In 2002 I climb a steep flight of stairs to Andy DeWeerdt’s A.D. & Company. Behind a sliding steel door, a vintage DeKalb chicken sign riveted to its face, is a 2,500-square-foot space. Directly below is the 5th Street home base for Stone Creek Coffee. Hits of aroma waft upward to infuse the area where theater sets and furniture were once designed and constructed. It’s possible that this building has the only remaining water-powered freight elevator in the city.
In 2010 I climb the steep stairs to slide back the steel door and re-visit DeWeerdt, who is readying for a move to Ashland, Oregon, where his wife has taken a prestigious job as archivist for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The site seems perfect for his wife and their two girls.
A small former gold-mining town which has reinvented itself as an arty community, Ashland is a getaway for people fleeing California. “Think Door County with mountains,” says DeWeerdt.
Out there in this re-invented “west,” numerous properties wait his restorative touch, a craft honed to perfection since 1989 when he took his first post-MIAD job with Conrad Schmitt Studios. They sent him to the University of Notre Dame to refurbish murals originally designed by Luigi Gergori.
Later he became an artist foreman for Schmitt, and helped redo the Basilica of St. Josaphat. He’s installed gigantic murals in Hawaii and in New Orleans, while working on the venerable St. Louis Cathedral, he squatted in former slave quarters for $25 per night. The cathedral was the very spot where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. History seems determined to shadow DeWeerdt.
I can’t imagine having to move even a small portion of the items in DeWeerdt’s studio. All those plaster cherubim and baptismal fonts; all those frames and stacks of huge paintings (plus smaller charming portraits). Every hefty work-table inch is used. The madness has beauty. Work is being accomplished behind these Cream City brick walls.
A small white laptop sits in a dusty corner on a dusty shelf, the only high-tech thing in view. It seems oddly useless, as if cast from some alien planet.
To the rescue comes Deb Brehmer and Portrait Society Gallery on floor five of the Marshall Building.
From June 11 – July 10, a selection of DeWeerdt’s works The Transamerican Parlor: Andy DeWeerdt’s Moving Sale will be exhibited, including (see photo), a huge mural depicting the interior of what appears to be a Victorian residence.
My personal favorite is a glorious, early painting of two roosters, although it won’t be in this exhibit. While other artists strut and crow about accomplishments, DeWeerdt has worked quietly and consistently. There is much more to him than restoration and trickery. A number of paintings clearly are about who he is. Steeped in mythology, they remind me of stepping into a fairy tale or falling down a rabbit hole. Loosely and lovingly painted, they define what it means to be an artist to the core. Not a god-damned grandstanding hair on his sensible head.
As I navigate down the steep stairs, DeWeerdt wishes me well. He’s only 44 years old, wildly talented, and well, once he gets his Bay View home sold and figures out what to do with the items in his vast studio, things will be Oregon-swell. “We just bought a home there,” he says. “It’s a brand new townhouse. We’ve never owned anything new. Our old furnishings from Bay View look strange in their new surroundings.”
With his know-how on making the new look old, or vice-versa, can this really be a problem?
Andy DeWeerdt’s work will be on display at the Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St. fifth floor, from June 11 – July 10.