This Tree That Men Chopped Down

Wythe Hotel Commission

This Tree That Men Chopped Down, 2012                                                                                                                     Ink on Canary Paper, 114" x 72"                                                    

A large-scale drawing commissioned by the Wythe Hotel, depicting historical elements of Williamsburg, Brooklyn's past, as well as former incarnations of the barrel factory turned hotel, and political rumblings of the time it was drawn. Title references Betty Smith's 'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn'. 

Content Key

1.    Beavers throughout the drawing reference the neighborhood’s historic fur industry. 

2.    Cyrillic: Laugh now, cry later. 

3.    The Greenpoint Terminal Market burned down in 2006.  Its former elevated walkways linking the buildings inspired inclusion of Venice’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’.

4.    Pigeons populating the Greenpoint Terminal Market Building refer to intended pigeon coop project Duke Riley and Ra were planning before the fire.  Ra, the king of the squatters, occupied the building for several years and built a used clothing design and resale empire.

5.    Many beavers in the drawing wear lederhosen in reference to original dominantly German population of Williamsburg.

6.    Chinese:  I’m ugly but I’m tender

7.    Nautical flags spell out the title of the drawing- “This tree that men chopped down…” from ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' which is set in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. 

8.    Cheap Charlie’s, still a discount store on Manhattan Avenue, is mentioned in ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’.  The book mentions that despite the name, it wasn’t cheap.  Still isn’t. 

9.     Silk worms throughout reference the mulberry trees planted up and down Berry Street in an attempt to make Williamsburg a new silk capital while curbing dependence on imports from Asia. 

10.  Hessian Soldiers from the Revolutionary War

11. Mappo, the unofficial mascot of Duke Riley’s tattoo shop, East River Tattoo, belongs to Mark Cross, a former tattoo artist at East River.

12.  Polish: The hunter becomes the hunted.

13.  Beavers are the only animals other than man that actively destroys their environment.

14.  Some of the biggest offenders of the “1%” whose despicable business practices contributed to the collapse of the US economy are featured here being executed for treason. 

15.  Several wild dogs depicted represent packs of wild dogs that used to roam the neighborhood (see 36).

16.  80 Wythe was originally built as a cooperage—a barrel factory.  The current hotel entrance was curved to accommodate a chute for barrels. 

17.  The original cooperate at 80 Wythe burned down in June of 1900, killing 6 workers.  The current building was erected a year later in 1901.

18.  80 Wythe most recently housed the Newcastle Fabric Corporation.

19.  Various tags and graffiti were prevalent in the mid-90’s (when Riley lived in the neighborhood) especially in the abandoned buildings along the Brooklyn waterfront, until they were finally knocked down.

20.  Riley added an extra floor to the top of the hotel to accommodate himself. 

21.  Cynthia Moths hatched from silkworm caterpillars.

22.  Since 1886, Rosenwach Wood Tanks has supplied New York City with the iconic water tower.  They are one of only twosurviving wood tank makers in New York.    

23.  The century-old Old Dutch Mustard Building, also designed by 80 Wythe architect Theobald Englehardt, was knocked down in 2006 to build condos.

24.  In addition to ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’, Duke Riley read Just Kidz by Patti Smith while creating this drawing.

25.  The Moon, from the Rider Waite Tarot

26.  The mega-luxury highrises at Northside Piers have been plagued by accusations of shoddy construction since their opening in the post-zoning change Williamsburg.  Residents complain of leaky walls, poor insulation, mold, faulty plumbing, faulty sewage system, ineffective air conditioning and the fact that wind and rain easily blow through the window seams.

27.  Re-occurring Duke Riley Imagery: Half fish/half woman character that he tattooed on his friend, Röbynn Europe.

28.  The L train

29.  Re-occurring Duke Riley Imagery: a pair of parking tickets

30.  The Augusta: Duke Riley’s sailboat, docked nearby.

31.  The Maria(h): Riley’s friend Pete’s sailboat, also docked nearby.

32.  Chinese: Made in America

33.  The logs floating in the river depict the siren piano bar scene in chapter 11 of James Joyce’s Ullyses.  In his version, Riley drew Joyce into the scene, sitting at the bar.

34.  Schaefer Brewery operated in Williamsburg from 1916 to 1976. 

35.  Deep sea Anglerfish

36.  The saw spelling out M. Balzer represents Duke Riley’s first New York employer, who was attacked by a pack of wild dogs, while leaving his woodshop on the corner of Berry and Grand. 

37.  The mythical Fiji mermaid, half monkey, half fish, was a sideshow hoax popularized by PT Barnum in the 19th century. 

38.  In 2007, Duke Riley was arrested and detained under suspicion of terrorism when his homemade submarine replica of the Revolutionary War ‘Turtle’ breached the Queen Mary 2’s security zone in Red Hook, Brooklyn. 

39.  Re-occurring Duke Riley Imagery: Sebastopol’s Gravenstein apples and blossom for Kitty Joe Sainte-Marie.

40.  This former NYC tugboat occupied a lot down the street from Duke’s granny’s house up in Cape Cod.  Also depicted in Beach 98th  Street MTA subway station in faceted glass.

41. Gutman--the landlord responsible for the ‘suspicious’ fire that burnt down the Greenpoint Terminal Market Building in 2006.

42.  Trash in the water based on actual neighborhood trash noticed by Riley.