Tag Archives: NYU

East Villager discovers her true calling

13 Jun

Thirty-eight years after earning an anthropology degree and then deciding that wasn’t her calling, Helaine Sorgen has taught herself the art of potting and now runs a successful pottery shop on 9 Street in the East Village.

Clayworks, located on 332 East 9 Street, has been owned by Helaine Sorgen since 1974. “The store was a pottery before I even got here, and I’ve kept it that way as the neighborhood has changed around me.”

In 1971, Sorgen took a beginner level pottery class being offered at Clayworks. After a year of being in class, the store owners decided to close the shop. Sorgen then stepped up along with some friends also taking the class to keep the store in business.

“The original owner wanted out of the store,” said Sorgen. “All of the people taking the class decided to take over the store because we didn’t want to see it close.”

As Sorgen and her friends began to run the store, some of them backed out, but she remained at the shop.

Helaine Sorgen stands proudly outside of the shop she has owned since 1974. “I took this business over with a lot of apprehension, but I learned as I went, and things have turned out alright,” said Sorgen.

“Life happened. People grew up and got married and moved away,” said Sorgen. “Eventually, it was just me here and I decided to give running the business a shot.”

After operating on her own for two years, Sorgen signed the lease for the building under her name in 1974.

“I enjoyed being my own boss. I enjoyed the clay,” said Sorgen. “I asked myself, ‘What am I fooling around for?’ and realized that I had to take the plunge and lease the building.”

As Sorgen took complete control over Clayworks, she taught herself more and more about being a potter as time went on and the shop is now a successful local-run business.

“Learning to run the store and make pottery was a process,” she said. “I started small and just saw what I could do. Eventually I got better.”

Though Sorgen was truly passionate about potting, she remained in school and finished with degrees in anthropology and classical Greek civilization.

“Anthropology taught me that we’re all human,” she said. “We’re all essentially the same. The same parts of anthropology that appealed to me apply to pottery too.”

Sorgen now devotes most of her time to working on pieces to sell in her store.

“I spend a lot of time on each piece,” said Sorgen. “I rarely begin a piece knowing exactly what it will be. I try to make things that are practical for everyday life, and I also take requests from customers.”

Though passionate about anthropology, Sorgen doesn’t regret pursuing a career directly related to her degree.

“As a woman, there was no place in anthropology unless you were married to a man and wanted to be his secretary. I didn’t want that for myself,” said Sorgen.

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You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one

5 Jun

In my class, one of the large projects we’re working on is about the 2010 census. We’re angling it as a perception versus reality type of thing, meaning we’re on the streets digging around to see what people THINK happened in the census over the past 10 years (perception) as compared to what the numbers tell us (reality).

A map of East Village on a wall in the journalism institute.

My class is covering two sections of East Village. The sections are called “tracts.” That being said, this next bit is for my curious New Yorkers. Everyone else, don’t worry about the coordinates. It’s really not vital to your understanding, and it’s pretty confusing if I do say so myself. The first, Tract 20, spans from Avenue D to FDR Drive, then East 6th Street to East Houston Street. The second, Tract 38 covers 9th Street to 3rd Street, then 1st Street to the Bowry (or 3rd Street).

So, more or less, we’re talking two areas that are a few blocks long and wide.

Professor Latty assigned each of us a different angle to cover. Mine was to talk to businesses that had been around the neighborhood forever- mom and pop shops- and to find out how they’d seen the neighborhood change.

Based on my recent Flower Stall find, I was more than happy to accept this challenge, having an excuse to wander the village for hours.

My friend Nadine and I tackled this task together, because her job was to cover new businesses, which, consequently, were often located right next to the old ones.

We started on Tract 38. This is truly the heart of East Village. It’s a well off neighborhood, with numerous shops and restaurants. NYU has buildings not too far from this area, and we had a lot of ground to cover.

Here's the VMA from The Ramones, conveniently located on the right as you enter the store.

My favorite find of the day was a store called Trash & Vaudeville, located on 4 St. Mark’s Place. Apparently, I’ve been out of the rock n’ roll loop, because this place is famous. Like, really REALLY famous. It’s been around since 1975.

Let me paint this picture for you: the shop is right next to a really popular bar, so there’s a lot of traffic. When you walk in, you’re greeted by people who are true rock n’ rollers. I’m talking spiked hair, studded belts, mohawks, band shirts, spandex…you name it, they’ve got it.

Then, you have one of two options. If you look to the left, you’re facing a wall of photos of celebrities who have been in the store. The one that stuck out to me was Avril Lavigne. If you look to the right, you’re facing a VMA belonging to The Ramones (that’s right…a Video Music Award. As in, MTV) in a glass case. So, regardless of the decision you make, you’re going to find something fascinating.

The outside of Trash & Vaudeville, along with Jimmy.

Then, the store goes back for what seems to be the rest of the block. So basically, this place is huge. Not to mention the downstairs.

I approached one of the employees, explained myself, and was told to wait for Jimmy, who could tell me more about the store than anyone. Jimmy was pointed out to me, and he was on the sidewalk talking to customers, convincing more and more people to come into the store.

I knew I was in for quite the interview, so I waited. And waited. And waited. After about 20 minutes, a frazzled Jimmy tells me he “needs a minute to get his thoughts together” and then he could talk.

I was so intrigued at this point I can’t even explain it. So, I looked around the store and waited for Jimmy to collect himself.

Once he finally finds me, we go out onto the balcony and I ask him one simple question: “How have you seen the East Village change since you’ve been working here?”

Jimmy looks at me, sighs, and proceeds to tell me my question was boring.

I won’t lie, I was a little taken aback because I really didn’t know how to reword the question to catch Jimmy’s attention. So, I asked him what he would like to tell me about.

He went on to explain the history of the shop and how “everyone that’s anyone in the rock n’ roll world comes here to shop.” He told me his frustrations about the “monstrosity of a vacant building” that’s next to his shop, and how the neighborhood’s economic status has shifted.

He shared with me his feelings on the lack of diversity in the East Village. (This statement was really surprising to me, but Jimmy knew what he was talking about.)

He then told me how everything has become so over priced and expensive that only a certain type of person can even afford to live on the block anymore. That’s where the loss of diversity comes from.

“If you go uptown, all you see is a velvet rope or an $8 cappuccino- which isn’t necessarily bad- but it’s a change from how things used to be,” he said.

At first, I didn’t understand where Jimmy was coming from, but he painted a picture of East Village that was so vivid I couldn’t help but feel like I was there. He told me of the local beat cop that would walk around the block everyday and that knew everyone’s name. He told me of the old men that used to sit across the street and play checkers day in and day out, and he told me of his personal struggle to make it in New York.

That visit really opened my eyes to what people who have truly grown up in East Village see as compared to what outsiders see.

I went to a few more shops, some sharing Jimmy’s opinion and some believing that East Village really hadn’t changed much. It was interesting to hear stories and step back in time to what East Village used to be.

After spending a few hours wandering around Tract 38, we made our way to Tract 20- which is in Alphabet City.

I won’t even lie, I was a little intimidated going to the rougher part of town. Avenue D is where the projects are located, and it doesn’t exactly have the best reputation.

The few shop owners that spoke enough English to talk to us (it’s a mainly Hispanic neighborhood…I knew I should have paid better attention in Spanish class back in elementary school…) told us that basically what you see is what you get.

One shop owner in particular said that seeing white people was very unusual in that side of town.

Though we were in the same village, Tract 20 felt worlds away from Tract 38.

A story that began with a few statistics about vacancies in each tract turned into a story of diversity and change in the East Village. Without going out to talk to these people, I never would have learned that two neighborhoods a few blocks apart could be so different.

There is one common thread amidst all of these differences, however.

Each and every person I spoke to told me of a dream they had. Whether it was for the neighborhood, like the store owner in Tract 20 who told me he hoped crime rates would diminish so Alphabet City could be a more welcoming place, or Jimmy in Tract 38 who told me of his journey in the rock n’ roll world, East Villagers, along with everyone else in the world, are people with hopes and dreams just waiting to come true.

I think Jay-Z says it best: “Concrete jungle where dreams are made, there’s nothing you can’t do…”

Here’s to New York, dreams waiting to come true, and rock n’ roll!

One hand in the air for the big city

26 May

Well hello once again, WordPress! I’m sorry to have neglected you but I’ve definitely had some things I needed to take care of before coming back to the world of blogging. Here I am though, and I’m back with a vengeance!

This is one of the first views of East Village that I had. I fell in love right then and there.

Since I’ve last blogged, I’ve made my way to the fabulous New York City(the East Village in Manhattan, to be exact) and have started what will prove to be an absolutely remarkable six-week learning process.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m at New York University for six weeks for an internship/class partnered with the New York Times. Basically, it’s about 30 journalism nerds who write stories about the East Village for the Local East Village paper. We’ll be doing everything from reporting to editing to multimedia and everything in between. A dream come true for a journalism junkie like myself.

Before I get to logistics about the class, let me break down some of my first impressions of the East Village:

  1. This town is as unique as they come. I was walking down the street Saturday, my first day here, and was told that TomKat (for my followers who are less caught up in celebrity news and more focused on things that actually matter- that’s Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) live in the building behind mine. However, I walked less than three blocks down and homelessness and poverty were clearly visible. What I’m trying to say is this town has the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor.
  2. If you’re bored in East Village- that’s your own fault. There’s always, and I mean ALWAYS something to do. Whether it’s hanging out in Washington Square Park, taking a few block walk to Chinatown, or simply exploring the multitudes of businesses and restaurants, something’s always going on.
  3. People aren’t even kind of kidding when the say the city never sleeps. Since moving into my apartment, I’ve had approximately zero minutes of complete silence. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying.
  4. It’s just as easy to blow all your money on food as it is to blow all of your money on clothes. This realization has been a tough one for me. Two things I love- food and clothes- are in constant competition for my extra cash. Unfortunately, food is winning this battle so far. My new fave food source? Street vendors. Convenient, cheap and so so good.
  5. Even though the city is a grid, getting lost isn’t such a far-fetched idea. I know, I know. The city- East Village especially- is a grid. One giant square (well…Manhattan is kind of an oblong shape, but for sake of the analogy…) divided into numerous smaller squares. Avenues run up and down, while streets run side to side. (Or maybe it’s the other way around. I couldn’t really tell you. I am, after all, the one who cannot maneuver my way around a square.) All joking aside, I don’t care what anyone says. It’s confusing, getting lost is easy, and finding your way back is quite the struggle.

Ignore the construction, but this is just a shot of Cooper Square- where my classroom is located. It's a short walk from my apartment on 14th street.

Now back to what I’m actually doing here. I’m taking the class called Hyperlocal I. My professor is Yvonne Latty. This woman’s done it all. She’s written, taken photographs and is currently producing and directing a documentary. I’m truly honored to be under her instruction.

This is basically an intensive six-week course that’s going to push us all to places we’ve never been before. The content we’ll be reporting on will be fed to the Hyperlocal Newsroom website and, if we’re fortunate enough, our stories can get pitched to both the Local (East Village’s paper) or the New York Times (no explanation necessary).

All in all, this is going to be the time of my life. I’ve already experienced two street fairs, gone to Times Square, Central Park and Ground Zero, joined a yoga class -which, if you know me, you know I am the furthest thing from graceful- and tried so many new foods I can’t even name them all.

This summer is definitely going to be one for the books. I’m going to leave NYU with new friends and experiences, a stacked portfolio, contacts and networking skills that will help me for the rest of my career, memories to last a lifetime and maybe, just maybe, a New York state of mind.