I remember exactly how I felt the first time walking into John’s store on East 2nd street. I’d recently met a woman I’d fallen in love with (now my wife and wonderful mom) and we were exploring New York together – her New York. She’d lived downtown for years and while we’d met in Los Angeles – she’d moved back to New York and was showing me, the out-of-towner, around her favorite spots. I’d spent a lot of time in New York in the past – but had never lived there and she was introducing me to places and things I’d never seen in the city.
One of those places was the John Derian Company, which at the time I think was one store just off the Bowery on East Second Street. I remember walking in and being visual overwhelmed – but in a warm, welcoming way. The store was filled with antiques and found objects, but what caught my attention was the center tables filled with John’s decoupage trays, platters, plates and accessories. As I picked some up to check them out in detail I realized they featured antique graphics and postcards that must have been found by John – literally from all over the world. And these images become the plate, the coaster, or the tray I was holding in my hands. The images were beautiful, intriguing and eclectic – and not what you typically saw as ‘vintage’. The images felt unique and found – walking into John’s shop made you part of the discovery – as John’s personality was there, front and center in all of these items. I felt a connection to the images, but more importantly it was clear to me he went out and FOUND all of these graphics and that was cool. I’ve always searched for photos in galleries, museums, postcards and clipped images from magazines – all of which I kept in folders or in my brain somewhere to use later in art or my journals. That afternoon, I remember feeling connected to John and his process.
When I was launching Archivast John’s name came up almost immediately to approach as our first curator. The New York Times was interested in the concept and we couldn’t think of anyone else more appropriate to curate a collection of Heritage New York City photographs from the archives of the NYTimes and the Museum of the City of New York. While I’d gotten to know John since meeting my wife, I’d never talked business with him and meeting for coffee to pitch this project was perhaps the most nervous I’ve been in years. Always a gentleman, John demurred when I suggested we’d be honored to have him curate this group of photos – he said he didn’t have the knowledge of photography to fill this role. For me this was almost humerous, I’d admired his eye for beauty and art for almost a decade and I’m not alone. John’s established himself as a leader in the design trends of the past two decades and has worked with the likes of Target on products that feature his design sense and most importantly his eye. And I guess that what this all comes down to – the curator needs an eye – so I responded and told him how much in awe we are of his sophisticated eye and how we felt he'd be the ideal guide through the city's past found in the archives. Thankfully for all of us, he agreed and from there we’ve launched the Heritage New York City collection of photos – please check them out