August 30, 2016

The Morning After

The Morning After 
By John R. Greenwood



"The Morning After" 

It's 4am the morning after the Washington County Fair 2016 has come to an end. There are a few signs of life in a place that a few hours earlier was filled to the brim with dusty children and weary parents with empty pockets and sore feet. Another county fair ends as quickly as it arrived. Sweet corn season is peaking and carved pumpkins are rolling around the bend. 


"Two old friends share an August sunrise" 

I was here to pick up the last milking of fair week. The cows were all back home in their own barns enjoying more familiar surroundings. The farmers while enjoying the weeks festivities have a weeks worth of work to catch up on. The kids were still suffering from too much cotton candy. Some were bugging mom for a spot to display their blue ribbons and stuffed animals. A few rare birds were anxious for school to start.


Reserved Seating 

 After the milk tank was emptied and my truck was buttoned up I took a minute to walk around and click a picture or two. I enjoy taking night photos in quiet settings with varied lighting. What could fit that criteria better than a fairground the morning after? 


Table For Two Hundred 

I have an affinity for picnic tables of all persuasions. I'm particularly drawn to green painted and sliver filled weathered ones. I encourage anything that brings people close together and face to face. 

Hear the kids?

This scene called for the simplicity of black and white. The vacant judging arena was now silent. I sat at one of the tables and recreated the events that took place there over the last five days. It didn't matter that I wasn't there in the flesh. I could hear children of all ages, in all tones, at all levels, talking, yelling, and crying. Little ones in strollers sucking on bottles, midsize ones tugging on mom's arm begging for one more handful of money, teenagers whispering to each other, making plans to escape to the opposite end of the fair to sneak a cigarette. It was all so vivid at 4am. I was grateful to have lived in a place where county fairs surrounded me and I had enough neighbors and friends who were kind enough to bring me along. While my father lived to take me trout fishing I don't recall ever going to a fair with my parents. He hated crowds I guess. As I savor the serenity of the morning void of people, I realize maybe the apple didn't fall so far from the tree after all. 


Stillness Of Light 
As I scanned my surroundings one of the empty barns caught my eye. There was a calmness oozing out of it. Dry hay and bright lights created a unique texture that fit the stillness of dawn perfectly. I wanted to end my work day right then and go sit in a folding chair in the middle of that barn.



It was time to get the milk back to the Plant. As I drove out through the maze of campers, trailers, empty barns and folded up rides I tried to freeze frame the images in my head. One more fair to go I thought--just down the river in Schaghticoke. I'd be picking up milk there in a few days. I better get my camera on the charger.








August 28, 2016

Thanks Again Washington County

Thanks Again Washington County
By John R. Greenwood

Foxfield Farm - Granville, NY

I owe a lot to Washington County NY. It has come to my rescue time and time again. It has been a tough summer for me. There has been some family losses and more work than play, thus making it more difficult to recuperate. But, as it has in the past, the green pastures and farm scenes of Washington County have revived my spirit and brought me back peace of mind. The resuscitation began with the 2016 Washington County Fair. I didn't get to enjoy the rides, tractor pulls, or the displays, but that’s okay. It was my visit at 3:30am to pick up milk that brought my pulse rate and my outlook back on track. Passing by the darkened rides and curtained midway games was therapeutic. Picturing the change that would take place in the hours ahead brought a smile to my face. As I pulled in the back entrance to the waving flashlight beam of a man that had probably manned that same post for years, I waved back in a semi-salute of mutual appreciation for being early morning sentinels at this yearly late summer event. As I backed in to the milking barn to prepare the milk tank for pickup I scanned the dimly lit barns looking for an early riser. The cows stirred quietly, mooing a welcoming good morning to me. I saw the familiar sign of Lincoln Hill Farm right next door. The same farm where a tragic farm accident was overcome by the miracle of prayer and the farmer strong will of Lenny Austin. Lenny who just months earlier teetered at heavens gate refused the invitation and decided to stick around for what we all hope will be decades more county fairs. The strength of Lenny, his family, and the close knit network of friends and neighbors was an inspiration for any one with a ticking heart this summer. I can’t express how deeply I was affected watching the farming community rally around one man and his family. It was uplifting and the high point of the summer of 2016. My admiration for farmers and the communities where they reside has always been of the highest regard, but in this, my 61st year, it quadrupled. 


Heide Merecki and Sara Kelly
at Lovejoy Hall on the Hubbard Hall Campus 
Today I enjoyed another spirit quenching experience in the town of Cambridge NY. The Cambridge Valley Fine Art Tour was in its second day and there was one artist in particular that I had been wanting to meet. Matt Chinian was one of the seven artists in town who were displaying and selling their work all within the city limits. I apologize for not getting to visit all seven artists but heat and time took a toll and my wife and I had to cut our tour short. Before meeting Matt we did get to meet artists Heide Merecki and Sara Kelly in the Lovejoy Building on the Hubbard Hall Campus. Their work was wonderful as were their welcoming personalities. It was like reacquainting with old friends. Two more examples of Washington County hospitality that has been so supportive of my own work. 

Artist Matt Chinian 

We left these two lovely artists and headed out to meet Matt Chinian. Matt’s gallery is located next to his home. It’s a beautiful piece of property right on Main St. I’d been by it dozens of times on my way to Bedlam Farm, Battenkill Books, and Hubbard Hall. I knew where it was because I’d seen the sign out front. I never would have stopped by unannounced or without an invitation. The tour was the perfect opportunity to introduce myself. I’d become interested in Matt’s work because not only did his work resemble my favorite artist Jack Lewis, much of it was done along the banks of the Hudson River. For over a year I’ve wanted to show Matt, Jack’s work. I knew in my heart he would be as drawn to the painting and writings of Mr. Lewis as I was. I pulled into Matt’s back yard and parked the car. My wife was not feeling well so she relaxed quietly while I headed into the gallery to introduce myself. Matt came out of the gallery door as I approached. I instinctively said, “Hi Matt, I’m John Greenwood, aka “Raining Iguanas” from the blog and Facebook.” Although we hadn’t met before, it seemed like we had. I was the only visitor at the time so I took full advantage of it by blasting Matt with both barrels. I couldn't  explain why I was so interested in his work fast enough. Matt is a quiet and mild mannered man. I was rattling on like a four year-old on Red Bull. The poor guy didn’t know what hit him. He was gracious and genuinely interested in my Jack Lewis, Hudson River connection. This was better than any ride at the fair. It was better than any ride at Disney for me. “I just happen to have a copy of,  “The Hudson River” in the car Matt,” I interjected. He nodded and with two strokes of a paint brush I had it spread out on a table in Matt’s gallery looking for a similar painting in Matt’s collection. It didn’t take long to locate one. As I gently flipped the boxes of prints one scene stopped me in my tracks. It was a painting of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and the Hudson River done from the banks below the Olana Historical Site. It was almost an identical match to Jack’s painting in the Hudson River book done from the same location. There were over fifty years between the two paintings and I was enjoying them both equally. I had to have Matt’s rendition. I said, “I’ll take it!” Before we could go any further more visitor’s showed up cutting our talk short. I didn’t want Matt to miss an opportunity to make another sale so I stepped back. Later we made a commitment to get together at another time so we could talk in more detail about his work and the painting I wanted. It was like Christmas morning with a room full of presents you have to wait to open. Our meeting was much too short but it had enough content to pump me up for another week or two. I couldn’t wait to get home to write about it. That’s a bonus! 


So, tomorrow morning when I return to the Washington County Fair Grounds to pick up the last milking I will scan the empty barns and the disassembled rides. I will replay my Sunday art tour. I will make a list of thank you’s to all the great people from the area who have decorated my life over the last few years. Jon Katz and Hubbard Hall got the ball rolling and it looks like it has no signs of stopping anytime soon. 

A sign found in Matt Chinian's Gallery
Good advice I'd say

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