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Greenpoint Artists Abandon Studios After Sandy Destroys Work

By Meredith Hoffman | November 9, 2012 7:00am

GREENPOINT — After Hurricane Sandy left his 21-year-old art studio flooded under 8 feet of Newtown Creek's water, Robert Boyd was waist deep salvaging what he could even before electricity returned.

"I was here with a light trying to excavate what I could...it was totally submerged," he said in the Commercial Street building that he said just regained electricity Thursday.

"I have 20 years' of work here."

Boyd and a community of about 20 other artists in the waterfront space lost years worth of work and thousands of dollars' worth of equipment to Sandy's flood, they said.

And once they finish cleaning up the devastated rooms, Boyd and some other disheartened tenants plan to abandon the area altogether.

"It's like Mother Nature is telling us it's time to move on... I'm going to get a new space, I can't do this anymore," Boyd, 43, said beside his friend and fellow artist Fritz Buehner, 70, who has also decided to move out of the room he's occupied since 1991. 

"I don't see there's any future in this space," Buehner said as he surveyed the damage to his art for the first time since Sandy. "It's just a disaster...it's terrible. I'm trying to have a sense of humor."

Even the artists who hope to remain in the building expressed a similar sense of shock at the magnitude of the flood.

"Everything floated, I had compressors upside down and all my motors were ruined," said Milton Dean, 62, who has had his woodworking studio in the building for the past 28 years.

"I lost a record of all the work I've done in the past 40 years... Purge is good, but forced purge is very different."

Dean said that a 2-foot flood in the early 1990s had served as a warning to the artists, but the force of Sandy far exceeded expectation.

"It's total for everybody," he said of the damage.

Leon Reid IV, a sculptor who works in steel, noted that his electronics were all destroyed and called the situation "demoralizing." He said he plans to remain in the space.

"It'll be 6 or 7 months before it's back to normal," he said. 

While the structural damage was overwhelming and the tools they lost valuable, the artists said their work was the most precious thing harmed.

"You're psychologically tethered to the works you've created," Boyd said of artworks. "It's a big chunk of your life to have dissipated."