Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pratt in Fall

Today I accompanied my "mentee" and her mother to National Portfolio Day, where hordes of students gathered in Pratt's gym to show their work to art schools large and small. The energy was amazing. I think it's a huge and generous act that most schools were represented by volunteers who gave thoughtful crits—most of them, it seemed, without any intent of eliminating potential applicants (Maryland Institute College of Art did indeed make specific evaluations). The crits are helpful to students. A forewarning of shortcomings, the reviews sort of prepare students for possible non-acceptance (okay, nothing really ever prepares one for rejection, does it?).

Pratt's campus had a lot of intriguing sculptures sprinked around the grounds. I hadn't been to Pratt since around 1997 and was surprised by the handsome physical plant.

The neighborhood was full of surprises: some decaying signage plus a building formerly intended for decaying old ladies.*

*In 1996, in The New York Times, Daniel Schneider answered a question about the home:

An Old Old Folks' Home

Q. At 320 Washington Avenue in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, there's a boarded-up building with a plaque inscribed ''Graham Home for Old Ladies.'' Can you tell me anything about the place, and its oh-so-blunt name?

A. If you think that name is notable, wait till you hear the building's other monikers.

The institution was founded in 1851 as the ''Brooklyn Society for the Relief of Respectable, Aged, Indigent Females.'' The name was changed in 1899 to the more insouciant ''Graham Home for Old Ladies,'' according to documents furnished by the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Public Library.

The home was built on land donated by John B. Graham, a paint manufacturer, who also contributed to the $22,000 cost of the imposing neo-Georgian brick building, which housed 90 women over the age of 60 from Brooklyn. They paid a $60 admission fee.

By 1958, the fee was $2,000. A brochure that year described a tenor of life that had endured for a century: ''Here every week . . . meets the Thimble Bee. So violently do the machines whirl, the needles ply, it is a problem to keep them in work.''

When the Graham Home closed, the hulking building became a cheap hotel for prostitutes and by 1985, the building was one of the most notorious welfare hotels in the city. Up to 27 families were temporarily housed in such Gothic squalor that newspaper articles were written about it. Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist who was then with The Daily News, described the former home as an ''ancient, soot-black, five-story building that sits back from the avenue and looks dismal enough to have been designed by Edgar Allan Poe.''

P.S. It looks like the home for decaying old ladies is now a gentrified condo.

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