Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Visit To Artist Margaret Maugenest's Gowanus Loft

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Outside it was sweltering on that particular afternoon, but there was a gentle breeze in Margaret Maugenest's vast loft in Gowanus. As soon as I arrived, she offers me a cool glass of ginger ice tea and pushes a plate of Madeleines towards me. "Try them and tell me how you like them." (They were amazing and remind me of my childhood.)

I have known Margaret for a few years now, mostly as a neighborhood activist and member of Friends And Residents Of Greater Gowanus, otherwise known as 'the Froggs.' The moment I met her, I admired her for her spunk and outspokenness. I knew that she was an artist, but had never seen her work. "I would like to write about you" I told her one day, and was happy when she spontaneously agreed to be interviewed.
That afternoon, Margaret and I spoke about many things: her interesting background, the winding road that lead her to Brooklyn, the Gowanus Canal and its community of artists, her travels as well as her art. But let me start from the beginning.

Margaret was born in Indonesia, of a family with Dutch and French ancestry. The family left Indonesia in 1957 and moved to Holland, where they settled in Amsterdam, right next to the Rijks Museum. In 1961, the Maugenest family immigrated to the United States. Margaret remembers her excitement, when the ship they were traveling on passed the Statue Of Liberty in New York Harbor. They continued on to Cincinnati, Ohio, by train, and settled there.
After attending the University of Iowa, Margaret was drawn back to Europe. She convinced her then-husband to leave the Midwest to travel extensively through Spain and France.
In Paris, Margaret received an offer to work at the International Herald Tribune's photograph archive. The couple seemed destined to make the city their permanent home. But the day before she started the job, Margaret knew that she truly wanted to be in New York City.
So, she walked away from the job offer and settled in a loft in Soho instead.

Soho then was still a thriving artist community. Creativity was evident everywhere in the neighborhood. Painters and sculptors were supportive of each other and freely exchanged ideas about art.
By the early 1980's, Soho began to change. The quiet streets became busier as stores and restaurants opened in the area. Margaret saw the handwriting on the wall and knew it was time to move on. She found a new loft in Gowanus, a then-remote area of Brooklyn. She has been living here ever since.


Margaret once met Willem De Kooning in his studio in Spring, Long Island. They spoke Dutch together and she found him to be gracious and gallant. She still owns the summer dress she wore the day she met him. (see photo above)

Her Gowanus loft is filled with beautiful objects collected from her many travels. Her art hangs everywhere around the loft. She used to paint on huge canvases, but then concentrated on watercolors. For the last twelve years, she has been painting on silk. She has suspended some of her delicate sheer panels from the ceiling, and as the air moves around the loft, they gently sway in the wind, sometimes overlapping and tangling to blend their pale colors together in a multitude of combinations.
"They are like painted air." Margaret tells me. She is right.

Before leaving, Margaret shows me her favorite place in the loft. It is near one of the windows. which looks down onto the Gowanus Canal. She has placed a chair right there, so that she can enjoy the view whenever she wants. And what a view it is!
We stand there for a while in silence. I am sure we are sharing the same thought. Just like Soho, this canal area will change in the next few decades. But whatever the area's future, i will hopefully continue to include space for artists like Margaret, because their presence enriches our community.

Thanks you very much for a wonderful afternoon, Margaret, and for inviting me into your magical home.








19 comments:

Georgia Kral said...

What a great story and BEAUTIFUL pictures! Thanks, Katia!

Anonymous said...

Soho or Dumbo?

Hadj said...

Gorgeous photos! And so great to see her wonderful loft!

Katia said...

Soho, of course. Thanks for correcting me. I guess I can't get my mind out of Brooklyn...

Katia said...

Thanks Georgia and Hadj

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring woman (and post)! Thanks for this.

Manny Simone said...

Great post! Really enjoying those photos!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful art. Does Margaret exhibit or sell her silks anywhere?

Katherine said...

Beautiful photos and an amazing story. Wonderful to have a sneak peek of such a fabulous artist's loft in the area.

Margaret Maugenest said...

Thank you for your interest in my work, 12:47. I am currently showing and selling my work from my studio. I can be contacted at my email address - MMaugenest at aol dot com

joseph and linda said...

beautiful paintings, beautiful margaret.

joseph and linda said...

beautiful paintings, beautiful margaret

edina said...

thank you for this lovely visit! margaret is one of my dearest lifetime friends starting from childhood in cincinnati. you brought me right back to the loft that is a delicate expression in every corner and every space (defined or not)of her deep,kind spirit. you are lucky to have her in your neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

This is the most magical and inspirational home i've ever been to.
The whole space mirrors Margaret's talent - a real artist's life. Everything is light and and she wonders around like a nymph.

Anonymous said...

The landlord may not be taking care of the infrastructure but she has certainly made it a beautiful place!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful place. And she is suing the landlord. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I would gladly pay the 600.00 per month for the "loft"....good gosh lady, what is wrong with it???

Margaret said...

The place is indeed beautiful in Katia's pictures. And thank you for the compliments - because everything you see that makes it beautiful is my doing or I paid to have it done. That's right, tenants even put in the walls that divide the spaces. Plumbing, electricity, all fixtures, are mine. Tenants do a lot to make their spaces livable and beautiful, but they cannot do the work to legalize the building - only the owner can - and the law says that he must (i.e. heating, structural, fire code compliance, etc. etc.). The Loft Law has already fined the owner for missing numerous legalization deadlines. I don't want Katia's blog to become a forum for discussing the loft law and my situation. I did not save any money with this case. It was never about trying to save money. Not only did I put the rent aside, I spent twice what was withheld on legal fees. The last 3 years have been challenging to say the least - an uphill battle in the Brooklyn Courts, I stood to lose it all - I put myself on the line. Nobody does something like that lightly. I had many supportive friends and family members.
The law was always very clear, and the Court of Appeals judges affirmed this in their landmark decision - the 7 judges ruled unanimously, stating also that they could find no reason why I lost in the Brooklyn Courts.
Owners of buildings covered by the Loft Law must comply with the legalization timetable.
All I went through was well worth it, because now scofflaw landlords will have to take their responsibilities more seriously. This ruling will help other tenants in similar situations.There has been so much press about my landmark case. For what I think is the best article explaining what for many may seem incomprehensible, please see:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/nyregion/loft-tenant-explains-reasons-for-rent-strike.html?_r=1

Most people in NYC have a building story. The chapter of the story that is now in the news is only one of the many I have gone through in this building.

Unknown said...

Good for you Margaret~ for not letting the owner of that building simply take money & shirk their responsibilities to the tenants.

Your loft is stunning. So soothing & warm.

Cheers from Western AU!

Tracy :)