Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.


By James Maher

Name: Jane Kelton and Little Egg
Occupation: Musician and Dog Walker
Location: 2nd Avenue Between 4th and 5th
Time: 12:10 on Monday, Jan. 21

I moved here in 1977. I’m from Pennsylvania. I came here because there were a lot of Irish music sessions here and I play Irish music. Although I have a good education, I was never very career-minded. I just cared about music and had college friends who played here. I play wooden flute and tin whistle — traditional instruments.

I still play in sessions to this day and I play professionally a bit. It’s not my living. I’m a dog walker for that. There’s a bar called the William Barnacle Tavern that has sessions on Monday nights at Theatre 80 on St. Marks Place and I play in a local, homey bar called Murphy’s in Sunnyside, Queens. I also play at Dempsey’s — there’s a big session there on Tuesdays.

I’ve done a lot of things. I did a couple of degrees at NYU. I did teaching of English and what’s called an MPhil in Performance Studies, which is everything in a doctorate except a dissertation. Within that program, I was doing folk performance, usually Irish stuff. I’ve taught at NYU. I’ve been a technical writer, and when I got laid off from that, I started the dog walking, which was about 13 years ago. I also went back to school and got a degree in teaching art, but when I got out there just weren’t any jobs.

My thing is textiles: weaving, embroidery. I take my style of dress partly from the old Babushka ladies. I dress old but with a vengeance. Right now I’m very involved in knitting. I did a quilt project with University Settlement, which is a wonderful neighborhood resource for immigrant people. I recently found out through my teacher training that something like my great grand-uncle founded it.

I worked for 10 years, up through 2000, for a Gypsy family on St. Mark's. I worked for them taking care of their children and making clothes for them, which is how I met them. I did a lot of things for them and they had me in to the house all the time. I learned a lot about their cleanliness system, which is very complicated. It has to do with their spiritual principles. They had an intense family life and were very funny. They were just very close and people were always stopping in. They run their businesses on family lines and the marriages were arranged. The family is an economic unit. Their main business is buying and selling cars and the fortune telling is just to get extra money for dinner.

I liked the East Village when it was more run-down. There were more bookstores and more thrift stores and antique places. There were more stores that sold whole grains and more people who did their own cooking. People didn’t go out to eat as a thing around here and there weren’t many places to go. It was a big deal when a place called DoJo came in on St. Mark's. And there was a place on Second Avenue and Seventh Street called Kiev. It was a place like Veselka. Everyone used to go there and have soup at night.

There have always been a lot of lunatics in the neighborhood. Always. There used to be a guy who dressed up like William Shakespeare who lived in one of the Bowery hotels. He would walk around Washington Square Park and down the Bowery. He was just an old alcoholic who liked dressing like William Shakespeare.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.

12 comments:

xootrman said...

I know Jane, although I've learnt a lot more about her through Jame's column. Isn't that always the case with James? We live within a block of each other and she's taken wonderful care of our Dog when we're out of town. She has a wonderfully sunny personality and my only regret is that she has a cat. Our Dog feels that cats have no right to life, let alone nine. Thanks again James.

Anonymous said...

Another great interview! Thank you!!!:D

Marty Wombacher said...

What an interesting woman and another great photo and column! Great work, James!

Gojira said...

Absolutely fascinating. I share her regret at the passing of the interesting and unique in this nabe, and as a counterpart to her William Shakespeare guy offer up Dave, a young man who lived near TSP in 1980, who liked to take pots and pans out of the trash, sew them to his clothes via the handle, and walk down the street clanging away like a knight in armor. Sometimes he wore a pot on top of his head for good measure. Always loved seeing him, but he vanished years ago...

Dan C said...

She's a neighbor of mine (we live in the same building). She's representative of the great group that's still there. I feel like the "junior tenant" sometimes because I've only lived there 24 years!

She is one of the nicest people. Great profile.

12:30pm said...

2nd to last paragraph ditto and +1.

And yes, back then an NYU degree was attainable and one earned it not bought.

And what EV lacks nowadays, albeit the proliferation of bars, are pubs that have seisún. Swift's also have traditional Irish seisún on Tuesday nights, wonder if she plays there too. But like she says, the homely ones are in Sunnyside and Woodside.

Cuimhnigh i gconai. And saol fada chugat, Ms. Kelton.

Goggla said...

It's great to see yet another skilled and creative EVer. I'll definitely have to check out one of her musical sessions.

Anonymous said...

I love this lady and I have never met her! She seems so genuine and smart!

Ivan Robertson said...

This is great, Joseph Mitchell kind of stuff. And the series is shaping up like Harvey Wang's great "New York" (Norton) about a vanishing downtown published in, yikes... 1990.

By the way, the Shakespeare guy reminded me, does anybody remember the guy who used to play bagpipes along 5th Street/Avenue A back in 1989/91?

Urno Talbot said...

Kiev's was wonderful and there was a place called Mother Russia too for good Polish/Russian food.

Anonymous said...

I remember Kiev too---but somehow it never measured up to the old Leshkos :)

I remember the bagpipe guy too and vaguely the guy with a "pot" on his head. Does anyone remember an older guy on a bike with a bell who wore clown makeup and clothes? Is he still around? I've been here since the mid-'80s and really miss the offbeat shit.

I like this feature---keep them coming, James :)

Ivan Robertson said...
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