It is a well-known and celebrated fact that countless visual artists have lived and worked in Greenwich Village over the years. These talented individuals have made the neighborhood their home, drawn to the historic architecture and vibrant culture spurred by fellow creatives.
One artist, perhaps lesser known in the mainstream but certainly influential within her niche field and as a Villager, was the ceramicist Carol Janeway. A native New Yorker, she was born in Brooklyn in 1913 and studied lithography in London and Moscow for several years as a young woman. She settled in Greenwich Village as a budding artist in 1939, and for the next decade, gained recognition for her intricate, decorative tile work. For the majority of her career, she crafted wares for Georg Jensen Inc., a department store located at 667 Fifth Avenue (the store remained at this location until 1968). But while her designs were primarily marketed to the uptown society set, her roots were squarely in the Village.
Janeway’s first studio was located at 67 West 3rd Street, and by late 1945 she had relocated her studio and associated shop to 46 East 8th Street, indicated with signage featuring the fanciful, colorful birds that became her signature. In April of 1949, hearing rumblings of NYU and other developers’ intent to lease and redevelop much of East 8th Street and the surrounding blocks, she proactively relocated her studio to 113 West 10th Street, one of the buildings that bookends the entrance to Patchin Place. This important move to what would be her last public studio was also the impetus for the launching of her new identity as a preservationist.
Janeway announced her retirement from producing ceramics in 1950 at the age of 37, citing failing health due to lead poisoning caused by her work (yet she continued to fill orders for decorative tiles and dinnerware from her Milligan Place apartment through the 1960s). Perhaps prompted by the NYU kerfuffle, or becoming enamored with Greenwich Village’s unique and historical streetscapes, such as the idyllic Patchin Place, Janeway shifted her focus to advocacy work. She helped to found Community Board 2, one of the first community boards in New York City, and passionately fought for the preservation of both Patchin Place and the adjacent Mulligan Place, a full fifteen years before the Landmarks Preservation Commission came into existence. Her contemporaries were the likes of Jane Jacobs, Doris Diether, and Margot Gayle, all fierce women to whom we owe much of the founding of the preservation movement in Greenwich Village and New York City.
During this same period, the poet e.e. cummings also called Patchin Place home (he lived at no. 4 for four decades, until his death in 1962). Apparently, Cummings was among those who joined up with Janeway and the others in a grassroots effort to thwart Robert Moses’ plan to demolish the Jefferson Market Courthouse building. They were successful, and today it is the Jefferson Market Library.
Janeway made her mark on the Village in more ways than one. Her efforts as a preservationist during the early days of the movement helped shape the Greenwich Village Historic District. Her designs created for Josiah Wedgwood & Sons, the famed British fine china manufacturer, were displayed at the Brooklyn Museum as part of a 1948 exhibit, and today, her work is featured in the permanent collections of the Cooper-Hewitt and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Many more of her tiles can very likely still be found at fireplace surrounds and kitchen backsplashes in private homes throughout the greater New York area.
Want to explore more about artists in our neighborhoods? Check out our “Artists Homes and Haunts” tour within Village Preservation’s Greenwich Village Historic District: Then & Now map, which includes photographs and histories of many of the people and places who created their art in this neighborhood. Our advocacy efforts in the area South of Union Square have uncovered a great deal more nearby… an ongoing and ever-expanding resource!