Gordon Pulaski: An artful activist

Gordon Pulaski: An artful activist

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Pride [noun]: confidence and self-respect as expressed by members of a group, typically one that has been socially marginalized, on the basis of their shared identity, culture and experience.

We have a lot of Pride in the greater Philadelphia area. There’s Philly Pride of course, South Jersey Pride (nearby Asbury Park) and I recently read that Doylestown will be hosting its first Pride Festival this year.

But kicking off the season in high style is New Hope Celebrates (NHC) Pride. The festival gets in gear on May 4 with a battle of the bartenders for the Best Cocktail Contest. The “Equality — Pride in our history” exhibition opens the same day at the Parry Mansion Museum. On May 11, the Pride flag will be unfurled, and dances, trivia nights and many other events lead up to the Grand Parade down Main Street on May 18.

Boasting marching bands and floats and almost 5,000 participants, the event has become increasingly bigger each year, somehow managing to hold its small town charm. One of the folks responsible for the event is Gordon Pulaski, the art and creative director of New Hope Celebrates.

 

PGN: Are you a native New Hopian?

GP: More or less. I was actually born in California when my parents went to visit some relatives there. But we lived at the Jersey Shore, where my father had several restaurants until my parents split up when I was about 6.  My mother moved to Titusville, across from New Hope and remarried. They moved to Washington Crossing in the New Hope area, which is where I grew up.

 

PGN: What’s the best part of living in the area?

GP: I think the best part is the landscape itself; it’s beautiful, it’s green, we have seasons — no, actually I think it’s the community you find here. I’ve traveled a bit, lived in Key West and in Montana for several years — all in small communities that reminded me of New Hope. Eventually I moved back here. 

 

PGN: I visited Key West once, and I don’t know how people live there. It was so hot.

GP: Yeah. The last year I was there, the humidity was brutal. You could definitely feel the effects of climate change starting to happen. I was there 24 years ago. I just moved there on a whim. 

 

PGN: Family?

GP: I have a sister who is three years younger. She has an awesome food-vending place in New Hope at the Ferry Market called “The Pork Shack,” which is funny because my mom is a vegetarian. I dabbled with vegetarianism when we were young until we were in Europe. I saw a steak and just had to have it, and that was the end of my vegetarian phase. My mom and I are close, and I’m still in touch with my dad, but we’ve had our differences. My stepdad, Colin, who I called dad, just passed away recently.  

 

PGN: Tell me about mom.

GP: She and my dad were into the party scene back in the late ’70s, back when places like the Prelude, January nightclub and the Yellow Brick Toad were hot. January’s was this big barn, probably illegal, but everyone went. It was during the disco craze. 

 

PGN: I think the first gay bar I went to was the Prelude with my mother. I was underage at the time, but they didn’t care.  

GP: Yeah. Back in those days, if you got pulled over for being drunk, the cops would just give you a ride home. It’s definitely not like that anymore. I have a gay uncle and he and his partner were together for about 24 years. They have both passed now, but they used to come down and stay at the Raven and would invite me to go out with them. I remember we were going out one time and they said, “We’re going to have lunch with Mother,” and I had no idea who that was. Turns out it was Mother Cavellucci, who was a famous drag queen here in New Hope. That was my first real exposure to the LGBT community. 

 

PGN: What were you like as a kid?

GP: [Laughing] I’ve been on the creative side since I was a kid. I had this big toy chest, and I used to decorate it with shells my grandmother gave me from Florida and charge admission for the other kids to come see it. I also had a relative, who worked for a paper company, and he’d bring me reams of different styles of paper, and I’d make cool things with it. I even made a bulldozer from paper. I went to high school at Council Rock where we had an amazing arts curriculum. Then I went to Parsons School of Design in New York City to study communication arts. I wanted to be a painter, but decided that graphics was a little more stable and lucrative. I was also very shy. I would observe everything, which served me well in art and marketing later. 

 

PGN: When did you first know that you were gay?

GP: Early. There was a restaurant called The Blue Ram, and one of my high school classmates, Bob Scarpa, worked with me. We ended up dating for five years, and we’re still very close. We got outed because we’d taken some pictures at a photo booth, nothing sexual, but you could tell by the way we were looking at each other that something was up. I had them in my wallet on a table at his house, and his mother said that the wallet just opened up when it fell off the table. [Laughing] Yeah right. It was Velcro and fastened together. She went through my wallet! That was tense, but other than that, it was never a problem at my house — everyone was very accepting. One thing that I didn’t realize until I was older was that when my gay uncles would tell stories to the older members of the family, they would switch the genders. When they went to one of Mother Cavellucci’s drag weddings, they would make it sound like a straight couple got married, but everyone knew. It did take my real dad a while to come around. One time I brought Bob to one of my dad’s restaurants and had him jump in to help out. My father went to the hostess and told her that he wanted Bob to leave. I was like, wow, that’s really messed up. He didn’t even come to me, but that’s the most traumatic thing that ever happened. I’ve been lucky. When we were working at the Blue Ram, and my co-workers found out we were dating, they had a big celebration. They broke out champagne after we closed and made a big deal of it. 

 

PGN: So sweet. Speaking of celebrations, how long have you been a part of New Hope Celebrates?

GP: I started in 2009, so 10 years. I wasn’t really aware of it because I’d been living in NY working on my graphics career. I worked for Forbes Magazine and a ton of other companies. Dan Brooks, who founded NHC, called me and asked if I would help him because his designer and web guy left town abruptly. So I stepped in, and I exceeded my own goals for the project. The rest is history. Or, more accurately, preserving history.

 

PGN: Yes, tell me about the history project. 

GP: New Hope Celebrates History is a project that Daniel Brooks and Sara Scully started. It’s a great collection of pictures and videos and other memorabilia. We also created videos doing interviews with people from New Hope telling their stories. We want people to be able to look back and see all the incredible things that have happened here in the community over the years. It’s mostly an online archive, but we also have physical items. We had dresses and T-shirts, trophies, and menus and all sorts of memorabilia. It’s great to have the online archives, but it’s a different experience to be able to see things in person. Unfortunately, we need to find a way to properly store the things that people give us so they don’t get destroyed over time. But for the festival, we’ll have things exhibited at the Parry Museum, and Dan is going to do a lecture there on the history of New Hope on the 29th. 

 

PGN: He knows a lot, so that should be good. Let’s do some random questions. Best celebrity encounter?

GP: When I was in Montana, I’d see Peter Fonda fairly often and played pool with him a few times, but the best was probably when I was in Parson’s School of Design. It wasn’t your typical campus and apparently our dorm had a famous illustrator and some other well-known artistic people on the top floors, so we’d have celebrities visiting all the time. I was on the elevator one time and there was a guy who looked familiar, but it wasn’t until he got off that I realized that it was Mick Jagger. I’d see Grace Jones and Andy Warhol in the hallway. Bob was also a graphic designer, still is and we went to Parson’s together. We were club kids in NY and they’d have us pass out flyers for events. Andy Warhol would do this public access cable show from a couch, and one time he interviewed the two of us. I wish I had a copy of those tapes.

 

PGN: What fun! I met Grace Jones at a fundraiser, and she was so sweet, not the fierce diva I’d expected. 

GP: Yeah, she was lovely. I was just a kid and I said to her, “Oh my God, you’re amazing!” I saw her a lot. She was so beautiful, super super tall and really nice. I saw her perform live, and it was unbelievable; the stage opened up, and she came out and was striking. I still get chills thinking about it. 

 

PGN: Are you a single fella?

GP: I’m actually widowed. Wow, that sounds weird. I was with Joey Ray for about eight years, and we were married for two. He proposed to me on my 50th birthday at John and Peters. [Laughing] I told him, “You ruined my birthday! You couldn’t have picked another day so we’d have two celebrations! Now it’s always going to be one party for both!” We moved to Florida in 2017, and he passed away pretty suddenly of liver disease. It was rough. The hospital that I took him to screwed up and my belief is that it was because of our sexual orientation as well as financial discrimination. We were at Holy Cross 

Hospital, and they were very curt and dismissive. The doctor said, “Oh, it’s probably just a bladder problem.” Come on, the dude was yellow! We had to go somewhere else, but by that time it was too late. I was going to pursue it legally – even his ex-wife wanted an autopsy done – but I just decided to let it go. Autopsies cost money, but mostly I just wanted to put it behind me and move forward. It caught me so off guard. I always thought I’d be the one to go first. [Laughing] Even Father Michael who married us said, “I didn’t expect the ’til death do we part’ to come so soon.” That was just last year, and then I jumped right into doing Pride, but that was probably the best thing for me. It gave me something else to think about. 

 

PGN: What’s your favorite photo of Joey?

GP: He hated getting his picture taken but before he died, I had to go to Florida for some business. He came with me and before we left. I insisted we go to the beach. I took a picture of both of us, which I really love. It was actually our last weekend together. 

 

PGN: Any pets? 

GP: I have a cat that we adopted in Florida. Well, she adopted us. Her name is just Kitty, because Joey said that if we named her we’d have to keep her. We ended up keeping her anyway.

 

PGN: What are you excited about for the 2019 New Hope Celebrates?

GP: Nice weather would be great. But the best part is seeing it all come together. You go through so much pulling everything together. All the ups and downs can make you pull your hair out, but the day of the event, it’s incredible to be standing there with the parade going by. To see so many different people coming together as a community is a beautiful thing. You just start bawling, and it gives you chills to see what you’ve accomplished. To know that you helped in creating this great experience that so many people are enjoying. [Laughing] It makes all the headache and craziness worth it. 


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