AudioThe Only Cafe’s new sign is a John Climenhage original

Climenhage wanted his painting to convey the eclectic and “overwhelming” vibe of the cafe’s interior

The Only Cafe has a new sign hanging above its front entrance — the third sign in the downtown bar’s 33-year history.

The new sign was painted by local artist John Climenhage, who said he wanted the painting to channel the vibe of the eclectic cafe’s interior, which he described as “overwhelming.” To accomplish that, Climenage chose a few views from inside the bar and represented them with a warped perspective. Vincent van Gogh and his famous sunflowers — key elements of the cafe’s decor — are featured prominently. The painting was installed late last month and Climenhage said it took about four months to create.

Fans of the previous sign, which was painted by JoEllen Brydon, need not fear. It has been installed on the back wall of the Only’s patio, so it’s still visible.

Trent Radio’s Local Journalism Initiative reporter Eddy Sweeney spoke with Climenhage about the painting, and also checked in with two patrons of the cafe to get their reactions to the new sign. Have a listen in the podcast player above, or read the transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Eddy Sweeney 0:03
On Wednesday, June 28th, the Only Cafe, a bar and restaurant located on Hunter Street in downtown Peterborough, unveiled their brand new sign. This is the third sign that the Only has had since opening in Peterborough in 1990. And, much like its previous signs, it is much more than your standard sign stating the name of the business. This is a piece of local art. The sign is actually a painting done by local artist, John Climenhage, a painter, musician, and a regular customer of the Only Cafe. His connections to the Only, and to the Peterborough arts community, made him a great candidate for creating the new sign.

John Climenhage 0:43
Yeah, so there are now two paintings that I did hanging up in the Only. And Jerome said, “Hey, we’re thinking about redoing the sign. Would you be interested?” I was like, “Well, maybe.” And I thought about it for a while and then did some designs and said, “Yeah, okay, I think I have an idea for it.” And I went in and presented the idea. And they said, “Yeah, that’s, that’s good. But no scenes of the outside of Peterborough. We want scenes from inside.” And I was like, “Oh, cool. Okay, how will I approach that?” And then I was like, “Oh, there’s all these historical photos and things inside. So tried to take images that would sort of present some of the flavor of the place. And then, yeah, about four months of honing that down, and trying to make it inclusive of a variety of human experiences.

Eddy Sweeney 1:55
Since moving to Peterborough in 2001, Climenhage has been a prominent figure in the arts community. He has played in multiple bands, and at one time, he had his work up in a gallery on Hunter Street, right across the street from the Only. And because this is radio, you can only hear me, and I can’t show you anything. But I think it would be helpful to have an idea of what the painting looks like. So I asked Climenhage to try to describe it for you.

John Climenhage 2:21
So it’s a number of repeated spaces, sort of two dimensional topological spaces. And then they’re shifted in scale. It’s from a project I worked on with a group of people in Victoria in the late 90s.

Eddy Sweeney 2:46
Climenhage felt that he needed this piece to be more than just a sign that says the name. He wanted it to be a continuation of the inside.

John Climenhage 2:56
And the idea of a sign, of course, is that it’s just a sign. And I was like, “Well, everybody knows what this place is. So how far can I break up that series of letters in a painting so you’re not just reading the sign you’re actually in the space which is the immersion of walking through the doors. Kind of overwhelming if you’ve never been there.”

Eddy Sweeney 3:24
While speaking to Climenhage, it was very clear to me that he had a personal connection to the Only and that he was passionate about making the sign a reflection of the place and the people inside. So I went to the Only to talk to some regulars about the sign, about the artist, and about the place. One such customer was Malcolm Byard, who has frequented the Only for 19 years.

Malcolm Byard 3:51
I really, really like it. It’s not as elusive as the old sign was. So the old sign was — you had to know where you were going to get here. Like “Gordon Best Theatre,” and then there was a sign of a streetscape. But you couldn’t really tell … the Only Cafe and Peterborough. Like, I don’t know what that was. Whereas this is very much, so, it’s still a little elusive in its graphics, but it’s definitely representational of the space.

Eddy Sweeney 4:26
I also spoke to Sam Sayer, someone who has been around the Only for 25 years and worked at the cafe from 2006 to 2010.

Sam Sayer 4:34
To my to my knowledge, the Only Cafe has always been a hub of art and culture. And it’s something that always attracted me to it. I can remember having dreams when I was a teenager that someday I’d produce a piece of art that I could secretly place on the front door that Jerome would find and hang in there and I would be a superstar in my own mind. It’s such a hub that I think John captured that in the way he’s displayed the word the Only Cafe. JoEllen Brydon’s previous sign for the Only was obviously a very beautiful painting leading to the Cafe. And I think it was a nice graduation from her to John’s piece.

Eddy Sweeney 5:15 Those were just two impressions of Climenhage’s painting. And it seemed that everyone around the place had their own interpretation of the sign, which is, according to Climenhage essential to public art, like this painting.

John Climenhage 5:28
Painting, right, you’re building on history. It’s not just self expression. I mean, we can’t have that. Everybody has expressing themselves because that’s all they do. So when you’re making a painting that size, about a specific place, trying to include as much of the the historicity is I think important. Because then it allows for more interpretations. And everyone can find something in it completely different, which they’re going to do anyways.

Eddy Sweeney 6:05
This has been Eddy Sweeney reporting for the Local Journalism Initiative and for CFFF FM, 92.7, Trent Radio here in Peterborough, Ontario.


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