Tuesday, October 9, 2001


Courant Staff Writer
© 2001 The Hartford Courant Co.

Artist David Brown lives in Old Saybrook in a house made out of hay bales.

John and Debi Friedlander recently bought a 170-year-old former Baptist church in Haddam where they live and host folk concerts in a soaring room with stained-glass windows.

Brown and the Friedlanders have found each other, and Friday evening the result will be evident to all who come to the old church.

Brown's oil portraits of 20 people who are important to him will be on display during a concert by Johnsmith, a folk singer and guitarist who celebrates regular people and everyday events in his music.

"We thought David's paintings of 'ordinary people' went beautifully with Johnsmith's music," says Debi Friedlander, who is also an artist.

The Friedlanders, recently married, purchased the converted church in May. They had a clear idea they wanted to present "house concerts" and wasted no time setting up a schedule of performers. They've hosted three concerts so far in their new home, sending out invitations to music lovers on their growing e-mail list.

"The walls called out for art," says Debi, glancing up to the peak of the concert hall 20 feet over her head.

The couple hasn't had to change much in their unique home, first transformed into a house 30 years ago by well-known architect Charles Moore. A potter lived there for many years until the building was sold to another owner two years ago. That owner did considerable work on it but never enjoyed the fruits of her labor and moved to Australia.

John Friedlander, who is a commercial real estate broker with a deep love of music, took one look and knew it was right for at-home concerts.

The Friedlanders met Brown recently at a Farmer's Market in Chester. When the Friedlanders learned Brown was an artist and saw a print of some of his portraits, they thought of their upcoming concert.

"Johnsmith's music elevates normal people in sacred ways like David's portraits do," says Debi.

Brown's subjects are each wearing a white T-shirt with their occupation written on the front.

There is a "mother," "musician," "doctor," "granny," "farmer," firefighter," "teacher," "architect." Some are good friends who live in the area; others are old college chums.

Each is folding his or her hands as if in prayer and all wear halos made with real gold leaf. Each portrait is encased in a kind of clear epoxy, giving it the look of "a kind of Russian icon," explains Brown.

"You put a halo on almost anybody and it really changes their looks," says Brown, who even stuck one on his dentist, Paul Bied of Old Saybrook.

Because the Friedlanders want others besides the 70 or so people who can be accommodated at Friday's concert to be able to see Brown's work, they are turning their concert hall into a temporary gallery. People can come by on Saturday or Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. None of the portraits is for sale.

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. Friday and costs $14. More information is available at www.edancedesign.com.