Saturday, January 31, 2015


The blizzard was named Juno. It was supposed to be historic.

I'm not Al Roker. I'm not StormCopter. I'm not StormCenter. I'm not a member of StormTeam or Weather on the 1's. I did not attempt to predict the weather. I listened to all of these sources. But even as I listened, I remembered something I've learned through experience. Weather is notoriously hard to predict. Even for StormCopter.

I prepared for the blizzard. It was mostly common sense. I do grocery shopping weekly. The weekly shopping I already did would get us through any storm. I changed one appointment to earlier in the day. I checked the flashlights and batteries. I urged Jeremy to bring work home rather than work late.

I did not go to big box stores and lay in tons of supplies. I saw people doing this on the news and it got me thinking about Blizzard Hoarding. I've never heard this terminology before because I just made it up. That said, I think this concept has some merit.

I set aside small, discrete periods of time to watch blizzard coverage. It turns out that I like watching speculation about blizzards and how bad they are anticipated to be. I enjoy watching news conferences about the blizzard with the mayor and the governor.

I enjoy watching blizzards out my window. But it seems that it is not enough to simply look at snow falling and wind blowing from my apartment. I must also watch the blizzard on TV. It is life affirming to watch New Yorkers banding together in scrappy, innovative ways. It gives me perspective to watch how bad things are in Islip. Things are always worse in Islip.

So if I didn't set aside specific periods where I allow myself to do this, I would be doing it all the time. I permitted myself to watch it while folding laundry. I watched right before going to sleep when my brain is not on full throttle anyway.

I woke up the next morning and went over to the window. It was cold and windy. There was snow on the ground. I could see that it was less than was predicted. I figured that the blizzard had changed direction at some point.  This has happened before. It's also gone the other way. Sometimes weather is much worse than you think it will be. That's weather.

I wouldn't have thought much more about it except that I went on Facebook. I also turned on the TV. That’s when I realized some people were very emotional about the blizzard.

The negative reactions New Yorkers had about the blizzard fit into some basic categories.

Political reactions
Some people were very upset with NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo for holding press conferences and then shutting down the subways and busses. They called them fascists because they did not allow people to drive without incurring a fine. The same people said that NYC and New York State are turning into an actual fascist state. I belong to a very special political party. It is called the better safe than sorry platform. So I think the next time there's a bad forecast, they should do it again. I think it would also be good if they shut everything down for the next gentle snowfall. Or really hot summer weather. I'd enjoy that.

Conspiracy theories.
Going hand in hand with fascism, was the idea that the forecast and response was all part of a conspiracy to distract New Yorkers from more important matters. Apparently the news media, Al Roker, Bill De Blasio and Andrew Cuomo were all in cahoots. If this is true it may have worked. The day after the storm, many people were distracted by conspiracy theories and lack of snowfall.

Just because you're paranoid does not mean that the weatherman and the mayor aren't out to get you.

Wasted supplies and wasted time getting supplies
Some people were upset that they bought a lot of extra food and other supplies and spent time waiting on long lines and going to multiple establishments. They felt that getting the supplies and then not losing electricity, heat or contact with others was an affront.

I'd like to suggest that New Yorkers shift focus next time there is a blizzard forecasted. How much food do you really need to eat during a blizzard?  This laying in of food is a missed opportunity for New Yorkers to engage in something trendy. That is fasting, cleansing and juicing. If you lose electricity, then you can't use the blender. You can still mash and whisk. You can still fast.

People enjoy watching action movies. They also enjoy watching blizzards. Some people were very disappointed that the blizzard didn't dish up  more entertainment. NYC wasn't crippled. There wasn't footage of people stranded in their cars, cars abandoned at jaunty angles, death, dangerous fallen power lines, trees impaling houses, people falling on top of one another on icy sidewalks, familiar landmarks destroyed by snow or biblical style carnage. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Having to go to work and having to leave the apartment
Until this blizzard, I didn't know just how much many New Yorkers enjoy staying in their apartments and how much they hate their jobs. The fact that the blizzard was mild and people were able to move about freely come Tuesday afternoon was deeply disappointing to many. Rather than feeling grateful that work was closed on Tuesday, some people were apparently expecting their businesses to be shuttered until March.

People were jealous of Boston because those people stayed home longer. They had been counting on the blizzard to interrupt a day-to-day life that has grown tired and unbearable. That's a lot of pressure on one blizzard. Maybe the blizzard isn't the main problem here.

People from the Midwest and upstate New York criticizing New Yorkers and the lame blizzard
During other weather events, I have been guilty of this. I come from Syracuse. I went trick or treating with my costume stuffed into my snow pants.

Other places got more snow during Juno. Other places get more snow on a regular winter day that NYC ever gets. That is not because you are superior or did anything right. You did not invent heavy snowfall. It just happened. It's the weather. It’s the lakes.

In the end, I was not bored, disappointed, or paranoid about the blizzard. I did not feel jealous of Boston.

I went for a walk on Tuesday afternoon and took these pictures. The blizzard wasn't historic. But it was still interesting and beautiful. I liked it a lot. These are the photographs I took before the snow got dirty. We're supposed to get more snow soon. Well see what that brings. I'm good either way.

Snowfall + precious peek of colorful plant = Peaceful scene

I like making collages and I like finding them.

I love it when snow gets stuck in the bark. It's like punctuation.

More punctuation.

These snowdrifts form on the outside sills of one of our windows. This one was about 8 inches high. It was fun opening the window and taking a close up.

Obligatory shot of car buried in snow. At least it’s artistic.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

They Create: Jeremy Shatan’s Playful Paper Cut-Outs

I’ve said it before. My husband, Jeremy Shatan, is a Renaissance man.
He raises money to help children with cancer. He is a serious baker. He’s an avid skier. He writes about music for his blog, AnEarful.
He does too many things well to list them all here. In addition to all of the other stuff he works on, Jeremy also makes these whimsical and wonderful paper cut-outs.
Ever since we became a couple, Jeremy and I have always been intent on creating our own holiday traditions. We tend to take classic elements from Halloween, Thanksgiving, birthdays, Christmas, and Chanukah, and give them a unique spin. We pick and choose what we like, discard what we don’t, then reinvent the rest.
Jeremy began making the paper cutouts as alternative to commercial, mass-produced decorations when our children were very small. We are still enjoying the first creations he made 17 years ago. Over the years, he's added to the collection, inspired by birthdays and other celebrations. They hang from our doorways and ceilings. They're affixed to our walls, windows and front door.
The paper cutouts are serving an even higher purpose now. Our firstborn, Jacob, inspired Jeremy's first cutouts and lots of other art, too. Jacob passed away from childhood cancer at the age of two and a half. Every year, we form a group called Team Jacob in his honor. We participate in a special walk to remember him and raise money to help children with cancer. You can learn more here.
For the last two years, Jeremy and I have created a theme for Team Jacob based on some of Jacob's favorite things. In 2013 our theme was the Granny Smith apple because not only was this one of Jacob's favorite foods, he also loved noticing apples everywhere we went.
When Jacob was being treated with chemotherapy, it was a challenge getting him to eat enough. So Jeremy made Jacob special waffles called Power Pack Waffles. They were loaded with the nutrition and calories Jacob needed. In 2014, Jacob's waffle became our theme.
I wanted to share Jeremy's thoughts, process and creations with you. So I interviewed him.
Describe what you remember about the early days of your paper cutouts. Why paper cutouts as opposed to paintings, photography or a different art form?
When it came time to celebrate Jacob's first birthday, I didn't like the commercial themes and designs of the stuff they sold for kids' parties back then. Since it was common to have wall and hanging decor made of heavy card stock, I thought I would just make my own. 
I wanted them to be simple shapes that Jacob could recognize - and I'm good at drawing simple things. At first I thought I would do imaginary bugs but then I decided on hippos, rhinos and elephants as they are easier to cut out and we had a history of buying stuffed animals of those creatures. 

When it came time to make them, I found it very easy to make a line drawing and then cut it out using an X-ACTO knife. I discovered a real affinity for that tool, enjoying the sensation of the blade cutting through paper. I often enter a flow state when I cut, a relaxed, focused mode where every instinct is the right one.

I never considered other media as photography was an involved process back then and I wasn't confident in my abilities with paint. I also like the absolutely graphic quality of colored paper, giving each element of the final product an even, overall color. 

Talk a little about how our friends and family have responded to your cutouts.

The best first audience for the cutouts was Jacob. We hung up the hippo, rhino and elephant from a beam in our apartment while he was napping before his first birthday party. When he woke up, I brought him out and held him up high, near the decorations. "Wow!" he said in a drawn out and clearly enunciated expression of wonder. At that moment I knew I had done something very special. Those three are still hanging in our apartment, 17 years later.
When it comes to the holiday cutouts, everyone has loved them. The feedback I've gotten tells me that people like the fresh approach to classic themes, somehow making stock images like wreaths and menorahs new to them again.

Having birthday parties for our kids year after year took the themes of the cutouts to a different level. Describe a birthday party or two and how you used the cutouts and other paper elements in your decor.
When Hannah was little, she got really into the circus. She liked anything to do with that form of entertainment so we made that the theme of her party. I really challenged myself with some of my most elaborate designs yet, including a decorated elephant standing on a drum and a trapeze artist swinging through the air. 
The year before that, we paid tribute to Hannah's well-rounded interests. She liked ducks, trucks, and globes ("Eart!" She would say, pointing) so that's what I made for her.  We would've had to buy three different sets to cover all those bases!

Noah's parties were fun because he was all boy, so that meant balls of all shapes and sizes one year and a three-car steam engine the next. 

Could you give our readers a paper cutout "recipe" along with some helpful hints? 
I always start with a sort of Platonic image in my mind: what would the perfect Santa hat look like? Of course, that image is filtered through my taste, memory and perception so it can't help but be an individualized idea. 

Once I have the image in my mind, I think about how I can achieve it using the minimum amount of elements. In the case of the Santa hat, I knew I would need a red triangle, a fluffy white brim and a fluffy ball for the top.  After choosing my paper, I draw each element, which is one translation of the image into reality, and then cut out the shape, which is another. I accept the changes that occur during this translation process - as long as I'm satisfied with the final results, of course. 

Then I glue everything together. If it's going to hang from the ceiling, then it needs to be double-sided, which means making two of every element, except for the central one (in this example, I only needed one red triangle) - another good reason to use as few pieces as possible. 

Here are some technical tips:

1. If you're unfamiliar with X-ACTO knives, experiment before your first project. Don't press - just drag your blade through the paper (I often think of molecules parting, believe it or not). Buy lots of blades and change them often. Dull blades rip paper. 

2. Splurge on glue. It can be seriously annoying to have all these beautiful bits of cut paper and then your final piece has all kinds of bubbles and bulges because you used Elmer's glue. I used to use this weird stuff that came in a white tub. I think I got it at Kate's Paperie.  In any case, go to a good store, ask their advice, and make no object of money. Cheap paper is fine - cheap glue is untenable. 

3. Have fun with it! If you enjoy the process then you can't help but be satisfied with the result. 

They Create: The Playful Paper Cutouts of Jeremy Shatan is the second in an ongoing series about creative people across many disciplines.
Halloween Cat

Acrobat for Hannah's circus birthday party

Jeremy made me Mother's Day and birthday cards using his beloved X-ACTO knife & glue

Detail of oft-worn Team Jacob granny smith apple shirt

Team Jacob wore the waffle in 2014

Thanksgiving pie, 3rd birthday clown & Christmas candy cane

This pumpkin is faded from many years of Halloween window display

Chanukah gelt

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Beauty In The Before

Before the before I'm talking about today, we were just living in our apartment. When we moved in, everything was freshly painted and new and nice. Almost all of the apartment was working for us. Sure, some of it was a bit mismatched. It wasn't glamorous. But it was a cozy, functional place to raise our children and a sweet place to come home to.

Over time, some parts of the apartment stopped working as well. We cobbled things together until more of it wasn't working. Then we started the renovation.

One day recently, I was having a private conversation with a friend using Facebook Message. I don’t remember what started it. We were having a nice dialogue and then the subject turned toward the renovation.

The friend wanted to know why I wasn’t posting any pictures of our apartment on Facebook. This is a reasonable question. I like to post things on Facebook.

My answer at the time was because the apartment isn’t finished yet.

Almost immediately, I realized both the error and irony of my answer. The error and irony comes from two places.

All though this renovation process, I’ve been focusing on the word process. The apartment will never be finished, finished. Even after the shelves are delivered, the furniture in place, the paint job done and the rug laid, there will still be more things to do.

We will need to possibly get more shelves made once we’ve unpacked. Well have to find a spot for my new printer. There may be some trips to the Container Store to maximize the insides of our closets.

There is bedding and throw pillows and area rugs. That is what I’m calling the fun part.

So if I’m waiting for the apartment to be finished before posting pictures that is absolutely ridiculous. I’m taking it back. Forget I said anything.

I then considered the concept of the before picture. Initially, this idea was worrisome. Who wants to post pictures of piles of stuff, half packed boxes, dusty corners and walls in extreme need of a paint job?

Then I realized that I am in fact, the person who should do this.

I am a person who finds beauty in things like trash, dead plants, weeds and city streets.  Once I remembered that, I looked at my apartment with new eyes.

I started taking some pictures. Not your classic before and after views that one sees on HGTV. I’m sure I’ll take those too. Just not now.

The pictures I took were of things that are suddenly ephemeral. They’re about to be painted over, taken down, re-purposed, re-organized, given away. They’re about to be swept up, boxed up, cleaned, thrown out, replaced or refinished.

I am welcoming in the new and saying goodbye to the old. Saying goodbye isn’t easy. These photographs are my way of saying see you later. I won’t forget about the scratches, the corner, the outgrown toy, the shelf brackets or the milk crates. The truth is that I don’t forget much of anything.

Here is my version of the before.

We are saving all of our Fresh Direct delivery boxes for packing. There are a pile of them wedged between the treadmill and some CDs.

There will be new shelves to hold this pile of books Jeremy has earmarked to read. Our coasters have seen better days. The new ones Jeremy got me for Christmas will soon be gracing our tables.
Jeremy has always loved sharing music. Back in the day, he loved making mixtapes. The old-school nature of them bugged me for a while, but I’ve learned to love them again. The sunlight has faded the labels, but they are still readable.
We’ve outgrown these bracketed shelves and have packed up what used to be there. They look spare and pretty in the late afternoon light. Some pretty peeling paint will soon be covered in a color called Horizon. Hannah’s art, rolled up and ready for TLC treatment.
Hannah got a jewelry box kit one birthday. It sits atop a list of Noah’s and a scratched filing cabinet that will live inside a closet. This copy paper catching the light will have a proper home soon.
I used this pretty notebook for ideas back in my commercial still life photography days. I took a photograph of it before pitching it. This was my kitchen table throughout my childhood. My parents were nice enough to give it to us after they remodeled their kitchen. We are having it refinished, but the scratches are so interesting I wanted to record them.

Jeremy truly treasures his music and that has blessed our family. These piles are awaiting alphabetization and storage. Soon they will have a lovely place to call home.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

No Scary Boxes

Jeremy and I are packing. We are having our apartment painted soon. We are having beautiful new shelving and dressers custom made. We are getting some new rugs and furniture. We are having some of our old furniture refinished.

We are re-purposing some of our old furniture. One of our shelves is being turned on its side, placed on the rug and turned into a coffee table. I’m looking for a beautiful fabric runner to put on top. I got the idea from an article I saw on Twitter.

We are going to IKEA.

Walls are not being taken down. Nothing structural is happening. But rooms that were used for one thing will be used for another. Hannah and Noah will each have their own rooms.

This is a big deal.

Jeremy and I are assessing our possessions. There are four categories that our possessions fit into.

Some possessions are still good, but we don't want them anymore. One of our criteria for keeping things is that the item be relevant to us at this time in our lives. So we have given some things to extended family members. The majority of things that we are giving away are going to a huge, sparkling clean Salvation Army in the Bronx.

Some possessions are in such sorry condition that not only do we not want them, but we strongly suspect no one else would. These possessions are thrown away.

There is a small collection of items that Jeremy sets aside to sell. These are vinyl records and CDs that he no longer likes. He goes to record stores and sells them, then recycles the money to buy new music that he does like.

Then there are the things we've decided to keep.

This is a special group of items. Jeremy and I are generally on the same page about this. He's a little more loosey-goosey about it, and I'm more decisive and ruthless. But we do meet in the middle.

The wonderful part about all of this is that all of the possessions we are keeping will have a beautiful place to go. Books. An enormous collection of CDs. Things that speak to each of our children at this point in their lives. Things we use on a regular basis. Things I'm re-discovering. Things we treasure.

There are also things that we don't treasure exactly but we need to save for tax purposes or whatnot. That stuff will go neatly in the closet.

I made a decision early on in our packing process and am happy I did. It's turned into a mantra.

No Scary Boxes. This is not something we are hoping to accomplish. It is more than that. It is a packing lifestyle.

No Scary Boxes means a number of things. When Jeremy and I started packing possessions we wanted to do so in an organized fashion. Naturally, there is a binder devoted to the packed possessions.

Every box of packed possessions is numbered, which correlates to a special list that tells us what items are in the box. In addition, I've developed a three level system that ranks the box by urgency. A red dot means that we need to unpack this box ASAP. A green dot box gets unpacked after the red dot boxes are unpacked. The yellow dot boxes are the least urgent.

The yellow dot boxes contain things like beautiful art books. No one needs a book about Cezanne or artisans in Brooklyn. No one is having a Raymond Carver emergency.

The yellow dot boxes may be the least urgent but the most fun.

I would like to mention that there is a clear plastic pencil case inside of the binder of boxed possessions that holds post it notes, ballpoint pens and Sharpies.

Jeremy and I got a storage unit at a new facility in the neighborhood. This is where we bring our boxes of packed possessions. One of the ways Jeremy upholds the No Scary Boxes lifestyle is by keeping our storage unit really neat and organized. This is not the type of storage unit where you unlock it and a shoe falls on your head.

There are the No Scary Boxes things we are doing now, and the No Scary Boxes things we will do in the future. We are not going to be bringing all of the boxes back to our apartment at once, after the paint job is complete, the carpet installed and the furniture in place. We will not be bringing them back in a willy-nilly, random fashion.

It will be more like this. What do you want to unpack today? Should we unpack the cookbooks? Okay, let's bring back boxes 10 through 12 and number 55. Then another day, it will be boxes 90 - 100. And so on.

We have an eye toward our future experience when we embrace No Scary Boxes. We have enough on our plates. We don't need to be unpacking any box with a sense of dread. Dread that comes from not liking what's in there, but being unable to let go. Dread that comes from having packed something that feels unmanageable. Dread that comes from simply putting things in a box and deferring the decision making process by procrastination. Dread that comes from a random and disparate collection of items that don't have a home. Dread that comes from a guilty place.

Some boxes are straight forward and never had the potential to become scary anyway. Boxes of alphabetized music. Boxes of files that can go into deep storage, and boxes of files still active. A box of special children's books we want to save.

But there's another box that could have been scary but isn't. This box contains my children’s baby books and loose photographs of Hannah and Noah. The baby books are all partially filled out. The photographs in this box are not in albums.

If you asked me what kind of mom I would turn out to be early in motherhood, I would have predicted that I’d be the kind of mom who would fill out the baby books all the way. I also would have predicted that I’d be the kind of mom that would put photographs of my children in albums.

Indeed, I was this kind of mom. My prediction turned out to be correct – in the beginning.

When Jacob was born I filled out the baby book I received for my shower. I painstakingly recorded every milestone. This baby book extends until the age of three. Jacob died when he was two and a half.  So I have this unfinished baby book.

Jeremy and I chose beautiful baby books for Hannah and Noah. Even though these children are healthy and just kept growing and growing, the baby book notations stopped before the end of the books.

The photo albums took a similar course. Until Noah was about three the albums are populated with beautifully organized photographs, complete with captions. Then that stopped too.

We continued to take photographs of the children. We continued to make note of their milestones. I continued to be interested in being the kind of mom who finishes baby books and photo albums. I especially enjoy captioning.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I became busy with the stuff that all moms get busy with as well as some less commonplace stuff. If you are just joining me now, I wear and have worn a lot of hats.

The truth is that I could have made time to fill out the books and fill the photo albums. At each opportunity, I chose to do something else instead. I chose to chaperone a whole bunch of field trips, when my children were young. I chose to be available at the drop of a hat for them to confide in me as they got older.

I chose to be outside at the playground when my son desperately needed to run around, and a source of company for my daughter when it was time for her to choose high school art supplies. She was capable of doing this on her own, but didn’t want to. So we made it a fun outing.

At the end of a long day, I chose to read a magazine while drinking a glass of wine after my kids were in bed. Now that they are older, I choose to watch TV shows we all enjoy. I take care of myself so I can get up to do it all over again with a smile.

When I packed the box of unfinished baby books and unsorted photos, I remembered all of the important things I was able to sort out. I saw my parental accomplishments splayed out and clear. Suddenly, I didn’t feel badly about my unfinished projects.

I reverently put the envelopes, books, and empty photo albums in the box. I labeled it with a sense of respect. Now that they’re out of my apartment, I have all kinds of ideas for the pictures I didn’t have before. I have been able to change course when necessary and this box is no exception. That’s the kind of mom I am.

Our storage unit piled with non-scary boxes

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Friday, January 16, 2015

They Create: The Lego Artistry of Don Rice

Don Rice is a good neighbor and friend. One evening, I asked him for a favor. We live in the same apartment building, so I went over to his place so that he could help me with something important.

When I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a large table full of exquisite creations made of Lego. Naturally, I asked Don all about it. Don and his family are industrious, creative people. You never know what you’re going to see over there.

There is an amazing historical gem in our neighborhood of Inwood called the Dyckman Farmhouse. Don is a passionate Inwood historian and has been working on building his own Dyckman Farmhouses out of Lego. He’s worked hard on this and has amassed an impressive collection.

Everywhere I looked there were Dyckman Farmhouses. Some were large and elaborate, some were smaller and pared down. I fell in love with Don’s Lego creations. That got my wheels turning.

Don let me come over to talk about his Lego artistry and allowed me to photograph his pieces. That interview turned into my first post for my new series They Create.

Don, Give us some background information about yourself and your career.

I was raised in Rochester NY. In high school I wanted to be a sax player. After college I eventually got a job playing on cruise ships. I also arranged music for entertainers and wrote my own stuff for the band. 

 After working on the ships for about three years I moved to NYC to see if a musical living could be made there as a player, arranger or copyist. It was the third option, a music notation guy, that the phone mostly rang for.

Music copyists deliver clear, quick and accurate notation of music for bands in live shows, jingles or recordings. This was the early 1990s and use of the fountain pen on Broadway was just beginning to be transformed by computers and laser printers. From the ships I already knew how to operate music notation software and had a sense for what a page of music should look like.

In 1992 I was hired to work in a Broadway show’s music department, and that show led to another, and another and another. And here it is more than 20 years later.

What got you started with Lego? Did you build with them as a child? Did your boys influence you?

My brothers and I played with Lego as kids from a young age almost every week after church. This was the late 60’s. We had a couple of drawers full of bricks, and we’d pull them out and dump them on the table.

There were fewer colors and kinds of bricks, so whatever we were building would evolve on the fly, depending on what parts were still in the bin. I don’t remember having any kits back then, just bricks in bulk, which sometimes came with a brochure with building ideas.

More recently, when my kids were young we’d build from kits; often Bionicle and Technic - other types of Lego building sets. I think I enjoyed those sets as much as my kids did. On one memorable trip to Toys r Us we found big containers of unsorted Bionicle parts on sale. Unbelievable! Our whole family spent the afternoon seeing what we could build from undocumented parts. 

Please talk a little about your process. It seems like a real engineering and architectural focus.

When I started thinking about making a Dyckman Farmhouse model from Lego bricks, I needed help, so went looking for drawings and photos of the house. As luck would have it the Library of Congress has measured set of drawings of the farmhouse from the 1930s online. Bingo!

By matching bricks physically to a printout of the drawings, I was able to complete a first model. There were several subsequent iterations as I tried to make the model smaller and use fewer bricks.

Since Lego bricks are a form of pixelation, as a builder I had to decide the smallest unit of detail I wanted to show accurately, and let that detail dictate the scale of the model. It could be the windows, the roof, a door or the porch railing.

I'm finding these very aesthetically appealing, humorous and engaging. Talk about the artistry.

I try not to think about artistry when building. It can be easy to overthink. I try to listen to nonverbal gut feelings, and let them part dictate what’s working well. By trying to tune in to a sub-verbal place, the element of playful appeal you mention has emerged. 

What prompted you to make monochromactic Lego creations? They're very powerful, both individually and as a group.

I think the monochromatic forms are fun and I think they do invite our subconscious into a dialogue about the meaning of the house, and feelings can bubble up.

Remember Peter Max in the late 60s? I do, vividly. I even ordered a Peter Max paperback from our school book club. I loved his bold sense of color and line. And his images could be playful too, mixed in with messages of flower-power 60’s idealism. So that’s an influence. 

You’re an Inwood Historian with a beautiful collection of maps, art and artifacts. You've used Lego to deeply explore your interest in the Dyckman Farmhouse. What was this like for you as an Inwood Historian?

Several of the monochromatic Lego models show the farmhouse being worked on by construction workers. And it just so happens that a century ago in 1915 the farmhouse was renovated and then given to the city. Being a history buff has helped me set down roots in this neighborhood, and it’s surely affecting how these models take shape.

Your work with Lego has expanded into philanthropy. Please talk more about that.

About a year ago the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Alliance (a non-profit that supports the farmhouse) asked if I’d like to become a trustee. So I’m involved there as a member of the board. Fundraising and friend-raising are two things we do to help keep Dyckman in the community mix.

The farmhouse is the oldest building in Inwood and as such it has ongoing preservation and maintenance needs. But more importantly it has been a witness to the passage of time up here. The stories it can tell us make it a vital force in the neighborhood. If a Lego idea (model kit, calendar or whatever it might be) can help connect the farmhouse’s force to the community it becomes exciting. We’re there to serve. 

Talk about your mission with providing enrichment for kids

After finishing the large farmhouse model, I thought it would be fun to make a smaller version, one that kids might like to build. Trying to get a model down to 100 bricks or less was the challenge, as was keeping it easy to build, recognizable and (importantly), affordable.

It’s still a work in process, making instructions, trying out packaging, locating inexpensive pieces and shops that might be willing to stock a locally made kit. Hopefully it will be something that kids can build while they think about our neighborhood history, and at the same time (hopefully) generate an ongoing trickle of income for the farmhouse.

You spoke beautifully about how you make time for your art. Could you elaborate? People are always talking about not having time to pursue their interests. How do you do it?

I’ve found it’s possible to be creative and productive even with small chunks of time. On school mornings after the kids leave for school and before I get ready for work, there’s a short window of time, about fifteen or twenty minutes - just enough to try a building idea or start a new model. I may muse about a project while riding the subway or at lunch and the next morning try it out.

Do you have any plans for future Lego projects?

Would it be fun to build the old arch on Broadway and 216th? You bet. Henry Hudson Bridge? 215th Street IRT station? Cloisters? Oh yes. 

They Create: The Lego Artistry of Don Rice is the first in an ongoing series about creative people across many disciplines.

This is where the magic happens.

A small sample of Don's beautifully curated collection of Inwood artifacts.