By: Scott Mancuso
The “Life & Times of Grovey Cleves” is, of course, about our 22nd (and 24th) president, Grover Cleveland. He’s a compelling story with strong ties to Buffalo, yet he somehow continues to fly under the radar, even in a community that has a voracious appetite for any sort of local connection to national recognition.
Cleveland lived in Buffalo, from when he was 18 until he was 46, during its formative years, as it became one of the largest and most important cities in the country. Most of his adult life was spent here as a well-known and well-liked, but fairly average, citizen. He was an attorney, a bachelor, a notorious lover of food and drink. He was, like many people living in Buffalo today, doing well for himself, enjoying life, and seemingly content to keep it that way. By the time he hit his 40’s, it would have been unthinkable that in a mere few years he’d be in the White House.
Cleveland’s ascent to Mayor of Buffalo, to Governor of New York to President of the United States, through only 3 years, from 1882 to 1885, is nearly unparalleled in the history of American politics. (Mr. Obama, himself, is one of the few men who can rival that distinction but even he was fairly notorious on a national level at least 4 years prior to his first election.)
It might have been Cleveland’s unusually fast ascent to the presidency that then gave him such an interesting perspective on the office, where he showed an admirable amount of restraint in an era that was notorious for political corruption. He is now generally seen as a “near-great” president who has merely gone unsung due to the very under-stated factors that made him “near-great” in the first place. (He, of course, also went on to be the only president to serve non-consecutive terms, seemingly his only “claim to fame,” if he has one at all.)
It was this story that first inspired Mickey Harmon to begin a series of illustrations about the “life and times” of Grovey Cleves (a stylized, fictional version of the man himself.) Mickey penned a series of over 40 illustrations in his signature style, following Cleveland’s life from birth until death, with emphasis on his time spent in Buffalo. Mickey then asked me to narrate the story in a series of vignettes that are, mostly, biographically accurate, but are also a highly-dramatic fictional treatment of his life. The result is “The Life & Times of Grovey Cleves.”
From March 21 through May 10, WNYBAC will be promoting “The Life & Times of Grovey Cleves” as its featured exhibition with an opening on Friday, March 21 at 7:30 pm (only 3 days after Cleveland’s 177th birthday.)
For the opening, we will have a limited edition first pressing of the book available with hand-made cover artwork. We are also preparing (together with Sean Wrafter of Wrafterbuilt) a series of 10 shadow boxes featuring scenes from the story. We will be doing a reading at the opening, lighting the shadowboxes, and reciting select passages from the book.
Overall, the goal here is to use modern, Buffalo-born words and illustrations to celebrate a Buffalo legend, highlighting yet another piece of history that the people of this city have to be proud of and maybe, finally, taking some of the focus off of that bastard, Millard Fillmore.