What was originally planned as a small get-together among friends to remember a man described as a magnet, bringing people together; has instead become a multi-media public celebration of a late artist of considerable significance in Neosho and the Four-State area.
Surrounded by the third annual Herman Jaeger Festival in Downtown Neosho that weekend, One14 Coffee Bar will host the all-day Dr. John Galey Arts & Music Festival on Saturday, May 3, at 114 N. Wood St.
Chris Gray, one of many helping to organize the festival and the lead guitarist and singer for the band “City Limits” which will perform there next Saturday, said the city of Neosho had made a proclamation for a John Galey Day after he died in 2001, and nothing has been done since to commemorate him; so an idea was launched, ‘Let’s have our own.’”
Gray said many of Galey’s friends had not seen each other in many years.
“John brought a lot of people together from a lot of different walks of life, and a lot of us would not have known each other had it not been for John,” Gray said. “He was the center of this little universe in Neosho and he brought people in from all walks of life.”
Gray said it all started as he, and the other “City Limits” members — Rich Roberts, Scott Hill, and Gray’s son, James — all have some of Galey’s work.
“So we’ll get everything we have accumulated from knowing him, and we’ll have a little art show,” Gray said. He said Sandra Conrad and Sarah Serio, who are involved with the local art community and know how to put on an art show then stepped in; “And took it to another level.”
“They said, ‘We’re going to invite some other artists; we’ll have something for the kids.’ And we thought, ‘Oh my, this is turning into something.’ Before you know it, we’re closing the street off, and they’ve got probably 30 to 40 other artists that are going to come in. There’s going to be food, music all day. We decided to do a John Galey Tribute contest, where someone can do a tribute piece, whether it be a sculpture or a painting in the style of what John may have done.”
He invites any artists to enter their work in the contest, with the winner determined by a vote of the people who attend the Dr. John Galey Art & Music Festival.
Gray said Galey did a lot of work centered on aviation and transportation.
“He loved those old flying wings, and trains, tanks; growing up in Venezuela, there’s a lot of Venezuelan influence.”
Occurring just before Cinco de Mayo, he said the festival will feature one of John’s old Venezuelan Navy flags to provide some South American influence.
Trying to take the festival even farther, Gray said they hoped to determine the whereabouts of some of the many works that were in Galey’s house when he died to include those. He said hopes dimmed when they had heard that Galey’s sister Ellen had died; but a Facebook search turned up Galey’s nephew in Florida, who when contacted by phone was in the company of Ellen.
Now, Gray said that not only does the Festival have the blessings of Galey’s family, but some of his many works that many people in this area are familiar with will be displayed in the Dr. John Galey Art & Music Festival.
The family will be unable to make the trip, and since shipping costs would be huge, Gray said One14 Coffee Bar owner Terry Tessmer hopped on a plane and rented a van and packed up as many as he could and drove back to Missouri.
“We saw them the other day laid out right after he had unpacked them, and there is a mess of paintings. It is amazing!” he said. “It’s fun to go back through them, because you remember where they were in the old house; and maybe remember seeing him actually paint them on the kitchen table when you would go to visit. There’s going to be a lot of memories there and for the old friends, it’s going to be a trip down memory lane, but not only that, this will also be a way to bring in new friends because that’s what John did, he’d bring together people from new walks of life and we’d all become friends.”
Gray said Galey’s heavily shaded home with a large garden on Wood St. was a gathering place for many to watch him work his craft after teaching at Crowder College during the day, relax and talk about the events of the day.
In addition to food, drinks, kids activities sponsored by the Spiva Art Center in Joplin, and artwork, Gray said the festival will include storytelling, poetry reading and live music. He said artists will set up between 7 and 10 a.m., and then will begin displaying their works in front of One14 Coffee Bar at 10 a.m., with events continuing all day, including an open mike. Gray said the evening party continues from about 6 p.m. to midnight with performances by “City Limits,” Rich Roberts will perform his jazz set, “Half-Lit Halo” and Tony Bergkoetter. Gray said there will also be a group participation painting anyone can get involved in.
To further enhance the festival, Kathy Tessmer, One14 Coffee Bar owner, said the works of Galey that were recently imported from Florida will be put on display this Sunday; and she invites anyone that has anything to do with Dr. John Galey and who would like to share that, to join their ‘hanging party’ beginning at 5 p.m. “We’re asking everybody, whatever they had,” she continued, “like I had letters from John, and photographs, and anything they have, just come and bring it on Sunday to share.”
Though the idea for the festival just recently sprouted, Mrs. Tessmer said the seed had been planted as the coffee bar was being developed. As they worked to prepare the building, she said her husband Terry would remark, “John would have loved this. He would have hung out here.” Tessmer said John Galley was constantly on their minds as One14 Coffee Bar was germinating.
Further describing Galey’s work, Gray said, “You’ve never seen anything like it!” He said Galey was partially color-blind, and utilized some very unique colors. “It’s very surrealistic; there’s an element of doom, it seems, in a lot of these paintings; like something’s just not going to go quite like you planned it. Many of them have captions that are based on actual historical events. You’ll see a lot of tanks and military vehicles in his work. Growing up in Venezuela, you’d wake up to the revolution every morning; and that’s what you’d see going down the streets; and so that influenced his art.” Gray said the architecture Galey saw during his travels also influenced his work.
Those observations are borne out by an artist’s statement Galey presented for an art show in which he exhibited in Joplin; which begins, “My artistic inspiration and subject matter comes from experiences in many different parts of the world;” and then lists many places he had lived in South America, North Africa and Northern and Southern Europe. Galey also stated that he painted science fiction type fantasies of scenes from other worlds far away.
Galey, who earned his Ph.D. in history from Stanford University in 1975, described his work as humorous, satirical, with a dreamlike quality and added that these bizarre, sometimes nightmarish visions appealed to him.
“Sometimes when things go wrong for us, it seems like we’re traveling through this world in reverse.” The statement concluded that Galey at the time lived in a pre-Civil War house in Neosho; “But in artistic subject matter and in other ways, I am a long, long way from home.”