Ringolevio - 68 Jay Street: As Dale Kaplan Prepares to take the helm of Dumbo Direct, she looks back on her twenty-four years in the neighborhood.
Isaac Myers III
Issue No. 4 - Summer 2018.
Let's say the weather is crisp and clear. It's the middle of October, and Halloween is two weeks away. You're not sure what you'd like to dress as for Halloween, or whether you'll dress up at all. If you have children, you're not sure what they'll want to be for the holiday, or how much time and energy you'd like to expend to help them prepare.
You're in a house on Fire Island and alone for a long weekend, and although it's no longer peak season, you're happy to be there, near the beach; and with the window near your bed slightly open, you can feel a soft breeze move across the island and into your bedroom. Outside the leaves have already started to change and fall, and although they're not quite in the full stunning hues of red and orange, you know that those mornings are only a few weeks, if not days away.
It's early, a few minutes before six, and the sun hasn't quite found its place in the sky, though it will soon. And although you don't have to be up and at a desk at any particular time today, you'd like to get up, and have a coffee, and take a look through the novella that you've been leafing through since you checked into the house two afternoons ago. But right now it's Saturday, and more than anything, you'd like to blend the experience of being outside in the crisp and cool autumn air with the feeling of being inside and cozy, resting well and sipping coffee and reading while still in bed.
If the year were 1996, and if you had ever received or looked through a copy of Garnet Hill's catalog, you would have noticed a solution to your slight quandary ––– wanting to be in bed and inside, while at the same time outside and amongst the trees and leaves. As you flipped through the catalog, Dale Kaplan's work would have caught your interest. "I was the first person to use heat sublimation on sheeting," Kaplan says, "and it made it look like somebody opened the window, and leaves and flowers fell onto the bed. It was a very new look."
Heat sublimation, or heat transfers, is a straightforward process. Kaplan would take leaves and flowers and bring them into her studio, and place them in a color copier machine. At one point when we were sitting in Kaplan's studio on the ninth floor of 68 Jay Street, I asked her what object she most enjoyed placing within her color copier machine. She told me that she loved to copy everything and anything. "I loved copying grass, all kinds of seeds, and leaves, and flowers. I loved copying thread, vintage textiles. Words. I made collages with words. I put everything in that machine. I put fruit in that machine."
Although Garnet Hill was years away from being purchased by Home Shopping Network, by the mid-nineties the company had already gained a reputation as one of the premier curators and distributors of bedding, home furnishings, and sleepwear. Kaplan’s sister, Barbara, was receiving Garnet Hill’s catalog at the time, and one day she approach Dale, and suggested that she show Garnet Hill some of her work. Kaplan liked the idea, and after she sent her work to Garnet Hill in 1994. Not long thereafter, a representative reached out to her, and a few months later, she received her first order.
The order was for seventy-two thousand dollars, but in order to secure the work, a representative from Garnet Hill wanted to meet Kaplan, and to confirm that her production and manufacturing process could support a seventy-two thousand dollar order. "I told them that I had facilities in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey. I didn't tell them that that these facilities were my apartment, my friend's apartment, and the back of a tacky t-shirt store." Kaplan invited the representative to meet her at her facilities in Manhattan, at Twenty-sixth Street and Sixth Avenue. "The owner of the store was a guy named David Louse. He let me do all of the production in the back of his store, and he called my sheets vegetarian sheets, because they looked very natural."
Kaplan received the first order in September, and completed the work by that December. Overall, 1994 was a year that she'll always remember, not just because it was the year that she received her first order from Garnet Hill, and truly began gaining traction with her textile business, but even more so, because it was the year that she started working in Dumbo, and in the same building where she still works today, 68 Jay Street.
Before she moved to Dumbo the first machine that Kaplan worked with was located in Park Slope; specifically, it was inside of Park Slope Copy Shop on Seventh Avenue. Each morning Kaplan would have a coffee and go over to Park Slope Copy. “I would go over there everyday, and eventually they even gave me my own section to work out of. I would spend hours there.” She was living in Park Slope at the time, so the location was convenient. I asked her how she found her first studio in 68 Jay Street.
“The Park Slope Co-op had a listing that said there was studio space available in Dumbo, but I had never heard of Dumbo, so I said, Dumbo, what’s that?” Kaplan called the number on the listing and Heather Hutchinson, a visual artist who pays very close attention to natural light, answered. Hutchinson’s studio was on the fifth floor.
“She’s a really good artist. She showed me a lot, and when I asked her how to get to Dumbo, she told me, ‘Well, you get off of the F Train and you walk toward the river.” Hutchinson is from Arizona and was working with beesewax at the time that Kaplan moved-in to the shared studio. “The studio always smelled so good,” Kaplan recalled. I asked here where people went for lunch in Dumbo in 1994. Her answer was that basically, they went to Brooklyn Heights. “I used to go up to Henry Street. Or I would go to the Clark Street Diner, or Cranberry’s.”
I asked Kaplan what Dumbo felt like in 1994, when she stepped off of the F train for the first time at York Street, and started walking toward the East River. “I loved it. I fell so in love with it. It was so quiet and felt like the urban wilderness. It was so quiet and so raw and the views were beautiful.”