on art parties

CH: And we had parties. We have had wonderful, wonderful art parties in our building. I don’t know if you have heard about those from other people. We’ve done three monumental parties. And I call them “art parties” because they involve more than just a party.

Like, one party was the high school party, and it came about because I never got to be prom queen. Of course, in high school, I was far from ever being the prom queen. But I always sort of wanted to be the prom queen. So I decided, why couldn’t we just have a high school party? Because there are other people probably who wanted to be the star quarterback of the football team or whatever, or the head of the yearbook or something. “Why don’t we have a high school party and then we can all live out our aspirations?” So everybody—well, Kate [Thomas] and Bob [Levine], in particular—were our cohorts, and sometimes Nancy and Lou [Linden]. And they said, “Yeah, yeah! It sounds like a good idea.”

So then we got other people in. But then the party just kind of morphs into a really big, big party. Because we began to think about how real we wanted it to be. We got somebody to be a nun, for those of our friends who went to Catholic school. And we installed a nun in there. And then we rig up a PA system so that we can talk to people and make announcements. We began thinking about the things from high school that we remembered. The surly cafeteria lady that used to slop your peas! So we bought these big things of canned peas, and my sister-in-law was the surly cafeteria woman. And then we made people go through the cafeteria line, and we literally sloped stuff on their [plates]. And the part that was amazing was that our friends actually ate it!

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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 architecture & industry

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.

on the gallery & activism

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.

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on teaching art locally

CH: Dennis and I are political activists, too. We have both have been activists all our lives. So we wanted to get very involved in our neighborhood. And the first thing we did was we went over… There was school across the way from us—now a Montessori public school—but it had been called Mildred Monroe [School #32, Mildred D. Monroe Elementary School]. It was a public school. It was named after a janitor. One of the few, if not only, schools in Maryland, and maybe the country, I don’t know, named after a janitor.

We found out that they didn’t have an art teacher at the school. And we were horrified. We couldn’t imagine, either one of us, having gotten through school without art. So we decided to volunteer our time and to become the art teacher for Mildred Monroe on Fridays. We could only… You know, we had to do some real work, to make ends meet. So we picked Friday, and we became the art teachers for the kids at Mildred Monroe. And that was a wonderful entry into the community, because we’d meet all the kids, and then you’d meet their families and stuff.

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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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