SIGNS OF THE TIMES

In the low-key world of political lawn signs, Robert Haddow, Ph.D. is a maverick. A couple things. One is I misspelled the Unabomber's name. It is Theodore Kaczynski.

          Secondly, I wanted to get the guy's address in there so people could drive by. I'd like to squeeze it in the second paragraph:

          "I never know how to explain my yard," Haddow tells us when we stop by for a guided tour of the "Folk Art Palace" ***at his Seward home on 24th avenue.*** Haddow was named after his uncle, a communist union organizer, and aside from creating the Folk Art Palace, he has, in recent years, founded and disbanded the Tipper Gore Fan Club (which he claims got him into trouble with the National Security Council), acquired a Ph.D. in art history, written a mystery novel about the local controversy over the metal shredder, and presented papers with titles like: "Selling the American Dream: The American Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair" and "A Need for Paradise: Elvis Presley's 'Jungle Room' and the Meaning of Tiki Culture."

          Third; here's a blurb for the end of Public Domain

          Sell yourself. Fax 372-3737; e-mail jhart@citypages.com; call 372-3718. Joseph Hart is very, very careful on Page Three. Illustration by John Gerber.

          . *

--Jo

          For one thing, the painter and art historian makes his own signs. For another, appearance in his front lawn gallery doesn't constitute endorsement for office. Haddow, or Dr. Bob, as he identifies himself on one sign, offers portraiture of the entire political spectrum for the enjoyment and instruction of his neighbors: Democrats on the left side and republicans on the right, with anarchists and malcontents (Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski) "squeezed by the pressures of both the right and the left" and so clustered in the middle around the sidewalk, leading up to the one-and-a-half story he shares with his wife ( a medical doctor) and his daughter, whose own paintings tend toward abstraction.

          "I never know how to explain my yard," Haddow tells us when we stop by for a guided tour of the "Folk Art Palace" at his Seward home on 24th Street. Haddow was named after his uncle, a communist union organizer, and aside from creating the Folk Art Palace, he has, in recent years, founded and disbanded the Tipper Gore Fan Club (which he claims got him into trouble with the National Security Council), acquired a Ph.D. in art history, written a mystery novel about the local controversy over the metal shredder, and presented papers with titles like: "Selling the American Dream: The American Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair" and "A Need for Paradise: Elvis Presley's 'Jungle Room' and the Meaning of Tiki Culture."

          What buoy's Haddow's sprit is black comedy. He's painted Jack Kemp as a hit-man, complete with dark sunglasses. His Bob Dole looks positively cadaverous. His Unabomber seems on the verge of tears. Some of Haddow's paintings, as in any good museum, bear explanatory or interpretive texts, like the portrait of Frederick Davidson--a balding Everyman with piercing eyes that follow you around the lawn. "Frederick Davidson, crazed grad student at San Diego State, shot his entire thesis committee," reads the informative text. Haddow, his spirits evidently up, throws back his head and laughs when he points out that sign. "I just love this guy!" he chuckles, telling the tale. Davidson apparently waded through his Ph.D. thesis, only to be given the thumbs down by his committee, upon which he took the excessive step of shooting the professors right then and there. "I got a big kick out of that," Haddow nods knowingly, "'cause I went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota." It would be a rare doctoral student indeed who didn't find his spirits revived by Davidson's tale.

          Once in a while a sign disappears. A few weeks ago somebody stole Paul Wellstone's portrait, and with the election just around the corner, Haddow hurried to replace it. "I decided that since he'd been stolen I would paint him as a martyred saint." It's true. A golden halo hovers over a grinning Wellstone; his portrait bears the title "St. Paul."

          At the very edge of Haddow's lawn stands a sign scrawled with green paint that reads "paintings are better than money." At first we interpreted this naively as the dissident mission statement of the artist, a kind of challenge to the rest of us to examine our materialistic values. Haddow sets us straight. "What I've got going here is the ultimate capitol investment, right? You buy a painting from me for a hundred dollars and then you can sell it later and put your kids through college." To that end, Haddow plans to auction off his lawn signs the weekend before the elections.

          Not all of Haddow's paintings are overtly political, but that's where his black humor shines; they're the ones that keep his spirits up. On the frame of a grinning Sonny Bono, Haddow had written: "Sonny Bono says 'unload your history.' "That's a direct quote," he says. Another painting that hangs in the porch next to a display of Jimmy Swaggert albums depicts four women in four separate frames. "This one's called 'Hillary's Hair,' the idea being that with each new hairdo she's sort of a new woman." Haddow looks at the picture for a moment nodding with satisfaction. "For a hundred bucks that's a nice little wedding present." *

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