By Carol Tannenhauser
“All you have to do is look up, that’s it, just look up when you’re walking around your neighborhood,” said Robert Arthur King.
It wasn’t an admonishment to get off your cell phone, but an invitation to enjoy the art that is all around us – not in museums, but carved above the doorways and on the facades of ordinary, old buildings and brownstones: faces, animals, flowers, designs, done by unknown, unheralded artisans.
“They talk about the architect of a building and the owner, but there’s very little research about the artists who did the details,” said King, an architect himself and professor at the New York School of Interior Design. He is the subject of a short film, called “Stonefaced,” by Vivian Ducat, shown recently at a meeting of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Club. King estimates that most of the details were done between 1850 and 1930. “After that, the art died,” he said.
King began photographing building details when taking a class that required him to photograph women. “Being a little shy I decided to photograph women on buildings,” he laughed. “I got a little obsessed and started photographing animals too, then flowers.” His work has resulted in three books, the latest released this May, called ”Figures in Stone.”
“You discover things when you look up,” King said. “You sometimes wonder, ‘Who is that?’ It could be the child of the developer or the owner. After awhile you become close to the faces, visit them sometimes. They’re all different and always there. The pity is, no one notices. They just walk by. It’s also unfortunate that this is an art that really does not have much to do now, with the building of glass boxes. Modern buildings are ‘faceless,’ with very little character. It does impact the streetscape.”
So look up! And send us your discoveries at: westsiderag at gmail dot com.