by Eddie Flotte
Ed. Note: Eddie Flotte, 57, is to Chestnut Hill what Andrew Wyeth is to Chester County. His paintings and reproductions hang in private collections all over the world. If you walk or drive down Germantown Avenue, you just might see him in his chair at his easel, painting one of Chestnut Hill’s many landmarks, even though he spends most of the year in Maui, Hawaii (although he insists he really does like cold weather). Eddie’s mom grew up across the street from Pastorius Park, and she encouraged him to use his stunning artistic ability to memorialize the businesses and homes of Chestnut Hill, which he has done. But we will let Eddie, who is also a professional musician, tell his own story in two parts:
I am now looking back at what, I think would have to be called a fun and productive life. First of all, I have lived on Maui for the last 29 years. In that time, I have produced a large, growing body of watercolor paintings that tell an in-depth story about the world I see. Those paintings have sustained me, graced my life, shaped my identity and justified my existence. Five of my paintings hang in the collection of the Hawaii State Foundation for the Arts.
My rock and roll band, “Eddie and the Promises,” has been performing on Maui for the last seven years. It is a spin-off of my last band “Hot Apple Pie,” which spun off from “The Rising Icons.” I’ve written and recorded a long catalogue of original songs. I’ve spent years surfing, snowboarding, Jiu Jitsu training and soccer coaching. I studied French in Paris, traveled the USA, been through Italy, Corsica, Greece, Yugoslavia, Germany and Great Britain.
I have been published in magazines, newspapers, and featured on television and radio, both as musician and painter. I’ve illustrated two published children’s books. I look at all of this with gratitude and wonder how it all worked out so well. Please allow me to put my best foot forward, take this opportunity to blow my own horn a bit and provide some biographical facts… at least the ones that paint me in a favorable light.
I was born in 1956 and grew up with my parents and four sisters in Ambler. The streets of Ambler were crowded with kids of all ages playing touch football and kick-the-can or moving in swarms to and from school. In the winter, ice skating on the Wissahickon Creek, snowball fights and sledding down the middle of steep, snowy streets were epic events.
Everyone in Ambler was connected either through family, church or neighborhood. My grandmother, my aunts, uncles and cousins all lived within a three-block area. We attended Saint Joseph’s Catholic Elementary School where we were educated by the strict, disciplinary hand of the good Sisters of Saint Joseph. There were a few of us in every classroom. It was a strong, proud, and close-knit community. The kids growing up there were sent out to fend for themselves in a perpetual proving ground of competition.
In contrast, my father had grown up in the country a few miles away, in a peaceful, rural area called Center Square. It was a welcome change of pace for my sisters and me to spend time there with our grandparents during weekends and summers. Life in Center Square was ideal. We flew homemade kites and drank lemonade from shiny tin cups of assorted colors. Over the meadow and through the woods was a populated pond of bluegills. The pond sat against a country ice cream shop called McKelvey’s. Eating ice cream cones, feeding ducks, catching sunnies, and counting barn swallows was routine activity. Winters we skated on the frozen ponds.
Everything about Center Square was of a time gone by. The paint was chipped, the upholstery and wallpaper were worn and faded. It was a world of cut glass and crocheted doilies. The drawers and closets were filled with nostalgia. I could stand for hours examining the buttons and pins, tops and gyroscopes, corkscrews, penknives, skeleton keys, skate keys, kazoos and whistles, dice or dominoes in their kitchen junk drawer.
Pathways of time were visible across the kitchen linoleum and hardwood floors. A 1938 Zenith console radio stood in the dining room. I remember singing songs along with Elvis and The Everly Brothers. There was an old-time general store just down the road with shotguns and 22s hanging from the ceiling. The fire house where my father had driven the engine and run the water pumps until he was married, was just up the road. My grandfather hurried out with his flashlight, to direct traffic, night or day, whenever the fire whistle blew.
It was a living Norman Rockwell illustration. My sisters and I were firsthand witnesses to all of the elements of any Andrew Wyeth painting. We were first introduced to watercolors at the dining room table at our grandparents’ house. We all had a great love for painting, drawing, coloring and clay. My sisters had patience and skill. I did my best to keep up and to learn from them. My father played the tenor banjo and the trumpet. He could and would find his way on any musical instrument that appeared. He and my grandfather, a rhythmic extravaganza on bones and spoons, were natural performers. They were regulars in the fire house stage productions. My father recognized my interest in music at an early age and started me on the guitar.
I was hired by the Myron Wasserman Graphics Design group, moved into the city, and worked with him for the next two years, but by 1977, I had moved into the artistic, renaissance community of South Street. The area flourished with young artists and musicians. At that time, South Street was the center of everything hip from New York to Baltimore. My apartment was right smack in the heart of it. I played music with various friends and listened to the best bands around at the Legendary JC Dobbs five doors down. I worked as an illustrator, a sign painter, a muralist and street corner portrait artist. I found steady work creating custom, abstract, installation paintings for a cluster of interior decorators.
Early one winter morning I was out on my stoop, waiting for a client. I had been up all night rushing to finish his record cover. Sitting there, I realized that I had been unconsciously drawing the buildings across the street, in my mind. Every little detail noted, proportioned, included and connected to the next at pinball-like speed. I quickly did two paintings. My client came and went. I remember, I was in an intensely focused state and barely went through the pleasantries to make our exchange. I went inside to look at the new paintings and found that the spirit, the story, the flavor, and the details were all there. They told a narrative tale about the neighborhood and the people who would live there.
Of all the lightbulb moments in my life, I think this one was the brightest. My life changed course immediately. I stopped needing a client. I stopped offering myself up for hire. Instead, I went about illustrating my own world. It was a bottomless source of inspiration. A joy. The characters of the neighboring streets and the old forgotten buildings began to jump out at me, and I painted them as fast as I could. I had an innate sense for where real beauty was hidden. At least in my own opinion.
The South Street Star, a weekly newspaper, published a double page spread of some of my paintings. I had completely resigned myself to the fact that I would probably be a starving artist, when suddenly the paintings began to sell. In all I lived and worked in the city for nine years. By the winter of 1985, I was finally clear about what I wanted to do artistically. I realized I could do it anywhere and everywhere. A friend, John Travis, suggested I move to Maui. I moved there March 4, 1985.
See more of Eddie’s work at www.eddieflotte.com.
– Continued next week
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