City Living

Post Office Steps: One Artist's Studio


"Painting the town green." Laura Silver hide caption

itoggle caption Laura Silver

I have a soft spot for New York's main post office — it's open 24/7 and has a modest (and free) postal museum in its corridors. I've made more than a dozen last-minute runs to get things postmarked before midnight, and waiting in a Beaux-Arts building always seemed like a reward.

Now that plans are underway to convert the building into a train station, I've already started mourning the end of late-night pilgrimages to the McKim, Mead and White mecca.

But, when I walked by the building the other day, I was reassured about the public use of this space. Monique Fagan Smith had turned the post office steps into an open-air art studio. She was painting on a six-foot-tall canvas that looked like linoleum or the flip side of billboard ad.

Fagan Smith had a single can of paint: green. And one brush. Lots of people were sitting on the steps across from Penn Station, but no one paid attention to Fagan Smith's painting.

I saw it as an extension of the inscription above the post office's Corinthian columns: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Unusual? Perhaps. Resourceful? Definitely.

I asked if I could take a photo, and she moved her paint can out of the way. But it tipped over and oozed green onto a marble step. The post office stairs are strewn with half-filled coffee cups, dried chewing gum and unidentified grit. Still, Fagan Smith was intent on cleaning up the spill. She used a Gotham Writers Workshop catalog to usher paint back into the can.

I had a lot more questions, but she was busy and I had to tend to my own appointed rounds.

When she told me look her up online, "Monique Fagan Smith. World wide web. Google," I was admittedly skeptical. But, I followed through and found out there's more to this artist than meets the eye.



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I have a hard spot about that post office. It is one of the saddest places in NYC. Went with BF to buy some pretty stamps... impossible to get anything like a pretty stamp. The philately window wasn't open... apparently it's only open 2 hours a day, but they don't tell you which two hours.

And when I tried to buy pretty stamps in a neighborhood post office, I got yelled at when I dared ask if it was possible to buy a nice stamp that's not part of a plate of stupid stamps.

USPS: phooey!

PS: the museum thingy was closed too.

Sent by Marc Naimark | 6:48 PM | 6-20-2008