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On Ninth Street, A Peek at Dioramas

findings2Robyn Baitcher A passerby gazes into a diorama on the gate of the Ninth Street Community Garden (top) and is treated to one of J. Kathleen White’s boxed drawings inside.

Since 2005, a set of dioramas has appeared each fall on the gate of the Ninth Street Community Garden. Residents and visitors peer inside for a glimpse of another world – a praying couple kneels before a tree inside this year’s green “Tree” diorama; in the blue “Knots,” skeletons hold knotted rope underwater as a sunken ship looms in the background. A Wells Fargo truck makes an appearance in a red diorama called “Treasure,” and a pink forest blooms behind a pudgy child in one called “Rocket SuperBaby.”

“I don’t know what they’re going to be like until I start making them,” J. Kathleen White said of the whimsical boxed scenes she creates. “Sometimes I think up a theme afterward. It’s a neighborhood thing. There’s no publicity.”

Ms. White said the dioramas are a way to show her drawings fitted against a background of lush greenery, a rare experience for a Manhattan resident looking at art.

“It’s these little scenes in completely obscure places,” she said. “It makes a miniature world within that world of the garden.”

Each year, Ms. White installs about a half dozen boxes on the garden fence along Avenue C. She has worked as a teacher and writer, in addition to drawing and creating art pieces all over New York City and nationally. This month, Ms. White is painting a mural in the basement of the East Village Theater for the New City.

Ms. White said she enjoys watching residents’ surprise each year that the Ninth Street boxes have returned. Though a sign by the installation bears her name, Ms. White gives only small clues as to the meaning behind the funky, vibrantly lit images.

“The continuum in these boxes is that in general, there’s a sense of narrative to the boxes,” she said. “There’s a story here – but what is it? It’s up to people to decide what that is.”

“Findings,” Ms. White’s current set of dioramas on the Ninth Street Community Garden fence, will run until Oct. 25.