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Way Before It Was Cool

For four decades, a former synagogue on Hester Street has been a studio, living space, and renovation project for the artists Thomas Nozkowski and Joyce Robins.

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The Easel and Paints: Thomas Nozkowski (pictured) has painted here for 41 years. His current show at PaceWildenstein is his 68th one-man show since 1979; he was in the Venice Biennale this past summer and is included in "Multiplex," now at MoMA.  

We weren’t looking for a cool place to live, says Thomas Nozkowski, sitting in front of his easel. We were looking for a place that cost a hundred dollars a month. Nozkowski, a painter (his show at PaceWildenstein runs through May 3), and his wife, the sculptor Joyce Robins, stumbled across a cardboard for rent sign on Hester Street just as they were finishing their studies at Cooper Union. That the studio was a dilapidated former synagogue didn’t mean as much as the 25-foot ceilings and excellent light.

The property had other lives before the couple, who married in 1967 after art school, moved in. It had housed an underwear factory, a shower-curtain factory, the neighborhood still, a Chinese laundry, and a fabric store. Nozkowski and Robins hauled out five truckloads of trash and did most of the renovations, on a budget of $3,000. Testament to their work: The synagogue turned studio where they worked on their art (and raised their son, Casimir) is unchanged since those first renovations.


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