I needed to immerse myself in some more nitty-gritty-city photography and what better place than Long Island City Queens; the city on a non-stop growth spurt. A few weeks ago I was given a flyer for the LIC Flea Market and thought that would be a good starting place to take a few images of the wares on sale and the surrounding concrete jungle of high rises shooting up like a bamboo forest along the East River.
I took the N to Queensboro Plaza where I switched to the #7 disembarking at the Vernon & Jackson Avenue stop. It was then just a short walk along Vernon Boulevard, a left at 46th Avenue and then straight up to 5th Street. The flea market sits in a parking lot on the corner and adjacent to the Anable Basin where the LIC Boathouse conducts their kayaking tours along the river. The market was hopping with live music, international foods and antiques vendors whose wares were spilled out onto the tarmac inviting people to walk into the cool shade of a tent filled with more treasures from the past. I found the vendors to be very friendly and willing to spend a few minutes chatting with you as you browsed the piles of antiquated pieces lovingly collected and displayed.
My first stop though, was not at an antiques table but at one where the vendors were selling that most common of condiments: salt. I had a great conversation with Ryan whose father has a shop called The Salt Cellar in Portsmouth, NH. I actually had read a terrific book on the history of salt and so it was nice to find someone who understood the fascination. My photographic eye was attracted to the large square blocks of beautiful soft pink crystal, that I knew were salt. You could use them to decorate your home or to season meat by laying the piece of steak or chicken on top of the salt block and letting it sit for a few minutes before removing and cooking. The salt was also carved and shaped into cups to hold candles, salt spoons or anything else you could think of to put in them. Placing a large salt block in your home also helps to ionize the air as well. There were tiny jars of different types of salts in varying colors and flavors and attracting quite a curious crowd who were interested in learning more about these new versions of an everyday table seasoning.
My next stop was at a tent where the amazing Wonder Lee was showing off her whimsically creative Upcycled Bow Ties and other items made from old Scrabble squares, Leggos, and metro cards. There seems no end to what Ms. Lee will use to create her one of a kind pieces. I spied a pair of sunglasses where the frames were intricately wrapped from the pages of a superman comic. These pieces are a wonder to behold.
I was completely captivated by the vintage clothing collected and sold by Desi Scheck of Back Thennish Vintage. One piece in particular, which I at first thought was a piece of women’s clothing but was a hand sewn and crocheted hanging hamper with matching curtains and towel. According to Desi it was made by a woman from Germany back in the 1920’s. It has survived beautifully intact to our modern-day which got us on to a nice talk about the care of antique fabrics, but what I loved most about this hamper was the design and the fine detailed crochet work, which looked to my eye like it was woven of fine silver.
Ahhhh, the Counter Clockwise Antiques tent took me back a bit as I spied a few items that I remembered, in vivid detail, from my childhood. Talk about feeling like Methuselah! I chatted and joked with two lovely ladies who let me take my fill of images. The items that I remembered where the very narrow, wooden skate boards that my brother and I used to sail up and down the block and around Astoria Park. The tiny wooden school bench that I remembered from my early days at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grammar School! When I went, the first to the fourth grade was still taught in the old portion of the school and these benches were still in use. They even had the old doors knobs with the words Public School written in Victorian scroll work.
If you are into retro sunglasses and nerdy eyewear then Retro Focus is the place to go. They had some of the coolest, grooviest boss eyeglasses I’ve every seen. They even had the those terrific and sexy “cats eye” frames, which of course I had when in my youth. An old manual portable typewriter, brought back memories of typing classes at Long Island City Highschool now Newcomers High School. This day was becoming a trip down memory lane for sure.
And speaking of memories, I met a gentleman, by the name of John J. Fondrisi who is the proprietor of Fondrisi Studio an interior design firm in Greenwich, CT. His great-grandfather was a fabric and clothing designer way back in the 1920’s. He made those indelible flapper dresses one can only see and ogle over in old movies on TCM. He has decided to keep his grandfather’s artistic memory alive by incorporating the patterns and logos he had used in his dresses, in his one of a kind chairs. My favorite items of his though, were much simpler. He has taken plain old paper shopping bags, the ones that have sturdy hemp handles and are large and strong enough to hold a weeks worth of groceries, and he imprinted the silhouetted face of a young flapper with bobbed jet hair and the year 1926 arched over her head. Just wonderful.
When I had finished photographing the memories of yesteryear I walked over to grab a few shots of the rusted docks and old warehouses of the Anable Basin and then continued my walk along 5th street photographing the nitty-gritty stuff I spoke of at the beginning of this blog. I made a short detour through Gantry Plaza State Park to get an image of the old Pepsi Cola sign which once stood in front of a Pepsi bottling plant way back in the days when LIC was a hub of industrial activity. Now, the plant is gone and a new high-rise luxury apartment building is going up in its place. Some how the sign just fits right in and everyone who lives in that area is very proud to have it as their neighbor.
Walking up 46th Avenue toward Vernon Boulevard I stopped to admire the tiny but much-loved LIC Community Garden; a little plot of land between two small old buildings. I met and spoke with its care taker and head gardener Mark Christie. As he watered the late summer flowers, he told me stories of how he collected the many unusual garden ornaments that decorate the small pathways and walls of this garden and, how generous the community is in helping him to keep the garden going year round. He pointed out the cracked flats of penny round tiles on the dirt floor of the garden and told me they were the floor of an old pharmacy that had closed down years ago and the building leveled. Five little green chairs were a gift to the garden when a children’s kindergarten was renovated. It was a sweet peaceful little place and nice diversion from the noise and heat of the city.
I hope you enjoy my trip to the past and if you are in Long Island City please stop by the LIC Flea Market and pick up a memory or two.