||BARNEY WEST in DISTRESS! or How to bring an old salt back to life!
Joined: Sep 12, 2003
From: los angeles
|Posted: 2012-09-07 11:18 am  Permalink|
Over in Marketplace, the discussion of the Chicago Trader Vic's decor auction came across the topic of the signature Palmer House tiki: the Barney West entrance moai.
I feel pretty lucky to have been able to acquire this fella for my collection. I collect mainly commercial pieces and have a pretty decent number of large carvings. I've named him "Palmer" (go ahead, laugh!).
I really feel that this particular Barney West (although what West tiki isn't amazing?) has got some serious mana going for it. I do think it's a shame it's no longer in the Trader Vic's family but I'm glad that Palmer was saved from the wood-chipper.
Anyhow, I'm starting this thread because I thought TC'ers would appreciate seeing the process of restoration on this amazing carving. I'm also hoping that it might generate some contributed research in the way of photos or any info from fellow TC'ers about the tiki's history.
Quickly, I'll start by explaining my collection. I've been collecting tiki for over 25 years. I work in animation in Los Angeles and was lucky enough to be on the hunt for tiki during the dark ages: when the tiki joints of California were being torn down in the 80s and thrift stores were chock full of exotica related memorabilia. Back then, anything over $5 for a mug, any mug was unheard of. Most, many still in my collection that have the price written in grease pencil, were priced around 25¢.
I have a fairly large collection of architectural carvings and lighting. A lot from Trader Vic's, Kona Kai and Kon Tiki restaurants.
I love all my pieces but, this Barney West has got some serious, amazing vibes to it. I gotta say, until you stand in front of this guy, you don't get how incredible it's presence is. It seriously feels like Barney's drunk soul is heavily doused in the figure. To me, Barney West is the Picasso of Tiki. His primitive shapes and designs have a unique feel, completely his own.
A couple of days ago, the piece arrived from Chicago. I had it shipped directly to Oceanic Arts where Bob and Leroy were waiting for it. I knew that the only way to get this amazing feller back on his feet was to have Leroy, Barney's old pal and drinkin' buddy, do the restoration.
Needless to say, even though I knew there was damage to this tiki, it was far worse than I had anticipated. (please excuse the bad iphone pix)
I already had a few poles from the Palmer house location courtesy of the Trader Vic's warehouse sale, so I knew what the weird paint job was on the tiki. Apparently, sometime in the 70s, the Palmer House carvings were painted over in a cheap vinyl house paint. Then, a diluted stain was added and brushed to appear like wood grain and then sealed. Why they did this, I don't know, but I kinda knew what to expect on Palmer's make-up job.
I heard from others, including Tipsy McStagger, that the piece was not in fantastic condition. From the pictures, it looked like the piece had been filled with putty or plaster and painted over. Well, it had. Placing Palmer, a 50+ year old carving outside the past several years in the extreme conditions of Chicago weather certainly didn't help.
Luckily, I've had to do a lot of tiki restoration myself over the years, bringing dry rotted and termite devastated tikis back to life. Whatever was wrong with Palmer, I knew this patient could be saved.
When he was unpacked at OA, we knew there were some ugly visions in store. There were. It looks like Palmer spent a good portion of his life outside, way before going indoors at the Palmer House location. Serious cracks in his solid wood weave a tale of moisture and severe freezing. Summer heat and humidity then took over to invade his wounds and start rot from the inside out. Good thing Palmer's not a horse!
Apparently, the weird paint job was done after a decision to bring him inside. He was slathered with the cheapest plaster to fill in gaps, almost like bondo for an auto paint job and covered with vinyl paint.
Then he spent some good years inside with lots of attention from the tiki-loving, Chicago population. When Palmer House unfortunately closed in 2005, he was shipped back to Trader Vic's warehouse for inclusion in another location. A deal was made with the franchisees of the new Chicago Trader Vic's and the warehouse lent him to the new location. Palmer was packed up, sent cross country again by truck, only to be wheeled outside to suffer the conditions of Chicago weather all over again. Poor guy!
We all know what happened to the apparently "well managed" new Chicago location and they went belly up fairly quickly. I guess lots of debt was incurred and some of the decor was auctioned off. (I spoke with corporate Trader Vic's and they are aware I have it now).
Needless to say, even though I think the sale price was amazing, there's a butt load of time and money that needs to be put into this historic relic.
Now the good stuff:
Leroy has looked at the piece. We started pulling off the paint to reveal the damage and we're lucky for two things. One, the vinyl paint probably did a lot to protect the piece over the years, sealing it from more damage once outside. Two, the cheap plaster is like soft chalk and will easily come out. The best part is the carving is strong and intact. It's a HUGE, HEAVY solid piece of California Redwood and can be brought back from the brink.
It's gonna be expensive, a lot more than if I had Leroy carve a new tiki for me. But, I feel that only Leroy, King of Tiki is the person to restore something as historic as an original 1950s Barney West Trader Vic's tiki.
So, if anyone is interested in getting updates on this, I'll post about how things are going and show some pix.
Next, I'll show current condition pictures and about our strategy for the restoration.
PLEASE, if anyone out there has pictures or info of this guy's career over the years in Chicago, it would be wonderful if you could share them. Newer or older, it doesn't matter, I'd like to keep his history together.
LONG LIVE PALMER!!
Joined: Mar 11, 2011
|Posted: 2012-09-07 11:41 am  Permalink|
Really looking forward to your updates on this piece as I really would of loved to have purchased it myself.
so much so that I asked Jungle Trader to carve me a smaller version of the Barney west for my collection
Thanks for starting this thread and congrats on the purchase!
Joined: Mar 25, 2005
From: Boogie Wonderland
|Posted: 2012-09-07 11:51 am  Permalink|
100% Interested in updates.
|Or Got Rum?|
Joined: Jul 29, 2009
|Posted: 2012-09-07 12:08 pm  Permalink|
Yes, Updates Please.
Joined: May 25, 2004
From: NYC Area
|Posted: 2012-09-07 12:16 pm  Permalink|
Joined: Apr 02, 2002
From: SF bay area, CA
|Posted: 2012-09-07 1:01 pm  Permalink|
Since you asked for pics in situ, here's a couple from our visit during the Exotica weekend in 2003...
Funny, this still feels recent, but I guess 2003 wasn't exactly yesterday! Looking forward to seeing this guy all shipshape, even if he still keeps that eternal stomach ache!
Joined: Nov 05, 2007
From: Like...The Valley
|Posted: 2012-09-07 1:50 pm  Permalink|
You had me hooked at "Hi TC..." Keep the updates coming!
|nui 'umi 'umi|
Joined: Feb 21, 2011
From: La Mirada Atoll
|Posted: 2012-09-08 12:57 am  Permalink|
Hey 63, Me and my queen saw Palmer thie past Thursday. Can't wait to see him restored. We felt his vibe. Leroy said that it would not be easy but Palmer would be vibrant again. Of course you trust him as we all do. keep us posted. Lookin to meet you at the art show tomorrow.
Joined: Jul 24, 2003
From: McKinney, TX
|Posted: 2012-09-08 06:28 am  Permalink|
On 2012-09-07 11:18, tiki1963 wrote:
... Palmer was packed up, sent cross country again by truck, only to be wheeled outside to suffer the conditions of Chicago weather all over again. Poor guy!
My pal Rusty, who managed Dallas TV's for a while, also assisted in opening the new Chicago location and sent me this pic around the time of opening.
Joined: Mar 25, 2002
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
|Posted: 2012-09-09 04:20 am  Permalink|
Just stumbled on this thread, Jordan - Kudos for your dedication! Here's a true believer putting his money where his heart is! Though I am fearful of seeing "open wound" Tiki surgery, please share the documenting of the process.
Joined: Nov 30, 2003
From: Kansas City, MO
|Posted: 2012-09-10 9:03 pm  Permalink|
Congrats on adding this guy to your family. I know first hand how it feels to commit to saving a seriously damaged big tiki. Getting a good restoration done is vital and he sure is in good hands now. Keep us posted on progress and be sure to post photos of him when all restoration is done and he's in his new home. I'm sure he will never have to suffer another day outside. 8FT
I once was lost.....but now I'm found.....
Joined: Oct 19, 2004
|Posted: 2012-09-11 6:52 pm  Permalink|
This is amazing.
And this is why I come to TC, to see the culture revered, and it's idols preserved.
I look forward to checking in on this, and a big Mahalo from the entire TC Ohana for being so dedicated.
Joined: Sep 12, 2003
From: los angeles
|Posted: 2012-09-11 7:01 pm  Permalink|
thanks everybody for the pics and your interest!
i spoke with Bob at OA today and Leroy will soon start attacking Palmer like a hoity-toity Beverly Hills plastic surgeon...
in the meantime, i'll post some more pics of the damage.
i'm hoping to have some vintage pics soon of Palmer at home in Chicago from a couple of good sources.
here's some overall pics and some close ups of the problem areas. when we were first going over Palmer's condition, we couldn't help tearing and chipping away at the loose areas. it's kinda like eating potato chips, one just isn't enough. except these chips are probably flavored with cobwebs and asbestos!
the main crack runs pretty much the length of his head and body starting at the top. you can see where moisture, both moist and frozen cracked in a natural weak part of his grain and began to rot.
this whole lobotomy area will be fortified with custom carved redwood pieces and wood dust glue filler.
you can see where that push and pull of the outdoor conditions created a fault line that runs down Palmer's sexy long schnazola...
so far, his right side seems a lot more stable. just look at that handsome mug!
this is what Palmer has been covered in for so many years: fake wood grained vinyl paint with varnish on top...
if you went to either Chicago locations but were too drunk to get on your knees to peek up Palmer's nose but always wanted to, now's your chance
that's the latest update....
[ This Message was edited by: tiki1963 2012-09-11 19:04 ]
Joined: Oct 19, 2004
|Posted: 2012-09-12 03:56 am  Permalink|
If you ask me, if you were there and couldn't see up his nose, you weren't drunk enough!
Joined: Sep 12, 2003
From: los angeles
|Posted: 2012-09-13 5:40 pm  Permalink|
the facelift has begun!
Bob's been nice enough to snap a few pics when I'm not down there during the process.
here's the Michelangelo of Tiki working on a piece by the Picasso of Tiki...
does that make this the Sistine Tiki?
anyhow, he's using a combination of light heat torching and burr bit in a grinder to pull off the bad paint.
hey, anytime something old has to be restored, it's traumatic and changes a bit from the original.
i'm just hoping in terms of plastic surgery jobs, i get more Cher and less Joan Rivers....hell, anything's better than Mickey Rourke! (i think Palmer had less plaster filler in him than all three of them)
[ This Message was edited by: tiki1963 2012-09-13 17:41 ]
[ This Message was edited by: tiki1963 2012-09-13 17:42 ]