Wednesday, August 08, 2007

No, Not Harry! That Other, Amazing Potter (You Know, Sparky's Kid!)

The Bicentennial, baby! Let your giant freak flag fly!

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Connecting Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn and Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island
Photograph via Forgotten NY
June 28, 1976


Enough Harry Potter already!

I met Grace Potter when she was maybe 6 or 7 years old (some 16 years ago, or so), during a visit to her father, Sparky Potter's workshop (and home) nestled on a mountainside near Mad River Glen (where snowboarders, like myself, dare never tread), in a bucolic little town in Vermont.

A trip to Sparky's mountainside retreat was like taking a walk through the Shire, an experience only (much) later envisioned on the big screen in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (I kid you not, it had that same magical feeling!). A walk amongst the buildings and out-buildings of the Potter compound afforded you glimpses of signs in various stages of completion, Sparky's wife Peggy's hand-painted wooden bowls, in a rainbow of colors and stages of finish, drying on outdoor shelves, and the sense that you were in a place of complete creativity. Sparky was, and still is, one of the finest craftsman (and signmaker) I have ever had the opportunity to work with. He is damn funny to boot (and, has a personality and openness that is immediately infectious).

I had the chance to stop by Sparky's shop again while traveling through that little town a few years ago. Having changed very little (other then now having his shop away from the house, and a little (16 years, in fact) older, as I had become) over the years. He remembered me immediately (apparently, neither of us had changed that much), and gladly took me on a tour through his new workspace, once again, filled with colorful and creative projects in various stages of completion. At the end of the tour, he excitingly handed me a CD. "This is my daughter Grace's band," he exclaimed with a proud exuberance, "Enjoy," he said.

We shook hands, and said our goodbyes. With a warm feeling in my heart, and a copy of "Original Soul" in my hands, I walked to my car, and left.

Every time I hear a Grace Potter song now, I think of Sparky, too. And smile.


Well, on the day after her third release, This Is Somewhere, I took the opportunity to visit her website, where I read this explanation about the cover images of the CD, from her recollections of the photographic archives of her father.

The front and back cover images are taken from a photographic document of the mounting of the largest American flag ever made up to that time; it was hung on New York’s Verrazano Bridge to commemorate America’s Bicentennial in 1976. The photos were shot by Dream On Productions, an art collective founded by Grace’s father, Sparky Potter, and commissioned by New York advertising executive turned flag-obsessed Vermonter Len Silverfine, who came up with the idea and secured the involvement of the city and state of New York. Silverfine had the flag assembled by a sailmaking company in Marblehead, Mass., and, two days before the Bicentennial, it was unfurled from the side of the bridge in a dress rehearsal. Hanging from the arching steel structure, the huge flag looked “magnificent—a real show-stopper,” Sparky recalls. But then the wind unexpectedly picked up, causing the flag to billow dramatically. Realizing that the heavy, wind-whipped flag could very possibly tax the structure of the bridge, the engineers on hand called for it to be taken down, and Sparky was one of the five crew members who held onto a halyard in an attempt to pull back one of its corners.

“The wind was so strong that it lifted me several feet in the air,” he says. “Because of the force of it, we were dangling like little rag dolls until the wind eased up. From that point on, the flag just kept continually ripping, but it must’ve been a six-hour process before it got to a manageable point, where people could actually cut the sections and take it apart.” As the effort continued, shutters snapped, resulting in some truly memorable images. “For those of us who were on the bridge, it was the most dramatic sculpture you could imagine,” says Sparky. “From looking at the flag through my lens, it became more and more of a piece of art as it fell apart.” And now, 31 years later, those images have become a metaphor for the state of the nation as observed so insightfully by Grace in the songs of This Is Somewhere.

“It’s an amazing piece of Americana,” says Sparky, “and it probably would’ve stayed stashed away in the closet if Gracie hadn’t had a momentary flash about some slides of an American flag that she remembered from her childhood.”

Then, I came across this:

"On June 28, 1976 the largest American flag in the world was placed on the Verrazano. It lasted a few minutes before winds tore it apart. (Technology wasn't quite as advanced then). Since then a bigger flag was produced in Thailand, but we're told an even larger flag was produced in the USA. Help me out, Forgotten fans!"
From a recollection of that same event, 31 years ago, via Forgotten NY

(Ah, synchronicity! Don't you just love when those things happen.)

And now, for your enjoyment, as well as mine, some music by the amazing Grace Potter.


No Good, Mean Old, Lowdown Lover Man
(Buy: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: Original Soul)

Nothing But The Water (II)
(Buy: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: Nothing But The Water)

Here's a live version of that same song, and, I believe, the reason for the band's popularity. (Their live performances, I meant, if you didn't know what I meant. Or, maybe it's that bitchin' Hammond. Or, Grace's voice. Or, maybe it's just because that the damn band rocks it live!)

Nothing But The Water (LIVE)
(June s, 2006 at World Cafe Live!, Philadelphia (NPR))

Here's To The Meantime
(Buy: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: This Is Somewhere)


And, here's one for those bicentennial flag "supporters" on that windy little day in June.

Don't Pull It Down
(Buy: Various Artists from Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical: Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical [Original Broadway Cast])


Ashley said...

Please help!!! I have an original photograph of the flag when it was up. Is there somewhere I can sell this?

Ashley said...

I have an original photograph of the flag up. Is there somewhere I can sell this?