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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Artist Naima Rauam has been painting and sometimes living in the South Street Seaport for 30 years, but now it’s time to say good-bye. Pier 17, where she has had a studio since 2005, will close on Sept. 9 prior to being torn down. Rauam’s gallery on the second floor of Pier 17 will also close.
She is holding a farewell exhibit in her gallery from Aug. 28 to Sept. 9, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. On Aug. 28, there will be a reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for handshakes, hugs, wine and cheese, and maybe a few tears.
“Come celebrate the past and welcome a new future!” she says on her invitation.
But the past is far clearer to Rauam, 67, than the future. She has had around 30 shows of her work in the last 40 years. This may be her last.
Twice in her life so far, she found a home — once, as a child when she first visited New York City and loved it instantly, and once when she came to the South Street Seaport in the mid-1960s — again, love at first sight.
“I connected with New York City when I was eight or ten years old,” said Rauam, who was raised in Washington, D.C. “My mother and my grandmother and I would come up here on visits and we stayed with friends in Jackson Heights. They were on the L line and I adored hearing that train clatter by the window. It gave me such a sense of comfort! And I knew that I was a native New Yorker and then I went back to D.C., which I don’t care a whit about. If I never see D.C. again, who cares?”
She had that same sense of connection with the Seaport.
“The moment I came here — it was 1966 — it was an instant click,” she said.
After her studies at the Art Students League and marriage, she moved to Maine, but visited the Seaport. In 1982, her husband got sick.
“We came back to New York from Maine and when he died, the first thing I did was head for the fish market because it was home base,” she said. “It was comfort and it’s been like that ever since.”
For years, Rauam lived in the Seaport and painted its old buildings and the fishmongers whose work began at sunset and ended at dawn. She, too, kept fish market hours.
“Although the fish market is gone and I still grieve for them, their ghosts are still here and the old buildings are still here and the history and the waterfront is still here,” she said.
The windows of Rauam’s gallery on Pier 17 frame the Brooklyn Bridge, which has inspired some of her recent work. After Pier 17 closes down, Rauam will be working from her apartment on the Lower East Side.
“I don’t have a sense of where to go so I don’t think it’s going to benefit me just to go someplace at random,” she said. “I looked at studio space last week and I went inside and I said, you know, this has no connection to me. I don’t feel anything. There’s no reason for me to be here. I could be here or in Brooklyn or the Bronx or in Kansas. I don’t just want to stumble into a space that may or may not work. I want to finish my Seaport work at home. I have some commissions to do — and then see what kind of new direction I want to take.”
She said that she hopes she can develop her artwork and “be an artist of stature in terms of doing really good work and being recognized for it.”
She said that she knows she wants to paint Coney Island, which she visited frequently 15 or so years ago.
“I would go on summer evenings and absorb the scene and do sketches and take photos and think about compositions,” she said. “I haven’t had time to develop that. I find myself connected with the old Coney Island, especially at night. I’ve gotten really interested in night scenes and I love New York at night.”
Rauam thought of calling her upcoming show “The Last Hurrah” but decided that was too maudlin.
She doesn’t know what the future will bring, but she said, “I live in New York City! That’s good. The five boroughs — to me, there’s just no place else to live. This is the center of the universe and the Seaport has been my little corner of it that I’m just so comfortable in.
“What life will be like afterward, I have no idea. Maybe it’ll be OK. Maybe I’ll go on to bigger and better things. Who knows?”
After Sept. 9, Rauam’s artwork will be available through her website, www.artpm.com. She will also accept commissions for special order artwork.