ARTIST BERIAH WALL'S CERAMIC COINS
The E-Sylum (3/21/2010)
For more than 30 years now, sharp-eyed New Yorkers have been finding them on ledges, windowsills and store counters - poker-chip-size coins that reveal themselves to be something far more mysterious than loose change.
The inch-wide ceramic discs, painted in iridescent colors, have the rough, weathered feel of ancient treasure. Each is embossed with a short, cryptic message, a year and two humble letters: "bw."
Those, it turns out, are the initials of Beriah Wall, a Brooklyn artist who estimates he has knocked out hundreds of thousands of these handmade tokens since the late 1970s, quietly dropping them in public places or the hands of bewildered strangers. His latest batch, minted over the last few months, carry the message "Stuck in Brkln."
They are anything but. Mr. Wall, 63, said his homemade currency had shown up all over the world. He has passed many of the pieces to friends and relatives, who have scattered them from California to Africa and from the Caribbean to Tibet.
In the realm of the coin, Mr. Wall is a sovereign, producing anonymous art that is encountered in random, intimate moments. The phrases he stamps on the front and back include wordplay like Flee/Flea and Real/Good and political statements like Bush/Gush and Palestine/Israel.
"My work has been in millions of hands," he said. "It's a little free object that sort of floats around. It's about small endeavors, the edge of meaning or significance. If you'd like some to take wherever, I got a carload for you."
Mr. Wall was a potter in Vermont when he conceived the idea of giving away small chunks of ceramics. He was manning the parking lot at a crafts fair, charging $2 per car. The fee did not go over well with customers, who wondered why they had to pay anything to park in a field.
"I sliced out little pieces of clay squares and gave them to people," he said. "And they all liked it. They smiled. It was immediate. So, bada-bing, I ran with it."
Now semiretired from plastering, Mr. Wall continues to strike his coins - he can make 2,000 in a week - in the basement studio of his Red Hook home. Little clay blanks rest in a bucket on the table, where a plank is splattered with green and yellow streaks of paint. A kiln that looks like a coffee maker on steroids is off to the side. When he has something new to say, he carves his message into a cup-shaped plaster mold, then stamps each clay disc by hand.
Upstairs, coins are piled into buckets and bowls, all the easier to grab on the way out the door. Words peek out from the pile: Bling, Made, Good, Real, Pro, To Have, To Hold. Somehow, he said, they add up to one big statement.
To read the complete article, see: Statements by an Artist, for the Palms of Strangers (www.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/nyregion/17coins.html)