Duchess of Carnegie Hall Turns 100

Written by Rebecca Harris on . Posted in Arts & Film, Arts West Side Spirit, West Side Spirit.


Editta Sherman.

Photography exhibit showcases her photos of the famous

Editta Sherman, dubbed the Duchess of Carnegie Hall, lived and worked in the Carnegie Hall Artist Studios for more than 60 years, until residents of the unique artists’ community were evicted in 2010 to make way for expanded rehearsal space. Sherman, a photographer and sometimes model best known for her portraiture, met and photographed dozens of famous actors, models, politicians and other celebrities throughout her career.

In celebration of her 100th birthday this month, a collection of Sherman’s photographs and personal memorabilia are on display at 25 CPW Gallery on the Upper West Side. The exhibit, called Editta 100, is free and open to the public through July 29.

What inspired you to move to Carnegie Hall in the first place?
When I moved to Carnegie Hall, it was May 1949. During the war, my husband was getting ill, I had five children and we had a farm. I was looking for a place to live because it was getting to be too much work for me with the five children and all the cows and pigs, so we moved to New York. I was looking for a place to do my photography and I saw this ad in the paper, the New York Times actually, and it said, “Live and work in Carnegie Hall.” So we moved into Carnegie Hall and it was beautiful. It had a beautiful skylight from one end of the room to the other and it was just right for me to use for my photography.

How was it raising such a large family in an artist’s studio?
They were short on studios for classes, so when I moved in with my five children, I would put mattresses on the floor at night for them and we tried to get adjusted to Carnegie Hall. The manager of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts used to rent my studio for two or three hours a day, so in the morning I would have to get the kids out of there, go to the playground, things like that. One morning I was running late and he saw me getting them all together and he said to me “I couldn’t believe what you do with your children, what a wonderful little mother you are.” I was just so pleased.

How did you get your photography career started in New York?
During the war, soldiers were coming to New York and they opened up this little casino where they would have sandwiches and coffee and they would have a star, whichever star was famous at the time. So my husband thought they could send some of these stars over to Carnegie Hall to have photos taken, make prints to sell and give to charity. Sure enough, he spoke to the manager of the casino about me photographing some of the stars and he said, “Oh, what a wonderful idea, Mr. Sherman.” Next thing you know, I was busy photographing. So that’s how I happened to have all these portraits of different stars, like William Buckley and Angela Lansbury. I did some very famous people; one was Paul Newman, who was crazy about my photography.

You lived above Carnegie Hall for most of your life. How did you feel when you and the other artists were evicted?
I lived there for 60 years; we just moved out two years ago. All my years there I never thought about moving out; it was a place that I found very convenient. But then we had to move—they were going to redo the building; it’s so old and the studios needed renovation. They didn’t have enough room for new, young people coming in to study. Some tenants moved out and some were paid to move out.
I decided with a friend of mine who was in the building to try and save Carnegie Hall. She was very good at getting signatures on the street for a petition, the thing went on for many months. We’re feeling very badly about it, because we had that beautiful skylight where I did my beautiful portraits, and it’s not the same now. But now with new talent moving in, in another year or so the building will be completed. I’m kind of sad about that, but this is the way it is and we have to go along with that. But every time I see the building, of course, I get a little sad about it.

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