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Artist Restores Work Destroyed by Sandy Flood

By Meredith Hoffman | January 23, 2013 9:29am

GREENPOINT — After countless hours grinding steel and casting intricate figures, one Greenpoint artist was nearly done with his ambitious gilded sculpture this fall. Then Hurricane Sandy hit.

"I was 85 percent finished," the artist, Leon Reid IV, said of his work "American Debt," which was in his waterfront studio when Newtown Creek inundated the space. 

The flood devastated the space, equipment and art created by Reid — as well as that of dozens of his neighboring artists at 99 Commercial Street.

But three months later, the resilient sculptor has now fixed and recreated his prized piece "American Debt."

"This is the first work I'm releasing since Sandy," he said of the work, "American Debt," which features a gold-covered credit card leaning on a human figure to represent Americans' "crushing debt."

"Maybe common sense would have told me to pack up and leave [my studio] but I'm proud that I was able to get back on my feet," he said.

Reid said the piece — which includes a steel base, a cast human figure,  a replica of his own credit card, and sheets of gold leaf that he used for covering — suffered rough damage in the flood.

"The reaction of steel in saltwater is a nightmare. It just corrodes," Reid recalled. "The gold leaf papers were everywhere."

Reid, who praised the robust clean-up help he got from friends and strangers after Sandy, said that he also lost equipment, drawings and other artwork in the flood, including a public art piece "Hundred Story House" he had raised $13,000 on Kickstarter to make.

But he focused on restoring his studio and then finishing "American Debt."

"After Sandy hit the steel looked like it was from an excavation site, and I reworked it," he said. "I had to do a lot of things over again...put more paint on the figures and cleaned up the gold."

And Reid, who has had his studio at 99 Commercial the past year, said he also has learned not to store all his work there.

"I only keep one edition [of my artwork] in my studio and I keep the rest at home, so I don't put all my eggs in one basket," he said of his post-Sandy practices. "And I don't keep all my original drawings there."

And even as he has gotten back on his feet and has "learned lessons" from the storm, Reid said he still feels jarred by the sudden upheaval.

"It doesn't look as if Sandy hit," he said of his studio's current state. "But the one thing you can't clean up is the psychological damage. The fear is still there and it's not going to go away because [a flood] could happen again."