Baumwoll Archives started as a labor of love. The idea came to me when my partner Andrew Reach and I went to hear Scott Ligon, author of the book “Digital Art Revolution”, and professor and head of the digital art department at Cleveland Institute of art. Andrew was personally invited to hear the lecture. As I sat there with Andrew and listened to Scott speak, I became more intrigued with what he was saying. He was telling the audience that we live in a new age, an age where everything is becoming accessible to all through digital technology and the internet. Through his presentation he showed us the power of giving back what we have by sharing and giving it away and by doing so, will be amazed at what will come back to you. Instead of hoarding anything, release it and let it be free to live on, way beyond the life we are living today. Before this digital age, most things were lost. That’s why so many of us are now being able to reconnect with the family histories we lost because of the ease of research through the internet with geneaology. When the lecture was over, and Andrew and I were talking with Scott and his wife, I let Scott know that he inspired me and I was going to go home and try to allow myself to let go of all that I was holding on to.
And so I began and that was the spirit that was the birth of this blog. Since I had no plan, my idea was to share all that I had and to try and make all the photographs that I could find of Edgemere and Far Rockaway live beyond any one person or website. Being an eclectic person, I also began to share all the things I have been collecting from my 62 years on this planet. For any of you who don’t have children, you will understand. “What will happen to all the things I’ve collected?” I wanted them not to be lost and forgotten. There are no children to leave them to.
I began going through my drawers and old paper and was amazed at what I had. I started the blog doing posts about Edgemere and Far Rockaway as I searched for my own family history, reflecting and reconnecting with my past. As any of you have followed my blog, I’m a man that has learning disabilities. It was always about being in the present and finishing the one thing I was trying to do, never reflecting on where it would take me to next. So with each new post and each new picture that I added, I was excited that the task was done and that the photograph was saved. I got a great response from people.
I began saving Skip Weinstock & Carol Marston’s photos from their sites Rockaway Beach Reunion Website and More Old Rockaway Photos respectively since the beginning of the internet, never imaging at the time that I would someday put them on a blog. I also began saving every photo on the internet and everything that sold on ebay related to the memories of Rockaway that I could find.
When I began saving the photos, I had already begun to sell my collections of movie posters and movie tie -in books and ads from magazines from 1890 to 1970 all through the mail through my company Poster Palace. See, I’m a person who has great difficulty with words as I don’t see words in my head, I see pictures. That’s why for me to get each post done has been a true act of overcoming learning disabilities. By the time I began the blog, technology had changed so much that I was willing to try my own visual experience in the form of making videos that I share on youtube. They are made fast at the speed my brain goes at so that’s how my mind perceives pictures.
As the blog progressed in this four year period, I still did what I’ve always done, to save pictures off the internet, never with an ill intent. My intention was to enjoy the photographs on the journey they take me on and to share them with the people who come to my blog. I’m a very quiet man. I’m taken back and humbled by the fact that 152,111 people have looked at my blog and youtube videos. Typical to my personality, my brain keeps pushing me to expand and my blog has taken on a whole entire other life that I never imagined that I would be doing. I created videos expressing marriage equality that gay and straight people all over the world have looked at. I did a video of the area I live in, The Gordon Square Arts District that the residents of Cleveland have told me they really enjoy and captures the spirit of this place. Being a collector of paper ephemera since I was a boy and a seller of paper ephemera, I had a photo that Margaret Bourke-White took from the air of the Far Rockaway board walk from a 1950’s life magazine. I made a post showing the photo. So many people from around the world came to see it. With such enthusiasm, I decided to create a video of the photographs of Margaret Bourke-White. I created a gallery of all of my paper book movie tie-in books that so many people have enjoyed.
When I began this blog, I wanted my grandfather Nathan Baumwoll and my uncle Max Schulkin’s movies and photographs not to be forgotten. By putting these photos on my blog with their names, they have become indexed on google and other search engines. These are men that died and were forgotten and now they have had a rebirth through this new digital age.
Barbara Cooper contacted me and told me the story of her father Murray Cooper who came for the seasons and stayed on Beach 38th Street and documented life there with his Kodachrome photographs. His last words to Barbara were “Don’t let my pictures be forgotten”. I told Barbara, let me make you post and make you a video of your fathers pictures and he will live again. People now search for Murray Coopers photographs of Far Rockaway. What I got out of doing all of that is the thrill that it will live on.
I have had trouble with one person ever since I turned down his idea of how I should write for him, a story that I suggested for his site. He wanted to tell me how to do it and how many pictures I could use. I have never been good with people trying to control me. And that’s when Andrew said “Why not start your own blog”. From that choice of not listening to him the man that has the other site and giving him my story we have not gotten along. He would not let me join his facebook group. I once again was on the outside. I just kept doing what I have been doing. It was my mistake to take pictures off his site, never really understanding how much his owning them in his own mind meant to him. That is until he made a complaint and had photos taken off my site accusing me of stealing them. Had I really understood, I would have gladly paid for the use of any photograph. At the beginning of our blogs, I gave credit to him and his writers, but no matter what I did, it was not what he wanted. I could not make it right. I am an honorable man, taking no monetary gain; my motive was to share them with the people coming to my blog. If it wasn’t for Skip and Carol inspiring all of us to remember our memories of the Rockaways, we may not even be here having this conversation. We owe much of the credit to them. So I shall not take anything from his site and many of his photos will just disappear again into the vault. I meant no harm to anyone. As far as me trying to be any ones staunchest competitor, I did not even know that we were competing. I learned a long time ago, the only person I have to compete with is myself.
My blog has been evolving for a long time now. My interests being so eclectic, the focus of the blog was not merely only about the Rockaways but so much more. So now I embark on a new journey with my blog, beginning with a name change from Edgemere – Far Rockaway Archives to the Baumwoll Archives. It will continue to be an eclectic mix of all the things that interest me and even new things that come my way and Edgemere and Far Rockaway will always be with me and will also be part of it as well. I will tell stories, use photos and books from around the world and create new videos to keep evolving and keep going forward but most of all to keep going.
For any of you that read my blog, much of it has been dedicated to my life partner of 34 years, Andrew Reach. The gravity of his illness and the daily obstacles he goes through to get through each day inspires me to stay present, keep going on and take nothing for granted. Just as my blog is a way of giving back to the world we also give of Andrew’s art to the world to help others. Andrew put out a 2012 calendar of his art and we donated hundreds of them to children’s hospitals around the United States: St Judes Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC and Children’s Hospital Boston at Harvard. These hospitals don’t only have small children but older kids and teenagers. This group of kids have outgrown the children’s art that dominates these facilities and the hospitals gave the calendars to this older group to bring a little color and joy to their stays.
We find what Scott Ligon taught us is the way to go in life. Give it all up to the new world. It’s really amazing how much has come back to us. The Baumwoll Archives is a place that will keep growing and changing. I have been working on collecting Jewish paper ephemera; items and photos from books from all over the world, things that most people have not seen in one place, things that were lost in the holocaust and somehow saved. Without the new technology of the digital age, most of us would never see them and they would be lost, locked in books in libraries around the world. I have been able to find my family We are from Warsaw Poland we were in the same districts since the 1700’s, I have found there graves and stones all in the cemetery in Warsaw. So much has come back to me.
Andrew’s art continually keeps expanding and we have been asked to write our life story, a story of love, commitment, reinvention and inspiration. We donate his art to many different places to help raise money for important causes.
We were just honor by a young girl from make a wish, Who made the wish that she wanted his art.
Nothing really belongs to any of us. It’s here and then it is pasted down. Again it’s hard when someone slanders you. Yet what can you do? One must keep going. Again if I used any of your photo graphs that any one does not wish me to use please let me know and I shall not and will take it off my site. I shall never sell any photos from the rockaways for money. I have been asked by organizations and private people to create small films for them. So onward I go, to a new change, the Baumwoll Archives.