Handmade Dollhouse

Over the years, I slowly built this dollhouse. Using balsa wood, cardboard, and scraps salvaged from the garbage, I glued together all the pieces of furniture. Odds and ends – such as bottle caps, fabric scraps, and earrings – enrich the rooms with detail. None of the materials are purchased from a conventional model store. They are all hand assembled as a skill-building exercise in model-making.

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Dollhouse

The Old Essex County Jail

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The old Essex Country Jail sits forlorn and abandoned amidst desolate parking lots and lifeless prefab boxes. In the so-called University Heights “neighborhood,” the jail is testimony to the past. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, this 1837 structure is one of the oldest jails in America. Abandoned for over fifty years, no successful preservation efforts have materialized.
Gradually, the urban jungle of junk trees, vines, and garbage conquers the veritable old fortress. The warden’s garden that zealous prisoners formerly pruned and weeded is now overrun with weeds. Used syringes line the cell-block floors. Not a single window is unbroken. Not a single wall is straight or strong. The rigid geometry defined this urban castle is now blanketed in decay.
Yet, this fortress of old is still a home. A constant trail of homeless squeeze through the rusted barbed wire fencing. They carry with them their few odd valuables, cans to be recycled or shopping bags of discarded clothes. Every night, they sleep in the very cells their luckless brethren slept in decades before. Every day, they aimlessly wander city streets. Ironically, the physical prison of brute force and searchlights has evolved into a metaphorical bastion of poverty. Both prisons, new and old, are refuges for the luckless. As its occupants have changed, so has the prison. Both are ghosts. Both are vanishing.

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Related content

  1. Read my January 2021 article in The Newarker magazine.
  2. Read this July 2020 article from Jersey Digs
    about my exhibit and the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s proposal to reuse this jail site.
  3. Hear my September 2019 interview about this jail and exhibit from Pod & Market.
  4. Explore this jail as an interactive exhibit online.
  5. View this artwork as part of my short film from 2016 called Pictures of Newark.

 

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North Wing (left) and West Wing (right)

West Wing

Warden’s House

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Ruins of Warden’s House Interior

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Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

View more artwork like this about my experiences walking in New York City.
Also featured in the Columbia Daily Spectator in September 2016

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The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine soars above the low-slung tenements and boxy towers that edge up against it. Unfinished it survives; funds have long since dried up in our era of secularism and consumerism. Yet powerful it stands; solid stone will outlive the concrete and glass city. The cathedral’s soaring jagged silhouette seems to proclaim against the soot that darkens its façade and the urban din that drowns out the sanctity of silence: Come weather, wind, or rain, I will stand.

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