‘Proud To Be An American’ (Linda St. John)

It’s tricky to walk down Memory Lane. The roads not taken, the one less traveled by, and a host of other clichés lurk in the near past. This is another, better Memory Lane.

I was a bored young assistant editor years ago, good at finding material but pretty bad at editing it. An author I signed knew another writer she thought I’d like, a woman who was a folk artist, a clothing designer, and owned a vintage store downtown on a very cool section of Broadway. The artist’s name was Linda St. John, and she sent me four huge black binders filled with color copies of her art and strange little true stories, like “Where’s My Gun”:

‘Photo Booth Portrait’ (Linda St. John)

He come in late one night…hollerin’ for his gun. I woke up from the racket he was makin’ scroungin’ in the closet – stompin’ around, kickin’ things over. “I’m gonna kill em,” he yelled. “I’m gonna kill em.” I woke up my sisters and me and Alice and Ann sneaked out the back door and hid behind the forsythia bush in the back yard. “Where’s my .38 … where’s my .38?” We stood quietly in the cool spring air watching stars shoot across the dark heavens – hoping it wasn’t us he wanted to kill but rather some so and so down at the tavern.

The accompanying art for this story was a craypas drawing of Linda and her sisters hiding under a blooming forsythia, their eyes widened in terror under the yellow flowers. It would be great to see the original artwork again, but it was stolen long ago by a mover who must have found the art as profoundly and peculiarly moving as I did.

I quit editing and became Linda’s book agent. Linda became my dear friend and my favorite artist. I spent hours at her store, DL Cerney, looking at her work, buying dresses, talking politics and parenting. Celebrity clients like Jesse L. Martin would pop in and once we marveled when the fabulously beautiful Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy walked by the store, which was around the corner from her apartment. The last time I went to Linda’s Broadway store, I got off at the wrong stop and had to wait at the World Trade Center line to get back to Broadway. It was August, 2001. Last time seeing that subway stop too.

Linda’s masterpiece, Even Dogs Go Home To Die, was published by HarperCollins at the worst possible time, in the late fall of 2001. Her store was ruined on September 11 and Linda left NYC. But Linda has recently returned to New York, with a new store at 324 East 9th Street and two new exhibits of her art.

Her current exhibit, Shadow Girls, will appear through November 30 at Fahey.Bodell Umbrella Arts Gallery in NYC. Linda St. John is also featured in Parenting: An Art Without A Manual at the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore. The show runs until September 1, 2019.

Linda St. John pictured near an exhibit of her art at the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore. ‘Parenting: An Art Without A Manual’ runs until September 1, 2019. (Lauren LaRocca)