In December We Remember . . .
Since the New York Public Library had planned to commission an extravagant mural for a new teen lounge at Jefferson Market Library, it's fitting to commemorate a fresco, highly praised in its day, designed to have a good psychological effect on 420 female inmates by a Swiss-born artist who resided in Greenwich Village from 1931-39. [And, yes, we know WHY the NYPL fat-cats were going after a mural. . . a juicy vainglorious back-door tale for another day.]
• • There may have been many dark nights of the soul suffered in the Women's House of Detention [once located on Sixth Avenue at Greenwich Avenue as part of the Jefferson Market Judicial site] but the series created by WPA muralist Lucienne Bloch did not draw on the visual language for dread.
• • In 1935-6, Lucienne Bloch [1909-1999], the 26-year-old daughter of composer Ernest Bloch, lived at 53 Leroy Street when she was working on the 12th floor of the women's prison -- a space partly open to the elements.
• • She recalled: “At my first visit to the Women's House of Detention where I was assigned to paint a mural, I was made sadly aware of the monotonous regularity of the clinic tiles and vertical bars ... [and] it seemed essential to bring art to the inmates by relating it closely to their own lives. ... I chose the only subject which would not be foreign to them — children — framed in a New York landscape of the most ordinary kind... . The tenements, the trees, the common dandelions were theirs."
• • By late September 1935, Bloch completed the first panel [7' x 16'] of "Cycle of a Woman's Life from Childhood to Womanhood" - - and was forced to put the project aside until the mild weather returned in spring, enabling her to paint outdoors.
• • In December 1935, Bloch was part of the grand opening exhibition that would inaugurate the first WPA Federal Art Gallery in the USA [7 East 38th Street]. This group show focused on murals designed for public buildings. Along with Bloch, the artists represented included Moses Soyer, Arshile Gorky, Alfred Crimi, etc.
• • Shown: Lucienne Bloch & Panel 1 from "Cycle of a Woman's Life from Childhood to Womanhood," a mural commissioned for the Women’s House of Detention [demolished during the 1970s]
New York Public Library