August 18, 2016

A "Clem" Sign Surfaces

A “Clem” Sign Surfaces
By John R. Greenwood





This short email recently arrived from the West Village in NYC: 

Greetings!

I recently picked up a very cool wooden sign that has a “Clem” Signs signature on both sides. After trying to find some history online, I saw your post. Can you give me some info on “Clem”? 

Jeff DeCanio

General Manager 

________________

Looks like Christmas may have arrived early for this blogger. I was excited beyond words. A Walter Clements original found it’s way to the Big Apple and I was about to find out how. I sent back a response within minutes. I assured Mr. DeCanio that I could indeed provide some history and a few stories about “Clem” to boot. The only thing I asked for in return was to know how he acquired it and would he send me a photo. I gave him a brief history of myself and how I became so interested in an old Saratoga sign painter named Walter Clements aka “Clem” Signs. I wanted desperately to speak with Mr. DeCanio so I included my phone number in my response. I was hoping he would be equally excited to speak with me about Clem. A couple days passed and I began to worry. Did I overdue my response and scare him off? Maybe he wasn't that interested after all. 


Two days later my wish came true, along with a response from Jeff DeCanio he sent a photo of each side of Clem’s “Cocktail Lounge” sign. There was no doubt about the authenticity, it was clearly a “Clem” sign and wow, what a beauty it was! I knew it had to be from Saratoga Springs. Then I remembered from some of my other posts that Clem had done a lot of work at the Adelphi. He’d painted the A’s on the front doors and made other signs there. I delivered milk to the Adelphi through the 1980’s and that sign seemed familiar. The patina matched the dark decor of the hotel too. The hotel was also being renovated presently, so it made sense that some pieces and parts were being scattered about the country.

The Adelphi Hotel
The four Clem A's


Here’s my response to Jeff after seeing the photos he’d sent:

Wow, Christmas in August! I can't tell you how excited I was to see that sign. It's a "Clem" Sign for certain and I'm pretty sure I will be able to confirm where it came from. I'm writing you from my car as I wait for my wife to get out of work. I will write again later when I have more time. I wanted to thank you right away. This was a real gift to see this. You can call me at your convenience. I'm in the same boat. It's August in Saratoga and crazy here too. May I ask where you found the sign? Were there any items from the Adelphi Hotel where you found this?

Signed,
Smiling in Saratoga
__________________________


I soon found out that my instincts were spot on. The next day at work my phone rang. The number was unfamiliar but it was from New York, New York. It had to be my new “Clem” contact from the West Village. I bolted for the conference room for some quiet and privacy. 

“Hello” 

“Hello, is this John Greenwood? This is Jeff DeCanio, I’m the guy with the Clem sign.”

An instant friendship was born. 

This is the type of joy life should consist of. Those simple moments of connection and discovery that we make in our normal everyday lives. You don’t need phone app’s or expensive vacations to savor life, you need people and a purpose. Whether it’s collecting antiques or taking pictures, painting a landscape, or writing stories about trips to the store it’s all about attitude and spirit. For me, receiving that phone call from NYC was food for the soul. Documenting these little vignettes of time, in my mind, is what fuels this journey that began in 1955. That’s a lot of vignettes and a lot of living. There’s plenty of joy and happiness to harvest out of that field. 

After brief introductions we got down to Clem and the sign. It turns out that Jeff was on a vacation upstate when he wandered in to an antique store in Hudson, NY called “Ida’s Eye.” It was there he discovered the “Cocktail Lounge” sign. He said it fit the vibe of the restaurant so well he just had to have it. He said he was told the sign came from the Adelphi Hotel. I told him one of the last things Clem painted around Saratoga was the side of my Price’s Dairy milk truck. That was in the mid 80’s and Clem was in his seventies at the time. 


Notice Clem's hand-painted hat 
Photo Courtesy of Valerie Adinolphi 
I remember the day he painted the “Price’s Dairy” clearly. Clem didn’t drive so a local plumber named Ron “Pooch” Coleman drove Clem out to the where I had the truck. He set up two step ladders with a simple scaffolding system. He carefully measured out the letters in a curved manner just as I’d asked him to do. He had a wide array of stencils and when I saw the calligraphic type he had I knew it would look great in forest-green on my crisp white truck. I think he was hoping for a much more straight forward type with no curves but he obliged and got right to work sketching the letters out in pencil as I headed off to make my deliveries in another truck. I remember being excited to see the end result later that day. It wasn’t the design or the look that I felt so satisfied with, it was the fact that it was hand-made advertising done the old-school way. Now they print out a graphic on a machine and wrap entire trucks in sticky vinyl. Yes, some are vivid and colorful, but my truck was an original painting, by the original artist. It is my opinion that deep inside the sign painter Walter Clements lay a true artist who would have given anything to have been a renowned painter of landscapes or portraits. He painted signs to eat and stay warm. Every time I looked at that green Price’s Dairy on the side of my truck I thought of Clem and the effort he put into it. I knew he was exhausted when he finished the truck. There was a sense of relief and of pride. Like me, I think he was pleased that I didn’t just settle for simple block letters in a straight line. I think he charged me $100 per side. Where can you buy an original painting for that price? The experience still brings a smile to my face and is probably the main reason I’ve become so interested in preserving “Clem’s” legacy as a Saratoga sign painter. Jeff DeCanio just upped that legacy ten-fold by contacting me with a simple email request. 


The "Clem" Signs signature is at the tip of the "Y" in Price's Dairy

The truck is long gone. The memory is not. I will continue my “Clem” Signs searches. I am grateful to Jeff DeCanio for sending me his email and the photographs. I also want to thank Valerie Adinolphi for sharing her photo’s and memories of Clem with me. I know she is as sentimental as I am of Clem’s work and memory. I also want to thank childhood friend Rhea Gordon Demory and Saratoga artist Robert Wheaton, two other Saratoga originals who have provided me with photos and memories of Clem’s work. It’s nice people like this that make up this blog and fuel this writer. 

If any of you happens across another “Clem” Sign or story, I would be thrilled to hear from you. 

You can contact me at: jgreenwood@rainingiguanas.com

   Jeff DeCanio is the General Manager of a bar and restaurant in the West Village in NYC. The bar is aptly named, The “Happiest Hour,” and the restaurant, “Slowly Shirley.” In a later phone conversation when I inquired about the origin of Slowly Shirley, Jeff eluded that the focus of the restaurant was the wide variety of interesting cocktails—the food although as enjoyable and unique, might arrive slowly but surely. With a blog named Raining Iguanas I could relate to the hidden tone. If you're ever in the Big Apple look up Jeff and his establishment and say hello. Tell him a Raining Iguana sent you. 



Walter "Clem" Clements
Photo Courtesy of Valerie Adinolphi 



August 04, 2016

Wondering Cow

Wondering Cow
By John R. Greenwood



Where are all the kids, wondered Miss Blossom? The barn and fields used to be brimming with rosy-cheeked girls and scabby-kneed boys during the summer. Did an alien spaceship drop down and slurp them up like August lemonade, whisking them off to a distant star? I miss the afternoon treats of alfalfa and clover dropping through the ceiling cracks as energy packed ten year-olds constructed castle-size forts in the hay-mow above. Did the never-ending kid-laughter and tall tales that once filled every inch of the farm, now disappear to some unknown land? I miss watching the boys in their white t-shirts and cut-off jeans wading in the creek chasing giggling girls with croaking bullfrogs and Garter snakes. Every hot August day used to be filled with the clickety clack of hay bailers and chugging tractors. Wagons heaped with sun-burned backs and baseball caps are now just a distant memory. All I see now is yellow jellyrolls of hay scattered across the country side with no one in sight. 

What’s happened Miss Blossom wondered? 

Is it something I said? 

Did I smell too bad? 

Doesn’t anyone enjoy the cool, refreshing nourishment of my milk anymore? 

Do sugar and caffeine packed drinks with names like Vein Splitter and Eye Popper really taste better than an ice cold glass of liquid nature? 

It saddens me. 

Bring my kids back! 

I want more running, jumping and smiling faces around me.The simple times we made so complex vanished into thin air when no one was looking. Too many precautions have turned my barn inside out Miss Blossom lamented. 

Maybe one day the children will return from Mars, or Venus, or wherever they've gone. 

For now I will simply replay the scene, over, and over, and over again…






July 31, 2016

My Turn

My Turn 
By John R. Greenwood

I’ve heard enough. 

Now it’s my turn.

I try to remain neutral to a fault when it comes politics and religion. You go your way, I’ll go mine. This time I felt I must speak my piece, get it off my chest and wait for election day. 

I’m a simple man who lives between Right and Left worlds. My heart lives in the middle Left somewhere between common sense and compassionate human. I try to do more listening than talking or judging.

I’ve walked a lot of miles and I try to know what its like to do it in someone else’s shoes. They don’t often fit perfectly. There’s always more to the story. 

I have an American flag on my front porch, not as a reminder of how great America was but as a sign of how great I believe America is. My America is and always has been great. I don’t want to look back, I want to live forward. I’m nostalgic about the past but I’m more interested in enjoying what’s left of today and looking forward to what I’ll do tomorrow. 

I’ve watched and listened to as many viewpoints and opinions as I possibly can over the last several months and I’m in the same place I was in the beginning; I’m tired of being bullied and frightened in to thinking the sky is falling. I watched the horror movie that was the RNC until I couldn’t handle any more trembling. This past week I watched the DNC and I finally felt safe enough to crawl out from under the bed. 

There are no perfect scenarios or options in this life. You make the best decisions based on the best information you can assemble. There is one thing I am 100% sure of; I want to finish up this life of mine on a positive and optimistic note. After listening to Michelle, Bill, Barrack, and Khizer Khan, I knew I had to put something down on paper. I had to voice my opinion. I had to take a stand against fear. 

If you didn’t listen to both sides while idling in neutral this piece won’t change your mind. It’s not intended to anyway. If your biggest fear in life is more stringent gun control, you’ve already made up your mind. If the world gets so bad I need to keep my grandfather’s Winchester on my lap at night I don’t want to stick around anyway. 

Immigrants and minorities only have one choice and for those who are just looking for some peace and quiet, its clear that the optimistic bus is the one you want to get on. The seats might be a little torn, and the windows might need a little Windex, but from where I sit and from what I’ve heard this is the mode of travel I want to take.

Like it or not there is no pause or rewind button on this election. From what I’ve absorbed over the last few months I’ve determined that my odds of a better world are now, and have been in the hands of a woman. There have been two in particular who have looked out for me very well over the last six decades. One brought me into the world and the other will be holding my hand when I leave. I’m hoping there’s one more who’ll continue to look out for my best interest. 
This post is not meant to stir debate or solicit commentary. You can find plenty of that in tons of other places. My goal was to state my position so I can stop holding it in. I’ve got plenty of other things I’d like to talk about other than politics. 

I have an American Dream to continue living. It’s alive and doing well, but you have to open your eyes and your mind to be able to see it as clearly as I do. I guess it helps when you have two brand spanking new lens implants that replaced the cataracts, that my wonderful health care professionals identified and my wife’s health insurance plan paid for. 

Do you SEE what I’m saying? 

I hope so. 

Signed,

An American Dreamer