Category: Notes from a Native New Yorker

Notes from a Native New Yorker: Jackson Pollock, Naturally

Michelle Stein—

As a New Yorker considering nature and the environment this month, I wanted to look beyond the enclaves of nature in New York City parks to the representations of nature—both realistic and abstract—found in the museums and galleries of New York.  For one perspective I turn to Evelyn Toynton’s Jackson Pollock, the newest entry in the Icons of America series.

One might wonder what part of Pollock’s famous, so-called splatter paintings (this term is reconsidered in the book) relate to this month’s theme.  But reading Jackson Pollock it becomes clear that both Pollock’s personality and his art work are often considered in conjunction with the natural world. Even fractals—found throughout nature—are used to try to understand the patterns behind his paintings.  As I read, I saw two main themes that emerge in the book which pair nature and Pollock.

The first is the identification of Pollock with the American West.  His taciturn nature combined with his birthplace of Cody, Wyoming led many to label Pollock as a Cowboy artist.  Although Pollock only lived in Cody for ten months of his life, much of his later childhood was spend in California and Arizona, so that the West remained influential for Pollock, including in a mural he created for Peggy Guggenheim’s apartment which was inspired by his time on a Grand Canyonsurveying crew.  Toynton also that later in life, Pollock retained a preference for rural life, moving away fromNew York City in 1945 to the area Springs, on Long Island.

Pollock’s personal preferences and public persona were those of an artist who is more at home outside a rural gas station than within the civilized confines of an art gallery, a fact that is borne out in the physical reality of his art work. Toynton reminds us of the way that Pollock’s work was revolutionary in its sheer size, reminiscent of the vast spaces of the American West and their seemingly endless possibilities. During the artist’s early days in New York, abstractionist Hans Hoffman expressed concern that Pollock would someday run out of material for his highly conceptual paintings, which seemed to spring only from within his head. Yet the older artist underestimated the extent to which Pollock’s inner landscape had all the scope of the purple mountains majesty that inspired other artists. “Look at nature,” Hoffman famously said to the young man. “I am nature,” Pollock told him.

In this vein, Toynton also discusses the similarities of Pollock´s work to the vision of the American transcendentalists and British Romantics of the 19th century.  She sees both transcendentalism and Pollock’s art as using spirituality, but imbued with the American spirit of individuality and initiative. Though there was a focus on spiritual issues, both transcendentalists and romantics looked toward nature in their ideas and philosophies.

There are a number of spots in New York City to see Pollock’s art, but my personal favorite is “Autumn Rhythm” (Number 30) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The work covers a whole wall, and is a clear example of the energy and vitality of Pollock’s work.  I have always agreed with the Autumn label, and next time I go to the Met, I hope to examine it further for more signs of nature.


Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and a forever book-lover.

Notes from a Native New Yorker: Changing Christianity

Michelle Stein—


I am familiar with the conflicting images and identities of shifting or presumably unchanging institutions.  New York City may have been immortalized in the arts, and its landmarks might be recognized the world over, but underneath there is constant change.  Whether the shuttering of one shop and the opening of another or the movement of individuals from apartment to apartment or neighborhood to neighborhood, New York City is reformulated and redefined by its residents nearly daily.

In some respects, many religions can be described in similar ways.  Though their beliefs and practice systems are codified by texts and years of tradition, many have begun to seriously rethink aspects of their faith or policies, including questioning the roles of women or LGBTQ-people as clergy, ideas on birth control, and other recent debates.  This conflicts with many people’s vision of religion as being strongly institutional and permanent.  Reading A New History of Early Christianity, by Charles Freeman, I am reminded that it is not only in recent times that religious institutions face conflicts, but questioning theology is perhaps institutionalized from a religion’s start.

Freeman delves into early Christian times with the eye and toolbox of a historian.  To him, the religious texts that form the basis of Christian theology today (and even those that are not included) are sources to be examined for their factual content and biases.  His early analysis of the gospels considers each writer’s place in time and writing style, placing the same focus on the interactions between the classical, Christian, and Barbarian as most studies of the early medieval period.

Thus, the New Testament was a canon to be created.  Apostles and others travelled to spread the word of this new religion, confronting both non-believers and Christian leaders with contradicting theologies and practices. Latin Christianity did not begin to emerge until Tertullian of Carthage, and even in the third century, congregations were not growing in harmony but still in a great deal of conflict with one another.  It was not until 312 with Constantine’s conversion and the Edict of Milan in 313 that offered tolerance for Christians throughout the Roman Empire.

Just as New York City started as New Amsterdam and its borders much closer together, growing and changing to become today’s Big Apple, the start of Christianity as it slowly developed might be unrecognizable to some.  In a time when religious orthodoxy is still questioned and debated, A New History of Christianity is an opportunity to look into the uncertainty of Christianity’s beginnings.


Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and a forever book-lover.

Notes from a Native New Yorker: Studying The Ground, and Ourselves

Michelle Stein—


Notes from the Ground: Science, Soil & Society in the American Countryside, by Benjamin R. Cohen is primarily the story of the merger of agriculture and science in early America, and all the attendant debates and developments in agricultural life. But in the spirit of the season of back to school, I hoped to read Notes From The Ground through the lens of education, a goal easily accomplished; you can’t help but be struck by the many parallels to questions in education.

Throughout the book Cohen shows the variety of ways in which farmers sought to improve their land and soil.  Many farmers looked inwardly towards themselves, their farms, and their own communities for ideas and advice.  Early American agricultural society had much in common with the ideas of farming stemmed in part from Virgil’s Georgics.  Virgil held farming and hard work in high esteem and a foundation for a nation and progress.  The land was regarded as beautiful as well as a place of work and morality.

As the 19th century progressed, chemists began to carefully study the science of the soil.  The use of scientific knowledge even by those working with the soil on a daily basis could and would ultimately redefine how farmers interacted with the land.  Increased understanding of the soil and land derived from scientific study was immensely valuable and foolish to ignore.  But many American farmers were wary of information gathered by those with no direct connection to the land.  At a minimum, many hoped that those pursuing improvement of land morally, with careful consideration to how to use new knowledge while also maintaining the treatment of the land taken by the georgics.

How does this tie to the world of education?  The farmers and scientists in Cohen’s book lived through a time of fast-paced change and development.  This is not much different from the educational experience, and the story of how science and agriculture offers up many of the same questions and practices as today’s educational world.

Notes from the Ground delves into the question of how one approaches new information: it is not to be taken at face value, but considered thoughtfully and incorporated into one’s life and worldview.  The farmers who were faced with new practices all responded in different ways.  The practical, real life experience is also a hallmark of today’s educational system, though not solely in the realm of farming.  At a young age, field trips often tied to the in-school curriculum, and many colleges offer credit for a variety of out-of-classroom experiences.  Cohen also writes the books and presses on farming that emerged in the 19th century, and of course reading and writing are fundamental parts of any educational experience.

The parallels go even beyond these perhaps standard examples.  Cohen writes in his Introduction that “this study of science and agriculture is about the relationships between ideas of and practices in the environment.”  Along those same lines, I would argue that this study of science, agriculture, and environment is about the study of how we change and learn.


Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and a forever book-lover.

Notes From A Native New Yorker: Shrinking Displays of the Department Store

Michelle Stein—

In The American Department Store Transformed, 1920-1960Richard Longstreth documents the development of the department store as it moves from “a great, all-inclusive emporium that helped define the character and the purpose of the city” to its transformation into shopping centers and malls.  Here in New York City, many department stores have remained their original single building homes.  One of the major impetuses for the changes in the department store was the growing popularity of cars, forcing designers to plan for parking, soon leading to the advent of the shopping center.  Nevertheless, early in the 20th century New York City was at the forefront in developments in department store design.  The architectural firm Starrett & Van Vlecks designed at least six major department stores in New York City in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, including the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor; both remain major department stores today.  In the 1920s, stores changed on the inside, from design to display, reflecting both industry and global trends in art and design.

The displays in department stores began to mimic a smaller store, allowing some brands to retain their exclusivity.  Display design also became focused on allowing the customer easy access to the goods, whether viewed clearly in a window display (consistently the hope since even before the 1920s) or artfully arranged in the interior (while still allowing the customer to handle many products).  New York was at the center of some of these changes, with Saks Fifth Avenue being among the first to design a floor around a series of smaller areas/stores.  Even the New York’s World Fair of 1939 reflected the changes of department stores in display, organization, and the use of florescent lighting; many who went to the fair saw it as akin to a large department store.

On the reverse of the World’s Fair mimicry of department store design were the department store expositions, which were reminiscent of these large events and fairs, especially Paris’s 1925 decorative arts exposition.  Department stores, including NYC’s Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, John Wanamaker, and Abraham & Straus, began to hold their own expositions mirroring those in Paris and beyond.  Macy’s hosted the first one with its one-week 1927 Exposition of Art in Trade, and followed up seven months later with a second show focused on more affordable items for the middle-class New Yorker, and then the International Exposition of Art and Industry in 1928.  These expositions were “usually arranged as a series of rooms containing a dazzling array of furniture, carpets, draperies, and objets d’art,” sometimes selected and arranged room-by-room by different well-known figures.  As the exposition trend travelled throughout the United States department stores became Americans’ primary exposure to modernism and modernist design.

Today, the second floor of Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store centers around designer clothing for women.  As in the 1920s, each brand is given their one little niche on the floor.  While the main hall is wood-paneled, each section of designer clothing has its own area, distinguished by entryways and a completely different look from the hallway that encircles the floor.  On floors without this structure, there are still clearly defined areas on the floor, sorted by designer or type of clothing and divided by clear aisles.  At Lord & Taylors, the details—molding, elevator entryways, lamps, etc.—remain in place from the original design, and the building itself was designated as a landmark in 2007.  Both stores offer the opportunity to not only shop, but to see how shopping has developed.

Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and recent Vassar College graduate.  She lives on the Upper West Side in New York.

Notes From a Native New Yorker: The Global Queens

Michelle Stein–

Although this month’s Global and International Studies theme suggests a look at places far afield from home, in the US, where people come every day in search of a new life, international studies can be found even in the interactions of neighbors or a walk through a town or city.

New York City has long been a hub for immigrants.  In another time, Ellis Island was the entry point to the United States for twenty million newcomers.  Many of them, as many current immigrants, settled throughout New York City to find work, homes, and a new life.  As well as being the largest borough in New York City, Queens has emerged as its center for immigrant life, with foreign born individuals making up forty-four percent of Queens residents. Queens even played host to two World’s Fairs, in 1939-1940 and 1964-1965.  And in 1992 Queens County was declared the most diverse in the United States, though it has recently been surpassed by Los Angeles County.

Claudia Gryvatz Copquin’s The Neighborhoods of Queens is an in-depth look at Queens, covering every neighborhood throughout the borough.  The book was written with the input of residents throughout Queens, as well as the archives and data of hundreds of organizations.  Looking to the past as well as to the present, each neighborhood’s personality and culture is fully fleshed out.  As Encyclopedia of New York editor Kenneth T. Jackson wrote in the introduction, “[t]his is not a big book.  But it does have a big objective—to remind both residents and visitors that Queens is in fact one of the most exciting, most diverse, most American, and most promising places on earth.”


Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and recent Vassar College graduate.  She lives on the Upper West Side in New York.

Notes from a Native New Yorker: Touring Kevin Roche’s Museum Attractions, and the Park Zoo

Michelle Stein

Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment Kevin Roche is an architect whose roots lay in mid-century modernism.  He was one of the primary architects at Eero Saarinen’s firm, and when Saarinen passed away in 1961, Kevin Roche and another Eero Saarinen and Associates partner John Dinkeloo founded KRJDA, where Roche has worked since. Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen‘s new study, Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment, spans the full range of Roche’s career and his impact on major sites worldwide.

Roche’s most famous works in the city are perhaps buildings like the Ford Foundation headquarters or his contributions to the United Nations complex, but those visiting New York City are likely to be stopping in a number of museums.  With that in mind, here are a number of spots where Kevin Roche contributed to the design of some of the major museum—and zoological—attractions in New York.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Eighty-second Street and Fifth Avenue

Temple of dendur Roche became involved in the plans for expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at their start in 1967 with a master plan he completed in 1970, and work remains ongoing on this plan.  If you visit the Lehman galleries and the Temple of Dendur (the Egyptian galleries as a whole were also extensively renovated), both acquisitions a major impetus for the expansion, you will see Roche’s efforts.  The plan caused some ire for its encroachment on Central Park, as well as the idea of the Met over expanding.  The latter concern may not have been completely off base, as another major aspect of the project was concentrated on how millions of visitors would flow through the space.  All curatorial departments of the museum were affected by Roche’s careful planning, allowing for two systems of viewing: both the galleries of masterworks and surrounding galleries which offered a more thorough look at the work of the department.  There was also, though, an effort to change how information was offered in the museum, culminating most clearly in the Egyptian wing, which moved beyond the wall panel to provide more information and even a section for reading.

Central Park Zoo

Sixty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue

Similar to Roche’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (not only in the eight years it took to complete, which was twice as long as was intended), the work of the Central Park Zoo was in large part a renovation, although the renovated original buildings do not contain any of the exhibitions of live animals.  The zoo had nine buildings from the 1930s remaining, and Roche used four of them in the renovation.  He maintained the original trees and sculptures from the original park, as well as renovating the sea lion pool, which serves as a central and memorable point in the zoo.  Roche’s additions to the zoo were intentionally understated.  One of his renovated buildings includes a bookstore, which in some ways also recalls the changes made at the Metropolitan Museum, criticized for emphasizing itself as an attraction more than a house for art.  On the other hand, Roche could be said to have recreated the idea of directing traffic based on subject matter with the three areas that make up the zoo—temperate, tropic, and polar—to distinguish spaces.  In his review of the renovated zoo for the New York Times, Paul Goldberger expressed great satisfaction with the renovation, explaining that the renovation did away with the cages that held the animals in the buildings that were replaced.

Jewish Museum

Ninety-second Street and Fifth avenue

Roche’s renovation of the Jewish Museum was designed after the museum decided not to build a nineteen-story tower.  Instead Roche create a museum from seven floors and three buildings, leaving the original façade of the Warburg Mansion and creating another façade to match it.  The changes in the plans were in the interest of maintaining harmony in the community, who were concerned about the renovation of an historic building.  Again like his work at the Metropolitan Museum, Roche was charged with creating a cohesive space that properly supported the running of a museum and the movement of its visitors.

Museum of Jewish Heritage

Thirty-six Battery Place

Museum_of_Jewish_Heritage_005 This museum, located in Battery Park City, is one of Roche’s more recent non-renovation museum projects, and there was also a building expansion completed not long after the original structure.  The initial structure is meant to recall the Star of David, and thus serve as the “Living Memorial to the Holocaust” described in its full name.  Its expansion provided spaces for lectures and films, offices, and other resources.

Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and recent Vassar College graduate.  She lives on the Upper West Side in New York.

Notes from a Native New Yorker: A Visit to the Jewish Museum

Michelle Stein

Houdini: Art and Magic: Brooke Kamin Rapaport From now until March 27, Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss) takes the stage at the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side with Houdini: Art and Magic.  The museum was crowded with visitors, much like Houdini’s performances. The exhibition looks both at Houdini and his craft, as well as at the art that has been created around the mythology and legacy of Houdini (the companion catalogue, edited by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, offers more detailed information while maintaining the structure of the exhibition). Houdini himself used the visual arts to promote his work.  He created lithographic posters for shows, and many of his feats were captured on film.  These works enabled Houdini to present a face to the public and fans. But just as illuminating are the works by contemporary artists which reference and appropriate Houdini to create new ideas, and their art is interspersed throughout the exhibition. It would seem that Houdini was just as important to his contemporaries as to future artists. While Houdini was performing, his works served as an escape for spectators from the troubles of their time. Houdini’s transformation from an immigrant child who moved frequently to a world famous performer also suggests that he might have served as a reference point for other Jews and immigrants working to assimilate into American society.

In the contemporary art world, Houdini has become a major reference point for a wide variety of artists in different forms.  Sometimes the reference is as clear as a depiction of Houdini, while in other pieces it is his feats that are used for new artistic purposes. The famous contemporary artist Matthew Barney has an entire installation in the exhibition, The Ehrich Weiss Suite. It includes pieces from his Cremaster cycle, a series of five films that were created from 1994 to 2002. The films cover a wide variety of themes and questions, and interweave many different cultural and historical references, including famous figures like Houdini, as played by Norman Mailer in Cremaster 2, and by Matthew Barney in Cremaster 5.  The installation at the museum, in a room that can only be entered by glass door, includes seven pigeons that roam around an acrylic coffin.

Petah Coyne: Everything That Rises Must Converge: Denise Markonish Another contemporary artist, Petah Coyne, whose work “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is on display at Mass MoCA until April, created a hanging sculpture from shredded cars made while she was reading both a great deal about Houdini and World War Two.  The audio guide included Petah Coyne’s description of the links between art and magic (similarly referenced in the exhibition’s title), and both disciplines’ connections to transformation.

This only scrapes the surface of the works by contemporary artists in the show, but in honor of Women’s History Month, it is worth moving on to mentioning an exhibition upstairs, “Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)“.  Maira Kalman is an artist and illustrator whose work includes the illustrated edition of The Elements of Style and the New Yorkistan cover for The New Yorker.  The exhibition at the museum offered a glimpse into her work and working process.  Kalman uses her drawing as a continuing way to see and track the world.  Seeing some illustrations I was already familiar with up close, and to branch out to view more of her work was a wonderful experience.  While the Houdini exhibition provided a look at larger than life magic and the art spun from it, Kalman’s works offered a magic all their own.

Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and recent Vassar College graduate.  She lives on the Upper West Side in New York.

Notes from a Native New Yorker: Walking the City with Richard Kelly

Michelle Stein

One of the great parts of life in New York City is walking past buildings that offer a timeline of architectural history.  Looking back to the more recent past, mid-century modernism took hold of New York City, leaving a strong mark on the city with both a new architectural style and a new way to think about what buildings should accomplish.

However, building design alone cannot serve as the only way in which to create this new vision of architecture.  Richard Kelly was a lighting designer who worked with many of the most important  Structure of Light: Richard Kelly and the Illumination of Modern Architecture mid-century architects.  His work is chronicled in The Structure of Light: Richard Kelly and the Illumination of Modern Architecture, edited by Dietrich Neumann.  Though a number of Richard Kelly’s light installations no longer exist, what remains still offers a valuable look into the value of his work, which formed a critical part of the reception of many buildings from the mid-century.

If you are in the city and looking to see the lasting influence of Richard Kelly and mid-twentieth century architecture, look no further than the following four spots, only some of the places where Kelly’s work either once was or remains today:

Lincoln Center

Its campus encompasses 62nd to 65th Streets from Amsterdam Avenue to Columbus Avenue

The New York State Theater (renamed David H. Koch Theater) is the current home of the New York City Opera and New York City Ballet.  Lincoln Center has been undergoing a massive renovation.  The theater was originally designed by Philip Johnson, and Richard Kelly created a lighting display that is fondly remembered by many who see a performance there, including me.  Six star shaped light fixtures illuminate the center of the building, and retract upwards at the start of the New_York_City_Opera performance.  The star motif is continued in the other fixtures within the theater.

Richard Kelly’s work at Avery Fisher Hall was quickly overshadowed by the outrage over the poor acoustics of the concert hall.  The hall was redone after the complaints continued to increase and attempts to solve the problems with the acoustics proved unsuccessful.

Seagram Building and the Four Seasons

375 Park Avenue (between 52nd and 53rd)

Designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, the Seagram Building is one of the most iconic examples of modernist architecture.  In many ways a follow-up to Mies’s Lake Shore Drive towers in Chicago, the building is encased in glass and bronze mullions, but structurally reinforced by steel and concrete.  I-beams run along the side of the building, and all the lines made by the mullions and I-beams all run nearly completely identically, offering a crystallization of the building’s architecture and the lines of the city.  It is set back from the street in order to clear the zoning laws, and the extra space is used for reflecting pools.

Kelly’s contributions to the building provided the familiar vision of Seagram as a “tower of light.”  Emphasizing the lobby with a variety of downlights allowed it to gleam at the bottom of the tower, while lights on the ceilings of each floor created bands of light visible around the perimeter of the building.  This marked a change from the practice of floodlighting exteriors, a practice more effective for non-glass buildings.  The lighting became an integral part of analysis and discussion of Seagram Building.

Within the Seagram Building is the Four Seasons restaurant, one of the most famous restaurants in the city.  Designed entirely by Philip Johnson, and decorated with works by Mark Rothko, the restaurant also becomes its own showcase for mid-century art and design.  Here Richard Kelly also offered a clearly articulated lighting plan, including lights for the entrance that recalibrate throughout the day to maintain the same brightness.  Many of the fixtures in the restaurant are not visible, but they work together to create an open yet intimate room for diners.

Bankers Trust Building

280 Park Avenue (between 48th and 49th Street)

Unlike Seagram, the Bankers Trust Building does use setbacks in order to comply with zoning laws, which require a certain percentage of any lot to remain open.  The lobby does again shine more brightly than the remainder of the building though with the use of downlights.  The ceiling matches the lobby in luminosity.  Kelly worked with lighting designer and engineer Edison Pierce to create fixtures which allowed the ceiling to appear to emanate light, as opposed to clearly seeing the fixtures

Chase Manhattan Bank

1 Chase Manhattan Plaza (on Liberty Street)

Designed by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, this building downtown was the 399px-One_Chase_Manhattan_Plaza_1 sixth tallest building in the world when completed, but more importantly stood out in the area for its use of aluminum and glass as architectural materials.  Its architectural design, with a great deal of open space remaining on the lot and its perfect geometry were indicators of a contemporary change in bank/bank office architecture, which conveyed openness and transparencies, rather than the dark spaces and heavy masonry of the past.  Richard Kelly lit the plaza from nearby buildings in order to ensure safety in the area, and used very functional lighting on most floors of the building.

Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and recent Vassar College graduate.  She lives on the Upper West Side in New York.

Notes from a Native New Yorker: Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”

Michelle Stein

George Gershwin’s music is a near inimitable part of American culture.  Though he lived a short life, dying at the age of thirty-eight, the work he composed during his life offered a long-lasting heritage and contribution to American musicals and concert pieces.

In 1935, Gershwin’s American folk opera Porgy and Bess opened on Broadway for 124 performances.  The opera tells the story of Catfish Row, based off of the Cabbage Row in Charleston, South Carolina, and focuses on the life of the people there.  Though named for Porgy and Bess, and concentrating on their relationships, the opera is also a broad look at Catfish Row, and nearly all its residents receive fully developed characterizations.  Bess is torn between a relationship with the beggar Porgy and the dockworker and drug user Crown.  Porgy ultimately murders Crown, who had been thought to have fled from Catfish Row, prompting Bess to take flight from Catfish Row.

In the New York Times review of the original production, Brooks Atkinson focuses on the influence of Gershwin on the work, writing that “the evening is unmistakably George Gershwin’s personal holiday,” and suggesting that Gershwin’s contributions to the work, which was previously a novel and play, offered a more personal touch to the work which contributed greatly to the heritage of the work.

Not all felt positively about the work though.  Many saw the work as dominated by racial stereotypes that make it impossible for it to stand as a true representation of American cultural history.  As early as 1936 Duke Ellington was offering his negative reaction to the piece, and during the Civil Rights era the work continued to be viewed primarily as a poor representation of African-American culture.

More recently, Larry Starr, in his study of Gershwin as a Broadway icon in his contribution to the George Gershwin: Larry Starr Yale Press Broadway Masters Series, George Gershwin, devotes an entire chapter to Porgy and Bess, studying the music, the story, and characters.  His examination of Gershwin’s music is both an analysis of the music alone as well as a filter for an argument about the critical reaction to the work.  Ultimately, Starr proposes that Gershwin’s commitment to using exclusively his own compositions and styles of music for Porgy and Bess is demonstrative of Gershwin working to not be seen as exploitative by making the artistic product entirely his own.  He does not take from other cultures, but rather he uses his own identity to create the work.

Porgy and Bess offers not only an examination of a moment in time through music, but also a reflection on the ways in which cultural heritage can be seen as wrongly appropriated or not.  These questions are serious ones that are especially relevant to a world that grows increasingly global.  As a final point, Porgy and Bess offers one small antidote to the February chills:

Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and recent Vassar College graduate.  She lives on the Upper West Side in New York.

Notes from a Native New Yorker: For Those Who Mix Breakfast with History

Michelle Stein

Whether eaten on the go, or leisurely enjoyed on a weekend morning, bagels are a vital part of most New Yorkers’ eating habits.  So, it only made logical sense to turn to Maria Balinska’s The Bagel for my next encounter with New York City in Yale Press’s books.  Of course, before sitting down to write, I grabbed a hot bagel (and its frequent pair cream cheese) from the famed H & H Bagels (which even appears in a photograph in the book) to prevent my appetite from growing, a problem I had while reading.

New Yorkers will realize immediately from the story Balinska tells that the bagel is not a New York invention, but an immigrant to the city.  The bagel’s heritage matches the melting pot that is the New York City we tend to see as its home, having peers in countries as far reaching as Italy and Bagel: The Suprising History of a Modest Bread: Maria Balinska China.  Balinska looks most closely though at the development of the bagel in Poland as a product and part of culture, and the bagel’s ties to labor disputes in New York City.  One can look through the bagel to many of the societal questions in these two places.

Another fascinating element of the book, especially for those interested in the history of trends and marketing, is the story of the bagel’s developing popularity in America.  Today, few do not know what a bagel is, but this was not always the case, and the wide variety of marketing techniques that spurned on its nationwide popularity demonstrate the creative tactics used to make the bagel the well-known food it is today.  Just as the labor issues found in bagel-baking matched questions in the broader labor force, bagels’ increasing popularity also matched some of the same changes in the broader American food landscape.  Frozen bagels were both a major impetus for the travel of bagels across America and into homes in the same way other foods were frozen to increase their convenience.

For those looking to dig into both their meals and what is behind them, The Bagel is an essential addition to the current trend of food histories.  As we always forget while eating, our food takes a long journey to our plates, and in some ways the bagel took an especially far one.


Michelle Stein is a former Yale Press intern and recent Vassar College graduate.  She lives on the Upper West Side in New York.