To understand Jim Jennings’ work more fully, it may be helpful to know the places where he has lived and worked, especially those in New York City. This information (in chronological order) provides the geo-contexts (“terroir”) of Jennings’ art.
Tarrywile, Jennings’ Estate, Danbury, CT, 1951-1969 (intermittent)
(Photos and information: COMING SOON)
Oakwood Friends’ School, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1967-69
“As its name indicates, Oakwood was founded by Quakers. Established in 1794, it is the oldest boarding/day school in New York State. Past teachers include Suffragette Lucretia Coffin Mott, who was also a student here when it was called ‘Nine Partners’ School.’ When Jim Jennings attended Oakwood in the late 1960s, his father, John Darling Jennings, was its 32nd Headmaster. Throughout the course of its history, Oakwood’s faculty and students have engaged in social activism, and the 1960s was, of course, a time in which young people were particularly involved in progressive causes.”–Karen Treanor
Bard College, Annanadale-on-Hudson, NY, 1969-1973
“Beginning in the mid-19th Century as an Episcopalian seminary, Bard has evolved into one of the most well-known liberal arts colleges in the United States. During Jennings’ time there as a student in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Bard was part of the “Woodstock” scene, as hippies were drawn to Upstate New York to form communes and hold concerts. In that less-regulated era, Jennings moved out of his assigned dormitory and into an abandoned gardener’s cottage on the campus. At Bard, Jennings was a Sculpture major. In his senior year, however, he was instrumental in establishing the Department of Film. At the time, Film was still considered an inappropriate subject of study on most college campuses. At Bard, Jennings studied filmmaking under Jon Rubin, Ernie Gehr and Ken Jacobs, but the Film Department, as such, didn’t exist then.”–Karen Treanor
100 Hudson Street, Manhattan, August 1974-January 1975
“The (construction of) The World Trade Center caused a vacuum in the old office spaces. All the tenants moved to The Trade Center, and then there were all these beautiful old office buildings. They were no longer needed so the landlords brought in artists. Many artists relocated around The World trade Center at the time. Hudson Street 100 was crammed… I had a huge, burnt-out office floor, without water, daytime heat only, and no heating on weekends or at night. But it only cost $125 rent. That was very little back then. Jim Jennings and Sheila McLaughlin were there too..we were all thrown out at the end of 1974/5 and we moved to Brooklyn.” –Heinz Emigholz
Note: The apartment as it looked then can be seen at length in Heinz Emigholz’s “Die Wiese der Sachen” (“The Meadow of Things”).
“A lot of artists lived in this building. There was no heat at night or on weekends, so Jim bought a potbelly stove in Chinatown and hooked that up. He took showers at the space of a dance company in the building, I think. “-Karen Treanor
240 President Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, January 1975-May 1975:
“(Jim made these drawings) in our railroad apartment at 240 President Street, NY 11231 (Carroll Gardens), 2nd Floor, in January or February, 1975. The neighbourhood was not gentrified, then. It was stressful. The view out of the window is from our kitchen into the
backyard. The other from my room to the front (Jim’s room), the door to the left leads to the bathroom opposite the entrance on the rightside.”-Heinz Emigholz
“Jim and Heinz told me that when they first moved into the apartment on President Street, they didn’t have any curtains. I think the apartment was between the long-standing Italian-American area and the newer, largely Puerto Rican section. One day, Jim and Heinz got a threatening letter: ‘We the People of President Street object to your actions. Hang up curtains. We will not tell you again.’ Ever since, Jim and Heinz have been laughing about that. Sometimes, when Jim wants to indicate someone is uptight, he says, ‘We the People of President Street.'”–Karen Treanor
American Thread Building, 260 West Broadway, NYC, 8th Floor, Summer 1975-1976:
“A while back, my company did plumbing work in a building where I used to live during the 70s for $100-a-month. The apartment we renovated in that same building now costs $30,000-a-month.”-Jim Jennings, Xcentric Interview.
Real estate listing for the apartment, indicating an asking price of $3.1-million for Apt. 8C, August 2017: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/260-W-Broadway-APT-8C-New-York-NY-10013/31494871_zpid/
“Jim had rented a commercial office space, bathroom down the hall, with southern exposure in this building. It was 1975 or 76 and it was just after a short disastrous rental of an apartment at the entrance of the Holland Tunnel. While the shotgun apartment had its charm, the constant noise of truck traffic to the tunnel made it uninhabitable. I don’t think Jim lasted a week there before he luckily found the place on West Broadway.
I believe Jim was working at the Filmmakers Coop at the time. Magoos was an artist bar kitty corner from the building and the district was yet to be call Tribeca. I was living in an old apartment building on Greenwich St. two blocks south of the WTC. John Matturrii also had an apartment in my same building. Jim’s West B’way apartment was where he shot the film ‘LEAVES’ looking down at the small park space below.”-Tim Kennedy
“This morning I was listening to Brahms Piano Concerto 2 played by Emil Gilels / Berlin Philharmonic. Curious is the power of music and memory. When Jim lived in the Thread Co. I recall we found out about a mail order record company on Warren St that sold its returned records for $.50. Most of them were either classical music or spoken word and only a few were scratched. One could purchase a bounty of music for a few bucks. We both grabbed, among others, the Brahms Piano Concertos recording.
I now recall coming to visit Jim’s W. B’way apartment and upon entering hearing the Piano Concerto 2 playing. The music had a strong effect on the ambience of the room and its light filled windows. I was wondering if Jim were to listen to it now, would he have a positive reaction. Of all the great music that I purchased at the office loft of Cameron records on Warren St., it’s Brahms’ Piano Concerto that holds out this personal associative memory.”-Tim Kennedy
To listen to Brahms’ Piano Concerto 2 by Emil Gilels/Berlin Philharmonic, click here.
543 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY, 1979-1989
“Situated on the putrid Gowanus Canal, this 19th-Century, brick warehouse was once home to the National Packing Box Factory. Originally, packing boxes were made of wood, but during the Depression of the 1930s, many manufacturers began making boxes out of corrugated cardboard. As a result, the National Packing Box Factory went out of business and the building remained vacant for some time. Eventually artists moved in. During Jennings’ time here, other tenants included Bob Bowen, Jennifer Hall, Bob Schneider, Garrick Dahlberg, Elisa Amoroso, Peggy Haller, Alfons Schilling, Nick and Betsy De Frieze and Barry Gerson. In this period, Jennings stopped making his own films. He did, however, serve as Cinematographer, Editor and Actor for the films of his then-wife, Christine Piazza. The most notable of these films is ‘Nuke Brink,’ a silent b/w, 16mm film heavily inspired by Jack Smith’s work. The building is now artist-owned, contains 300 artists’ lofts and is a venue for cultural activities.”–Karen Treanor
546 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, House Renovation, early/mid-1990s
“Jim and his then-wife Christine found a house in really rough condition, full of dead pigeons and whatnot, with holes through the floors and everything ready to give way. He worked on gutting out and reconstructing that place, which was on Bergen Street. As a result, he didn’t make films. Jim was also working on his plumbing license at the time and suffering from a lot of hernias. As a kid, he nearly died of peritonitis (from a burst appendix), so he was prone to getting hernias and had to have a lot of operations to correct them. He did help Christine make her art, puppets and that sort of thing. Also, Christine came up with film ideas–silent, narrative or quasi-narrative pieces inspired by Jack Smith–and Jim would film her starring in them, costumes and makeup and all that. In some scenes, he’s in grease paint or whatever, having set up a tripod beforehand. He really hated acting, hated being before a camera or an audience. You can see it in the ‘performances’ because he’s as stiff as a board. He told me that when he was in the Richard Foreman play, his stage fright was so bad he thought he was going to pass out. Anyway, for a long while he was just Christine’s Cinematographer, Editor, Assistant and Extra. I can’t think of any films of his own that he made in this period.”–Karen Treanor
375 Pacific Street, Brooklyn, House Renovation, mid 1990s
Farmhouse and Barn Renovation, 348 Bassler Road, Middleburgh NY, mid-1990s
“After Jim and his then-wife, Christine, finished restoring the house on Bergen Street, they sold it and used the money to buy another wreck, on Pacific Street. When they were through fixing up the house on Pacific Street, they got a divorce and Jim wound up giving Christine the house and a lot of alimony. I don’t think he ever really lived there. He didn’t make any films I know of during this time period. He was working too hard doing plumbing as a job and doing demolition and construction on this house in his free time. Keep in mind, they also bought a wreck in Middleburgh, NY, Upstate, and he was driving up there every weekend for hours and hours to restore that too. Not just the house, but also a barn. A neighbor in Middleburgh had an old barn and Jim numbered the boards to move it and then he re-assembled it. The idea was that he was going to use the barn as a studio where he could set up a darkroom for photographs and an editing space for films, get back to making his own art. He lost that house in the divorce as well. During the divorce proceedings, Jim had to pay for both attorneys, even for Christine’s attorney, because she didn’t have a job. Her parents in Pennsylvania even sued Jim because Christine borrowed money from them and didn’t pay it back, so they sued Jim. It got so stressful that Jim pretty much gave up everything he owned, except his plumbing company, just to move on. After that, he still had a hectic day job, but he found time to make art again.”–Karen Treanor
376 Ninth Street, Apt 2, Second Floor, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY (July 1997-October 1999)
“This was Jim’s first place after his divorce, so it was like a hippie crash pad. He couldn’t afford much. When people hear ‘Park Slope,’ they think ‘posh.’ This apartment, though, was really yucky, with a creepy, teeny kitchen that had a floor encrusted with 50 years of grease. It was above a Chinese laundromat. He slept on the floor because he didn’t have a bed. His photos were all over the place. He mounted them on boards and they were everywhere. He also set up a projector because he was getting back to making films and photographs after years and years. He made a little darkroom there too, but you had to squish yourself up to get into it. In Winter 1998, I had to leave NY because my parents were dying, so I left my parakeet with Jim. The heat in the apartment went off for a week and the parakeet died. Jim was working on ‘School of Athens,’ his first film in so many years. He watched it over and over. He was acutely depressed at the time. You can see it in the pace of the film. When his depression lifted, he said he wanted to edit that film. He has said many times over the years that it’s too long. For years he has said he wants to edit it, but he hasn’t gotten around to it.”–Karen Treanor
Greenpoint Manufacturing Design Center, 1155-1205 Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (October 1999-December 2001)
“Jim knew an artist who was working in the trades, as a carpenter, I think. His name was Dave Maginnes. Dave was renting a space in an old, industrial building in Greenpoint. The space had big windows right on Newtown Creek. You could look out the windows and see barges and seagulls just feet away. Dave sublet the space to Jim. Technically, it wasn’t zoned as a residential space. People were only supposed to work there, not live there. At night, it seemed unsafe sometimes. I mean, a guy who lived upstairs was a sculptor who would weld things, so I often saw sparks shooting through the ceiling. The ceiling was made of floorboards, so sparks would shoot through all the cracks, like a fireworks show. Jim’s space was full of flammable paper–his photographs. Hundreds of prints. Whenever I saw the sparks, I’d take a broom and start beating on the ceiling. Then, the sculptor would stop. The next night he’d start welding again, though.
I understood why Jim loved that space. He hung up a hammock, a pink-and-yellow one he got in Mexico. He had an old Vaudeville piano there, a booming upright that had been used in Vaudeville shows and Yiddish theaters on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s. He set up a darkroom. It was a great darkroom with cabinets he made himself and a sink he installed.
He was living there on 9/11. A few weeks after the terrorist attacks, the building–the one in Greenpoint–suffered a gas explosion. Some workers set it off. A worker and one of the residents were very badly hurt. They may have even died. It was horrifying. Ironically, the Super of the building, an Irishman named Pat, lost a son, a firefighter, on 9/11. Then, a few weeks later, the gas explosion happened in the building where he was the Super. The son had just became a firefighter maybe the month before. It took a while to find any of his remains. We went to his funeral in Yonkers. Anyway, after the explosion, Jim and I had to sign forms saying we understood we could be killed entering the apartment. What could we do? Jim’s films were in there. We moved Jim’s stuff to my place. Jim came to live with me, in Long Island City.”–Karen Treanor
45-42 11th Street, 2nd Floor, Long Island City, Queens, December 2001-2005
“When I met Jim, I was living in Long Island City, at 45-42 11th Street. My apartment was the second floor of an old house on a noisy street people called ‘Bride’s Row.’ It must have been great at one time, but when they built the Pulaski Bridge in the 50s or 60s, they widened the street, and the traffic leading up to the bridge made quite a racket. One evening, Jim came over. It was raining, but I said it would be great if he would go out and film. He was really reluctant, but came back very happy. He had walked from 11th Street to Queens Plaza and stayed out in the rain for hours, filming. That’s the night he started filming ‘Silvercup.’ When we got married, the officiant asked him why he wanted to marry me. He told her about how I encouraged him to make films, and how I insisted he go out with his camera on that rainy night.
Jim had been living in an industrial-style building right on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I lived on one end of the Pulaski Bridge and he got an apartment on the other end. It was funny: We’d walk across the bridge to see each another. Jim was living there, in Greenpoint, on 9/11. The building he was living in, however, suffered a gas explosion a few weeks after 9/11, so he came to live with me.
Every day, Jim would get up at 5:30 in the morning. He had to be at his plumbing office by 6:30. I could sleep later. He showed me “Close Quarters” and I realized he was filming the apartment (and me) while I slept. A few weeks ago I came across his plumbing notebooks. When he had the plumbing company, he always carried a little notebook in his jeans pocket, to write down addresses or materials lists and that kind of thing. He used to sketch in those notebooks too. I came across a lot of sketches that depict life in that cramped apartment–and the cats, of course. ” – Karen Treanor
Time Mechanicals Plumbing Office, 128 East 29th Street, 1998-2017
“When Jim first worked as a plumber, he worked for a guy named Henry, who survived the Holocaust and post-War, Stalinist period in Eastern Europe. You can imagine what Henry lived through. His family had owned a shoe factory in Germany, but Henry wound up working with Polish women in coal mines. When Henry came to the US, in the 50s, there were a lot of Jewish plumbers in New York. So, Henry started working with them and, over time, got a Master Plumber’s license and started a plumbing company. Henry had been through so much that he would grab rats by their tails, swing them around and crush them. If you open up a street or the floor of an old basement, you can come across nests of rats. Thousands of them. Henry would grab groups of them, swing them, crush them, dump them. Casually. Before Jim, he had many other apprentices and things never went well. Henry pulled a gun on one of them.
In New York, if you want to be a licensed plumber, you have to go through extensive tests–math, science, building codes, etc. It’s a big deal. Because of the history of water in New York, which is unique, the licensing requirements are very strict. There are only about 2,000 licensed Master plumbers in New York, and all the plumbing jobs have to be signed off by one of them. That’s for a city of 8-million people, not counting tourists and commuters. Only 2,000 licensed plumbers. In New York, it’s harder to get a plumbing license than it is to get a license to practice medicine. When Jim took the license exams, the City even made applicants do lead-wiping tests. Applicants had to wipe molten lead around pipes, using a 19th-Century technique. Another one of the requirements is proving you’ve worked as an apprentice to a licensed Master plumber for 10 years. That’s why Jim worked for Henry. Henry actually became very fond of Jim. They developed real camaraderie. Henry knew he was safe with Jim, and Jim had admiration for Henry, respect for what he had gone through.
Henry’s office was right near the old Filmmakers’ Co-op. The Super for Henry’s office building was a Colombian guy named Fabio. After Jim got his own license and started his own plumbing business, Time Mechanicals, he worked out of his apartment on Ninth Street in Park Slope, just for a short while. That got too chaotic, so he went looking for an office in Manhattan. It was tough. The rents were so high. Jim kept looking, though. One day, he was walking around Manhattan and Fabio, Henry’s former Super, saw him. Fabio knew of a great space and he liked Jim, so the rent was dead cheap. Time Mechanicals had that office for 19 years or so, until it closed in March, 2017. It was a great location because it’s centrally located, really. Twenty-ninth Street, between Park Avenue South and Lexington. Not far from Grand Central Station, but quiet. It’s so hard to park in Manhattan, but there was “Commercial Parking Only” on the street right outside the office, so the company vans could park there.
That part of Murray Hill is, to me, rather homey. It has a lot of older, small apartment buildings, not fancy, but not rough, either. For decades, there were a lot of social service agencies there. Psychiatric patients from places like Bellevue Hospital would be released and then go to those agencies. So, even after the agencies closed, the area attracted a lot of homeless people. It wasn’t scary, though. The deli owner would let a homeless man set up a sleeping area under a scaffold as long as it was kept clean. That was the scene. There was something gentle about the neighborhood, nothing harsh. It was calm, without the hustle-and-bustle you would expect from a neighborhood so close to Grand Central Terminal. Jim used to take a lot of photographs there. He shot films there too, things like “Silk Ties.” –Karen Treanor
Current House (Renovated), Long Island City, Queens