ARNOLD FRIEDMAN (1874–1946)
A Day at Station Y, 1935
Each, oil on wood panel, 12 x 27 1/2 in.
Signed and inscribed (variously): Arnold Friedman / New York Sta Y / 1935
Friedman’s ties with the U.S. Postal Service lasted over forty years. Indeed, as a clerk at Station Y, the post office branch at Third Avenue and East 67th Street, he worked a forty-eight hour week, performing routine clerical duties such as making out money orders and inspecting claims. For half the week, Friedman would depart his residence in Queens at about 6 a.m. and put in a full day’s work at the post office until arriving home at 3:30 p.m., at which time he would spend the rest of his waking hours in his studio. On the other days, he would adhere to the opposite routine, spending the mornings painting at home until departing for the post office at noon. Although his rigorous schedule and the demands of his job kept him relatively isolated from the buzz and excitement of Manhattan’s art world, Friedman’s desire for economic security, which allowed him to purchase a modest house in Queens for his family, was such that he never thought once of giving up his “day job” to pursue an artistic career.
Friedman’s lengthy tenure at Station Y, as well as the lingering impact of Robert Henri’s belief that artists should paint the commonplace aspects of their immediate environment, are reflected in this set of seven panels executed two years after his retirement. (Friedman may have created this suite of paintings in conjunction with a mural proposal.) In each vignette in the sequence––commencing with droves of customers purchasing money orders at a trio of wickets and ending with a group of carriers weighing their bags before heading out to deliver their mail—Friedman’s skillful manipulation of pose and gesture, as well as color relationships and compositional design, meld together to provide the viewer with an accurate glimpse of his own experiences in a big city post office. Both personal memoir and a depiction of urban life during the Depression era, Friedman’s portrayals of Station Y also underscore his ability to effectively synthesize recognizable subject matter with the simplified forms and flattened pictorial space of Modernism.