Artist Buddy Foley, a Seattle original, will soon have to take wing from his ramshackle quarters near the Magnolia Bridge. He needs a new place...
WANTED: Benefactor to find a new home and art studio for Buddy Foley, aka The Ladybug Guy. Foley, 62, is a true Seattle character, an eccentric artist who no longer fits nor can afford an upscale Seattle.
He’s being evicted from his digs on 15th Avenue West near the Magnolia Bridge. He has to be out by July 31 to make way for construction of an office building.
Foley said his income is $600 a month from Social Security. Friends sometimes help with cash and groceries. He acknowledges he needs “a manager” for his life.
Foley has lived at his ramshackle place for 20 years. It’s an old garage he covered with tarp for a roof, built up with two-by-fours and made instantly recognizable to motorists with such touches as a painting on the wall facing the street with a blue-suited, rockin’ piano player.
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His outside décor also includes his ever-present sidewalk signs pitching live ladybugs at $5 for 100.
JOB QUALIFICATION: Patience. Lots of it. Foley owns hundreds of collectibles, from old neon theater signs to a Beatles-logo Ludwig bass-drumhead cover left over from a 1965 Portland concert.
For the past four decades, he has chronicled the area’s cultural history — from gallery openings to festivals — on thousands of hours of videotape. All that stuff needs to be sorted and packed. Some of it is nailed to the ceiling, including vinyl records that Foley put up for decoration.
Ann Wyman, an art patron who’s helped Foley in the past and wants somebody else to take over, said, “He’s an old hippie. He’s resistant to change.”
Karl Gruber, a retired corporate pilot who’s known Foley since junior high and also has helped Foley, said, “He’s a great guy, but over the years people have always bailed him out. Stuff from a credit bureau, the landlord or the telephone company, it gets tossed in the round file. I wouldn’t want to deal with him.”
PAY: Zero. Actually, you could end up chipping in. The owners of Triad Interbay, the company that owns the property on which Foley has his studio at 1801 15th Ave. W., remember very well what happened two years ago when they first tried to evict him.
Back then, Triad said that Foley owed $2,300 in back rent (it had started at $300 a month and gone to $425 a month) and was using industrial space as a residence.
The King County Sheriff’s Office taped an eviction notice on his frayed plywood door, threatening that Foley’s prized possessions could end up on the sidewalk.
After Foley’s predicament got publicity, Triad backed off.
“Just the mere fact of him being The Ladybug Guy instantly suggests a likable situation. It’s not like he’s selling spiders; he’s selling ladybugs,” said Fred Grimm, manager of Triad Interbay.
Friends stepped in to help Foley. Wyman paid the back rent. A fundraiser took in several thousand dollars. Others helped set up a lease on the property and paid rent for the rest of 2005.
But that lease, said Grimm, expired on Jan. 1, 2006, and Foley continued to stay and hasn’t paid rent for 16 months.
Finally deciding to develop the site, Triad sent the eviction letter, not just to Foley, but to a sculptor and a welder also renting space on the property.
It gave them all three months’ notice to move, instead of the statutory 30 days. The sculptor and welder are looking for new places.
As for Foley, a few days ago he opened the door to his studio. He was dressed in jeans, a pilot’s jacket and sunglasses that looked like goggles.
“I’m looking at options. I’d like to stay in Interbay, or Georgetown,” he said. It wasn’t clear what those options were, as Foley changed the subject.
As always, every inch of every wall, and just about all floor space except for some walkways, displayed sometimes unusual, sometimes historic and sometimes just plain weird artifacts. He still owns a couple of cats.
The collectibles included a sign from the University of Washington computer labs, harking back to the early 1970s when Bill Gates and Paul Allen would sneak in. The sign warns: “The use of this lab is for academic reasons only. Inappropriate use of the computers will result in loss of computer lab access!”
There were Braille T-shirts that Foley had developed, which have raised dots that spelled messages such as “Keep in touch.” He said he went broke trying to sell them as groups for the blind began making the T-shirts themselves.
Foley said it has been suggested that he sell some of his collectibles. Some classic lunchboxes such as he owns are offered for sale on the Internet for several hundred dollars each.
“I’d rather go hungry and eat Top Ramen than sell one of my lunchboxes,” he said. “These are my children.”
There is a bit more than eight weeks remaining until July 31.
Wyman said she’s confident someone with the requisite patience will step up to help Foley. Patience, and understanding of life led on a different path.
“I bet you that when Buddy closes that door in his studio for the last time at night, he talks to the instruments and his cats,” said Wyman.
“That’s his living, breathing world. It’s like a cartoon — only for him, it’s real life.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org