Art in Tribeca: The PS 234 fence will be restored this year

We knew that work was (finally, after at least five years of planning) starting on the south side of PS 234, but A. read the fine print posted on the Chambers Street side and noticed that the fence is being replaced.

Of course this set us both into a moment of panic, but if the School Construction Authority keeps its word, the plan is to restore the fence, which is adorned with the brilliant parade of silhouetted steel ships in a piece titled “Dreaming of Far Away Places: The Ships Come to Washington Square Market” by former Tribecan Donna Dennis installed in 1988. The project won New York City’s Art Commission Award for Excellence in Design.

The SCA said that the fence that contains the artwork will be removed and restored in accordance with procedures approved by Public Arts for Public Schools. I tried to get more details — where would it go, who was doing the work — but no luck for now. The entire project is scheduled to be done in fall 2024. I will stay diligent on this one, checking in with the SCA regularly.

But back to the art, one of my favorite features in the neighborhood: it includes 14 cut and welded steel panels as well as the 13 ceramic medallions mounted on the pillars between the fence lengths. Dennis intended it to honor the history of Washington Market, which operated on the site starting in 1812 and continued into the 1960s, but she also wanted it to inspire the imagination.

“I wanted to bring this history to life not only for the students but also for others in the community,” Dennis says in her own description of the piece. “I connected with my own childhood, a powerful source for my work, to create the kinds of images that would have set me dreaming then—dreaming of travelling into the past, into the future, travelling to distant places in the world and in my own imagination. My hope was that these images would set others to dreaming their own dreams.”

Among the ships depicted are the Joseph Pulitzer, a plumb-bowed schooner of 1896; the ferry Hunchback as seen in 1959; the Chinese junk named Keying, which appeared in the New York Harbor on July 13, 1847, having left Canton, China 212 days earlier; Robert Fulton’s Clermont, which cast off in 1807 and steamed up the Hudson to Albany, demonstrating the practicability of steamship transportation.

The hand-glazed ceramic medallions expand on the theme of Washington Market, showing views of buildings, stalls and patrons over the years.

Dennis lived and worked for years in 131-135 Duane, starting in 1973 until she was forced to take a buyout in 2019, when the building was sold and work began on a gut renovation.