Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Longtime Naylor Court/Blagden Alley Resident Artist and Alley Activist Dies

Michael Carr - who had lived at 1312 Naylor Court from 1986 to 2002 - passed away suddenly on Christmas day in Arizona. After Mike bought the “carriage house” he gradually reconfigured it into “residential and art studio space” (1), for it had been used as an auto repair shop with dead engines and transmissions throughout the lower level. His renovation was featured in the “Building Character” series on HGTV.

Mike’s home was built in 1870 and for many years served as a stable until 1921 when F.J. Simmonds petitioned for a Certificate of Occupancy as a carpenter’s shop on the upper level. The lower level continued to be used for horses and later automobile storage. (The F.J. Simmond’s advertising sign for his business can still be seen on the side of the stable, having been restored by Mike in 1994.) In 1947 the stable began another life when permission was granted to change the Certificate of Occupancy from a carpenter’s shop to an electrical repair shop to repair washing machine motors, armatures and appliances.

Michael Carr’s home as it was when he lived in the alley

Mike’s life followed a diverse path with art always being central. He outlines some of his life through his own internet biosketch (1): -

“I resided in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area from 1968 to 2002. Stationed at 8th and I, Marine Corps Headquarters as a Musician from 1968 to 1970. I received a Master of Fine Arts in Painting, with Honors, fro the George Washington University in 1971. Instructor in Public Schools, as well as college level through 1983. College level courses taught were drawing, painting, design and art history.

From 1966 to the present, produced fine arts and showed in

galleries in various states and the Washington, DC area. I worked for the U.S. Navy as a civilian from 1980 to 2001. Head of the graphics department as an illustrator, then graphic and publication designer and strategic planner. In 1986, purchased a carriage house in Downtown Washington, DC and renovated it into residential and art studio space. In 2002, my renovation was featured in the “Building Character” series on Home and Garden TV.

Community involvement included helping incorporate a two block area into a historic district, now encompassing over a one mile area. I was elected in a District of Columbia general election as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, serving from 1988-1990.

Community oriented performance art projects included “Death of a Dream”. Naylor Court, 1992-1993, producing a 350' acrylic on pavement project as well as twelve 6

'x18' canvases. The “Old City Republic”, 1995 to the present, the annual “Potomac Tea Party, 1995 -2001, canvas and enamel pavement painting for the “Million Mom March” against violence in 2000. “Party Animals”, in 2002, with a grant from the DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities. 200 artists raised over $5000.00 for community art humanities projects. Founded RomArt Gallery and working studio in Douglas, Wyoming in 2002.”

Mike left his D.C. alley neighborhood in 2002 to live in Arizona to help his aging parents and to pursue his artistic life and other passions. As he told the author shortly after leaving, he had become “tired of waiting for real estate values to go up and crime to go down.” His home in Naylor underwent a magnificent restoration as a private residence several years ago, and was featured on this year’s Logan Circle Christmas tour. The current owner works with film and image media continuing the spirit of Mike’s artistic karma of the past, throughout the home today.

Michael Carr’s carriage house today.

In the early 1990’s, inspired by the notion of chalk outlines as an icon for crime scenes Michael undertook a project of creating a series of “body outlines” in the Naylor Court alley. He eventually painted 452 individual acrylic body outlines within alleys to “commemorate the escalating number of violent deaths in Washington … and began painting outlines of bodies in the style he had seen used at the scenes of homicides depicted in movies and on television.” (2) It’s ironic that chalk outlines have moved into the art world as the “police abandoned its use after many defense attorneys contended the chalk outline tainted evidence from a crime scene.”(2) In addition to being an artist and a well-known “character” in the alley, Mike was an urban activist. At the height of this period in his life, he and five alley compatriots wrote a declaration of independence for Naylor Court. Mike Carr wrote the following (3) for an immediate press release on February 24th 1995: -

“The city of Washington DC, the nation’s capitol, the nation’s murder capitol, the nation’s laughingstock, is now on the verge of losing what little capacity for self-governance it once possessed. The incompetence of its governing officials and bureaucracies has brought the city to its knees, and has caused its residents to flee in droves.

Rather than flee, however, some of the residents of Naylor Court, an inner-city alley, have chosen to take a stand where they live. To this effect, they have declared their independence from the city of Washington, District of Columbia, and resolve themselves citizens of the newly formed Old City Republic, a square block historic alley system within a mile of the White House. The rat has been adopted as the Republic’s symbol, intended as good-natured humor.

It is the beginning of a revolution. It is not an armed revolution; rather, it is conceptual, a revolution of thought and humor, taking place both in cyberspace and our neighborhood. It is a revolution against crime, dirt, debt and inept officialdom.

A Declaration of Independence has been written, representatives will be sent to Congress, consenting households will be annexed and diplomatic relations will be established with other governments.

As Marion Barry himself has declared … at this point, the city’s problems are beyond the District’s capacity to solve them (The Washington Post, 1/7/95). Residents all over the city agree. They do not necessarily agree, however, that Congress us any more fit to take over the city than its present officials are. The fact remains that under either scenario, the residents of Washington D.C. still are taxed without representation, and receive pitiful, if any services in return for their tax dollars. Old City Republic represents a sane alternative to these distasteful options.”

In a 1995 City Paper article (4), Dave Nuttycombe reported that Carr – a Naval Air Systems Command management expert would like to apply his skills to District Government problems. Carr is quoted as saying that “The government of the nation’s capital should be a model for the world; the reality is quite different … I’m very concerned about the quality of life in the District” Apparently Carr presented his declaration document to Mayor Barry on the steps of the District Building.

The last remnant of Michael Carr’s alley art.

Michael Carr’s tale is like many, whose sparks of creativity are stimulated by life within the netherworlds of Washington D.C.’s alleys and stables. Perhaps people like Mike are drawn to the alley culture because they are free spirits to begin with. At the very least it’s a symbiotic relationship between place and person. Mike’s spirit will remain alive in the memories of those who knew him and doubtless grow anew within others who never knew him but one day might find themselves as kindred souls in the future. Some of Mike’s delightful sketches can be seen on the BAANC blog site (5).

(The author gratefully acknowledges the input from Hal Davitt and Roger Thiel in writing this article)

  2. New York Times, “Chalk Body Outlines: Grisly, Yes, but Chic” by John Marchese, November 13, 1994
  3. Press Release “Neighborhood Declares Independence” by Michael Carr, Feb 24th 1995
  4. City Paper, Dave Nuttycombe, March 24th 1995