Probation officer opens art gallery in Keyport

Works pay tribute to Nora Mitchell Sanborn

BY KAREN E. BOWES Staff Writer

Staff Writer

KAREN BOWES Nora Mitchell Sanborn is the owner of the Mitchell Sanborn Gallery on West Front Street in Keyport. In the background are paintings by Claude Owen. KAREN BOWES Nora Mitchell Sanborn is the owner of the Mitchell Sanborn Gallery on West Front Street in Keyport. In the background are paintings by Claude Owen. KEYPORT — To take a stroll through the new art gallery on West Front Street is to take a tour of complementary contradictions.

Owned and operated by probation officer Nora Mitchell Sanborn, the gallery is a tribute to her artistic parents, writer Joseph Mitchell of “Joe Gould’s Secret” fame and New York City photographer Therese Mitchell.

“My father was a writer,” said Mitchell Sanborn. “I grew up with a lot of curiosity. Now I go into people’s houses and I get to ask any question I want, and of course they have to say yes — I’m the law.”

Mitchell Sanborn views her job as an extension of her father’s influence.

“He was a wonderful listener, a famous interviewer,” said Mitchell Sanborn. “I felt I had failed him a little, and then I realized one day, I was doing what daddy was doing. So really, it’s not that much of a switch.”

Currently on display at the Mitchell Sanborn gallery are photos taken by Therese Mitchell of New York City in the 1930s and ’40s. Mostly shot in Manhattan, the images are a romantically inspired yet painfully honest view of the otherwise dissipated and stark world of the Depression era.

Complementing the photos are objects collected by Mitchell Sanborn’s father, metal artifacts taken from abandoned buildings that were slated to be demolished during the same period. Keyholes, large nails, fire alarm boxes and other oddities Sanborn calls “incredibly unpretentious” have been photographed in color by Steve Featherstone and hang on the walls alongside the black-and-white photos.

“When the Lower West Side/Washington Market section was being bulldozed to make way for the World Trade Center, he burrowed through construction sites, bringing home bits and pieces of the vanishing city,” Mitchell Sanborn wrote in a brief biography of her father’s life. “He haunted construction sites well into his 80s, always able to convince security guards and construction foremen to let him in.”

Mitchell Sanborn admits that at first glance, it may seem odd for a probation officer to open an art gallery. But she sees it only fitting, since her parents’ relationship was also viewed as a contrast in personalities.

“On the surface it may have seemed that my parents were mismatched,” Mitchell Sanborn wrote in the introduction of a compilation of her mother’s art. “My mother would lie on the couch, smoking little cigars, eating jelly beans and reading novels. My father, the writer, belonged to the Century Club and was a ‘national treasure’ (according to William Kennedy) and had migraines and ulcers and the worst colds in the history of the Western world. In all important things, they were steadfast and synchronized. In their devotion, their sense of humor, their politics and in how they saw the world. She took pictures of the city and he wrote about it for The New Yorker magazine. Although they never worked together, they saw things with the same eyes.”

Also on display are the paintings of Claude Owen, a 95-year-old New Yorker whose work Mitchell Sanborn describes as “impressionistic, realistic fantasy.” The paintings are mostly portraits, many of which include the artist.

The gallery is located at 46 W. Front St. Open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment.