A “Hippies Use Side Door” sign ironically greets visitors to the Bahr Gallery in Oyster Bay.
Clearly, hippies would be ushered right through the front door to join the dozens of middle-aged men and women who on a recent evening swayed side to side, bopped their heads, tapped their feet and sang along to the music of the Grateful Dead.
The music was provided by David Gans, known as “the voice of the Grateful Dead” for his decades of introducing “Dead” shows on syndicated radio programs. The setting was the main exhibition space of the gallery for the preview of a fall show of Grateful Dead poster art.
“None of us knew that we needed a place like this — but we did,” said Don Berk, 61, of Cold Spring Harbor. “It reminds me of happy times in my adolescence and a little older,” added Berk, an assistant district attorney for Nassau County. “It’s fun. It’s relaxing.”
Almost a child of the ’60s
The brainchild of Ted Bahr, the gallery, which specializes in first-edition psychedelic poster art from the late 1960s, opened in April 2018. The gallery sits on a small stretch of quaint storefronts across from Oyster Bay Town Hall and next door to Billy Joel's 20th Century Cycles motorcycle shop.
At 60, Bahr was too young to experience the late 1960s in a meaningful way. “So that’s why I revere them,” he said.
By the time he got to college, Bahr, who grew up in Bronxville, in Westchester, loved the music and art of that period, particularly the experimental culture that came out of the West Coast.
At 23, his job selling advertising to computer magazines took him to San Francisco, where he spent the next 15 years collecting posters from Postermat, which sold first-edition posters from rock concerts.
“Then I got busy with family and career, and the collecting went into hiatus,” he said, describing the period when he married his wife, Rebecca, an artist and owner of an etiquette training business, and they had three children, Emily, 27, Olivia, 25, and Peter, 21.
Twenty years ago, the Bahrs moved back East — to Laurel Hollow — bringing with them Bahr’s conference and trade-show business, BZ Media. When the business moved to larger offices in Melville several years later, he noticed the blank walls in the office’s long hallways were in dire need of artwork and “realized I could start collecting this art again that I loved.”
Decorating his walls with his growing poster collection, Bahr soon gathered that his two dozen employees, most of them millennials, had no clue about their provenance.
Bahr then made up placards to go alongside the posters, elucidating the history of the times, the music of the times, the origins (such as the Merry Pranksters, the Art Nouveau movement, the Beat generation, the “Summer of Love”) and hung them around the office as if it were a museum, he said.
When he sold BZ Media two years ago, Rebecca warned her husband not to bring home the posters because their walls were already covered with artwork, she said.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you open an art gallery?’” Rebecca recalled. “He said, ‘OK,’ and he found the space, and he read a book, and he opened an art gallery.”
Though Rebecca assumed the gallery would be a hobby and not a full-time job for Ted, she said, “When Ted does something, he’s all in. He’s very methodical and serious.”
Music and art in harmony
In his four-room gallery, Bahr displays original psychedelic poster art and creates events to promote the quarterly exhibits.
“So what we’re ultimately trying to do is to bring together a passionate tribe of like-minded individuals, people who really love this art, who liked the music, who identify with it,” Bahr explained.
Baby boomers, Bahr contends, have a nostalgic streak that he aims to satisfy with his gallery’s offerings. This summer, which marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, he had an exhibit of art celebrating the three-day, free music festival that nearly 90 people attended.
“It’s a place for happy memories, where people can come back and sort of go into a different world — a world of their youth and the idealistic nature of their youth,” Bahr said.
Bahr researches and curates first-edition art by Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso and other notable artists from the period, then frames them behind museum-quality glass.
For David Chalif, 64, of Upper Brookville, the posters are aesthetically beautiful and remind him of the music he still loves.
“They’re relevant to this music and that era,” said Chalif, a neurosurgeon at Northwell Health, who’s bought four posters from Bahr. “They connect me to a time when I was younger and I discovered all that music.”
Speaking of Bahr Gallery, Chalif added, “I love the atmosphere in there. … It’s a great addition to the community.”
As in a museum, each poster has a comprehensive description next to it highlighting its historical context and other details. “Most people who didn’t walk in by accident will pretty much be here for an hour or two,” Bahr said. “We don’t sell posters. We sell art.”
For the most part, today’s concert posters, he explained, are commemorative and sold as souvenirs at the event. The posters in his collection, however, were created to sell tickets to events.
The artists "took their inspiration from the psychedelic, mind-expanding music and light shows that were happening,” Bahr explained. “They took inspiration from commercial advertising and they used many icons in different posters. And, they were definitely influenced by Art Nouveau, with its very organic, back-to-nature quality.”
Besides local sales, Bahr has sold pieces to collectors from California to South Carolina, and one even hangs in a bar in Berlin whose owner was visiting Long Island.
“My mythical best customer would be the hedge fund Deadhead,” Bahr said. “Somebody with the financial means, the enthusiasm, but not the time to become a hard-core collector,” he said, adding that his gallery is a labor of love, but he does hope to make a profit in the near future.
Deadheads keep truckin’
The music and culture associated with the Grateful Dead, according to Bahr, have "have been the most consistent standard-bearer for carrying the late 1960s’ ethos forward.
"My sense is that about 70% of my customer and visitor base is 'Dead-centric.'"
The Grateful Dead are as beloved today as ever, said Gans, who has published four books about the iconic, peripatetic band.
“As Jerry Garcia famously said, ‘The Grateful Dead is like licorice. People who like licorice, really, really like licorice. People who don’t, really don’t.’ It’s that kind of thing,” said Gans, 65, of Oakland, California.
At each concert, Gans explained, the Dead played their songs in a unique way, and their improvisations took them in novel and unexpected directions.
“We were there for the ride with them,” Gans said. “We wanted to share the real-time experience of being in that music, and it rewarded us enough that we kept coming back and we would travel great distances to see them.”
Both the music and the artwork are “from my time,” said Ellen Kamhi, a nurse who practices natural medicine as The Natural Nurse.
“It’s subtle,” said Kamhi, 68, of Oyster Bay, who attended the opening. “It’s not loud rock and roll. It’s very deep and philosophical. The chords have a lot of harmonies.”
A boon for boomers
Much of Bahr’s collection, which include pieces by Lee Conklin that have hidden pictures within the picture, end up in baby boomers’ offices. Younger people, Barr surmises, might not feel comfortable putting a Grateful Dead “Skull and Roses” poster in their office.
“But by the time they’re in their late 50s or 60s — the hell with it,” Bahr said, summarizing the thinking among his older buyers. “‘I am who I am, and that’s a measure of my strength to be able to express that.’”
The vintage poster market is ripe for baby boomers who seem to have a penchant for collecting, said Harvey Manes, a board member at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn.
“These were posters we had way back in college and some of them are limited editions,” said Manes, 65, an orthopedic surgeon from Old Westbury who recently wrote a book called "Collecting Art for Pleasure and Profit." “Most of them are very beautiful, very artistically done and they’re very valuable.”
Coming after the more staid 1950s, the 1960s were a celebratory culture, Gans said. “The whole point of the hippie thing and the ’60s was, ‘Look at what a colorful world we live in. Let’s have some fun.’”
Art from that period resonates with so many people, Bahr said, because, “it’s a graphic and visual representation and reminder of a utopian ideal that the late 1960s represented in terms of peace and love, in terms of what could possibly be. That if everybody thought the same way and was equally unselfish, you’d have heaven on earth.”
“It’s difficult to imagine that today,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t sound very achievable, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate it and desire it and be reminded of it.”
Happenings at Bahr Gallery
95 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay, 516-283-1967, bahrgallery.com
WHAT | WHEN Grateful Dead Exhibition through Dec. 23
WHAT | WHEN Author-photographer Jay Blakesberg signs his new book “Jerry Garcia: Secret Space of Dreams,” 6-8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 29
WHAT | WHEN Hawaiian slack key guitarist Stephen Inglis, 7:30-10 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 9
WHAT | WHEN Author-photographer Bob Minkin signs his new book, “Just Jerry: Photographed by Bob Minkin,” 2-4:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7.