Remembering Ray, New York, 1965 by Marie Tavroges Stilkind

I came to New York in late spring in 1965 along with my son, Teddy Stilkind, called Rumpel by Ray Johnson, and we stayed with Bill and Anne Marie Wilson and their twin daughters, Ara and Kate. Teddy spent most of his time in the twins’ rooms where they did their 3-A-Baby dance. They were very mysterious.

The Wilsons baby-sat two-year-old Teddy one day when Ray came over to get me to visit his apartment at 176 Suffolk Street where he gave me tea and a collage inscribed to me, which I still have up on my wall. I took photos while we were in Ray’s neat, tidy and empty home.

He took me out to a bookshop, which had The Paper Snake for sale on a top shelf which could be seen through their front window. I took two photos. One of him standing outside in front of the shop window and another of him on the inside gazing at the cover of a book entitled The Wretched of the Earth and looking wicked. It was printed for me by Alice Sebrell and is now hanging outside my computer room.

Ray Johnson in New York by Marie Tavroges Stilkind, spring, 1965. In this photograph, both The Paper Snake and Dick Higgins’ Jefferson's Birthday (with the Statue of Liberty on its cover) can be seen to Ray’s right. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.

Ray Johnson in New York by Marie Tavroges Stilkind, spring, 1965. In this photograph, both The Paper Snake and Dick Higgins’ Jefferson’s Birthday (with the Statue of Liberty on its cover) can be seen to Ray’s right. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.

After our visit to the bookshop, we went back to Bill Wilson’s large tall house where later Ray introduced me to the artist and then box-wrapper called Christo. Christo could not speak English but knew some French. Ray had studied French at Black Mountain College so he told Christo I was his wife and he should give me a wrapped box. Then he told me in English to open up the wrapping, that Christo was giving me a gift. So I unwrapped the gift box but it was empty and Christo giggled nervously while I sat there stunned holding the unwrapped box. I don’t remember what happened after that. Maybe I retired to Bill’s kitchen and washed the dishes.

My copy of The Paper Snake is a little damaged from Hurricane Wilma… But it has survived and is now on a top shelf in my living room.

Love from Marie

Marie Tavroges Stilkind: “When I met Ray Johnson [in New York, in autumn of 1960] … it seems to me that the NY CorresponDANCE School was already in operation. I had heard about Ray Johnson when I was at BMC [1952-4] and then when I moved into [composer] Philip Glass’ old apartment, I met Albert M. Fine [mentioned in PAPER SNAKE]. Soon Albert … brought Ray Johnson over to meet me at Juilliard School of Music. At that time, I was working at Juilliard … Ray would drop in with letters for me to mail.” – letter, Marie Tavroges Stilkind to W.S. Wilson, April 3, 1995. Born and raised in England, Marie spent time in Kingston, Ontario, and Montreal before going to Black Mountain College in the 1950s and then moving to New York in the early 1960s. Following several more years in Canada, she now resides in Fort Lauderdale.