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Thelma Blumberg

Uncle Ugly, “Unc” for short

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture  Virgil Elliott Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Bill Christman

After my recent post on Bill Christman's Joe's Cafe Gallery, Virgil Elliott, a former CWEnder who works as an artist and writer in California, sent the following comment: "I'd be very interested in reading what Jack Parker wrote in his captions
for Thelma Blumberg's photographs of the Gaslight Square days. However, I
am nowhere near Missouri, and thus cannot visit the gallery before the
exhibit ends. Might someone be willing to copy those captions and send
them to me for a small fee? I lived on the Square and around the West
End from 1966-1969 or so, and knew many of the people in those
photographs."

I forwarded the inquiry to Bill Christman and want to share Virgil's reply after receiving the requested information about the photographs—especially the one of the Boneshakers, above. I hope you will enjoy learning a little more about life in Gaslight Square and the characters who called it home.

"Thank
you very much for sending Jack's (Parker) captions. I have many colorful
memories of Gaslight Square from the 1960s, and reading these brings
them back. The bikers in the "Bone Shakers" photo (above) are Paul Stearns
(standing) and Dennis Brannaker (sitting on the steps). The location of
the shot is the porch/steps of The Exit, the coffeehouse at the corner
of Boyle and Westminster. This was the summer of 1968.

I came to the Square as a young
beatnik artist in 1965, and somehow became a member of the Boneshakers
motorcycle club a couple of years later. The term, "Boneshakers" was in
reference to the kind of motorcycles we rode, which had no rear
suspension and thus shook the rider's bones. It was not intended as a
synonym for "bone crushers" or any other violence-connected term, though
it was often misconstrued as such by others. We certainly weren't
afraid to fight if the situation called for it, but that was not the
focus of our association. We were a club, not a gang, and a merry bunch
of wild, fun-loving young people we were.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture  Virgil Elliott Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Bill Christman

Dennis
Brannaker (above) drove a cab for a living, and at some point acquired the
nickname of "Uncle Ugly," after being known previously by some people as
"Dirty Denny."  But since there was another guy named Dirty Denny
around (a junkie, hustler and thief, not associated with the
Boneshakers), Dennis Brannaker preferred to be called Uncle Ugly, or
"Unc" for short.  He's still around, and works the door at BB's blues
club on Broadway, near the baseball stadium. I painted his portrait two
years ago on a brief visit to St. Louis.

The
raised index finger is a characteristic gesture for Unc whenever he's
about to offer one of Uncle Ugly's Helpful Hints, which all his friends
know well. He has a keen sense of humor, which I tried to indicate in
this quickly-executed portrait. I see him as the kind of character that
Frans Hals
loved to paint.

Today I'm primarily an
artist and author living in California, having covered a lot of miles
and years since the Gaslight Square days. It always saddens me to visit
St. Louis and drive through where the Square used to be, and see that
there isn't a trace of it left. Thank you again for bringing back some
fond memories. I'll try to visit your gallery next time I'm in town.

Sincerely,

Virgil Elliott

The current exhibition featuring Thelma Blumberg's photographs of Gaslight Square and Frank Moskus's paintings will be on view until Thanksgiving. Joe's Cafe Gallery, 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays only,  6010 Kingsbury Avenue, joescafegallery@gmail.com, (314) 862-2541.


Joe’s Cafe Gallery

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element
Last year, when artist Bill Christman opened his Ars Populi Gallery in the Skinker/DeBaliviere neighborhood, it turned out that none of his followers could later recall the name of the gallery or “get” why he chose it. So in late September, Ars Populi was renamed the more generic “Joe’s Cafe Gallery” to coincide with the opening of the current exhibition featuring paintings by entertainer Frank Moskus, and the photography of Thelma Market Blumberg. Bill said that he is very proud to have given these two artists their time in the spotlight, as neither had exhibited their work previously.

To say that Bill Christman does nothing by the book would undoubtedly unleash many accounts of his offbeat humor from his many followers, including yours truly. If you’ve been to the City Museum. you’ve probably seen Christman’s “Beatnik Bob’s Museum of Mayhem, Mystery and Mirth.” His passion however is the creation of unique signage which he fashions in a workspace behind the gallery. (A good example of Bill’s artful signage–shown in window above–can be found over the entry to the neighborhood’s Left Bank Books.)

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element
Joe’s Cafe Gallery is an example of Bill Christman’s, above, quirkiness. To start,
the gallery is only open on Thursday evenings from 7 to 10 p.m. This coincides with Bill’s music venue next door—Joe’s Cafe, which is open only on Thursday nights as well. (By now you’ve probably surmised that there is no “Joe.”) The Cafe is a BYOB non-profit club (see ** at end of post) with reasonable dues and few membership requirements, other than age–30 and up.

When I visited the gallery last Thursday evening Bill was on his way over to the Cafe to introduce that evening’s band, Acoustik Element. So I had a great time touring the exhibition by myself while listening to the band’s Latin-inspired music piped over the speakers in the gallery.
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

Frank Moskus, whose paintings are shown above and below, is described on Bill’s website as “a big, funny, foul-mouthed Lithuanian-American whom he met when the Gaslight Square tavern keeper and entertainer lived on the riverfront in a packet boat called ‘The Yacht Club.'” Last Thursday, Bill told me that Frank was a true character (look who’s talking…), a natural performer who played music in bars he owned on Gaslight Square.
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

I photographed a couple of Moskus’s paintings including “Corner Confectionary,” and
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

“House on Lafayette Square.” Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

Frank Moskus’s son, Joe, is also a painter. His lively work, above, reminiscent of his father’s, is exhibited in a back room of Joe’s Cafe Gallery.Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

I was especially fascinated by Thelma Blumberg’s photography of Gaslight Square during its heyday from the late 1950s through the ’60s. According to the bio, above, Thelma Blumberg was the entertainment district’s official photographer.Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

Jack Parker, who wrote the descriptions for each of these wonderful photographs, had a front row seat to the goings on at Gaslight Square from his restaurant, O’Connell’s Pub, which was  relocated to 4652 Shaw at Kingshighway from its original location on Boyle. Jack identifies the “guy with the angelic face” in the photograph above, “as Chris King, who went to N.Y. and made it big as an Irish Troubadour, and then came back to open Big Sleep Books.” Chris’s son, Ed, still runs Big Sleep on Euclid at Maryland along with Helen Simpson, the wife of Chris’s partner, Peter (see earlier post here).
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

Jack’s description of the motorcycle gang, “The Bone Shakers,” includes a quip about the “beatnik intellectual (left) hanging around to see the sights.”
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

The photograph above shows the celebration in Gaslight Square after the Cardinals won the 1964 World Series (oh, well).
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

“Bennie Sharp and the Sharpies,” an East St. Louis band, performed in the Square. Their hit single was “Do the 45.”
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

This 1961 photograph shows patrons in a drugstore on the Square. On this photograph Jack writes that he played pool with the Smothers Brothers in the pool parlor visible through the drugstore window.
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

Blumberg’s fascinating photographs are priced at $150 each, which seems like a fabulous price for a window into the neighborhood’s storied past.
Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element

Joe’s Cafe Gallery also features a collection of signs on loan from collectors around the country, above, whom Bill said all know each other.

The current exhibition will be on view until Thanksgiving. Joe’s Cafe Gallery, 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays only,  6010 Kingsbury Avenue, joescafegallery@gmail.com, (314) 862-2541. You have to live in Skinker/DeBaliviere to figure out how to get around the streets of this neighborhood. Do yourself a favor, park on Des Peres at Kingsbury and walk in.

**You don’t have to be a member to attend a Thursday night performance at Joe’s Cafe. The cost for non-members is $10. Bring your own drink and food, you must be at least 30. See this Thursday’s line-up below.

….Bob Komoske….
October 25th:
The Polish Adonis. The Polish Stevie Ray Vaughn. Mr. Bumblebee.

One of our better local guitar gods.
Sometimes funny, sometimes moving.
Fine sense of dynamics.

Bob usually performs his Joe’s gigs with drummer and bassist.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater  Thelma Blumberg Joe's Cafe Gallery Joe's Cafe Joe Moskus Jack Parker Gaslight Square Frank Moskus Bill Christman Acoustik Element   “A reliable cure for a Cardinals hangover”

Admission: $5 for members. Others $10.

Joe’s is a non-profit BYOB club, open on Thursday nights.

Doors open around 7:00
Music starts at 8:00

Alcohol consumption ends at 10:00
Recycle your own stuff

Smoking outside only
Park on Des Peres Ave.