Relay: Hey, You Never Know

I am a born hunter-gatherer and vintager

I am always looking for cool stuff. I have what you call the acquisition gene. To spin on the Latin: Veni, vidi, Visa. Lucky for me, my acquisition gene is nurtured through an additional kind of “shopping”: taking pictures for The Star. Veni, vidi . . . voro? It’s not the same kind of shopping, but it’s easier on the pocketbook and that hungry gene can be fooled.

I am a born hunter-gatherer and vintager. As a bohemian girl in the early ’60s, I was always happy to wear nifty hand-me-downs as long as they went with black tights and sandals. But it really started in the 1970s, when cool stuff was everywhere and I was getting a paycheck. Antique stores and thrift shops were ubiquitous and all you needed was a good eye. Who remembers the Ridge Trading Company on Great Jones Street?

When I first set up apartment-keeping, rent control existed and gas was cheap and shopping for stuff was entertainment. My live-in boyfriend and I prowled the shops on Bleecker Street every Saturday night after pizza at John’s and an ice cream cone at the place on Christopher Street. We went to antiques markets at Farmington and Brimfield. We subscribed to The Newtown Bee — the bible of antiquing — and Maine Antique Digest. On one vacation, he and I drove from Orient to Nova Scotia and back (no bluenose ferry for us), stopping at every antiques shop on old Route 1. We piled up the car with what we called “props” and filled our large rent-controlled apartment with our finds. After a river trip in Utah, we drove the blue highways (Thank you, William Least Heat-Moon) from Ouray to Manhattan, shopping all the way. This time the car was filled with Acoma pots and Zuni fetishes, and of course the requisite Georgia O’Keeffe-ish old bones, patchwork quilts, and souvenir snow globes. Much of that stuff I still have and cherish. 

That man friend and I went our separate shopping ways but the skill set we honed over 10 years together stuck with me. As a single dame, I scoured Manhattan for vintage clothes. After I married John Berg, my collecting focus came to include advertising thermometers, of which he already had a collection. 

Life for John and me eventually became more East Hampton oriented. As year-round weekenders we would spend Saturdays checking out the antiques shops and garage sales. My husband would drive and I would navigate, and along the way we bought a little of this and some of that . . . mostly, it turned out that the “that” was little paintings that looked “local.” Barbara Trujillo Antiques was an excellent source for little paintings. She curates well for my taste. I once bought a painting from her that had been signed by the artist three times in three different places. It has a train and a lily pond and that makes it local enough for me! 

Even though I hung things salon-style we began to run out of wall space (small house, lots of windows), so I rotated things in and out to make room for the swell paintings I kept finding. (Thanks, Springs School Mystery Art Sale, for the endless temptations.)

After my husband died two years ago, in a need to resettle in my nest, I had the inside of our house painted. Anyone who has ever emptied out a room for painting knows at least two things: 1) After the paint has dried you are loath to put a hole in the newly painted walls, and 2) What used to fit in the room or on the walls will no longer do so. Even with the most careful planning, it all just doesn’t want go back the same way. A painting collection that had grown organically just did not want to be forced. 

Suddenly a little seascape no longer looked good next to a little pondscape or fieldscape. Reinstalling would clearly be copying the original hodgepodge and would no longer have the same serendipitous overlay. 

So, I left the Ikea bags full of little framed paintings around for months. I guess I was waiting for a snow day. That day came and I began “shopping” the bags. Slowly the walls are beginning to fill up with paintings that I am looking at in new ways. This is the fun part: going to my own yard sale.

Last week I re-looked at a seascape I had bought at an estate sale quite a few years ago. Oddly, I pretty much remember when I encountered it and actually where it was on a shelf in the house where the sale was taking place. The house was south of the highway on the east side of the street, likely on Dunemere but maybe not. The painting was on a shelf of a white painted bookcase with lots of molding. There was a window to the left of the bookcase. I bought it on the spot. 

It was the tail end of the sale and I cannot to this day see why nobody else had snatched it up, but sometimes things are behind things waiting for the right person to send out their little beacon: “Here I am, buy me!” I got the message, bought the painting, and hung it up next to a window where it stayed until everything came down. 

Looking at it again last week, I decided to put a picture of the picture up on Facebook and to ask my buddies if anyone recognized the location or names of people connected to the painting. It is called “Dudley’s Flag,” and the inscription on the back says, “To Dudley, thanks for all the great fishing trips off shore and on the rips.” It is signed “Jim, 1999.”

It only took 20 minutes for some details to emerge. First from Lys Marigold: “Think it was done by the owner of that English thatch-roofed mansion next to Maidstone Club. He was Jim Johnson and a painter; his wife Gretchen. Dudley Roberts lived next door or one over, on the ocean. Nice find.” Then from Irene Silverman: “ Dudley Roberts was the man who saved the Dominy workshops from demolition during WW II and used them as a guest cottage. He did live on Further near the Maidstone; he was its president for years.” Laura Donnelly and Richard Barons weighed in. And there is more from Lys: “Then Dudley Roberts gave the beautiful Dominy accessory building to his neighbor who last year donated the old wooden structure to the Village for the museum on the corner of North Main and Cedar.”

So here I am with a wonderful piece of local history, on so many levels one of the coolest things I have ever bought. And thanks to the internet for solving the who and the where, and to friends who helped, and to Jim Johnson for painting this nifty work in 1999.

Durell Godfrey is a contributing photographer for The Star.