"You can never have too much (bad art)," Weprin said, "especially when you're paying minimal prices for it. Besides, it's not about price or investment at that point anyway; it's about how this random picture by a stranger speaks to your soul."
In the year before the reopening, Alford, who owns San Francisco-based Dirty Lines Design, would fly into Chicago for a few days and hit antique store after antique store, acquiring bad art. He drove to Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin.
"Chicago is such a diverse city that I wanted to make sure different people were represented (on the wall)," Alford said, "but we had a hard time finding vintage art with African-Americans. We found some. A lot of what we ran across was so horrifically racist." But in the end, he bought more art than he could use, more than 200 pieces. Some leftover went to Weprin, some went into storage. (Incidentally, Alford ran across so many old desk drawers that the front desk itself is constructed of dozens of old desk drawers.)
As for the wall …
Highlights include paintings of a naked woman bathing, a duck resting, cardinals in a tree, ballet dancers, geishas and a girl with gold curls named Little Daisy. Framed paper doll sheets. A painting of a flapper standing at a bank window ("Transferring her accounts," reads the caption). A painting of a bulldog, a dog show, a zebra, a German shepherd so lovingly rendered it had to have been someone's favorite pooch. There are many vases of flowers, both painted and drawn. Several images of geese alighting. A watercolor of a New England fishing village at low tide. Needlepoint renderings of flowers and birds and old-timey towns ("Reminders of all the projects my mom never finished," Alford said). There is a painting of David Cassidy (though Alford isn't so sure it's him). There is a silhouette reminiscent of artist Kara Walker's silhouettes.
Frames are painted gold and silver, some are brown, and others are cracked in corners. There are a number of original paint-by-number works, including the once ubiquitous "Swiss Village." There are a several clowns. There is a drawing of a child in a bonnet, and beside it a drawing of the same child crying, his face contorted. There is a glow-in-the-dark woodland animal and a velvet painting of an exotic bird. There is a painting of a walleyed man that looks like Neil Young, only stranger. Few are signed, but "C. Burford" signed a painting of a farm. There is a needlepoint picture of a building labeled "Shakespeare's Birthplace," though it looks more like a Cracker Barrel. There is a painting of what could be either a landfill or a Christmas tree. There's a painting of a woman who could be related to Meryl Streep and a bad portrait of a Doris Day-like innocent.
Doe-eyed girls wear go-go boots, young boys wear full-body swimsuits, a comely woman with a guitar stands in a doorway, and a handsome man with bongos at his feet leans against a wall and holds a trumpet. There is a painting of a goat so awkward it could be a painting of two people stuffed into a goat costume.
Alford said, "Being across from the park and the zoo, I wanted to include a lot of nature and animals, but mostly, being in the neighborhood, I wanted it to feel like a home. I love it when I see people walk up and down the stairs and say, 'Oh my God, that was in my grandmother's house!' That was exactly the idea."
Asked to name the hotel's aesthetic, he said, "Eccentric preppy."
Asked the same thing, Shelley said, "Second bedroom."
"As in," he explained, "the place should feel like a guest room. And the thing about art in a second bedroom, it's always what's left over, what didn't fit the rest of the house, the art we're just not ready to let go of yet."