Back in the 1990s, Chris Farrell commissioned Todd Samara to paint a series of murals in his Kingston restaurant, Tony’s Pizzeria. The most striking was a large painting filling an entire wall consisting of a bird’s-eye view of Midtown Kingston. Having recently sold the pizzeria, Dylan Kennedy, who purchased the restaurant from Farrell, his father-in-law, in 2012, has carefully removed the mural in hopes that it will find a new home. Measuring approximately 160 inches by 51 inches, the painting is not only one of Samara’s most ambitious works but also an irreplaceable artifact of local history, depicting, amid the colorful greens and reds of the landscape, rows of houses, City Hall and the commercial buildings along Broadway, various churches and cemeteries, and, in the far distance, the railroad trestle and Eddyville Bridge over the Rondout Creek. A train chugs across the overpass on Broadway and puffs of smoke rise from chimneys, bringing the scene to life.
Samara also painted a faux Venetian scene in the back room, covered the walls of both the Ladies and Gents bathrooms with faces and figures, many of them depicting celebrities, friends and Kingston residents (including himself), and painted an odalisque, other images from the history of art, flowers, animals — you name it; much of the imagery was to Farrell’s specifications — in the main and back rooms; there was hardly a wall that hadn’t been transformed by the artist’s paintbrush.
Kennedy was able to preserve the large mural, which required the removal of a wall and is in storage waiting for a buyer. He also has successfully removed an iconic self-portrait from the men’s bathroom, which the public will have an opportunity to view along with a selection of Todd’s work from the estate at a special exhibition at the Arts Society of Kingston, titled Todd Samara — A Lifetime of Art, opening July 2.
Born and raised in New York City, Todd Samara (1944-2020) lived and painted in Kingston’s Rondout neighborhood for many years. He captured the life of the neighborhood in vividly colored landscapes, streetscapes, interior scenes and portraits of area residents. Described as “the quintessential local artist” by American Artist, he exhibited at galleries in the area and attracted a loyal following, with his works displayed at many area businesses.
In 2018, the Todd Samara Project was created when Samara was placed in a nursing home and could no longer paint in his studio. The project raised money from the sale of his work at an auction, which was invested in a fund designed to support local artists. Each year, the Todd Samara Project sponsors an annual award open to artists working in a variety of disciplines; the call for applications for the fourth annual Todd Samara Art Fund Award of $1,200 will be announced this May. The Project has also helped preserve two murals at the Hudson River Maritime Museum and sells Samara’s work at the website toddsamara.com. Visitors to the site can also donate to the Project and support look these efforts to nurture Kingston artists and preserve Todd’s legacy.