AF: I wanted to ask you—before we turned the recorder on, you told me a little bit about some of the other studio spaces that you had around the city.
AF: Would you be willing to talk a little bit about that?
PM: When I first arrived, the big choice of finding a studio—one of my friends from Yale, Michael Economos, had a studio in 206 West Franklin [Street], which is between Howard [Street] and Park [Avenue]. I saw that there was space available under him, so that’s where I first got a studio. I had that studio from 1966… I had that thirteen years as far as I remember.
Then I actually moved my studio from 206 to across the street, and I even forget the number, but it was a studio over a liquor store. The artist before me in that place was Israel Hirschberg. He was teaching at the Institute, but then he left. Eventually, he went to Jerusalem and started the Jerusalem Art School, which is still going. It’s very active.
So anyway, I was there seven more years. And then I had to leave and I had to pack all my stuff up. I was looking for a space, so I packed all my stuff up and Howie Weiss allowed me to store my belongings in the loft that he was renting.
LL: This is the last generation of industrial buildings to be ornamented. When you leave, we’ll go outside and you can look up. There are these great Romanesque arches. There are carved faces with little carved lions and clowns and shit. And the whole two-block long factory complex was all built at the same time. And it’s all ornamented in the same fashion. And that went away immediately after that.
This portion over here—this addition to the Copy Cat Building—was built in 1906. And if you look at it, that ornamentation is gone completely. It’s totally utilitarian. This is kind of the end of the 19th century, when your industrialists demonstrated their power and their sophistication by decorating. Even the factories are decorated.
And the brick work, it’s exquisite brick work, it’s just really quite remarkable. It really is one of the last pure brick piles. You know, basically this is a hollow shell. The floors are supported with cast-iron posts that hold those steel I-beams. But structurally, it’s all masonry. There’s no structural steel in these walls at all. And there is no pre-cast concrete. Interestingly, the Copy Cat Building has a lot of cast concrete floors. This building does not. And I’m not at all sure why.
But this really is, I think of the whole complex, far and away the most attractive building. And, indeed, it is really the most manageable in terms of its size. It’s only about 40,000 square feet, the whole building. And that makes it possible for a small number of impecunious artists to own it and keep it going.
KT: So, for instance, the gallery—as much as we would hold that open for gallery space, for art shows and things of that nature—it also was a huge place for gathering people. The stuff that has gone on in that gallery is just amazing over the years. I mean, all kinds of political organizations have met there, had meetings there, gatherings. I remember that we had Bernardine Dohrn from the sixties come one time and speak to us.
There were just all kinds of things going on around here that revolved around it. So there always was a combination of activism [and art] here. So it’s the bent of the people in the neighborhood and us, in particular, but also the direction of the gallery for a long time. I think it’s kind of a nice marriage, probably not an unusual one.
AF: How much do you think that you bought lessons from South Baltimore here, as far as neighborhood and community?
CH: Yeah. For myself, not very much, really. Because I moved to Baltimore from Annapolis. So I was very involved in the Annapolis community and politics and activism. I was part of a tenants’ rights group in Annapolis. But when I moved to Baltimore, to move in with Dennis, I probably was only in that rowhouse in South Baltimore for just a couple of years before we moved here.
But for Dennis, he bought a lot of what he learned. And in fact, when we moved in this neighborhood, Dale Hargrave, who I said, is the current president of New Greenmount West [Community Association], was already living here. And Dennis knew Dale, because Dale did recycling in South Baltimore and was part of the Recycling Coalition that Dennis and others were part of. So he had contacts everywhere. And he brought in our experience—which was his experience, much more than mine—of watching something that was vibrant and mixed and a wonderful soup of people become bland and vanilla. And healthy, I guess, but just… I don’t know.
Life left the streets for us. That’s how he saw it. I’m sure that people living there now don’t feel that way. It’s not to disparage them. But there was something that was there that he truly loved that left. And so he found it here. And he didn’t want to see it leave again. So he tried to figure out what happened in South Baltimore.