Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Russian & My Friend

What a thrill when fate engineers reconnection with a good friend after long years. In younger days, a time I often think of as our salad days, I lived for some years in New York’s Greenwich Village spending the days and nights with a circle of friends impossible to forget. Some of those friends are sadly no longer here and some I eventually lost touch with, but happily there are a few who remain close despite the miles between. For a while during my New York days I was involved with work in theater design, thinking for a short time I might become a scenic designer. One of my friends was at the time a busy designer, often working on two plays at once and in need of a willing assistant. During that time I met another struggling designer who in time became a daily pal-around buddy, one of those people who sound a chord signaling immediate rapport. Eventually, I made a decision to leave New York and for a long, long time Jim and I remained out of touch. A month ago we reconnected.

Jim never left New York, never deviated from his drive to become a theatrical designer, and shortly after I left New York, steady work began to come his way, lasting over the usual ups and downs to become a long career. He trained as a painter at the School of Visual Arts, studied stage design at the Yale School of Drama and worked for over thirty years as a set designer and scenic artist. His stage work includes designs for Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theatre, the Hartford Ballet, Off Broadway productions and film work as a scenic artist on over fifty films. He is currently lecturing on stage design.

The program on Jim’s calendar these days is a lavishly illustrated lecture chronicling the career of Boris Aronson, one of the American theater’s most innovative designers. The lecture is titled “Kiev to Broadway: The Creative Journey of Stage Designer Boris Aronson,” and begins with the young Russian designer’s days in his native Kiev before immigrating to America in 1923. He began his work in this country with the Yiddish Theater, working later with the famed Group Theater, and in his prime creating the sets for Broadway hits such as Cabaret, Company, Follies and Pacific Overtures.

The poster above is one Jim designed for publicity purposes, a design which incorporates the style of Russian Constructivism that influenced Aronson in his early years. The sketch of his design for the 1925 production of The Final Balance is small and difficult to discern but is a classic example of Constructivism.

For a week or more I looked forward to the poster, but was unprepared for the small and delightful sketch I found inside the wrapping. I know nothing at all about this sketch other than it being a work dated September 16, 2000. I have to think it is something my friend did offhand between jobs. Not sure if it occurred to Jim in sending it, but it's something that will quickly go to the framer’s.


  1. What a joy to reconnect with an old friend--which is exactly what happened to us after growing up together and going through a period when our lives took separate paths. And you've given me something else to explore: the work of Jim Steere. And his work being theatre and film means I will eat up everything I read.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I just reconnected to my very first friend. My mother & her mother shared a room when we were born. And our mothers became best friends. We started writing & calling a few years back after years of not knowing where each other were. I'm going on a road trip to Amish country where she lives. Very excited she's an artist and she has a chicken named Claudia . Bill sounds like you had an exciting life in the village. Would have loved to have been there. I look forward to reading your journal. I enjoy Raymond's very much.

  3. It's wonderful to keep up with long ago friends. Don't ever "write them off".

  4. It has helped me, Thank you for sharing this information.
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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America