The soft glow of her Lower Manhattan

Courtesy Ellen Bradshaw “Fulton Market Morning” (1998 / 14x18”).
Courtesy Ellen Bradshaw
“Fulton Market Morning” (1998 / 14×18”).

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  Painter Ellen Bradshaw has done what some may consider an impossible feat: make the FDR look beautiful and appealing.

In “South Street Snowstorm, Under The Viaduct,” the FDR actually has a soft glow, reflecting the warm yellows, oranges and hints of red used to depict the snow and lights. The near-empty scene, with only a few cars and one visible person, spurs Robert Frost-like images to swirl in one’s head.

Bradshaw, a Southbridge resident for 27 years, has used her talented eye to create scenes of the South Street Seaport, the West Village, the High Line and other parts of Lower Manhattan. Her oil paintings show Downtown’s past and chronicle its present.

For her current exhibition, “Visions from the South Street Seaport” (on view through Dec. 31 at artisanal food and craft store Farm Candy), Bradshaw features oil paintings of the Seaport that span 20 years.
“I wanted to show kind of the history of the old Seaport and also the old fish market, which has been gone for years now,” Bradshaw said in a phone interview. “I did a whole show of the fish market, so some of those paintings will be in there.”

Indeed, before the Fulton Fish Market shuttered in 2005, Bradshaw was up early to capture the fishmongers and their surroundings.

“The last year that the fish market itself was open,” she recalled, “I went down at probably three in the morning with my husband, who knew some of the fish guys, because they didn’t really like their photographs taken.”

“Lou’s Fish Market” (2005 / 12x24”).
“Lou’s Fish Market” (2005 / 12×24”).

Out of that exploration came “A Farewell Tribute to the Fulton Fish Market,” shown at Pleiades Gallery in 2006. Bradshaw has been a member of Pleiades Gallery (530 W. 25th St.) since 1999, and has been its president since 2000.

In “Fulton Market Morning,” the myriad shades of blue suggest day before the sun has broken through, while men move boxes or stand around. Again, the scene is sparsely populated, but evokes a real sense of the market.

 “Stormy Sky, Seaport Ships” (1996 / 18x18”).
“Stormy Sky, Seaport Ships” (1996 / 18×18”).

Also to be shown as part of the exhibition are paintings that document bygone and current restaurants in the Seaport. Bradshaw said she depicted haunts like Sloppy Louie’s, no longer part of the neighborhood, and The Paris Café, open continuously since 1873 (except for 51 weeks after Hurricane Sandy).

Bradshaw had frequented Farm Candy and met the owner, Pamela Stone. 

“I just wandered in there and struck up a conversation,” she said. “Her food is wonderful. We’ve bought several of her items. I told her what I did and she had the wall space to do a show.”

Bradshaw’s ties to the Seaport began in the ’80s. Originally from Penfield, a small suburb of Rochester in upstate New York, Bradshaw said, “Ever since I was little, I always knew I wanted to live here.”

After attending Syracuse University for two years because her parents didn’t want her to move to New York City, she transferred to the Pratt Institute and studied fine arts and illustration.

She graduated from Pratt in 1984, and immediately became associated with the Seaport.

“My first job was down here after school. I got a job managing a hand-painted clothing store in the Seaport,” she recalled. “It was called Foofaraw.”

This is also how she met her husband, Joe Bradshaw. He often went to the bar across from the store called McDuffee’s (both are no longer part of the neighborhood).

“It was just a great place,” she recalled. “The stores down there and the restaurants — everything was so original and really quaint back in those days before the mall-type shops took over.”

Sloppy Louie’s” (2006 / 8x10”).
Sloppy Louie’s” (2006 / 8×10”).

They met in 1986 and were married two years later. Joe grew up in the Smith Houses in the Lower East Side and then moved to Southbridge Towers.Bradshaw has seen the neighborhood go through many changes.

“When I first came down here, it was a little bit more deserted feeling,” she said. “There was hardly a really good place to buy food, like a supermarket. So it is totally transformed into much more of a residential feel.”

Hurricane Sandy has also played a huge role in how the neighborhood is now.

“Sandy hit and the whole place was demolished,” Bradshaw said. “Three years after Sandy, it’s starting to really revive.”

When Bradshaw starts a new series of paintings, she picks a theme and then dives in for a year. She takes her camera with her wherever she goes, taking several photographs. She brings those back to her studio in the West Village.

“I take some ideas from one photo, some from another photo, and create my own vision of what the feeling would look like,” she explained. “I take pieces from different photographs and put them together to make a painting.”

Her last show centered on the High Line.

“What I loved about it was the wild nature up there and then you look over the rails and there is city below,” she said. “I just loved the High Line — I didn’t expect to, but I did.”

Her next gallery show will be “Up on the Roof,” which is slated for April 2016 at Pleiades. It is a change of pace for Bradshaw, who usually paints street level. This series will focus on views of the city from rooftops and balconies in Lower Manhattan and Midtown.

Bradshaw enjoys painting scenes in or about Lower Manhattan and the West Village.

“Night, Peck Slip” (2007 / 20x30”).
“Night, Peck Slip” (2007 / 20×30”).

“I like the more intimate everydayness of the city,” she said. “Usually, if I put people in my paintings, it’s just either lone figures or people walking the streets maybe battling the elements. I don’t usually do crowd scenes or the more popular areas of the city.”Meanwhile, Bradshaw says she misses the Fulton Fish Market — but not the smells.

“It was such a really cool part of this neighborhood,” she said. “It was fascinating. When I went down there and saw what went on, it was like being on a movie set. It was almost choreographed the way they went about their work. They did this every night, and then in the morning they would just sweep it all up and clean it all up. It was a real integral part of this neighborhood.”

“Visions from the South Street Seaport” is on view through Dec. 31 at Farm Candy (21 Fulton St. btw. Water & South Sts.). Hours: Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–7 p.m. & Sun., 12–6 p.m. Artist info at ellenbradshaw.com.