Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces

*No. 2*

Norman Lewis. No. 2. 1973 368

Oil on canvas, 49 3/4 × 67 1/8 in. (126.4 × 170.5 cm). Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York

JAM volunteer, art historian, and curator, Horace Brockington: I’m sure Linda told you about the famous Norman Lewis issue? That was one of the funniest things that ever happened at that gallery.

Linda Goode Bryant: Norman Lewis was an artist born in the early 1900s. He was important to me as an artist to be shown at JAM.

Horace Brockington: The hunger to be shown in a 57th Street gallery got a lot of the old guard to agree to do shows. You would never think that Norman Lewis would agree.

Linda Goode Bryant: He was tough when I said, “Will you show?” Norman was like, “How old are you, girl? Yeah, yeah right.” And so I had to work hard to get him to provide that piece.

In 1946, he started this series of paintings called Black Paintings. Opening night, the place is just packed. Given how hard it was for me to get a “yes” that he would allow us to exhibit his Black Paintings, I’m so happy, I’m so proud, I’m so excited. Whew.

JAM volunteer and art historian, Faythe Weaver: Well, somebody leaned up against Norman Lewis’s painting and left this glob of Jheri curl grease in this painting.

Linda Goode Bryant: This is not the same painting, but that piece had quite an evening.

The gallery empties. It’s late as hell. And as I recall it, getting ready to turn out the lights, and I’m going, “Huh? What’s that on Norman’s painting?” Now, panic attack. We don’t have any insurance for art. And Faythe Weaver, who’s a dear, dear friend, I said, “Faythe, can you figure out how to get this oil out of here?”

And next thing I know, she pulls out a loaf of Wonderbread. She said, “You just ball it up.” [Laughs] “We’re gonna ball it up and then we’re gonna dab, dab, dab.” I said, “What’s dabbing going to do, Faythe? This is bread!”

And she goes, “Exactly. It will absorb the oil. It will pull it out of the canvas and off the painting.”

Faythe Weaver: I sat there with my wadded up Wonderbread and kept cleaning and cleaning till I got all this crap out of this painting. And I don’t think any of them ever knew the difference. Thank God.

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