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ART | COMMERCE by Steven J.  Riskind Kirkus Star


Four Artisan Businesses Grow in an Old New Jersey Industrial City

photographed by Steven J. Riskind by Steven J. Riskind

Pub Date: July 28th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-578-68425-3
Publisher: Steve Riskind Photography

Dingy workshops incubate unlikely aesthetic epiphanies in this colorful photographic study of small businesses.

Photographer Riskind showcases four artisanal manufacturers in and around Paterson, New Jersey, a faded textile center whose old factories now shelter firms making specialty products. He begins at Jerry Valenta and Sons, a textile company with 10 industrial looms. Many of these pictures are composed and formally elegant, juxtaposing the fiendishly complex and forbidding loom mechanisms—with their starkly lit mazes of oily, muscular steel gears and chains—and the delicately abstract geometries of the gossamer threads hanging on them in dense yet ethereal patterns. He then visits Great Falls Metalworks, a family jewelry maker that once numbered Jackie Onassis among its customers. Here he depicts an atmospheric tableau of workers using hand tools to hammer, drill, solder, and polish, bending over tiny objects while bundled up against the winter cold in an unheated workshop where piles of gems glow against a backdrop of grungy concrete walls. Riskind’s third subject is the Peragallo Pipe Organ Company, an instrument maker now on its fourth generation of family craftsmen. There’s a spaciousness in these photographs of organ pipes that are major architectural elements in their own right, often large enough to dwarf the workers. We see demure smaller variants adorning the wall of a simple white Episcopal church and grander versions towering in Catholic cathedrals, overshadowing statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary; bringing these soaring creations down to earth are pictures of the electronic circuitry that translates keyboard strokes into music. Riskind finishes at the Hiemer Stained Glass Studio, taking viewers through the integrated process of drawing sacred figures, transferring images to colored glass, cutting and soldering panels to frames, and installing them in churches. The photographs of workers peering intently at light boxes and glass panels spread out on workbenches, brows furrowed in concentration, convey an almost spiritual union of art and craft. Riskind’s accompanying captions and commentary are informative if a bit stolid. (“Tying 12,000 knots in fine (and sometimes slippery) threads is extraordinarily time consuming.”) The photographs make the book come alive, showing off odd and intriguing manufacturing processes and the dedication of the people who practice them.

An engrossing portrait of artisanship as a blend of mechanical genius and human fulfillment.