The Art and Soul of East Side House Settlement

December 27, 2017
By Wendy Sy

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C.S. Lewis once asked, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?” This quote is pinned on a bulletin board alongside a number of inspiring sayings, in a high school run by the East Side House Settlement.

The non-profit organization was founded in 1891 on the Upper East Side—once known as one of the city’s most impoverished districts. Since 1963, its headquarters have moved four miles north to the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, in response to need. With 29 program locations across the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, there are 600 full and part-time teachers who mentor and know each student by name. The heart of their mission is to provide education to get people out of poverty and into the economic mainstream.

Students span a wide range of ages, from children to adults. East Side House strives to guide them every step of the way by providing education, extra curricular activities, college preparation programs, job training and senior centers.

Some may know East Side House as the charity beneficiary for the Winter Antiques Show—with the 2018 iteration scheduled for January 19-28—but their impact on the community delves deeper than that.

The story began with five Louis Vuitton trunks filled with haute couture dresses.

Apparently, back in 1954, socialite Norris Harkness discovered that she had inherited these vintage collectibles from her aunt in Paris. Harkness’ friend, Grace Lindquist, suggested that she sell them at the National Antiques Show in the basement of the old Madison Square Garden. They raised $1,700 that day and the proceeds were donated to East Side House, which was directed by Lindquist and her husband. It was there that an idea sparked to create the very first Winter Antiques Show, which took place the following year at the Seventh Regiment Armory, a neighborhood facility on Park Avenue.

Today, the Winter Antiques Show features 70 of the world’s top experts in fine and decorative arts—offerings range from English furniture, Chinese porcelain, American paintings to post-war jewelry and more. One hundred percent of revenues from the show’s general admission and net proceeds from events, such as the Young Collectors Night, benefit East Side House.

“We were begun by grand dames and now we are the grand dame of antique shows,” says co-chair of the fair, Lucinda C. Ballard, who has been on the board for more than two decades. “I see it morphing as the market has been changing. It used to be focused on Americana—it is still our core, but modern, mid-century and contemporary art became very much part of the taste of the younger market. The key word is eclecticism, something that has meaning and tells a story.”

“I always argue that it’s hard to make a great room without at least one piece that’s old,” said Thomas Jayne, design co-chair of the fair and principal of Jayne Design Studio. “The Winter Antiques Show allows you to see all different kinds of art. You can touch things, talk to people who represent them and it’s educational.”

During a tour led by East Side House, four-year-olds were seen dancing to a song called “Gummy Bear” in an elementary school. In the corner of the classroom, there was a little boy who had special needs getting a private lesson. “Just like that nice tutor who was willing to reach out and help, the founders of the Winter Antiques Show were very hands-on, maternal people,” said Jayne. “I remember when Kiyi Pflueger talked about the show and there was a traffic jam on Lexington Avenue. She put on her mink coat, got out there in the cold and directed the trucks into the Armory. I love that immediacy. This is a big, sophisticated organization, so it works on a very professional plane, but it hasn’t lost track of that human part. The Winter Antiques Show still has that character because it is run by the East Side House as opposed to shows that just give a party for a charity.”

The upcoming Winter Antiques Show takes place from January 19-28, 2018 at the Park Avenue Armory. Additional design co-chairs include Wendy Goodman, design editor at New York magazine and Gil Schafer, award-winning architect. The opening night party chair is Chubb’s Fran O’Brien. Catherine Sweeney Singer is the show’s executive director and Michael Diaz-Griffith serves as associate executive director.

Michael R. Lynch is also a co-chair and Arie L. Kopelman will be honored for becoming chairman emeritus during the Opening Night Party on January 18.

In the course of his 25-year tenure, Kopelman has transformed the Winter Antiques Show, taking it to another level through numerous initiatives. With his leadership, the event has risen to popularity and attracts more than 20,000 visitors each year.

“There’s a group of students who will be ambassadors of the show,” says Jayne. “I want them to come early and see it so they can understand and appreciate it, too. Ideally, they will be the future collectors.”

Going back to that quote on the bulletin board, C.S. Lewis was right.

Each day may seem the same. Maybe your routine consists of going to class, studying and repeat. But, with dedication, those small steps are the ones that can make a difference in the long run. At one point, East Side House was just getting started. Now, 126 years later, it has changed the lives of countless people and continues to thrive.

Images: Courtesy of East Side House Settlement/Winter Antiques Show