The Contract

In June of 1979, they’d leased a raw loft a mile from the school in DUMBO and found steady jobs to buy everything they needed to furnish their home and printshop – Celeste managed the tutoring staff at the art school where she’d just graduated; Ben printed at a large fine art atelier in Manhattan. 

They learned how to build walls, do plumbing, and run electrical lines. When their new etching press was delivered in December, they paid the balance with a personal check, a hundred dollars in cash and ten rolls of pennies. Celeste’s father loaned them $2,500 to buy a used lithography press. They just needed clients.

Ben got the call they’d been praying for one day from the owner of The Printmaking Workshop who’d met an artist who wanted to create new work at a private shop. The artist had a publisher with deep pockets, a partner at an uptown law firm. 

Ben phoned Celeste. “His name is Tzvi Frankel. I’ve never heard of him, but I’m told he’s big in Europe and Israel. He wants to produce a suite of etchings and has a publisher to fund the project. 

Tzvi Frankel could be their first big client and their best chance yet to establish themselves as fine art printers since opening Plymouth Press the previous year. Of the dozen or so ateliers operating in the US, all had been established in the sixties when Ben and Celeste were still in grade school. Printmaking became the hot medium after well-known artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jim Dine started making prints and became affiliated with certain printshops. Ben and Celeste, the new kids in the field, were willing to do just about anything to develop their reputation as printers to the ‘art stars.’

“They’re coming to visit us tomorrow.”

“Have them come after 2pm.”

“Why?”

“All our windows are on the west side so the place looks dark in the morning. In the afternoon, it’s brighter. We need to look our best, right?” Celeste loved when the sun made the three banks of soaring windows in the loft glow like a cathedral. 

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Ben hung up.

The next day Tzvi and his publisher, Harold Silberman arrived by black car. Ben met them outside, ushered the two men up the rickety stairway to the third floor, and through the dark warehouse to their loft.  

When Celeste heard steps in the hallway, she opened the door and stood aside. She wanted them to feel as if they were entering paradise. 

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