165 Seaman Avenue: A View from the Lobby

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Mural in lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue signed by Elsie Driggs and Lee Gatch.
Mural in lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue signed by Elsie Driggs and Lee Gatch.

Sometimes life’s treasures are hiding in plain sight.  Such is the case with a Depression Era mural that graces the lobby wall of a Seaman Avenue apartment building in the Inwood section of northern Manhattan. 

Mural in lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue signed by Elsie Driggs and Lee Gatch.
Mural in lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue signed by Elsie Driggs and Lee Gatch.

The mural in the lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue, signed by renowned artists Elsie Driggs and Lee Gatch, was a private commission completed in the late 1930s.  

Lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue in the Inwood section of Manhattan.
Lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue in the Inwood section of Manhattan.

The painting, which celebrates the presence of Native Americans in the region, is the centerpiece of a stunning art deco lobby designed by architect Charles Kreymborg. 

165 Seaman Avenue in the Inwood section of Manhattan.

Kreymborg, born in the Bronx in 1876, designed at least eight buildings within blocks of 165 Seaman Avenue.  Today, the six-story Art Deco structure is a rental building.

Elsie Driggs, 1927,  Elsa Schmidt Neumann, photographer. Elsie Driggs papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Elsie Driggs, 1927, Elsa Schmidt Neumann, photographer. Elsie Driggs papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The muralist, Elsie Driggs, was known for her Precisionist paintings and Depression era murals commissioned by the WPA. 

Elsie Driggs and daughter Merriman, Collection of the Smithsonian.
Elsie Driggs and daughter Merriman, Collection of the Smithsonian.

Driggs was the only female member of the Precisionist movement. Precisionists produced abstract images of the machine age.

A Celebration of Corn, 1936, Elsie Driggs, watercolor on paper.
A Celebration of Corn, 1936, Elsie Driggs, watercolor on paper.

Driggs based her lobby mural on a 1936 watercolor-on-paper study, titled A Celebration of Corn.

Pittsburgh, Elsie Driggs, Whitney Museum of American Art.
Pittsburgh, Elsie Driggs, Whitney Museum of American Art.

Her most famous work, Pittsburgh, painted in 1926, is part of the permanent collection of the Whitney Collection of American Art. 

Lee Gatch, 1935, unidentified photographer. Lee Gatch papers, 1925-1979. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Lee Gatch, 1935, unidentified photographer. Lee Gatch papers, 1925-1979. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Driggs’ husband, Lee Gatch, also signed the mural.   Other Gatch paintings are in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others.  

Mural in lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue signed by Elsie Driggs and Lee Gatch.
Mural in lobby of 165 Seaman Avenue signed by Elsie Driggs and Lee Gatch.

According to one resident, the mural was “restored by artist and U.S. Open tennis star coach Kaye Jones as part of a rent-strike settlement almost 20 years ago.”

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