Meg Evans Lazare said her husband Peter Lazare’s ability as an artist surprised everyone, “even himself”.
After all, she said, Long Island-born Lazarus used to analyze statistics by day for the Illinois Commerce Commission.
See also: Former owner of Grab-A-Java is remembered for activism, artwork
Lazarus wasn’t picky about what he worked with when it came to the canvas – Lowe’s drop cloths – or the paint he used, usually store junk that he could gobble up for a dollar a can, Meg Lazare said.
Peter Lazare’s studio, where “the madness ensued,” she said, was the couple’s basement where her granddaughter, Kinley, often helped her.
But, oh, what a divine art it was, memorable, relevant and witty, often all at the same time.
Peter Lazare passed away on November 7, 2018, after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. His death came shortly after the Lazarus sold the two Grab-A-Java cafes on South Sixth Street and Hedley Road.
Today, approximately 70 of Peter Lazarus’ banners that greeted customers and passers-by at Grab-A-Java have been captured in a coffee table book, “Not Your Average Joe”.
The book was scheduled to be launched at an event on March 20, 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic interfered.
A “relaunch” will take place at the Myers Building, 1 West Old State Capitol Plaza at 6 p.m. on August 6.
The first 100 people to purchase “Not Your Average Joe” will receive a free limited edition 13×19 art print featuring 25 of the Lazarus banners.
A 16×20 art print of each Lazare banner, with a professional mat, will also be on display and for sale at the August 6 event.
“We put a lot of work into the creation of the book, trying to honor all the hard work that Peter put into the paintings,” said William Legge, former executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois, who bought Grab-A-Java Stores with his wife, Vicky, in 2018.
Meg Lazarus, who has since moved to Chicago, is expected to be at the event, along with their daughter, Sarah and husband, Adam, and son, Peter, and son Ben, and daughter, Kinley.
William Legge said when the Lazarus sold him the business they gave him access to all the banners, although he soon realized, though revered, that the materials didn’t exactly stand up to the elements.
“I went to put up one of Peter’s banners and I don’t think it had been flying for more than a few hours when the wind tore it apart,” Legge recalls. “We were trying to figure out the best way to commemorate them and always have them around and that’s when I contacted (former State Journal-Register photo editor) Rich Saal, who has so graciously accepted the project of capturing them on film.
“We ended up with almost 70 banners that we were able to take pictures of, but now what do we do? We thought, let’s do a coffee table book. Peter would definitely like to have some fun.”
The book also contains jokes and memorabilia from former employees, customers, and family members of Peter Lazarus, who started Grab-A-Java on South Sixth Street in 1996.
Kinley Lazarus noted in the book that painting with Lazarus “has always been an adventure”.
The banners were originally made, Meg Lazare said, to draw the attention of the street to the drive-thru, which sits a bit off the road.
“It was actually out of sheer entrepreneurial necessity,” she laughed. “We had to start a business for the cafe. Over time he got better and better. He never claimed he was an artist, but I think he was.”
Vincent Van Gogh has been the subject of a few renderings of Lazarus, Meg Lazarus said, including her favorite, a portrait of Van Gogh with the greeting “Happy New Ear”. Another said “Café à Gogh”.
Lazare approached topical political and cultural issues with humor and puns, she added. “Make Lattes Not War” appeared during the Iraq War era in 2003. There were coffee mugs emblazoned with rainbows when the Marriage Equality Act was passed in 2015.
Legge said one of his favorite banners was the 2007 Barack Obama banner. Rumors were circulating that Obama was preparing for the 2008 presidential race before making his official announcement at the Old State Capitol Plaza on February 10, 2007. .
Lazarus coldly portrayed Obama with the quote “I just came here for coffee”.
Legge described Lazarus’ sense of humor as “dry, smart, and witty.” Lazare often joked that customers were having “a pretty good day.”
“He found ways to be funny without being offensive, to push the boundaries a little bit but not in a mean way,” said Legge. “That was the timeliness (of the subject). Art was what it was. He wasn’t a classically trained artist, but you can’t say it’s not beautiful art.
“The work he did was very creative, very folkloric and with a nervousness.”
Meg Lazare said Peter’s joke was “if I didn’t like (a banner) it was fine. I was able to suggest a few were too over the top and he listened to me once or twice.
“People who haven’t even had coffee would tell me how impatient they are looking forward to the next one.
More: Grab-a-Java Owners Hold Iconic Banner Art Exhibition
“He made us laugh. He certainly made me laugh.”
Legge said that when the rumor started to circulate that he was buying Grab-A-Java, no one asked him about the cafe or whether he was going to build more stores.
“The number one question people asked was, are you going to keep making the banners? Who is going to paint them and how are you going to find the humor that Pete found? That’s all people really wanted to know. “, did he declare.
“It became clear that if I couldn’t find a way to keep them going, it would probably be the biggest mistake I could make. has been Take-a-Java. “
Since Lazarus’ death and his takeover of the company, Legge has enlisted the help of mural painter Troy Freeman of Free Sky Studios. Freeman’s sister, Christy Freeman Stark, a founding member of DIM Art House, a studio and gallery in Springfield, and Freeman’s brother, Brett, also a professional artist, helped.
Grab-A-Java staff took part in a few banners, Legge said, and Dave Heinzel painted one to go with his COVID-19 “Everything will be fine” signs that dot the Springfield area.
These banners included a memorable nod to the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
One of them advised to “Keep calm, wash your hands and drink a good coffee”. On the day of his inauguration, President Joe Biden was pictured emerging from a cup of coffee that read “A New Cup of Joe”.
The banners, Meg Lazarus said, were “a huge force in his life. It was important to Peter. It was an interesting niche that he found somehow.
“I feel really lucky that we are in Springfield. Peter loved the community and people supported him and his crazy art in such a big way. Peter was not a native but we really loved our community of friends, our customers.
“I think he would be tickled and delighted to think that Grab-A-Java continued (on). I know he would be happy to know that Bill has taken over the reins and that it is thriving now and that people honor with this. delivered. “
Legge knew Peter Lazare as a regular customer, but he came to appreciate his business acumen when he closed the deal.
“I respected Peter of course,” said Legge, “and the more I got to know him, the more I saw how much he cared not only about the art, but also about the company, the people he employed and the people he employed. the culture he was building. With everything I do, I always try to ask myself, “What would Meg do? What would Pete do and how do I make sure it fits the wonderful business they’ve created? “”
To pre-order “Not Your Average Joe”, go to the Grab-A-Java website. Books will also be on sale at the August 6 event at the Myers Building, 1 West Old State Capitol Plaza.
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, [email protected], twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.