Faces on the street

Walking the streets of Manhattan, it is easy to get lost in the visual avalanche and overlook the smaller details. While well acquainted with the artistry and craftsmanship found in the sculptural ornamentation on many of the grander or historic buildings in the city, I seldom slow down and study the sculpted faces adorning keystones over the doorways and windows of the more modest row houses and apartment buildings found throughout New York. They were for the most part created by unknown artisans from Europe who were paid laborers wages.   Using family members, building owners, and images from their own memory as models, no two are alike.   Most of the faces emerge from beds of intricately carved vines and foliate elements.  While some examples looked as if they could have been plucked from a Romanesque cathedral, the sinuous details around others lend them a distinctly Art Nouveau feel.  Whatever the stylistic reference, more arresting are the individual expressions on their faces, ranging from fierce to benign, serene to secretive, solemn to joyous. These dozen pictures were taken from the scores of examples I observed on a couple of blocks in the east and west 90’s, however, similar examples of this lost art can be found in almost any area of the city that had middle class housing stock built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The next time you are on a block of what might seem at first glance old unremarkable brick and brownstone row houses and tenements, take a moment to stop and have a second look.  You may be very pleased by what you discover.

moonlit night on the edge of a storm

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