Painting the past Kenneth Hodgert calls up misty watercolour memories with his acrylic works featuring beloved local businesses
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/08/2021 (377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With Argy’s Records set to turn the big four-oh in 2022, owner Ray Giguere figured he should probably toast that achievement by adorning the walls of his shop with photographs of the original location, a (Rolling) stone’s throw away from Glenlawn Collegiate.
He didn’t have any pics of his own — he was 19 when he established the store, which moved to 1604 St. Mary’s Rd. in 1989, and recalls selling his only camera to help pay a bill — so he posted a message on social media, asking whether anybody who frequented Argy’s back in the day had shots they’d like to share.
Ken Hodgert, who sells paintings of Winnipeg businesses and restaurants from yesteryear under the banner Underground Nostalgia, went one better. Working off a still image captured from an old VHS tape, he recreated the store circa 1982, which he framed and presented to Giguere, free of charge. Included on the backside was a handwritten inscription that reads, in part, “Dear Ray, Thanks for all the memories in the form of music. You’ve had a huge impact on my life and many others… keep on rocking.”
“I’m not a sentimental guy or anything like that, but it was kind of touching to read that,” Giguere says, returning the painting to its resting place near the front door, beside a for-sale John Lennon T-shirt. “I’d been in touch with him on and off through the years; he told me once he was 10 or 11 when he bought his first record here. But did I expect something like this when I asked around for pictures? No, not at all. It’s a nice, little memento, that’s for sure.”
• • •
Seated in picturesque Fisher Park, down the street from his Riverview apartment, Hodgert, 50, refers to himself as a “COVID casualty,” owing to the fact he lost his sales job at the onset of the pandemic. His bubble included his girlfriend Retha, as well as an 18-year-old son from a previous relationship, but because he usually travelled in a large circle of friends, he was feeling out of sorts, stuck at home around the clock, unable to work or hook up with pals.
Hodgert initially thought the world would be on pause for a few weeks, three months tops. By the time November rolled around and he still wasn’t working or getting out much, he thought it was probably time to get off his butt and do something productive.
He’d always enjoyed woodworking. Perhaps he could invest in some tools and turn out shelves or coffee tables? He parked that notion after learning the price of lumber had shot through the roof. What about painting? It had been years since he last picked up a brush, but he remembered how much he used to look forward to art class in high school, and thought that might be an avenue worth pursuing.
Every summer, he and Retha park a trailer at Chesley’s Resort, a seasonal campground in Petersfield. As a Christmas present, he painted her a likeness of their setup. It wasn’t “some Picasso,” he says with a smile, but she loved it just the same — as did friends and acquaintances who spotted it online after he posted a shot of the gift on Facebook. He kept at it throughout January and February, fine-tuning his technique by studying instructional videos on YouTube. (He laughingly describes his skies as being full of “stickman clouds” until he learned how to render a proper cumulonimbus.)
A nostalgic sort, he began painting locales he frequented when he was younger, some in the city (the Park Theatre, the Red Top Drive Inn, the Marion Hotel), others past the Perimeter (Winnipeg Beach’s Playland and Pizza Place). You can probably guess what happened next. Within days he was inundated with messages from people inquiring if he could paint them this, that or another thing.
Initially it was bygone nightclubs people seemed most interested in: Scandals, Bobby Dazzler’s, Blue Jeans… a veritable where’s where of Winnipeg watering holes. Next was shuttered restaurants. One person wanted him to recreate the Wagon Wheel Lunch, home of the greatest clubhouse sandwich on the planet before it closed in 2012. Somebody else was looking for a painting of the Shanghai, formerly on King Street. He happily filled both orders, working from photos he found on the Internet.
“Given the fact I hadn’t painted in years, I was more than a little surprised that so many people liked what I was doing,” he says, noting he works with acrylic paint exclusively. “One guy said he enjoyed my style, which he described as ‘kind of like a cartoon, but not.’ I was like, ‘Wait, I have a style?’”
Three months ago Hodgert, who now loses complete track of time when he’s buried in a project, decided to turn his newfound hobby into a business of sorts. He still accepts requests, but before turning over the original, he gets a friend to make digitized prints of it in various sizes, in the event others are interested in whatever he’s captured on canvas.
“The original Banana Boat, which used to be close to Confusion Corner, is probably my top seller,” says Hodgert, whose prices for prints start at $20. “I guess there are a lot of people like me who drove to the BDI (Bridge Drive-in), saw the line stretching out over the (Elm Park) bridge and said, forget it, let’s go to Banana Boat instead.”
Cait Bousfield and Sam Rivait are the owners of Good Fortune Barbershop, 665 Osborne St. Before opening for business in April, they agreed to reserve space on their exposed-brick walls for local artists, whom they would invite to display for-sale paintings, photographs, etc. Bousfield was browsing through a Facebook site called Winnipeg Market Place in mid-May when one of Hodgert’s paintings caught her eye.
“It was of the Palomino Club on Portage Avenue; iconic of course, plus I spent many nights there during hair school and my apprenticeship years, so it was suiting,” Bousfield says, when reached at work. After doing a bit of digging, Bousfield learned the artist behind the painting lived nearby. She invited him to pop by the barbershop, which was closed at the time due to code red restrictions, with some of his work. She told him she and Rivait would be proud to show everything off once they reopened.
“So many of Kenneth’s pieces — I call him Kenneth; it makes him sound more like an artist, ha ha — bring back memories to folks and it’s great to hear stories of their childhood,” she continues, adding there’s another of his paintings she immediately fell in love with: a rendition of the three-storey Rubin Block, a largely derelict building directly across the street from Good Fortune, at the intersection of Osborne Street and Morley Avenue.
“I had never seen it in its full life but have heard many stories from people in the neighbourhood,” she says. “It’s quite entertaining hearing different versions of things that happened there through the years.”
In addition to selling his work online, Hodgert is also a familiar face at a weekend pop-up sale in Petersfield, just off Highway 9 near a giant mallard duck statue. Recently, a woman drove there from Winnipeg expressly to buy a painting of his that depicted Winnipeg Beach’s 40-metre-high water tower, constructed in 1928.
“She came with her husband, and was very emotional about what (the tower) meant. She was very thankful and seemed to hide something painful, as well as something she cherished about it,” he says.
“A lot of people share their experiences and memories with me,” he goes on. “Many buy (a painting) because it’s of a place where they shared memories with loved ones, some of whom have passed away. That’s why I chose my name, Underground Nostalgia. Digging up the past isn’t just about old restaurants, etc. It’s about memories you can get from a picture.”
About that; if anybody reading this has a shot or two of the old Shakey’s Pizza Parlour on Nairn Avenue, best remembered for its lunch-hour, all-you-can-eat, fried-chicken-and-pizza buffet, Hodgert would be eternally grateful.
“Somebody asked for a Shakey’s painting and I have a few (pictures) but they’re not very good. If I don’t turn something up soon, I guess I’ll just have to rely on my improv skills.”
For more information on Underground Nostalgia, go to https://www.facebook.com/Underground_Nostalgia-102329838762999.
David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric businesses and restaurants.
Updated on Sunday, August 1, 2021 11:34 AM CDT: Fixes typo.