always need to be doing something,” he tells me as we climb
the hill to see the Indian. Whether it’s restoring or renovating
a house, an antique motorcycle, painting or creating a place for
the community to gather, he’s always busy doing something.
He doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer, “I’m
not really a sit down kind of guy.” He’s the kind of
man who doesn’t waste time; every breath of life is valuable,
time for living for Thomas Hope.
Tom’s father, his grandfather and both great grandfathers
were coal miners in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His aunts spoke Welsh.
He was born in Schenectady, raised in Rexford, Saratoga County,
a nice lazy small town for a boy to grow up in. He could go bird
hunting and skeet shooting in the fields out behind his house. Then
he went off to college. When he returned everything had changed.
Developers had bought up all the land and slapped up acres and acres
of subdivisions, even changed the name of the place to Clifton Park.
His community was forever gone, so Tom headed out to find a new
home, new roots.
He’d studied art in college at Pratt, so he sold a painting
for $600, moved to San Francisco, found a small basement apartment
and painted. He met Lynne Michael, his wife and lived the poor but
simple, character building life of an artist.
Tom played the artist game in Soho for a time in the 1980’s
then discovered the place he’d spent years searching for,
Chatham. He fell in love with the sense of community inherent in
Chatham, “a place to call home, a place to put down roots.”
Tom’s paintings, by the way, are on exhibit through March
29 at North Pointe. See them if you can, they’re captivating.
One painting shows women picking cotton, below them are what appear
to be coal miner’s children, dozens of them. Tom explains
he was exploring a dilapidated abandoned house. In the house he
found some old photographs of women in a field. While in the house
he thought he heard children singing and went outside to see who
they were, instead he found a gurgling stream that sang like children.
“I wanted to paint the sound of voices,” he smiles.
The images Tom paints come over him like a veil being draped over
his head. “I get breathy when it happens,” he says,
“have to sit down.” While he sits, the complete image
of the painting, every detail, comes to life in his mind. He says
he might not paint the picture for years, but when he’s ready,
it all comes back and he puts it down on the canvas.
Tom is changing though, “I just want to paint portraits of
my fellow villagers.” His habits are changing too, “The
older I get, I ride the Harley faster, take curves sharper, lean
harder.” Tom’s eyes light up and a boyish grin peeks
out from beneath his enormous mustache when he talks about motorcycles
and living life.
Several years ago Tom and Lynne opened the store American Pie
in Chatham. I saw a motorcycle in the window one day and curiosity
drove me inside; that’s how I met Tom. We talked motorcycles
that day, mostly about old Indian motorcycles like the 1947 model
pictured here. He also told me that day of a dream; to open a Welsh
pub in town.
The meaning of the Welsh word Hiraeth is: a longing for something
indefinable, perhaps unattainable. Tom is a man deeply affected
by his roots. The voices of his ancestors, as he puts it, “murmurings
from the dust,” created an indefinable longing to learn the
Welsh language. He is the only one in his family who still speaks
Peint O Gwrw, pint of ales, is the name of the Welsh pub
Tom opened in Chatham the last day of August 2001. The idea came
to Tom the way paintings come to him; the veiled feeling and every
detail of the pub magically appeared before him, right down to the
cat in the ladies room. “I wanted to make it look like it
had been here forever,” it’s a proud smile that tugs
at his face. The water stained wallpaper is intentional and he still
wants to add flyspecks, “you put stain on a toothbrush and
flick it. It’s the detail that’s important.”
“I want people to be comfortable and relaxed here,”
Tom explains. “The Peint O Gwrw is a place for people
to come and communicate, to talk, to be part of a community, a camaraderie.”
Protecting the value of community is important to Tom.
I mention the notion of malls and he grimaces.
“I spell it, mauled,” he laughs.
Not long ago, Tom brought together his neighbors and along with
the Land Conservancy, they successfully fought to protect Borden’s
Pond Preserve for future generations. “It wouldn’t be
a rural community anymore without it. We’re losing our dairy
farms and rural character, it’s a way of life that attracts
tourism and tourism is the backbone of Columbia County.”
We’ll talk next time From The Road.