Carole Teller — Photographer, and Artist

Carole Teller

Carole Teller’s rich collection of photographs of our neighborhoods over the last half century, which she generously donated to GVSHP, have created quite the buzz on the web of late, with coverage in Lonely Planet, the U.K Daily Mail, NBC, Time Out NY, Gothamist, Curbed, World Journal, and Untapped Cities, among many others.

But who is Carole Teller, and where does all this talent come from?  We’ve known the artist, photographer, and self-described “retired teacher with a life at the Salmagundi Club and eyes on the Village” for years, but we thought we’d share a little insight with you, particularly about her true passion — painting, in many cases the same striking streetscapes she has photographed over the years.

Carole  is a true New Yorker, having been born and raised in Brooklyn before eventually settling into the East Village.  To her, living in Manhattan was always her goal. “Manhattan was always the place to go to…it was a rare treat to go to Manhattan.  As an adult my dream was to live in Manhattan.”

“Room with a View,” painting by Carole Teller.  Image courtesy of Gallery 71.

For over 50 years, Carole has called the East Village her home, having moved in when the area was seen as blighted and dangerous, and sticking around to see it go through tremendous change.  As she describes it:

“When I got married we moved to 4th St. and 1st Ave. because my husband was going to NYU medical school, I was teaching in Brooklyn, this was in the middle, nobody wanted to live there because it was a slum, and they built this Mitchell-Lama Housing for middle-income people that they couldn’t give away because the neighborhood was dangerous.  So we got a very, very nice apartment there.  It was temporary because he was going to finish his degree and we would move on.  Well, we did move on, he moved away and we got divorced and I stayed put.  So the temporary became a little bit more than temporary, and I’ve been there since, 50 years.”

However, the building has a perk that Carole loves.

“I live on the 18th Floor, with a view that is magnificent.  It has been the most fortunate part of living on 1st Ave. & 4th St.  Up until recently, it had a vast view looking west off my balcony.”

“The Snow Has Fallen,” painting by Carole Teller.  Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers.

While living in the East Village, Carole worked as an art teacher, beginning her career in Bed-Stuy and eventually finishing it on Governor’s Island.

“I taught art in Bedford-Stuyvesant for 26-27 years, and then a friend of mine became a principal on Governor’s Island and she was able to get me a position there, which was like being put out to pasture, because it was lovely and green and you didn’t have to lock your car door.  I called it the ‘Cupcake School’ because all the mothers made cupcakes and they called you ma’am.  It was all very lovely, polite, Midwest comes to New York.”

Though after retiring from full-time teaching, Carole took on a part-time art teacher role at PS. 41 in Greenwich Village, adding Village teacher to her resume.

“When the government closed down the Coast Guard base [on Governor’s Island], I retired because it just seemed to hit the magic numbers to be able to retire.  I was offered a part-time job in the Village at Ps. 41.  So I went from Bed-Stuy to the Midwest to Greenwich Village.  All different kinds of experiences.”

Washington Square Arch Wrapped by Artist Francis Hines, 1980. From GVSHP’s “Carole Teller’s Changing New York” collection in our historic image archive.

It was after her full-time teaching career ended that Carole really began focusing on her own work.  While we have helped to promote Carole Teller the photographer, many people who know her are more familiar with Carole Teller the painter.  In fact, many of Carole’s paintings are sourced from the photos she has taken, preferring to work from a photograph rather than sitting and sketching.  A fan of representational work, Carole owes the Salmagundi Club for helping to encourage her life as an artist.

“I went to Pratt, where I learned to be an abstract expressionist, but it really wasn’t my nature.  The Salmagundi Club allowed me to have my true nature come out, which was representational art.  I like to tell stories, just like I like to photograph and document life.  I don’t see abstract things, I see actual things.”

In fact Carole has found a new life and success as a painter at Salmagundi, and is even one of their most sought-after artists by collectors.

“When you teach all those years, you could do a little work but the concentration really was on work, it wasn’t on doing art work.  Now that I retired from the Board of Education, the Salmagundi Club afforded me the opportunity to test my skills to see if I could do anything, if I had any skill or ability.  And it turned out to be far more successful than I ever expected it to be.  And it’s a lovely group of people, most of who had worked and wanted to test their skills and create artwork that was of a certain acceptable level, not amateurish.”

One of Carole’s photos from the GVSHP collection and one of Carole’s paintings.

She owes a lot of her success to the historic Village art club, as despite being much less known within the art world, she finds the club’s atmosphere and the camaraderie of the members help make it much more accessible as a place to work and gather with like-minded individuals.

“It’s much more laid-back despite the fact that it looks elegant.  The people who belong are not the moneyed class.  They’re very ordinary people who love art or do art and because it was started by the illustrators of the late 19th Century, when they had a club it was a men’s club, and when they saw the artwork of the armory show in 1913-all the abstract that was coming from Europe-they saw a threat to their livelihood because they did illustration, representational art.  So if abstract was going to be the wave of the future, they would not be.  The club was made to be for representational art only, which served very well for that time but because abstract art became the major interest in the art world, the Salmagundi became the backwater.  The art world isn’t into us; they don’t know about Salmagundi, we might as well be Brigadoon.  It is just another world, it is a happy little world because we all appreciate representational art, and we hope that the real art world will appreciate it too someday.  All things come around.”

“Brooklyn Bridge at Sunset,” painting by Carole Teller. Image courtesy of Gallery 71.

Carole Teller the painter may be part of the Salmagundi Club, but Carole Teller the photographer’s life thrives at GVSHP.  She credits this success to Andrew Berman, who she affectionately refers to as her “Theo Van Gogh,” the brother of Vincent Van Gogh, who was the art dealer that promoted Vincent’s works to success and popularity.  Carole’s photographs may have been a gift to GVSHP, but getting to know Carole-the outspoken artist and observer of Village life- has been an even greater gift.

If you are interested in purchasing one of Carole’s photos, click here.

You can also see some more of her paintings here.

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Matthew Morowitz