A look back at Addie’s, Stephen Sawyer-style
Imagine spending hours using skills honed over a lifetime to draw something … then erasing it. Sixty-nine times, from 2011 until Addie’s at The Woodford Inn closed last December, that’s what acclaimed artist Stephen Sawyer did nearly every month on a five-and-a-half by seven-and-a-half foot chalkboard just inside the bar entrance. Addie’s closed, but is not forgotten, nor are Sawyer’s intricate pastel drawings. All along, Sawyer took photos of his work at Addie’s, and now they are collected in a limited edition coffee table book, “The End of an Era.” Sawyer said writing a book wasn’t on his mind when he struck a deal with then-owners Bruce and Linda Parker in December 2011 and agreed to do a drawing for that Christmas. It featured a snowman whose head had been knocked off, perhaps by the bear standing behind it; Evergreens, a full moon, and the words, “MERRY CHRISTMAS.” It’s the first mural in the book. “The one thing that I’ve always done is try to record the work that I do and … and try to photograph it well. It wasn’t until after Addie’s closed and I realized that it was over – I had this sense of this amazing community of people that we had kind of forged together …” Sawyer said. “(Addie’s) was something that came together in this community that I don’t think has ever happened before and I just realized, ‘Wow, I’ve got photos – I can make a book.’” The goal was to finish each drawing in three hours, though some of the more complicated works took a little longer. “I would get there around 5 o’clock, and some people would meet me there right when I’d start, but a lot of people would come in right near the beginning, and I’d want to finish by the time they finished dinner and drinks and laughter with their friends,” Sawyer said. People are the subjects of many of his pastels, and the book features dozens of stories and anecdotes about the acquaintances, friends, family members and strangers whom Sawyer encountered then, and earlier in his life. “I tried to honor a lot of people, a lot of things – the Bourbon Trail, music legends (B.B. King), literary legends (Mark Twain) and silver screen legends (W.C. Fields and Marilyn Monroe),” Sawyer said. The book is full of animals, too – bears, a penguin with a basketball at its feet (Coach Calapenguin), horses (both real and carousel) and even multiple drawings of Santa Claus, one in which he’s being poured a soda by a friendly elf. There are seasonal drawings, tributes to a favorite artist (Norman Rockwell), and befitting a bar in the heart of bourbon country, several drawings of various libations. “Just trying to come up with something unique and new every month that would be memorable …” Sawyer said. On the page facing each reproduction are photos of the art from which he drew inspiration, with a few history lessons thrown in for good measure. Sawyer’s June/July 2012 drawing depicts Uncle Sam wearing an Addie’s badge, holding a martini, with fireworks exploding over his left shoulder. On the next page are brief explanations of how the term “Uncle Sam” came to be and stories about the first artists who drew him. Sawyer said he was “over-optimistic” about the amount of time it would take to put together what some might call a coffee table book. “I thought I could do it in three months, but it actually took six months to do …” he said. He decided to make the book a limited edition, with just 250 copies. More than half are already sold, many of which were presold to people especially fond of a particular drawing they’d seen him do in person. “I included … photos of dozens and dozens of people who were there,” Sawyer said. Some of the early buyers were people who watched Sawyer work, in person or on Facebook Live. The latter events were preceded by announcements from Addie’s – and ended with him wiping the chalkboard clean. “They kind of felt like they were there, and that was a very special feeling for me, to know that it wasn’t just the people who were physically there, but people who felt like they were part of it,” Sawyer said. The final piece of art was drawn Jan. 6, 2019 and is titled, “The Spontaneous Farewell Mural.” Addie’s had closed the day after Christmas 2018, and the Parkers had begun to sell some of their restaurant and tavern equipment and vacate the premises. “Thank you Bruce & Linda,” it reads. To the right of that expression is an arrow through a heart. Beneath the heart are the words, “My hand is empty but my heart is full,” and beneath it, the date and Sawyer’s trademark handprint – or in this case, a outline of it. For a little more than seven years, Sawyer had put his hands and heart to work on behalf of the Parkers and the people and places he loves. And though he doesn’t compare the worth of those drawings to his more famous paintings like “Calvary,” he’s happy to have compiled them and explain how they came to be, in a book that keeps the spirit of Addie’s alive, Stephen Sawyer-style. “ … I did my very best every single month,” he said. “The End of an Era” and other works by Stephen Sawyer can be purchased at his website, sawyermurals.com.