Encounters: Washington Square Park vendors

These heartwarming anecdotes feature fleeting encounters between vendors and customers in Washington Square Park.

Camilla Ceballos and Sanjana Nehra

Eight million New Yorkers interact every day in beautiful, chaotic and unexpected ways. These interactions are often untold. Welcome to the first installment of Encounters, stories about everyday New Yorkers that will hopefully make you smile! 

The man who talked through his hands

Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker Jabari Asante (@barixsafarivisuals) sells portraits of New Yorkers that each tell a story. (Photo by Camila Ceballos)

Among all the vendors in Washington Square Park, Jabari Asante immediately grabbed our attention.

Jabari Asante is a 26-year-old street photographer and filmmaker from Brooklyn selling photographs and portraits that depict everyday people and places in New York. 

“These are probably some of my favorites, what you see right here,” Asante said. “This one here is the ‘Mask OG.’ It has a whole story behind it ‘cause the person I photographed was someone I met in the subway. The train ride was filled with strangers sitting next to each other: couples, workers, siblings, same subway direction, different paths. 

“There was a man sitting next to me, he was kind of an older head, probably around 60. He worked at Barclays Center, you can see it right here when you look at the hat. He started a conversation with me telling me how he traveled every day from the Bronx to Brooklyn because of his work at the stadium. He even told me a story about how he couldn’t imagine, like, being in a pandemic back in his time, the ‘90s, ‘80s. He was telling me it’s a crazy time we livin’ in — it’s crazy how young people are feeling this time of year. 

“What got me, though, was not much what he was saying but his expressions, the way he was moving his hands. So I decided to lift my camera up, no taller than my hip, and took a photograph of him. He didn’t know I took the photo — probably not. When I was done speaking to him, he was like ‘call me OG, I’m a triple OG.’ That’s why I named it that. 

“This picture is one of my favorites — I even printed it in my book: ‘99 Cent Pizza.’ It’s one of my favorites because it encapsulated my great conversation with the old man who talked through his hands.”

It all started with a bookmark

Danaé Reid (@danaereid_) puts the bookmarks she makes with pressed flowers up for sale. (Photo by Camila Ceballos)

We continued to look around the park and approached a small table where Danaé Reid sat. She vividly interacted with every customer that approached her; we were no exception.

Danaé Reid is a 25-year-old model, talk show host, journalist, social media marketing specialist, youth mentor and owner of a small business that sells bookmarks with pressed flowers.

“Whenever people look at my work it means so much to me, and you can tell they’re amazed by the fact that they’re real flowers, and it usually catches them off guard. Whenever someone, in general, takes the time to stop and look at my work, even if they don’t buy it, I just think it makes me feel special as a creator.

“There was this one person who stopped and bought a bookmark from me. It happens everyday, but it turns out this person had a friend who worked for Martha Stewart’s camp. This person gave the bookmark from my business to this friend who worked for Martha Stewart, who then followed me on Instagram. Without really thinking too much of it, I wrote to him after I saw he worked for none other than Martha Stewart and said it would be cool if they featured me. But then, it was crazy, because in February they actually did reach out to feature me as a ‘Black creative to know and follow,’ so they did a feature on me through their story and wrote an article as well.

“When they reached out to me and everything got posted it felt really great and surreal — I couldn’t believe it. It’s crazy to look back and see that it all started with that one simple and coincidental bookmark buy. It helped my business so much and felt like a full-circle moment because I had wanted to be featured and more known, and the fact that it actually happened reaffirms to me that being a good person will genuinely allow you to see your dreams to fruition.”

One garment, one special customer

Clothing designer Cheick Barry (@enwhy.eclaires) sells clothing from his brand Eclairs. (Photo by Camila Ceballos)

A sudden booming laughter rose from the other side of the fountain. We turned to see a guy smiling in a way that lit up his whole face. He had just sold a T-shirt. This may not seem reason enough for a burst of joy for anyone else, but for Cheick, it was everything.

Cheick Barry is a 21-year-old clothing designer and businessman. He is the owner of clothing brand Eclaires, which is currently selling online and in Washington Square Park. Just like the brand’s motto says, it focuses on creating “pieces that provoke.

“This is my clothing brand — it’s called ‘Eclaires’; it means ‘enlightened’ in French. Before, I used to really like fashion, but I never knew that I like to create. Of late, I realized that I love to create clothes and play with different fabrics. That’s how Eclaires came about. 

“So one time, like two weeks ago, this tattoo artist got a pair of pants from me. A week later, she called me saying she really loves the pants, and she wanted me to make another one. I appreciated the fact that she liked the design of it, but it also made me nervous `cause I wanted to create another one to her liking. 

“This was special because to me it is not more so about the work being bought, it’s more about how that one person actually connects with your piece and appreciates your art. I make each piece for that one person — so whoever buys it, it’s meant to just be in their closet, to be worn by them. That’s how I like to look at it, and I feel like exactly that happened with the tattoo artist. 

“It was just cool to get a call — it felt like a reward for all the work I put in prior. It inspired me; it made me realize the more you push, you sacrifice, you risk, the more you actually start to get the reward of it.”

Turning personal moments into art 

Liliana Rasmussen (@naicha.art) sells vibrant artwork and portraits on large canvases. (Photo by Camila Ceballos)

It was impossible to ignore the huge canvases under the Washington Square Arch. These were Liliana Rasmussen’s creations, and as we began talking to her, we learned that like us, many others have been impressed by her vibrant art. 

Based in Brooklyn, Liliana Rasmussen is a 25-year-old digital painter, rug maker and industrial designer who creates art inspired by feminism that focuses on narrative illustrations and portraiture. 

“I’ve been selling my art since high school, and now I’m selling online and in Washington Square Park. 

“It was particularly amazing how one day I was vending and I met a woman who asked me about my art and we exchanged contact information. Later, this woman contacted me about doing a custom portrait, which I’ve never done before. She told me about the ups and downs of her relationship with her mom, and it was really touching to hear it all. She really wanted to capture that special connection that they had and encapsulate it so she could give the portrait to her mom on her birthday. 

“I’m always really honored to be able to be part of people’s relationships and be a part of their special moments. [I am] also honored because she had chosen me to do it and it was really moving to hear about that relationship and what the portrait would mean to them.

“It just made me feel really warm inside to know that I’d be able to facilitate this gift that would mean so much to both of them, and to me… that was enough.”

Contact Camilla Ceballos and Sanjana Nehra at [email protected].