliquary’s neighborhood artist-in-residence, George Ferrandi, appeared on Instagram Live for an hour on to create a sketch of an reflect on someone who had been influencing her thinking during this remarkable cultural moment.

During this series, George listened to and learned from Black thinkers while attempting to honor them through portraiture, and shared the experience live with our audience.

The full series of drawings-in-process can be viewed on the City Reliquary’s Instagram Stories. You can watch and draw along if you like! – and listen to and learn from these visionary ideas. The completed portraits can also be viewed on Instagram, and will be archived in this album on our Flickr page as well.

Week 1: Civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. While drawing this portrait on Instagram Live, George and our audience listened to a conversation between Michelle Alexander and Angela Davis about the need to take active steps toward creating a more just society, and how these can be achieved.

Interview with Liz Beeby

Longtime Brooklyn resident and City Reliquary fan Liz Beeby has created a marvelous souvenir for us as part of our Museum Relief Fund Drive: the City Reliquary in a Nutshell! She recently spoke with us about that project, Cloud City, collecting, and looking to the future in an uncertain world.

Liz and her fake dead pigeon (of which more below)

How did you come to New York City?

I’m from California, from Sacramento, and then I lived in Berkeley and Oakland. And I loved California so much I thought I’d just move to New York for 2 years, just to appreciate California more. I thought the first year I’ll be too homesick so it won’t count, the second year I’ll get to have fun in New York, and then I’ll go back to California. But then it turned out New York is really fun, obviously, and it also turned that out I wasn’t homesick and I didn’t want to leave. November 2019 was my 15 years here, and I feel like I still want to go back to California but I don’t know when. So I guess it was sort of a whim that stuck.

And what kind of work do you do here?

I work for an agency that’s for medically fragile kids and their families, and so it’s kids who would have to live in the hospital if not for this Medicaid program that can get them nursing and equipment to live at home with their families. Which is a win-win for everyone because it’s cheaper for the state to give them Medicaid and have them live at home, and then most families want their kids at home too. I’m in charge of the babies and toddlers program, so it’s a lot of parents who are first bringing their kids home from the hospital and trying to figure out how to get everything in place so their kids can live home and be stable. I really like working with the families and feeling like I’m helping, or at least trying to. It’s nice to be able to tell them, “It’s going to be ok. It’s still going to be hard, but there are things that can make this a little easier.” 

When I moved here I knew I wanted to work with kids, and I looked on Craigslist and found this job, and I’ve had it for 15 years. It’s the only job I’ve ever had in New York!

Cloud City decorated as a funeral parlor for Dinette show

You’re also one of the co-founders of Cloud City. Can you tell me what that is?

It’s an arts and performance space, that’s the short answer. We just had our 7 year anniversary. Before this we ran a space called Dead Herring, which was on South 5th, and we had music shows there a couple times a month. Then we got priced out of that space, as is what happens. We were looking for something else and found this space, and thought maybe we could give it a try. At that point people who were here did more theater stuff, so we were doing more theater performances. And lately we’ve been doing nothing, obviously, but before that we had a lot of comedy shows. When people walk by it can be confusing because on the outside it doesn’t look like anything, and so people wonder, “What is this space?” But then when they come in I feel people are often like, “Oh, this is cool!” And I get such a thrill out of it, every time. 

And sometimes I feel like… how did I end up partially running a theater? That is not where I thought I would be in life. But I also think it’s really fun. I like having space where people can come in and do their stuff, and I really like working the door and getting to chat with people as they come in. And even when shows are exhausting, the people putting the shows on are usually really lovely, and it’s so… rewarding. I’m trying to think of a less cheesy word but I can’t. I also think it’s exciting seeing all the crazy things people do and how creative people are, and I feel honored to be in the periphery of that, even though I’m not a performer. 

I feel like it’s the thing I’m proudest of, that we started this and it still exists.

It’s an incredible achievement, especially since so many community spaces in Brooklyn are closing.

Yes, my old roommate organized a show RIP DIY. It was photos of bands playing in all the places that had closed, and looking at that was just like, oh my gosh, so many places have been shut down by the changing neighborhood. We still have on our wall the list of all the spaces in the show, and people always come and say, “Hey, you forgot about this place.” There are so many places that weren’t included and so many that have closed since then too. And so I do feel like we’re amazingly lucky to still be doing this.  

Where does the name Cloud City come from?

From Star Wars, it’s probably copyrighted. It’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, I think, I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen the whole movie. But Lando Calrissian has a city in the clouds called Cloud City. And when the people come to visit him and ask, “Aren’t you worried about the Empire finding you?” he says, “It looms like a shadow over everything we’ve built here.” That’s his quote. And when we were starting this space, that’s what one of us used to say every time someone would ask, “Aren’t you worried about this, or that?” He would say, “It looms like a shadow over everything we’ve built here.” So it’s a Star Wars reference. Which is how you name things, right?

Cloud City’s Back to the Future 2-inspired party

Of course! And apart from running an art and performance space, you’re an artist yourself, right?

Well, I wouldn’t really say I’m an artist. My friend teases me for not saying I’m an artist, but I feel like I’m a social worker, and I make stuff on the side. I like to make props and things for people’s performances or movies. So I’ve mostly made stuff for shows at Cloud City, or for my friends’ videos. We had a couple art shows here. One of them was an anti-Trump fundraiser… you know how in Back to the Future 2 when they go back to the bad 1985, Biff was based on Donald Trump? So I made a miniature Biff’s Pleasure Palace Tower. So I like making little things, and then big things too.

Can you talk through your process? How do you go about making things?

It’s harder for me to come up with an idea out of the blue, which I sort of think is why “artist” doesn’t seem to fit right for me. When we had art shows at Cloud City it was like here, make something for the show, and I had no idea what to do. But if someone says, “I need a dead pigeon,” then my mind can start working and my brain spins really fast, and I think, “OK, I can put this and this together, and I can do this.” I think that’s why I like making things for other people’s projects. It’s exciting to be like, “Oh, you need this weird thing, I could make that.”

Have you actually made a dead pigeon?

Yes! My friend was going to use it in a webseries, but then I don’t think they ended up using it after all. I tried to make it look like it had been hit by a car. It was a stuffed animal, filled with cotton fabric, and the woman I was making it for got me some feathers – although I did pick some feathers off the street too. It looked pretty realistic. After I finished I held it up and took pictures with it, and people walking by were really grossed out, so it was pretty good. And then I saw a real dead pigeon on the street and I thought oh, I could have just put that in the freezer and used that.

And now you’re making the City Reliquary in a Nutshell. How did you first find out about the museum? 

I think back when it was just a window at Havemeyer and Grand, just from walking past, it was such a cool thing to see in the neighborhood. And I have a lot of collections myself, I’ve inherited that from my dad. So I thought it was cool that someone used their ground floor window to show collections. 

I don’t remember when it moved to the actual museum, but that’s just always been my ideal dream place of history and collections of things and New York all in one place. And so when people visit I say that’s the number one place you have to go. You can go to the Met if you have time, but the City Reliquary is a very important stop to make. I love how it holds onto all these things that would get thrown away otherwise, like a brick from the sidewalk. I think it’s amazing that those things have been preserved and presented for people to see. My dad’s a geologist so all the geology core samples… that gets my heart right there. Like wow, core samples from Manhattan! That’s so cool!

Then there’s the way that the Reliquary engages in the community so much, like the Bike Fetish day where everyone brings their bikes and shows them off, and also the community collections, all the weird things, like argyle socks and dipsticks and things. I feel like so many places could start up a museum and people could go to look at stuff, but I don’t know that it would necessarily be so focused on that community engagement. So the fact that that’s always been such a forefront of the Reliquary is so cool. It’s my favorite place in New York, and one of my very favorite places in the world.

We’re so honored! Can you tell us about one of your own collections?

At the City Reliquary in the 1939 World’s Fair collection there’s that button that says, “I have seen the future.” You know what I’m talking about? The first time I went to the museum I saw that and thought, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, I want that so badly, how do I get one of those?” So I borrowed my friend’s button maker and made one, and then eventually realized that Ebay could help with that too. And that started a 1939 World’s Fair collection, because I think that fair is the best fair. Everyone was so optimistic and thought that technology was going to make everything better. They had so much hope for what the world of tomorrow would bring. It didn’t maybe work out the way they thought, but still that sense of, “everything gets better from here,” I love so much. 

And how does the City Reliquary in a Nutshell fit in to this?

When I was looking online for 1939 World’s Fair things, they have this World’s Fair in a nutshell, and there’s also one that’s New York City in a nutshell. And they have foldout pictures inside. I got the World’s Fair one first and then I got the New York City one, and I love them so much! And I thought that the City Reliquary has so many cool things, those could be in a nutshell too, that could be a good souvenir. And now I’m up to my ears in walnuts. I don’t even like walnuts!

For the people who get this nutshell, is there anything you’d want them to think about as they’re going through it? 

I guess I feel like… OK, so the people who bought them in 1939 probably had such a fun day at the fair and they wanted to remember everything about it. You could get a ton of souvenirs from that fair, but it’s such a small and compact way to get a bunch of pictures, and they must have enjoyed it so much. On the tags, you can see on the backs that they were for mailing. You could just put it in the mail and the nutshell would send, for 2 cents. So people had such a great time at the fair, and wanted to send not just a postcard to their friends but a weird nutshell, to share the world they’d just seen.

And so, I think about when you go to the City Reliquary and you’re trying to tell people how cool this museum is. They have an old shovel in there, they have geology core samples, they have water from the river – there are so many weird things that you wouldn’t think to see in a museum necessarily, but that you should see! Also the City Reliquary has so many things in there. Even when I was making the pictures I did a lot of culling so that it wouldn’t be too thick a strip to fit into the walnut shell. You go in there and you’re like, I saw so much cool stuff I don’t even remember what some of it was! So it’s a way of remembering what you saw and what the museum holds. Especially because some of it is from the rotating exhibits that aren’t there anymore. I tried to make it a sampling of all the historic and weird and small bits of life that are preserved there. It’s how one could remember a lovely day at the Reliquary.

Thank you so much, Liz!

For a limited time, City Reliquary in a Nutshell is available for purchase through the Museum Relief Fund Drive.

Interview with Artist Jason Eisner

Friend of the City Reliquary and Brooklyn-based artist Jason Eisner spoke with us recently about his work, including his beautiful limited-edition print depicting Negro League great John Henry Lloyd that is part of our Museum Relief Fund!

photo of artist Jason Eisner
The artist and his materials

You moved to New York from Chicago to study art. Can you tell me about your early years as an artist in New York City?

I studied painting at the Studio School, but while I was there I also had to have some type of job, so I started working at Boxart as an art handler. Along the way I met all these fantastic people, and it was fun to be part of this community that formed around work, and it really changed my relationship to art making. I wasn’t really an art handler, I was a crate maker, the foreman of a crate shop. So I had to make a crate for Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night… three times, because they don’t save the crate. And every time they’d be like, “Make it especially nice.” But we’d already made it especially nice! It meant something the first time we made it, but then we had already made it two other times. 

And I just started thinking like, this whole thing, what does it really serve? Who is going to these shows, who is allowed in? And I started asking myself these much bigger questions and turning further and further away from any kind of desire to actually have exhibitions. While I’d love to make a living on art making alone, it doesn’t seem like that’s something I’m bound for. But I can’t stop making, you know, I’m driven to create, because I feel like there’s something extraordinary about the process. It’s about possibilities. Taking that impulse beyond the gallery or museum world became something I got myself very interested in.

What do you mean when you say the process is about possibilities?

Sure, and I can speak directly to the print. Negro League Baseball has an amazing history and needs more celebration. I don’t know if you’re into Star Wars at all, but my brother and I, we grew up as the Star Wars movies were coming out and we collected trading cards. And my brother also started collecting baseball trading cards, he got deep into it. So now he’s buying the Star Wars cards for the new movies, and they’re ridiculous. There’s like a million cards, you could never possibly get a complete set, you’d have to buy boxes of them. And there are characters who appear on the corner of the screen for a nanosecond, and even they have their own card. 

But there aren’t cards like this for the Negro League players. And that burns me up. Topps, the great baseball card company, is making these Star Wars cards. Why not do some form of celebration of the Negro League? And if the card makers aren’t doing that, then why not have the art makers do that? My approach to art making has always had a certain kind of do it yourself. I guess I like to see art as its own solution, but one that can suggest other possibilities. 

What does this look like in some of your other work?

I’ve done things recently more in the street world, kinds of site-specific sculptures, and I have a whole brand associated with this – AOK. Physically AOK is a site specific installation, but I would rather call it a performance intervention. Installation is the residue, ok? Although it may also be the impetus. For example, there was a subway station on Church Avenue where there used to be an advertisement, but for a long time this advertisement was missing and never replaced, there was just a metal frame. And I wanted to repair this space, so I measured it and made a painting to fit into that, that said “WORK,” but using the same font as you would see in the subway tiles that announce the station. So the site itself was the inspiration for the work.

AOK: Work

But then after measuring and painting this thing, there’s this whole moment of having to install it, which is a moment of tremendous risk. Because I’m doing something illegal, you know, and messing with the MTA is beyond just the city, that’s one of those things that could really get me in some trouble. So I try to dress as official in appearance as possible, I put on construction gear, and really hope that my measurements work out. That I can stick this thing in there, screw it in, and leave in as short a time as possible. 

And so the actual art is the performance, the sort of trick of me or my crew going to a site and leaving something behind, almost littering. And then whatever’s left behind stays there as long as it stays there. Some things are there for a very long time. That piece on the subway was there for a couple years, until the whole thing was repaired. So the performance end of it is the installation. And the intervention aspect of it is what it might do for whoever passes by in the life it has on the street. The intervention is something that might disrupt their routine. 

Is there something special or unique about doing this kind of performance intervention in New York City? 

Well, everything we do with AOK is site-specific. Another thing we did quite a bit of was putting revised barricades all around the city. There’s a kind of striped white and orange barricade, you see them everywhere, that means you’re not supposed to go by that sewer or you’re not supposed to go across the sidewalk or something. But often times they just get left alone or they’re broken. I started seeing these things all over the place, and having worked at Boxart made me want to reuse all kinds of scrap wood, to give this thing a second life. 

So I was taking scrap wood [from the barricades] and reassembling, creating these gestures, taking the vernacular of these barricades but making these shapes, and then having them stand inside of the A-frames and just sort of place them around the city in random locations. So that they looked like they were supposed to be there, but there was something impossible about them, their shape. So if you saw it in passing, you’d probably be like what, why is that there? It kind of slows you down, hopefully, to make you think a little more. And there again is that possibility. We go from one place to another in New York City without very much pause. And I was hoping to move art beyond the confines of the white cube into a public space, where anyone could have access to it as long as it was there, and it could offer them some new experience in their routine. I know it’s kind of a romantic idea.

AOK

Can you tell me about some of the interactions you have had during this process?

One more solitary AOK project had to do with me clearing out the weeds from the street tree beds in the Mott Haven area of the Bronx. My whole aim was to engage with the people who live in the Bronx. I didn’t want to be one of those artists who was just going to the Bronx to bring art to the Bronx. I wanted to experience the Bronx almost like a religious experience with a sense of humility. So I felt like, well, being on my knees and pulling out weeds and junk from these tree beds and aerating the soil was a nice way to get to know people. 

And that was a sustained project, I did that for months, one spring. Most people didn’t pay any attention at all. They saw what looked like a uniformed person doing official work and let me be. But then there were people who really took time to try to understand what I was doing, and the range of comments and conversation were really extraordinary. So in terms of possibility, of the people that saw me, some people stopped to ask me questions. And that’s mission accomplished. And the interaction level was interesting because I was first confronted by that New York hardness, and then embraced by that New York core, that warm core. It was a cool shift. 

Let’s return to the print. How did you select John Henry Lloyd? 

When I think “reliquary,” that’s a religious object that is left behind to remember. And you know, a lot of the stuff that the City Reliquary has is kitschy and schmaltzy, and that’s Americana. And there’s something religious about that and I appreciate the Reliquary’s commitment to that. But there’s also a tremendous amount of history that is profoundly spiritual and has a major impact on people, that either never had an object made for it, or had an object made and it was loved to death or washed away in a flood or sold at a garage sale or lost in a fire. 

So the Negro League history is something I’m new to myself and really interested in learning about. It’s amazing, and at the same it’s also an important part of remembering American racism. That’s something we shouldn’t be forgetting. Many people seem to be forgetting about it all the time and never learning a lesson about it. And I wonder if maybe some of that forgetting has to do with not having the object to remember. After the integration of Major League baseball, that was kind of death knell for the Negro Leagues. So these players that established long histories and made a livelihood and were heroes, and were too old to join the major leagues, were in a way lost because of this integration. So I was compelled in some way to make that object for Reliquary, a place where you should be remembering.

And then selecting the player. I work at the Tenement Museum, so that’s what I’ve done for over 10 years now and learned the process of doing historic research. So I just started looking through what Brooklyn Negro League teams there were, who’s an exceptional player on one of those teams, to celebrate New York, to celebrate the Negro League, to celebrate the Reliquary. And I settled on John Henry Lloyd, who just had an amazing long career. They called him “the shovel,” it was a name he was given in Spanish. The story is that when he’d catch a ball shot way out into one of the outfield positions, he would be able to grab it but would also grab up a chunk of earth with his mitt, like a shovel, bringing up the turf. And I thought, “Wow, who is this guy? What a hero!” And he was eventually known as Pop, because he was a kind of father figure, just a sweet guy. So he was somebody who was a very celebrated athlete, and also very human, and an inspiration to his teammates. And like many people who played, he played on all kinds of teams, but he was on the Brooklyn Royal Giants for just a couple years, so there’s a New York connection. 

We talked about the relationship between possibilities of the process and the product in your performance interventions. What does that look like for this print, and how is it different?

When I was in undergraduate school I found myself at one point very stuck with painting, which is what I was studying. And then I moved into printmaking and I think there was something physical about the process that I really needed, that I wasn’t getting either in sculpture or in painting. There’s the trick in printmaking of everything being the reverse of what you see. And that’s also magic. It’s totally magical. And I can never get over it, I still love that. Of course it’s embarrassing when it’s type and you get the type backwards, but that’s ok too. 

But in the process of making this print, for me the research and the reading about John Henry Lloyd and the Negro Leagues will be ongoing. And there’s always an ongoing imagination about what was, because there’s not a possibility of me experiencing it, and there’s very little material culture left behind to remember it through. So I felt like in making this print, some kind of double magic. Like there’s the magic of the printmaking process, which is exciting, you never know what you’re going to get. But the other magic part of it was like, maybe conjuring into life the possibility that this history might be remembered through an object, where maybe it didn’t have an object before. 

So this particular print is less like the ephemera of the performance interventions, and more like an iconography. Like this is an icon that would be surrounded by candles that burn away. So as I was making it I felt a kind of responsibility beyond just trying to represent a portrait of John Henry Lloyd. There seemed to be more at stake in the representation. The idea that people will continue this learning on their own is a quiet goal that I do hope becomes a part of the process. Beyond me. I want to see everything live beyond me. 

Many thanks, Jason! You can see more of his work here.

Support the City Reliquary With Your Purchase of Limited Edition Items!

An illustration of Brooklyn Royal Giants player John Henry Lloyd by Jason Eisner

The City Reliquary Museum Relief Fund Drive is now live! You can purchase limited-edition swag at the link while helping to support our work! The Relief Fund Drive will run only until MAY 15 and is your ONLY chance to get these special items!

We chose to launch this donation drive on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, a tradition born in New York and celebrated nationally. The day commemorates the breaking of the baseball color line with Robinson’s official major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. While baseball is on pause, the rallying spirit that usually fills our stadiums can be felt among New Yorkers even now.

Support the City Reliquary with your order of a signed and numbered print by Brooklyn artist Jason Eisner (proof pictured above), an enamel pin featuring the City Reliquary logo, a challenge coin designed by our own Jacob Ford, or a miniature City Reliquary In A Nutshell handmade by Liz Beeby and inspired by a popular souvenir of the 1939 World’s Fair!

We are tremendously grateful for the generous support so many of you have already shown us. We are particularly thankful to Jason Eisner and Liz Beeby for their incredible contributions to this fundraiser!