On Friday 24 February at 5:30pm I'll be presenting material in connection with the Hyde Park photography work now on display at the Gya Community Arts Gallery. I'll be reading from my book documenting the program, (en)visioning Hyde Park. I've set up a Facebook event with full details.
|(en)visioning Hyde Park, © Andrew Raimist.|
The photographs by Andrew Raimist are presented as a single piece consisting of five horizontal bands of joined images with the title: 5 sentences about Hyde Park (do not a paragraph make). The alternating rows of images bring together images of the children, teachers, college students, volunteers and adults who are committed to improving the neighborhood conditions. The rows between these informal portraits are composed of architectural photographs in series documenting buildings in the area.
|5 sentences about Hyde Park (do not a paragraph make), © Andrew Raimist.|
The idea behind the title is to make clear that any documentation of Hyde Park is bound to be fragmentary, partial and biased. While I've attempted to create a realistic, authentic portrait of a community in fashioning the exhibition and publication, these efforts are clearly informed by my own personal preferences and constitute a narrative structure that I've inevitably imposed. Others will dispute the impressions created as being too sunny and optimistic or too harshly depressing. I've attempted to maintain a balance based upon my own perceptions and preconceptions (visually and intellectually) to offer an unvarnished picture of the area through my own eyes. I hope my own images offer some semblance of the honesty and directness with which the children approached documenting the area and each other.
|Carnegie Library, © Andrew Raimist.|
I cannot deny my fascination with historic architecture and with the tragic sense of loss embodied in collapsing buildings. I find them compelling sources for developing a sense of history and for constructing a narrative of the lives lived and lost in those architectural frames. Likewise, I find restored buildings of grandeur like the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church to be inspiring and uplifting.
|Gateways, © Andrew Raimist.|
The architectural photographs I've included in the piece range from historic, well-preserved structures like the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church and the Bissell Point Water Tower, to the dilapidated buildings scattered throughout the neighborhood and buildings in various states of repair and renovation. These are all very real and present.
|Living with collapse, © Andrew Raimist.|
There is the beginnings of a renaissance presently under way in the neighborhood. A whole series of historic brick masonry buildings are undergoing renovation including the old Salisbury Hardware Store located at the corner of Salisbury and Blair. The once proud building with its mansard roof and dormers is now being gutted and will become a new center of business and street life at a critical intersection adjacent to Hyde Park.
The other corners of this intersection are anchored by important neighborhood icons: Firehouse No. 8 marking the entrance to the park itself, Hyde Park Antiques and the Cornerstone Cafe. These buildings are touchstones for the neighborhood, not just architecturally, but culturally and economically. The history of the area is discussed in my book which includes the 19th century Compton & Dry aerial rendering juxtaposed to a more recent aerial photograph (courtesy of the world wide web) of the corresponding area. The rural nature of the surroundings shown in the aerial drawing relates favorably to the openness of the land now exposed by the loss of built fabric in recent decades.
|Salisbury Hardware undergoing renovation (exterior & interior), © Andrew Raimist.|
While the loss of buildings is tragic (especially in cases like the recently demolished Turnverein Hall), there are opportunities the open land affords that would not otherwise be possible in a densely settled urban setting. These include providing locations for the construction of new homes and other development opportunities. The Bethlehem Lutheran Evangelic Church community has been instrumental in supporting the construction of new homes in the area which clearly meet a need in the market.
|Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, © Andrew Raimist.|
Urban pioneers like businesswoman Julie Longyear and artist Mark Pappas are establishing new infrastructure and creating a renewed sense of community in spaces previously vacated. Julie operates Irie Star and Blissoma brand natural skincare products from her home which specializes in natural, organic skin care products and is creating an organic garden on vacant land previously occupied by decaying brick homes. Mark Pappas is working to found the Hyde Park Art Center in the historic Divoll Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. The monumental brick and stone building which is visible from Highway 70 is a majestic, proud work of architectural art and an important part of the neighborhood's history. Mark is spearheading the restoration of the building which may well take the rest of his lifetime.
|Mark Pappas and his Carnegie Library, © Andrew Raimist.|
My experiences working in the neighborhood have been instructive for me in understanding the relationship of children, families, schools, churches, community groups, city government and private developers. These are all essential ingredients for the holistic renewal of the area.
|Twice Burned, © Andrew Raimist.|
I hope this exhibition and the accompanying book will help to spur further interest in the Hyde Park, to give residents and visitors historical and cultural context and to promote future growth and development. There are clearly many serious challenges facing the community, but with so many people caring a great deal about the area, there are bound to be more positive developments.
|Terracotta Ornament, © Andrew Raimist.|