Faces By Dan Gosch — Memories Of Leo’s

Whatever happened to that mural at Leo’s? Artist Dan Gosch gets that question a lot. In addition to the enormous mural in the front room of Leo’s — the pioneering downtown bar opened by John Rector back in 1974 — there was a vast gallery of portraits in the back section. (Mr. Gosch sent along the photo below which I can not stopped picking apart . . . check out Gosch’s puckish signature in the lower right corner.) These oil-on-masonite faces, 135 pieces in all, were originally executed for Rector’s eponymous restaurant on North Main Street, but were moved over to the Chestnut Street location when the restaurant closed. For the most part the faces were creatures of his imagination, or random anonymous people collected from year books and such. There are a few notables, Debbie Harry is there.

Gosch is one of the dozens of amazing artists featured in “1950-2000: Celebrating 50 Years of Art in Rhode Island,” up now through January 6th, downtown in the old Shepard’s Building. On the second floor, you will find five of his faces, framed as one piece, on loan from a “private collector” — Mr. Gosch has no idea who this might be. In a recent phone interview Gosch was kind enough to answer a few questions for me like . . . whatever happened to the giant mural?

The Faces. When Leo’s closed in 1994 the new owners took possession of all the furnishings which shockingly included the artwork. Their vision for the new venue did not include this particular aesthetic and they auctioned it all off. Gosch attended the fixtures sale but chose not buy his work back (he had to admit that after years of tending bar across from the mural, he was pretty tired of looking at it). The masonite faces had been purchased by a certain couple, with whom he is friendly, who he later learned had separated the faces into individual lots and sold them off (but maybe not all?) and clearly “private collector” bought five of them and had them framed. Gosch does not remember being notified about this sale.

The Mural. At that original sale one of Gosch’s artist friends purchased the painting, removed it from the wall, rolled up the canvas, and hauled it away. It is not known whether it is hanging anywhere or has been resold.

Sidebar: I must say I found Gosch pretty relaxed about all this. I think these paintings may be a bigger deal for all the nostalgic Leo’s patrons — who, incidentally, remember Dan pretty fondly as well — than it necessarily is for him. Dan said he gets these inquiries with some frequency. To me these were monumental works of art and the idea that one might just move on and lose track of them is unthinkable. I would have at least made my parents buy the mural so we could argue for decades about the room it was taking up in the garage. But Gosch had many irons in the fire and kept painting and living life . . . while the rest of us moped about not having Leo’s anymore.*

For more about Leo’s: See “Underground Rhode Island” at the Brown University Digital Repository. Students in an oral history class investigated the arts in 20th c. RI. The interviews and supporting materials they collected provided the raw materials for an exhibit at the Providence Historical Society. In 2003 they interviewed Leo’s owner, and Brown alum, John Rector, and he remembered a lot! Here’s one nugget about transforming the rough old mill space into a modern restaurant. Apparently the worst chores went to Chip Young which makes me laugh for some reason. Remember that bar?

 . . . that was rather a nasty job. So that, of course, became “Chip work”. . .  We got an old bar out of McGoverns, which was a watering hole at the foot of Smith Street. ‘Cause Dewey Dufrense [Wylie’s dad] had bought it at auction, and he gave it to me, and then we had it stripped. And then of course we had ten thousand pieces that we had to steal wool by hand, which became more Chip work. And, uh, you know, it was a real labor of love. . . . (half sarcastically) and I would never do it again. I didn’t know what I was getting into

*It was a pretty great place and those were fun times. Leo’s attracted an incredible mix of people — artists, musicians, RISD and Brown students, politicians, journalists, one cop — and everybody smoked cigarettes. Mr. Rector reminds us just how bleak the Providence scene had been before Leo’s, the Met, and Lupo’s got things cranking.

Today Gosch lives across the border in Massachusetts. He still paints having recently exhibited with Marc Kehoe (another RISD and Leo’s grad) at Van Vessem Gallery in Tiverton.

“Celebrating 50 Years of Art in Rhode Island,” through January 6, URI Feinstein Campus, 80 Washington Street, 1st and 2nd floors, (directions)

3 thoughts on “Faces By Dan Gosch — Memories Of Leo’s”

  1. I miss the whole thing. The mix of people was so eclectic-some folks I hung out with at Leo’s: JFK Junior, Julian Bond, Buddy Cianci, Gov. Diprete, who I remember had to stand in line one crowded Saturday night just like everyone else, all the artists in town, Trinity Rep actors. Oh, and the garlic soup!

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