By James Maher
Name: Wendy Scripps
Occupation: Owner, Art on A Gallery and Wendigo Productions
Location: Sidewalk Cafe, East 6th Street and Avenue A
Time: 5 pm on Saturday, July 25
I was born and raised in Northern California. I didn’t fit in so I moved to New York and found out that I could fit in here, because basically on the Lower East Side they didn’t really care as long as you didn’t mess with anybody. I’ve been in this neighborhood for just over 30 years. My parents were living on the Upper West Side and I lived there for about a year but then moved down here when I was about 21 or 22 years old.
I got downtown and it was what people would consider scary but I really loved it because it was very raw. I felt back then that people always had your back — friends and neighbors. Nobody had cellphones and there weren’t cameras everywhere, but everybody watched out for each other. People would look out the windows and if somebody they knew on the block was getting harassed they would come out with baseball bats and chase them away.
If the cops were going to do a cleanup, it got through the neighborhood and people would hide out. People who were doing illegal things would disappear for a few days and then everybody was back on the streets. It was a serious community and it was a very mixed community because you had your punk rockers, your rock and rollers, the hardcore scene, plus you had the neighborhood people, who were born and raised here for generations. You had the Puerto Ricans and the Hispanic community and there was the Jewish community still here pretty much.
My parents were both in the arts, but it was just something that was in me. My father used to take me to rock 'n' roll shows when I was young. My first show was The Last Waltz with the Band back in San Francisco, and ever since then my dad started taking me to rock 'n' roll shows. He passed away in 2007. On his deathbed he told me — he yelled at me — that if I didn’t do something in rock 'n' roll, he’d kick my ass. So I said, ‘OK dad, I’ll definitely do it. Give me a few years and I’ll figure out what I’m going to do.’
I own the Art on A Gallery on Avenue A between Second Street and Third Street and I’m the CEO of Wendigo Productions. We do underground films, characters and stuff like that, and also we are rock 'n' roll promoters. So I’m a busy lady. I work with local artists from the neighborhood and this immediate area.
I really love it here but when I go home sometimes from show at five in the morning I actually feel more nervous going home these days than I did back then. There are all these self-absorbed young people walking around with attitudes on their shoulders like they’re better than anybody. I’m a high school dropout, I never went to college, but I’m in three businesses, I own my apartment. I’m starting a nonprofit to help artists in the neighborhood so they can actually still stay in the neighborhood. I don’t want to be the last of my East Village family.
One thing that I love about New York — you walk down the street and hear every language. You can tell when they’re just visiting and you can tell when they’re living here just by how they react to you when you’re walking down the street. I get a lot of reaction because of my tattoos – I still get people looking at me very strange in the neighborhood and I’m like, what? I’m an old punk... That’s the only reason why I left California because I was born punk rock. Not a hippie. I just didn’t get along with the hippie mentality even when I was a small child. I just didn’t get it.
My mom explained something to me about why I probably feel so at home here — it was because my great grandfather grew up here. I didn’t know who he was until my 30s. His name was Samuel Gompers. He grew up in this neighborhood as an immigrant with his aunt and his uncle and a brother. He rolled cigars and swept floors. When he grew up he became one of the major union organizers in the country and he helped found Labor Day. So I feel like, when some young kid goes to me, ‘You know who my father is?’ I go, ‘Well you know who my great grandfather is?’ There have been a few times where I’ve said, ‘I’d like to punch your father in the face because you’re an asshole.’
You get to know your neighbors in New York. You get to know the people in your buildings. You get to know your bartenders, your favorite waitresses, your favorite chefs, your favorite restaurants, your favorites bars and clubs to hang out in. There’s a connect. It’s like everybody pretty much knows every other person and I like that. It’s like a large family. It’s very comforting.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.