I haven’t been posting as often as I would like because I’ve been buried in research for my book about the history of the section of Astoria you can see from Chateau le Woof. The project was previously known as “Summer of the Dog Cafe” but it seems to have morphed into a book and it involves Hallett’s Cove, the former Sohmer piano factory where the dog cafe occupies part of the ground floor, and Socrates Sculpture Park, founded by Mark di Suvero, and Spacetime, the red warehouse which di Suvero uses as workspace. Teaching myself about the Puritans, the history of pianos in New York City, and the rise of public art and then trying to turn it into prose has been a slow process! It took me forever, it seems, for example, to come up with the opening paragraphs of the chapter on Mark di Suvero, but here they are for your appraisal.
In 1941, a family left China to sail across the Pacific, fleeing a war that would not be fled. Although they had been living in China for years, the family was Italian. The father, a naval attaché, was Venetian, as was the mother, a former Countess. With them were their four children, each of whom faced radiant destinies: an activist lawyer who would establish a law school, an art historian, a poet and a world-renowned artist.
Let’s envision the future artist, nine years old, on the deck on the S.S. President Cleveland. His hands, wet with ocean mist, grip the railings as the Cleveland navigates from the great Pacific into San Francisco Bay. Here it is at last: America. America, named for an Italian explorer, just as he was, Marco Polo di Suvero. Perhaps he claps with excitement. We focus on his hands because his early public work will be of hands, clutching, opening, pointing.
Days of gazing at the endless blue of ocean and sky are suddenly broken by the terrible bright splendor of this span of steel, stretching across the bay for a mile, so long that the bridge never stops being painted. The last brush stroke on the south end in San Francisco serves as a signal to commence the next coat on the north end in Marin County. The color of the paint is International Orange. It flares into the eyes of the blue-blinded boy, himself an international fruit, an Italian raised in China entering America under a suspension bridge with towers so tall that they routinely disappear into clouds as though seeking the release of heaven. The bridge was begun the same year he was born, but it is only four years old, like a younger brother.
International Orange is a reddish orange firmly associated with the Golden Gate Bridge. But it is abundant on earth. We find it in the clay soil of Georgia, in the heart of a peach, in marigolds and goldfish, butterflies and autumn leaves, Irish setters and redheads. We find it in flames. But the color really belongs to the sky, in the grace of the sun rising and setting.
But who could imagine dousing a monument of steel with such a fierce, celestial color. The future sculptor Mark di Suvero, first encountering America, was too young to formulate such questions. He was just a boy, and what he most likely thought was “Golly, look at that!” or, more likely, “Che meraviglia!” But that encounter, and that thought, would direct the rest of his life, shape the course of the lives of dozens if not hundreds of other artists, and heavily influence the landscape of a certain stretch of Vernon Boulevard in Astoria, New York.