Hank Pitcher’s ‘East Beach to Butterfly’ Unearthed
Once a longtime backdrop to a part of Coast Village Road shopping history, a Hank Pitcher canvas has been rediscovered, 30 years after it was hidden from the public. Out of sight, out of mind, this Pitcher work was thought lost. But now it is making its return to the spotlight with a special showing at the Lobster Town USA gallery on Santa Claus Lane.
Its re-emergence has brought up a lot of history and emotions for all parties involved. Family members have passed on, businesses have closed. And the location where Pitcher once stood to paint the Butterfly Beach landscape, looking down towards the Coral Casino “lighthouse” and Carpinteria beyond, has long since eroded into the sea.
Speaking for the painting’s owners is Ingo Koch, a longtime fisherman and electrical contractor. Though the painting has been part of the family since 1985, “We don’t live in places with nine-foot ceilings,” and so it will be put up for sale. The massive 9-foot-by-16.5-foot work was in storage at his stepfather’s house. And now with his stepfather’s passing, the painting has re-emerged, ready to move on.
Longtime Montecito residents might even recognize the work. It was commissioned by Ingo’s mother, Carine Degli Esposti, for East Beach and Butterfly, the men’s clothing store that was a partner business to Antoinette, one of the first stores in the strip mall currently anchored by Starbucks.
Painted across three vertical canvases, Pitcher’s landscape was displayed with the left and right wings at an angle, following the design of the store’s walls. And there it remained, used as a recognizable image in the East Beach and Butterfly’s advertising for years until business dropped. The Espostis took out the men’s section, moved in women’s intimate apparel under the new name Intimo, and the painting got walled up in 1991. Instead of being removed, it disappeared behind a store divider.
“To both owners, this was their favorite stretch of beach,” Pitcher recalled about the commission. “He [Rino Degli Esposti] was from Italy, and they had a house in Italy. The idea was that when they retired, they could take back a little piece of Santa Barbara and put it in their house.”
Those plans never came to fruition; the Espostis stayed in town.
“I had forgotten about the painting,” Koch says. “My brother (who is a general contractor) had not.”
In 2016, when the store’s original location closed, they knew enough to not knock the wall down with a sledgehammer, but to uncover the canvases and move them back to the family house. (Intimo and Antoinette closed for good this year.) Koch’s mother Carine had long since passed and with his stepfather also ill, he describes a house “frozen in time.” The canvases froze too, still wrapped in plastic from their entombment.
“It brings back memories for me, for sure,” he says.
Koch, who is an electrical contractor, was storing the canvases for view at his shop on Nopal Street. He’s still building his new storefront, having moved from his space in the same strip of businesses as Lobster Town USA. Maire Radis, who owns not just the gallery (formerly Porch), but the building it is housed in, will be hosting the work for view and for sale.
With only some slight restoration needed, the Pitcher piece looks like it was painted yesterday.
But how much would a large Hank Pitcher be worth? Sullivan Goss, who has represented the Santa Barbara-based painter since 2001, would help determine that, if and when asked. Sullivan Goss has given Pitcher several solo shows since 2001 — seen as the beginning of his second wave of success — and published a career-spanning hardcover book on him in 2017. In a chronology section near the back, a photo shows the painter standing next to the East Beach and Butterfly painting. At the time it was considered a lost work.
A smaller study of the same landscape was shown in the gallery some years ago at Pitcher’s “Montecito Beaches” show. The larger version is more detailed, a slight shift in perspective revealing the faux lighthouse. Right in the middle, in the distance, a flagpole flies the Stars ‘n’ Stripes.
“Hank is trying to make a formally sophisticated painting that also documents a place that he has a connection to that you and I can barely understand,” says Sullivan Goss’ Jeremy Tessmer.
In 1985, Pitcher was renting a house on Miramar Beach to the south. This was his neighborhood at the time and the work of this era documents all different viewpoints of this stretch of sand, looking out towards the islands or back towards shore or up and down the coast. He was also about to get married, and one stipulation along with the money for the commission was a wedding gift. The soon-to-be future Pitchers would be honeymooning in Italy, and from the Espostis, he asked for and received a list of their favorite secret eateries.
“That was the most fabulous gift,” Pitcher recalls. “We would walk into places that [tourists] would just walk past and have the most fabulous meals. We’d say Carine from Santa Barbara sent us.”
“There are many paintings like this,” says Tessmer on Pitcher’s body of work. “When you find lost treasures like this, there are people who know, there are records somewhere, but we don’t know about it yet.”
“I’m a lot better than other people [in keeping track of my work], but that’s mostly due to my sister who loves to organize things,” Pitcher says when asked how many works of his are out there, undocumented. “All I do is paint. So, there’s a lot of paintings out there. Occasionally they show up in weird places.”
“East Beach to Butterfly” will be available for viewing during Lobster Town USA’s regular hours (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 12-5 pm) for the next two weeks and limited days after that due to the holidays. Also available to show by appointment.
Address: 3823 Santa Claus Lane, Carpinteria