Yuko Nii: Artist, Renovator, and Director of the WAH
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Photo by Amy Finkel/Gothamist
Shayla Love, writing for the Gothamist in her article "Inside Williamsburg's Hidden Time Capsule: Kings County Savings Bank," introduces to a woman most of us here at Gypsy Scholar know only through our contact with Terrance Lindall. That woman is Yuko Nii, an artist who came to the States 50 years ago:
Nii moved to the United States in 1963 from Tokyo, transferring from a Tokyo university to come to Berkeley, California where her father's friend was a professor. She had $200 in her pocket when she arrived. She immediately wanted to experience the American counterculture she had heard about, and visited San Francisco. She then transferred to Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and majored in fine arts. To stay in the US, she had to continue her education, and in 1966, she moved to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn to attend Pratt.The rest of the article tells the story of this remarkable woman, so go read it! And should you choose to support the WAH, click here.
Nii needed a way to earn money, but didn't want a job that would take time away from her painting. She started to buy run-down buildings; the first was in Ironwood, Michigan. She liked to buy in northern states, where she would escape the heat of Brooklyn summers. After she bought a building, she would renovate it with her own hands.
She said that when she was seven years old, her parents renovated their house in Tokyo. She already had an interest in art and in sculpture - carpentry seemed to her like a form of both.
"They treated me like a little assistant," she said. "Instead of going to school, I always waited for the workers to come. And then they taught me how to use particular Japanese saws and then hammers and so on. Ever since, I'm fascinated by the things which are behind the wall."
Each time she renovated a building, she would create a studio on the first floor for herself. With her artist's sensibilities, the renovations transformed the places she bought. She would rent out the houses, and live off the rent.
"I even changed the windows, can you imagine?" she said. "Amazing what you can do when you are young. Especially artists. We are obsessed."