on finding a studio in baltimore

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.

PM: Yes.

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.

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on the decision to buy

LL: I had been in here for about five minutes before I said, “You know, Nancy Sue, you could hang a fucking airplane in here.” And I had the airplane!

AF: [laughs]

LL: I was flying gliders at the time, and my flight instructor had pieces from two TGY4 training gliders from WWII. And I measured it off and I said, “TG4Y would just fit in here.” And, you know, I was hooked.

I’d always wanted a space like this, ever since I was in college. In about 1966 or 1967, in Minneapolis, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, right across from the University of Minnesota, where Bob Dylan used to hang out and play in the early 60s, there was this old firehouse that housed a bookstore, McCosh’s Books.  Old Mr. [Melvin] McCosh was like 85. He was retiring, closing up the bookstore and selling the firehouse. And I desperately wanted to buy that firehouse, because my father had grown up in that neighborhood. And I remember him telling me stories about what he was a tiny little kid, watching the horses tow the fire engines out of that firehouse. You know, vroom, vroom, vroom, the smoke coming out of the things. There was this volume, just something cathedral-like about it. I just adored it. But, you know, I was a scholarship kid. I mean, my day was complete if I could afford 75 cents to buy a fish sandwich for lunch. There was no way in the world that I was going to be buying real estate. So, it just went away.

So this really fed into that whole thing about huge volumes of space. And we said, “Well shit, we could knock this sucker out in about six months and move in.” And I was real tired of living in a rowhouse. We’d been living in a South Baltimore rowhouse for about 15 years, and I was sick of it. So we made an offer.

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on paper and pyramid

AF: What about your own art-making practice?

CM: It’s evolved a lot over the years. Since I graduated with an undergraduate degree in painting and then a masters in crafts, I found an ideal medium probably around 1982 or 1983, when I heard about a papermaking facility. It was in this building. I was very interested, and I did sign up for a few classes; that was 1982 or 1983. That was called Pyramid Prints and Paperworks, and it was upstairs—that whole space where the gallery is now was that facility.

So I did paper almost exclusively for about twelve years—handmade paper, in which you incorporate art into the ancient art of papermaking. As you make the paper, you are actually working on the art.

Paul? You’re making noise, Paul!

PM: [Sawing wood for a frame in the background]

CM: Paul!

PM: Got it. This is a studio!

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on a new era in the cork

AZ: After Sal moved out, and Sal had taken me to Italy five times during the years that I worked here in the Cork Factory as his assistant. I mean, my God, the time that he was burning tires in here and we were pushing black smoke out into the atmosphere, and the fire department showed up and they were really furious with Sal. At times he would mix all kinds of strange chemicals. Incredible stories about some of those things. He was a maniac; larger than life. Something almost mythical and very gregarious, outspoken and just an amazing human being. He was my primary mentor and a huge influence on generations of artists that came through MICA. So when he was here, this was quite the place. After he moved out and up to Pennsylvania to the place he had there, and into New York, back again. He’d been in New York, but he returned to New York. He kept a duality of places.

I had the extraordinary opportunity with the other artists in the building to buy the building from Weant Press. It was a whole new era.

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on the origins of the cork factory

AZ: So here we are in the Cork Factory on the top floor of the penthouse, as you would say. This place has quite an amazing history as the Crown Cork and Seal complex, where the bottle cap was invented and a bunch of other good stuff. I’m Al Zaruba, sculptor, visual artist, and teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art [MICA]. I came to Baltimore in 1988 for grad school. Ended up becoming the assistant to Salvatore Scarpitta, who was the artist in residence at MICA for about thirty years. Internationally acclaimed Arte Povera artist who was with Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. And Sal is still much more famous in Europe than he ever was in America. So he asked me to be his assistant. I worked eight years as his assistant here in the Cork Factory.

At that time, Sal’s central studio was in this place. A lot of amazing people have come through this place because of Sal. Exhibitions. I installed his seventh appearance at the Venice Biennale and I think it was 1991, 1992, something like that. Which is another story in and of itself. But at one given point, he had over half a million dollars’ worth of art in this space, which are all now in major collections. So there’s this long tradition of that. I was Sal’s last and longest lasting assistant. For those that ever knew him, he was a legend. As one collector in New York said, “Whenever Sal walked into the room, he sucked all the air out of it.”

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on coming to the cork factory

AF: Could you just tell me a little bit about how you first came to live at 1601 Guilford?

BL: Yeah. I was a ceramic artist since 1974. From 1974 through 1983, I was living in the country, on the farm, making ceramic art, and decided I needed to be closer to my market, which was in New York City. Baltimore was about as close as I could get to New York City and afford the space. I lived in a temporary place before I moved here. A friend was taking a training for six months, so I took over their house and made it into a studio.

Then I’d heard about this place from a friend and they were renting it—it was owned by a printing company, Weant Press—what’s now the Cork Factory.

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on fells point & work

JF: I came to Baltimore in 1969 to go to Rinehart [School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art].

AF: As far as places within this metropolitan area that you’ve lived, where have you lived?

JF: Up until I got married, eight, nine, ten years ago now, I’ve always lived in the City. I started out in Parkville. Then I was separated from my wife and I went to Fells Point, back in the glory days of Fells Point. The City had bought up large portions of Fells Point because they wanted to tie [Interstate] 83 to [Interstate] 95. The remaining citizens of Fells Point got it blocked, because they got Fells Point declared an historic district.

AF: Were you part of that process?

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