Murmurings From The Dust


“I 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 Welsh.

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.

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