O - The Oprah Magazine, 07/01/04
The rescue squad: What do sachets in the South Bronx, a dilapidated Kentucky town, a neighborhood's first yoga studio, and 10,000 daffodil bulbs have in common? Four women who have made an art of restoration (Excerpt)

By Amanda Robb

When artist Gail Nathan was a girl in the Bronx, the borough was full of tree-lined streets, small shops, and charming parks - one with the Bronx river curving through it. By the time Nathan was an adult, President Carter spoke of the devastation of the South Bronx. Like others, Nathan fled. She eventually settled in Virginia.

"As idyllic as my life in the South was," she says, "I knew I wouldn't stay forever." In 1998, Nathan fell in love with a Bronx-based artist and moved back to New York City. Their only problem was that she needed a job. The week Nathan unpacked, the Bronx River Art Center, which offers art and environmental programs to borough residents, advertised for an executive director. Even though she had no corporate financial experience, Nathan applied. "All I could tell the interview committee was that I'd never been in debt or bounced a check," she says.

She got the job and discovered the center's budget would challenge her penny-pinching abilities. To cheer herself up, Nathan went to a fancy boutique. In the linens department, she had a eureka moment: "Sachets!"

Nathan asked her staff and art students to photograph the Bronx River, which is a lot cleaner than many people imagine. They transfered the images onto fabric and filled the sachets with herbs from a Cape Cod distirbutor. (This spring, volunteers planted lavender, chamomile, and spearmint in the community garden on the banks of the river; they'll use the harvest in the sachets.)

The center's product line has already expanded to include eye pillows, and Nathan plans to expand to spas, salons, and specialty shops. She'll use the profits to employ residents, offer more classes in printmaking, ceramics, and environmental studies, and, as she says, "change the mind-set of anyone who still thinks the Bronx is a wasteland."

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DIRECTIONS TO CENTER:  By Train: Take #2 or #5 to West Farms Square/East Tremont. Walk one block east to Bronx Street. By Bus: Take #'s B9, 21, 36, 40, 42, or Q44 to East Tremont and Boston Road. By Car: Take Bruckner Expressway to Sheridan Expressway, and exit at East Tremont Ave. Turn left at the traffic light one block down onto East Tremont. Turn left after one block onto Bronx St. (Cross Bronx Expressway) towards Rosedale Ave, then exit. Turn left onto Rosedale Ave, then take a left onto Tremont Ave. Drive four blocks to West Farms Square.

This program is made possible with support from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, including Council Members Eric Dinowitz, Althea Stevens, Kristy Marmorato and the Bronx Delegation. Additional support is from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, the NYS Council on the Arts with support from Governor Kathy Hochul and the NYS Legislature. Foundation support is from Con Edison: The Power of Giving, The New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund, The Lincoln Fund, and private donors.

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