SARATOGA SPRINGS - His color-filled storytelling murals cling to the walls of Gaffney’s and Siro’s and the Old Bryan Inn, 9 Maple Ave., the Tin & Lint and inside of Saratoga Springs City Hall.
Hud Armstrong’s creations include those happy faces and local scenes brought to life - a different one each year - emblazoned across the annual Chowderfest T-shirts for the past generation. Then there is a near 20-feet-long mural that runs across the lobby of the Mabee Building on Church Street, depicting more than 200 local people – many of whom you’d recognize - done up in the Victorian Era stylings of the 19th century.
“The purpose is to give a feeling of the era and some of the characters that lived here,” says Armstrong.
His newest project – which he displays in a series of carefully detailed scrapbooks – is coordinating about 300 pages illustrations and accompanying texts he created from 1991 to 2004 for Poor Richard’s Journal into book form, and has begun the process of exploring ways to make such a publication a possible.
“The area where these take place is often Saratoga, but what’s happening is universal,” Armstrong explains, leafing through the pages of the catalogued works.
Armstrong started drawing at the age of four while listening to the radio because he wanted to see what things looked like. Some of his earliest childhood memories growing up in South Glens Falls involve visits to Saratoga Springs and marveling at the vintage structures.
“I remember when I was a kid, we would drive down Route 9 and into Saratoga. You’d take a left on North Broadway where the arterial is, come right into town and you’d see the mansions and the fire department and the theater.”
In the 1960s, he celebrated his 21st birthday by completing basic training, then going to see the company commander who would decide his next move.
“He looked over my file and saw I had a background in art. I don't know what it was about my dossier, but something in there made him think, 'Hey, this guy will be really good in amphibians!' So off I went for amphibian training and ended up being sent to Qui Nhon,” he remembered about his time on the Vietnam coast, south of Da Nang.
His works often straddle a timeline between future and past, offering a respectful nod to those who have come before, imagining what may lie up ahead, and in a few quick strokes of ink explaining the significance of what it all means to us today.
One of the more playful sequences is a series of cartoons depicting vintage baseball fields - the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, the classic Yankee Stadium.
“What you’re looking at is centerfield,” he explains, gesturing to the latter. “On one side you’ve got Joe Torre and his group: Rivera and Jeter. On the other side you’ve got Casey Stengel and Mickey Mantle, Maris and Yogi, even Ruth and Gehrig. When you look further out into the field, from the centerfield flagpole is Yankee Stadium - the way that it was recently, and on the other side Yankee Stadium from the 1920s to the ‘70s.”
Armstrong likes to keep simple the process of creating his cartoons. “You pretty much form an idea. From that idea you might have a punchline, you might not, but you work up to it, you play it back-and-forth,” he says. “When you get to the end sometimes the punchline will work. If it doesn’t? The best thing to do is flip the whole thing around, and then it becomes funny.”