In 1973, Hedy Pagremanski’s daughter Joannie asked her what she really wanted to do with her life. At the time, Hedy was 44-years old. “I used to draw in a way where nobody could see me,” she recalled while speaking at the Tenement Museum last Friday, May 12. She told Joannie, “I’d like to sit on a street…with a canvas, and not hide anymore.”
Hedy, now 85-years old, is a prolific painter of New York City, and was at the Tenement Museum to donate a print of Grand Street NYC. The painting is part of a series, which showcase the history of a vanished New York City. The two 100-year old tenements shown in the painting were located at 400 and 402 Grand St. on the Lower East Side. The buildings were the last to be demolished to make way for the new Essex Crossing residential and commercial space.
This painting, which took two years to complete, is unique from Hedy’s other works. As she sat on the street corner with her canvas, she was often approached by people asking to be included in the painting. Her husband, Eric, told everyone that in order to be added in, they had to share their story with Hedy, and what the area she was painting meant to them. Much like our Your Story, Our Story online exhibition, Hedy collected and recorded the stories of every individual painted on her busy street, including the Ng family, who were also present at the painting’s donation on Friday. Charissa Ng was the first to meet Hedy on the street and ask to be in her painting, and eventually got her whole family involved.
Hedy was born in Vienna in 1929. A Holocaust survivor, she fled with her family to Panama as World War II was breaking out, before eventually settling down in New York. Hedy has dedicated almost half a century to painting New York City as she remembers it, before it disappears completely. As the neighborhoods change and the histories fade from the buildings and streets, Hedy’s work seeks to capture the rich cultured history of the Lower East Side, which she views as the gateway to the immigrant experience.
Her son, Ken Page, spoke about how often his mother was approached by people on the street who wanted to be included in her project. “The size of her heart has created this,” he said at the dedication. “I just look around at what people have given her. People just flock to her and say, ‘I love what you’re doing, and I want to [help] make this happen.”
Hedy’s goal was to help people remember New York’s important past, and by collecting the stories of the people she encountered while painting, she succeeded in adding more layers to the history of this vivid and diverse neighborhood.
“I missed people’s voices,” Hedy said, “so no one gets to be in a painting unless they give me a story.”
- Post by Gemma Solomons, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum