It all started on the second floor of a library.
In 2008, legendary Brooklyn street photographer Lucille Fornasieri Gold donated a collection of her snaps of the borough in the 1970s and ’80s to the Brooklyn Historical Society. And ever since, Julie May, the museum’s head of collection management and interim director of library, has wanted to do an exhibition of the works. But it wasn’t until May heard that artist and historian Nell Irvin Painter had filled her studio with many interpretations of Gold’s photographs, after discovering the images on the second floor of the Historical Society library, that a show finally came together in her mind.
“While both artists’ work have found their way out into the world with and without our help, the double billing seemed a great opportunity to showcase the work and our organization’s collections,” said May, who is the curator of the exhibition, “She Said, She Said,” which opens at the museum of June 26. “These are two mysterious, creative, and bold women.”
When Painter first stumbled upon Gold’s photos in 2008, she was already trying to find ways to incorporate material from the Brooklyn Historical Society’s holdings into her own work. Gold, who was born in Bay Ridge in the 1930s, documented the sincerity of everyday life — musicians in the street, kids at the beach, women in the streets, couples in embrace — in diverse Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Painter said she found Gold’s photographic eye to be filled with earnestness and even innocence. Those qualities, and the racial diversity of the subjects in Gold’s work, drew her in immediately.
“Her work isn’t ironic or cynical in the way of much contemporary art, but it also isn’t sappy,” she said.
Painter has not just recreated Gold’s images — she has transformed many of them in distinct ways of her own. For instance, all Gold’s photos are in black and white, while Painter often invents non-naturalistic colors for her pieces, she said.
“I compose my compositions digitally, so they are flat and read like collages,” said Painter. “Her photos are representational, with depth and volume and perspective. Our uses of space are very different.”
And although Painter continues to document Brooklyn in her art, the artist — who lives in Newark, New Jersey — said she is disconnected from the actual borough, because her Brooklyn resides in Lucille’s photographs — old Brooklyn.
May said the collaborative exhibition highlights how inspirational and influential the borough-bred works in the library’s collection can be.
“I have strived to build and expose a dynamic photography collection by which we can see a diverse perspective of our many versions of Brooklyn and foster more relationships like that of Nell and Lucille’s,” said May.
“She Said, She Said: Art and Inspiration in the Work of Nell Painter and Lucille Fornasieri Gold” at Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont St. between Clinton and Henry streets in Brooklyn Heights, www.brookl