Monthly Archives: July 2012

Unintentional Preservation

Alongside documenting the activities of its creator, a fonds (a collection of records that originate from the same creator or source) will unintentionally preserve artifacts from another time. This is fascinating because an artifact can also provide a history of the particular period of time in which it was made and used. Today’s post reveals how the Tafel archive documents a piece of the history of the New York City subway.

In this case, I found a New York City subway token – fascinating to me because as I am not a native New Yorker, I have never seen one. Every city’s subway system is different however, some still even using tokens to this day. And having lived in a few different urban cities and being able to compare their subway systems, opinionated conversations about which subway system is the most efficient intrigue and amuse me.

The token is glued to a card made by Tafel’s employees on the occasion when Tafel became a Fellow of the AIA in 1986. Perhaps in the context of Tafel’s elevation to being a Fellow including the token in the card was to evoke the line: ‘that and a subway token will get you downtown’?

This particular type of subway token was in use from 1980-86 (see others here). Subway tokens in New York went out of commission in 2003. An interesting piece of subway memorabilia in the archive!

An Exceptional Childhood

Is greatness and genius bred in childhood or acquired with age? Does an unusual upbringing make for a creative person? Edgar Tafel had quite a colored past which seemed to lead him on a path of creativity and activism.

Tafel’s parents were born in Russia and immigrated to New York where they owned and operated Tafel Wholesale Gowns. They soon purchased a home on the Ferrer Colony in Stelton, New Jersey. The seeds of the Ferrer Colony began with Francisco Ferrer, a Spanish educator and radical thinker who was executed in Barcelona in 1909. Soon after, American anarchists began opening Ferrer Modern Schools in his honor across the United States. Tafel attended the Modern School in Stelton, the longest-running school which lasted 1915-1953.

The above article shows Tafel as conductor of the Modern School orchestra. The Modern School taught progressive education, where often the teachers were parents of children attending the school. The School’s mandate was to teach from example and experience and not from instruction and memorization. If a colony member had a particular talent, such as typesetting or carpentry, the children were taught that skill, as well as being free to study whatever interested them. It was at the Modern School where Tafel began constructing a model city; perhaps his first foray into architecture. Growing up in a progressive colony, and later attending high school in Manhattan, Tafel experienced both challenging big-city life and radical free-thinking, a foreshadowing of his future education as an apprentice at Taliesin and opening his own architectural practice in New York City.


*The picture is from an article in The New York Times, by Joseph Deitch, March 8 1981.