Mabel O. Wilson: 21 Questions


Photo-Illustration: Suppression; Photo: Dario Calmese

New YorkThe “21 Questions” column is back with a look at creative New Yorkers. Mabel O. Wilson recently wrote about MoMA’s “Rebuild: Architecture and BlacknessI belonged to the design team at the exhibition the Memorial of slave workers With UVA.She also Professor At Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Conservation and Planning Starting from the past: Construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (2016) and Black Buildings: Black Americans in the World of Trade Fairs and Museums (University of California Press, 2012).

name: Mable O. Wilson
Year: 58
neighborhood: Washington heights
Profession: Academic, historian, curator, designer, founder of Studio &

What’s hanging on the sofa?
So, because it’s a wall that gets a lot of morning light, nothing actually hangs on the sofa. I have a lot of photos and prints, so they are all on paper and can’t stand exposure to such UV light. But next to the sofa, I have a very large poster (like 4 x 5 feet) of an image from the Caribbean island artist David Hart.

What was your first job in New York?
I worked for Robert AM Stern for two years. I was a junior designer working on a variety of projects and even more unusual projects, like a really cool redesign of a penthouse in Tokyo. I also worked on his luxury home. Working on this kind of project for high-end clients who will eventually become billionaires has given us a critical view of who has the power to build in this country. And there were a lot of questions about it, then I got my M.Arch in Colombia. One of the papers I wrote, an early work that critically considered the environment in which I was built, was about these subdivisions I worked on.

What color are you always attracted to?
I usually like red and magenta. They are just warm, they are tropical, they are usually great. I always liked the combination. I have a vintage Eames Comfort Sofa in these colors that I bought from a thrift shop in Auckland. Alexander Girard’s fabric is painted in a pattern that is no longer made. I had to redo the cushions because the fabric was worn out, but now it’s a shiny fuchsia color.

What are the most amazing arts and artifacts you own?
The work of his uncle’s deceased artist, John Outterbridge. It was a picture I drew when I was in high school. My mother had it in her living room and she gave it to me for my first apartment. It depicts a pulpit preacher preaching to the congregation of the church. Crayon or pastel with a black background. The colors are gold, pale pink and green. That’s pretty cool.

Which New Yorker do you want to associate with?
I want to drink coffee with Maya Wiley. I always enjoyed commenting on her news, but I thought she was also a great candidate for the mayor. I was very excited because she was a lawyer who understood the Black Lives Matter movement, police, and perception, and was a candidate who was not part of the democratic machine.

What was the last thing you made by hand?
I assembled a frame I bought online for a poster designed by 2×4 for a student-sponsored academic labor conference at New York University in the 1990s. If you are a student, faculty member, or assistant, I am very proud to have helped you start a conversation about what it means to understand yourself as a college worker.

Do you own multiple versions?
I’m a kind of serial person, so I own multiple versions of many things. I’ve been collecting plastic type snow globes for at least 25 years and they’re all black. The base is black and the background is usually black. I probably have 30 and they are all small. One has twin towers. I found it on my recent trip to Arizona, but it’s a little harder to find now. When people see them, I ask, “What do you see?” Only one person saw them and said, “Everyone is black.”

Which New York City Museum do you always return to?
My favorite space is the old Whitney. I still like the show in this building.

What’s always next to your computer?
speaker. While I’m at work, I always listen to NPR. When I lived in the Bay Area, I was listening to Michael Krasney at KQED in the morning. Now I’m a big fan of Brian Lehrer. I like to hear what’s happening in the world, but they also interview many creative people, including playwrights and artists. It’s a great background noise.

Where is the best view of the city?
I have a great view from the living room, I have to say. I’m at the end of Fort Washington Avenue and the beginning of Fort Tryon Park. Head north to the park and look up at Nagle Avenue. It’s a very unusual view of the city. You can see the elevated 1-track curve from Inwood to Bronx.

Which building or object do you want to redesign each time you look at it?
I want to redesign the platform of Pennsylvania Station.Me Hate Those things. I don’t like the fact that you have to get off on these very dark and narrow platforms. It only robs the trip of all joy. Moynihan is better, but the old Pennsylvania feels very crowded. In contrast to the monumental locations of the stations in Paris and London, these stations are huge huts that feel like a threshold to the city. The threshold to Manhattan feels like someone’s basement.

What is one of the changes in your area?
Access to college education should be more affordable and more accessible. In general, teachers need more salary and better respect. People will continue to concentrate on the scene, and we don’t have this totally ignorant epidemic!

If I could live anywhere in New York City, where would I live?
Go to Bronx. I really admire that people are very devoted to maintaining their neighborhood and the solidarity of their neighborhood. I’ve always thought that the Art Deco style buildings in the Grand Concourse are pretty cool.

What would you store if it was no longer produced?
Kiehl’s Ultra Face Moisturizer. I’ve been using it since I was 23 or 24 years old. I bought it when it was still made locally. I came to New York and took it home wherever I was.

What do you do to get out of the creative rut?
I never feel that it is a rut that is challenging. The challenge is to get to work. For me, in all sorts of creative processes, writing, designing, I need to crawl into the space, work, think, stay there, and not be distracted. I find it really difficult when there are many demands on time. Two things draw me into that space: N When O.. I’ve been trying to get back to the book I’m working on, but it’s hard because I can’t go and work for just one day.

Where was your first New York apartment and how much was your rent?
West 88th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus. There was a room on the top floor of the brownstone and I think the rent was $ 300. This would have been in 1986. A former colleague’s father owned the house and was a recording engineer. His wife gave a piano lesson, and students were always passing by.

Where in the city would you be alone?
I make good use of public parks in New York City. When I lived on 88th Avenue, I went to Central Park. When I was in Brooklyn Heights, I went to the promenade. When I lived on the riverside, I went to the riverside park. Now I’m going to Fort Tryon Park. All those parks are very different from each other. That’s why the city parks are so wonderful.

What is the worst career advice you have ever received?
The most annoying thing was when I was working for a Princeton company. The partner gave me the first review and told me that I had no ambitions and needed to be more ambitious. Especially when a young African-American woman entered an architectural firm in 1985, I was very surprised that there were less than 150 licensed African-American female architects in the country. What is your ambitious definition? And what am I not doing? So I ignored it. I’m always wondering what happened to that guy.

What did you give to someone if you wish you could get it back?
I lent out my copy of my friend Gaston Bachelard, a painter Space poetry.. I told him it was one of my most valuable books and I needed to get it back, but I never saw it again. I got it as an undergraduate student in UVA architecture. I’m scared to count how many books I have right now, but this was one of the first books that was part of my library and my intellectual foundation. I actually had to get a new copy of it. But I want to get back the original Bachelard book. He is coming to dinner this week. I should ask him, Do you still have the book?

What is your favorite New York restaurant and regular order?
I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but there’s a restaurant called Toast in my old neighborhood near Colombia, and they have really great burgers and french fries. During COVID, Toast Burger was a lifesaver. My friend who lived on me and I was walking to get it and sit in the park.

What descriptive phrase do you need in the obituary headline?
Something back to having a professional ADHD. Maybe it’s: “In the second half of her life, she became a famous video artist” or something like that. I don’t mind teaching, but I always wanted to practice solid art and have time to be in the studio and make things. I really miss being so creative.


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