From tanning to cement mining, the Hudson Valley was built on industry. A new exhibition at ArtsWestchester’s gallery in downtown White Plains takes a closer look at one of the region’s historical occupations—brick-making.
“Brick by Brick: The Erie Canal and the Building Boom,” which opened on September 30, features the installations of 12 contemporary artists, interspersed with historical materials, archival and commissioned photographs, and personal narratives that tell the story of the region’s brick industry since the days of New York’s early Dutch Settlers.
“The humble brick has been the driving force behind the building boom that flourished in the 19th Century from the Erie Canal to New York City,” says Janet T. Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester. “While the state’s brick industry faded after World War II, its presence is ubiquitous in our towns and cities, in sidewalks, buildings, homes of all sizes, public works and factories. Our exhibition explores the brick industry’s rich history with its complex and challenging intersections of immigration, innovation and economic development while giving it new life in contemporary art forms."
With more than a ton of bricks on display, the art ranges from figurative sculptures made with this elemental building block to abstract multimedia pieces that take inspiration from bricklaying patterns. A $75,000 grant from the New York State Council on the Arts enabled ArtsWestchester to commission all original pieces for “Brick By Brick.”
“For the artists in the exhibition, bricks become eloquent symbols for a range of subjects: of the transient quality of the manmade, of the fragility of our environment, of forgotten histories and of shared human experiences,” says Kathleen Reckling, ArtsWestchester Gallery Director.
In conjunction with the exhibition, ArtsWestchester will host three free programs at the gallery. The first event, Brick Bonds, takes place today from 3-5:30pm. In this workshop led by BAC Local 1 union members, participants will learn about the region’s bricklaying history and the structural and aesthetic significance of different brick bond patterns. Participants will also have a chance to learn some introductory masonry techniques as they build a wall under supervision.
At Brick Hunters of the Hudson River Valley, held Saturday, November 3, from 3-5:30pm, participants will hear stories of adventure and folklore from some of the region’s leading brick collectors, and have an opportunity to swap bricks with their neighbors.
The last event, Songs of the Brickyards: The Untold Story of Haverstraw’s African American Community, takes place on November 10, from 3-5:30PM. Storytellers, singers of spirituals and gospel legends will join together to narrate the history of slavery, the brickyards, and the African American church in Haverstraw.
“Brick by Brick” will be on view through January 19, 2019. ArtsWestchester is located at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains, NY.