The artist living among us in Woodhaven
by Ed Wendell
Oct 24, 2017 | 2628 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodhaven artist Hank Virgona in his Union Square studio.
Woodhaven artist Hank Virgona in his Union Square studio.
slideshow
Documentary filmmaker Matthew Kaplowitz and his Uncle Hank Virgona, the subject of a new film “Nothing Changes: Art for Hank's Sake.”
Documentary filmmaker Matthew Kaplowitz and his Uncle Hank Virgona, the subject of a new film “Nothing Changes: Art for Hank's Sake.”
slideshow
Hank Virgona walks to the 85th Street train station nearly every morning to ride the subway into the city. He’s been following this routine for decades, six days a week.

The ten-block walk to the station on Jamaica Avenue used to take 15 minutes, but these days it can take Virgona 45 minutes or more.

Once he gets to the train station he needs to contend with two flights of stairs. The steps are a challenge, but one that Virgona has accepted with good grace as a byproduct of his age. After all, he will turn 88 years old by the time you read this article.

So what is it that drives Virgona to make this journey into the city nearly every day? Simply put, he’s an artist and that’s where his studio is. Along the way to his Union Square studio, Virgona keeps a watchful eye out and has been known to sketch drawings of his fellow travelers on the train.

At the end of a full day at the studio, Virgona reverses that long journey. And when he returns to Woodhaven, that long 45-minute walk from the station stands between Virgona and his home.

And like almost every other person who has lived 88 years, Virgona has some health issues that add to the difficulty of his commute.

It’s an arduous routine, one that would discourage or exhaust people many years his junior, but Virgona’s love of creating art drives him every day to make the journey from Woodhaven to the city and back.

The Virgona name is well-known in Woodhaven. Hank’s brother Joe was beloved through his membership with the American Legion, St. Thomas the Apostle and the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.

But Hank has thus far escaped the attentions of his neighbors in Woodhaven, opting instead to quietly commute back and forth to his studio for decades, creating an immense body of work.

As an exercise, Google the name “Hank Virgona” and you’ll see how much art he has created and how well regarded it is.

Woodhaven is about to find out about the artistic treasure we’ve had living here among us with the release of “Nothing Changes: Art for Hank's Sake,” a documentary detailing Virgona’s daily journey, his work, and his life.

The documentary is the work of Matthew Kaplowitz, a young award-winning filmmaker whose previous works on the world of mixed martial arts fighters and unlikely ballet dancers have garnered recognition and will be featured on the Fusion Network.

Kaplowitz didn’t have to look very far for an interesting subject to focus his eye on, as Hank Virgona is his uncle. For nearly two years, Kaplowitz has interviewed his Uncle Hank and followed him on his journey to his Union Square studio and back, capturing an inspiring portrait of an artist who doesn’t let life’s inconveniences prevent him from doing what he was born to do.

The film is in the final stages of editing, and the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be hosting a special private screening of the film in the very near future.

If you want to watch the film alongside Virgona as he sees his life on film, please contact us to get on our mailing list at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com. If you don’t have email, call us at (718) 805-2002.

In the meantime, the young filmmaker is in need of some modest funding to bring this wonderful Woodhaven story to the big screen and enter it into shows and festivals.

If you are interested in backing this film with a small donation, you can do so at bit.ly/hank-virgona or at our upcoming special private screening.

When asked what we would learn about his Uncle Hank when we see the finished product, Kaplowitz says, “It’s not what you’ll learn about Hank that’s important, it’s what you’ll learn from him.”

Hank Virgona’s inspirational story might have only been apparent to a few friends and relatives in the past, but that’s about to change. But it’s not likely to change Virgona very much, who will continue his trek to Union Square six times a week to do what he loves, whether anyone is noticing or not. It’s what Hank does.

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