The BROODWORK Ideal Work/Live Space series continues with Ellen and Norman Galinsky. We visit their beautiful stone home in an artistic enclave in Palisades, New York just across the river from Dobbs Ferry. Norman is an artist, Ellen is the founder and president of the Families and Work Institute. Together they have navigated the work/family/life nexus in creative and interesting ways and we are thrilled to share their story on Lifework.
Ellen: “I have always looked at my work as an adventure. In the way that rock climbing or exploring new lands or flying are adventures, my work feels like an adventure to me. Rather than scaling the highest peaks or seeking a new land, I have followed questions. Questions that I think matter. Questions that I think will help me if I find an answer. Questions that I think will help others if I find an answer. And in spending my life following questions, I have found that an answer, or a partial answer, always leads to new questions.
There is no lack of things to wonder about, to be curious about, to seek to know. The books I have written are adventures in finding answers to questions: How do parents grow and change led to my book, The Six Stages of Parenthood. What do children think about their employed fathers and mothers led to my book, Ask the Children. And how can we keep the fire of learning burning brightly in children’s eyes led to my most recent book that involved ten years of research, Mind in the Making.
My research has likewise been fueled by the desire to seek answers to questions about how employers and employees are responding to the changes in work and family life today. And the organization that I co-founded 21 years ago, the Families and Work Institute, has been pursuing these questions ever since.
Photography has also been a way that I have sought answers to some of life’s most seemingly intractable questions. The question I have been pursuing for more than three decades is: what happens to what we try to create, try to build, try to maintain, try to preserve? We spend so much of our lives attempting, each in our own way, to leave indelible footprints that will outlast us. Yet on a daily basis, we fight against the encroachment of dust and decay. I have spent the past three decades photographing this stunning nexus between death and rebirth, following how nature re-sculpts our creations all over the world. [One of Ellen's images below.]
It is probably not surprising that I am an iterant worker in my own home and in my workplace. I didn’t even have a home office until about three years ago. At first I had a pad of paper and then I had a portable computer. With each new project, I find a different place to work (her upstairs office is pictured above and below is her latest workspace). My latest workspace is in my son’s old bedroom, but now that Mind in the Making is finished, my computer and I may just find a new place to go.
Norman: I displayed talent for visual art at an early age, but it was my focus and achievements in math and science that led to my first career in the mid 1960’s as a chemical engineer. Throughout my years in industry, however, I never lost my passion for art and I continued to study painting and drawing. After seven years, I made the decision to leave engineering to concentrate on my art. I completed an MFA program at Columbia University as part of this career shift. In some ways, I didn’t completely leave engineering because my abstract geometric work continues to be inspired by many aspects of my scientific and technical background. Over the years, my ongoing interest in consciousness explorations, and spiritual issues also has informed my imagery. In addition, my study of Chinese martial arts, specifically Tai Ji Quan, and qigong, as well as various energetic healing practices and meditation disciplines has also had seminal influences on my art.
Just at the time I was transitioning into an art career, we located the building that was to become our home and my studio. It has ended up playing an integral role in both my work and our family life ever since. It afforded me the room and opportunity to expand and evolve into an art career, and also the space to begin teaching Tai Ji and qigong in the studio, which I have done for nearly 25 years, as well as in regional hospitals and health centers.
When we first saw this building, we realized it had been a victim of neglect. No wonder it had been on the market for years. Yet it was easy to look past the peeling paint, the dilapidated walls, and the unkempt surrounding land. What I focused on was the huge amount of SPACE that sang to me—the flexible space to create the type of studio I had dreamed of, and a glorious living space to raise our family.
This building became our home and our workspace and has remained so for more than three decades. Located 12 miles north of New York City overlooking the Hudson River, it is a huge 19th century four story sandstone barn with a seven-stall horse stable enclosed within the building. Although it was converted from a barn into a residence in the 1930’s, we still refer to it as a “work in progress.”
The studio area, which originally housed the carriages, took about a year and a half to renovate into a working studio. The many exposed stone interior walls were left in the upper living areas, but those in the studio had to be covered and insulated to retain heat and provide display areas. The 18-step “commute” from our living areas upstairs to my studio downstairs provided a minimal yet clearly defined separation between work and family. The close proximity between the creative time in an art studio and the give and take events of family life with growing children provided a uniquely rich environment for inspiration and creation.