What a trip
In the 1940s, Virginia City was more of an artists’ haven than it is today. Zoray Andrus, one of the West Coast’s more renowned abstractionist painters in her day, lived in the lively mining town and often entertained world-famous visitors. When Andrus opened her Welcome Grant gallery in 1947, the show featured collage pieces by Jean Varda and watercolors by Henry Miller. Miller and Anais Nin were some of Andrus’ evanescent guests, as was Salvador Dali.
“Salvador Dali once chased a bird through our house,” says Peter Kraemer, Andrus’ son and the former lead-singer of the ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic band, the Sopwith Camel. “We lived in a 15-room brewery; I was raised around bars, poker tables and wood stoves.”
Kraemer is the gallery’s new father and proprietor. In some ways, Welcome Grant has come a long way since 1947. In other ways, it hasn’t. Theoretically, in the hourglass of the past 56 years, the time the gallery has been open could be represented by a few grains of sand.
“The gallery was established in 1947 and is starting its third year of operation,” Kraemer says of the jam-packed art venue that he resurrected this summer. The wooden sign hanging from the rafters along Virginia City’s main street is the same one Andrus painted in the late ‘40s, and the interior is roughly the same as it was 150 years ago. (The building was one of the few structures in town to dodge the fire of 1875.)
Brass light fixtures attach to decorative valances and curve back toward the wall to illuminate works by local artists such as Walter McNamara and Edw Martinez. Tchotchke trinkets sent from Bali by Kraemer’s daughter hang from each light. About 60 percent of one side of the gallery is comprised of other metallic Balinese artifacts. It’s an enchanting collection.
A narrow but long wooden table that Kraemer crafted attracts attention in the center of the room and matches the gallery’s hardwood floor. He says he had to revive the gallery so he’d have a space to put the cumbersome table, although his passion for art is too flagrant for such a trivial excuse to seem completely legitimate.
“To have a gallery is relatively insane,” Kraemer admits. “If I had to pay rent, I wouldn’t do it.”
A great white couch at the back of the gallery beckons the weary-footed spectator. The couch should come in handy at the upcoming show at Welcome Grant, Month of the Dead. The reception is at 5 p.m. Oct. 30, and the show will be unlike anything Andrus presented in her gallery during the year and half or so she had it open.
The show will feature original album and poster art by such psychedelic-era artists as Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Rick Griffin, Sätty and David Singer. The art should look familiar to people who bought Grateful Dead, Sopwith Camel, Eagles, Pink Floyd, etc. albums, or people who have seen and drooled over any of concert posters for shows at the Fillmore and the Avalon in the late 1960s and 1970s.
The artwork resounds with the style of the times from which it sprung and will resonate greatly with the other fantastic pieces in the gallery, pieces like Marko Yamagata’s puppet head creations. Yamagata will be on hand at the opening putting his hand to good use as he signs photo images of his works.
“It’s going to be an odd mix,” Kraemer says of the show. “These are rare, weird items that wouldn’t appear in a commercial gallery. This is a desperate gallery of vanity.”
Kraemer’s favorite poster of his own band read, “Allen Ginsburg reads Sopwith Camel.” Although this poster won’t be in the show, there will be Griffin’s original print of “Without a Net,” the famous circus scene that appears on the Grateful Dead album of the same name, as well as Mouse’s “Cats Under the Stars,” from Jerry Garcia’s album.
This is splendid artwork displayed in a unique setting. Ride Further, the magic bus, to Virginia City and free your mind.