Paul-Newell Reaves’
ATLAS: vol. 1 Detroit, MI

Belle Isle
Redwing Blackbird
Laura and Chris, Russell Industrial Complex
Detroit Pizza, Buddy’s, Hamtramck
I-94, Rush hour
Urban Exploring

Belle Isle

The Detroit River— clearer than one would think.  And in its midst, between U.S. and Canada, Belle Isle sits.  A haven of greenery one long bridge East of the Motor City, it accommodates ducks, swans and geese, along with turn of the 20th Century buildings.

Glass domes of Botanical Gardens connect with the red brick of an aquarium that closed in 2005.  The aquarium exit door is locked, but the entrance open.  With no one in the front office, the building seems vacant, nor in the chambers above the empty fishtanks, either.  Why would the door be left open to an abandoned building?  Why would only one fish tank be full of twelve species of fish.  Then the building gives an answer, a donation bin in one corner of the front room.

Fishing piers stretch in river on the North side— though the ice flows limit number of fishermen.  Two marinas operate, still, on this isle.  The Yacht Club is busy on a sunny, March day, and full of motorboats.  But the Boat Club further South is empty of boats and people.  The barren wharves stick out from the river like reeds.

Across the bridge and North along Jefferson Avenue, the United Auto Workers Union Solidarity House rests.

Red Winged Blackbird

A small black bird, morose streaks of red along each wing, hovers from tree to tree against river-blown winds.

Laura and Chris, Russell Industrial Complex

Chris and Laura rent a studio at the Russell Industrial Complex.  The factory that used to operate here made car parts, then airplane wings during the war.  Now, of the four buildings on the complex, two are rented in sprawling studios.

“Everyone knows we actually live in here,” Chris says.  Most of the renters use the space for offices, artist and design studios, medical marijuana dispensaries.  A marching band practices here on Tuesday nights.

Their room on the second floor is spacious and half full of stuff— an inflatable mattress, mini-fridge, antique sofa, a black cabinet inlaid with mother of pearl that they picked up for free, a crate for their dachshund, Barnaby.

“Barnaby is constantly mocked when he goes on walks.  Probably cause Chris is so big.”

There is a public restroom down the hall.  They wash their hair in the sink and fill up buckets with warm water for sponge-baths.  Rent is 550 a month.


“You develop an eye for junking.  Pieces from the 1850’s or 1830’s have a certain color and tint that I can recognize.”

M-80— the artist’s pseudonym.  He chose his high school nickname as his signature so he could easily sign in paint the junk-collages he’s collected from the streets of Detroit.  He rents a studio in the Russell and calls it the Foundry.

“Most junkers go up and down each and every row of a neighborhood.  I developed my eye so I can drive the cross-streets.  In a day I can cover East Detroit, over to Lincoln Park, to North Detroit.  I can see through plastic bags.  I can see through cardboard boxes.”

The Discovery Channel will interview him later this month.  He’s practicing what he’ll say on Laura and Chris, and me.

“You have to be in the right place in the right time.  Detroit, the last 20 years was that.  You’re not gonna have the same success I’ve had here, nowadays.

“I hope I sell some pieces at this open house.  My wife said my last check bounced.”

Detroit Pizza, Buddy’s, Hamtramck

Detroit pizza: distinctive and invented in one place, this.  The pie is square, with cheese all the way over the crust, forming a crispy rim of toasted cheese around the edges.  The sauce goes on top, but somehow never dribbles off.

This style was created in the 50‘s at Buddy’s restaurant in Northern Hamtramck neighborhood, soon popular and much imitated across the city.

I-94, Rush Hour

Interstate 94 rushes through the center of downtown Detroit.  At 5:30, cars sending their drivers North to the suburbs crowd its three lanes fast, fast; but do not fill them full.

Urban Exploring

The locked gateway opens to a grey expanse of dust and concrete— vast, empty grey, with yellow window panes reaching from ceiling half down to ground.

Flashlight beams cross twilight spaces.  Doors to stairs, pad-locked; but there’s a hole in the elevator door, seeing down the shaft.

“What’s this?”
“Some old kinda fuse.”
“Looks like someone killed and stripped a pigeon over here.”

Broken Rolling Rock bottle, empty pack of Camel Filters– here’s an ancient bathroom, toilets filled with dust.

“Look at these signs– ‘Accuracy and Cleanliness are Vital.’  There are like six of them.”
“Real Progressive Era, or, something.”

Another weird looking fuse– and what could this five-foot metal object be, looking like a coil on a stem?

“Oh wow, my god,.  The moss has overtaken the floor, here where the water drops from the ceiling.”
“Don’t’cha love when nature takes back from the urban.”


The Detroit Institute of Art proudly stands on Woodward Avenue.  Admission— eight dollars— is free for museum members.

Through the marble entranceway, unto the first gallery of Native American drums, clothing, dolls.  The Islamic hall holds ancient coins, illuminated Qur’ans and a cursive-engraved, silver jewel-box.

Upstairs, Western art— Renaissance Titians, suits of armor, American Innesses, Contemporary De Witts— a whole room of Piccassos— and endless halls of Impressionist Reniors, Post-Impressionist Cezannes, and Expressionist Van Goghs.

Diego Rivera painted the Grand Hall in enormous two-floor murals, his tribute to Detroit industry.  Figures on the wall build cars, but also build bomber planes, invent cures for diseases, but chemical weapons, as well.

A glass ceiling stretches across a Romanesque courtyard on the first floor, where juice, beer and sandwiches are overpriced and appreciated.

more ATLAS

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