Marcia Bricker Halperin displays her photographs of New York City cafeterias in her new exhibit in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender’s gallery at U-M.

Featured photo courtesy of Frankel Center

An exhibit of photographs presenting the cafeterias that fed New Yorkers in the early to mid-20th century will be featured in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender’s gallery in Lane Hall during the 2020 Winter Semester.

Marcia Bricker Halperin will kick off the exhibit of her photographs with a lecture titled “Kibitz & Nosh: NYC’s Vanished Cafeterias” at the University of Michigan’s Frankel Center 1 p.m.  Jan. 16, followed by a reception at the Lane Hall gallery at 4 p.m.

As a young art student, Halperin found that cafeterias gave her a window into the lives of people she wouldn’t usually come across in her everyday life.

“One February day, while photographing reflections in store windows, my fingers froze solid onto my Honeywell Pentax camera,” Halperin noted. “That’s when I headed through the revolving doors into Dubrow’s Cafeteria. I took a ticket from the man at the door and found myself looking out at a tableau of amazing faces. There was light, reflections, patterns, textures, sweeping architectural features and remarkable subjects all for the price of a cup of coffee, then 25 cents.”

Her lecture will focus on the part cafeterias played in 20th century Jewish American history and in assimilating Jewish culture into the mainstream and vice versa. Cafeterias like Dubrow’s served popular Jewish style dishes, like blintzes, as well as less traditional dishes, like shrimp salad.

“It became a place to experience the world outside of what you would have at home,” Halperin said. “I look forward to having people learn about the golden era of cafeterias, a time when self-serve restaurants were in every city and contributed to vibrant civic life.”

Halperin first discovered her passion for photography while studying art at Brooklyn College. After graduating with a master of fine arts, she was selected to be a part of the CETA Artists Project.  CETA was a federally funded employment program for artists that operated in New York City from 1978 to 1980.

The program connected unemployed artists with community sponsors to develop public artworks, give performances, and teach classes. One of her projects was working with tenant organizers at Housing Conservation Coordinators.

She documented the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, taking pictures of apartments that were neglected by landlords to help the tenants win lawsuits and advocate for homesteaders. Later, she worked for the New York City Department of Education, teaching art and special education for over 35 years.

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