Susan L. Berger, Visual Artist

Resident at Westbeth since 1970

Arrival

I arrived in the wave of the pioneers at Westbeth in March 1970. I received that wonderful letter of my acceptance, at first not giving much stock to the application process. I lived on Spring Street by the Bowery and knew that my days would probably be numbered in that the family who owned the bakery and the building would eventually sell the building, and I would be gone. I was almost 25 when I moved into Westbeth that cold March day. I never really went to this area, and all of a sudden, with many canvases and little furniture, I got movers to take my belongings there. I didn’t realize that the place was very narrow, and my work would take up the entire studio. I had to get a friend to build a loft over the door so I could roll up the canvases and place them up there. I did spread out my things, leaving some room to do more artwork. My windows faced Washington Street, and there was noise from the trucks, which belonged to the industrial occupants of the far West Village.

There was Pickwick Papers on Bethune Street, and there were times I would get remnants from the wonderful people who were there. They always said hello. Yes, there were cobblestone streets and only a stop sign on Bethune and Washington Streets. No traffic light. It was busy with trucks doing their thing on weekdays. On the weekend, it was desolate. Right across from Westbeth where there is now the Italian restaurant was a luncheonette where I would go daily for breakfast before heading for work or doing my artwork. As you walked toward Abingdon Square, there was life of original Villagers and stores that corresponded to the times. We had playgrounds and a raw form of a park that bore witness to sitting there only in the warmer months. In Westbeth’s courtyard, small children and their parents were playing there; a water sprinkler was on in the warmer months. Westbeth was a new place, an enclave, and everyone thought we were special, and we were.

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