Nov 9, 2021
CORFU — It’s 10:30 Sunday morning and no one is certain whether Charlie Flagg is coming.
“It’s Charlie. You never know with him,” says Mark Zimmerman, a member of the village planning board.
Zimmerman gives Flagg a quick call and 15 minutes later Flagg arrives, his car a bit beat up and colorfully painted with one of his murals.
Sort of like Flagg himself: A bit beat up and still colorful after all these years.
At 78, Flagg, a well-known rabble-rouser, mischief maker and renowned muralist, has embarked on his biggest project yet.
With a little help from his friends.
Flagg was commissioned last year to paint a mural on the outside of the Union Hotel, an historic building that dates back to the 1830s.
The hotel once had 16 rooms and a ballroom on the third floor with a floating dance floor. It burned in 1886 and was rebuilt.
The building fell into disrepair in the late 1940s but was renovated in the 1950s, with four bowling lanes added.
Tom and Mary Dix, owners of Jay Potter Lumber, bought the building in 2018 and have been renovating it ever since.
Two years ago, the hotel made news when workers uncovered a Ringling Brothers circus poster from a performance in Batavia on June 27, 1907. The massive poster is expected to be renovated and kept on a wall inside the building.
The outside is all Flagg and friends, who say they hope to finish the project early next summer.
Flagg enlisted the help of Susan Weber, an artist who owned Gala Gallery in Darien Center from 1987 to 2010.
Weber had recently completed a mural on the inside of Alabama Hotel, another historic building.
Weber incorporated local history in detailing her work.
Weber jumped at the chance to work with Flagg, who has done murals worldwide and is often cited by other artists as inspirations for their mural work.
“He is a colorful character,” Weber said. “We’ve been having a great time, listening to all his stories.”
Flagg told Weber to “do whatever you want” when she was adding her sections to the mural.
“That made it more difficult,” she said.
Weber decided to dig into the history of Corfu and the surrounding area, much like Flagg has done with his murals.
Her scenes depict Henry Phelps Carriage House, with a carriage passing by the windows of the hotel, where she painted Flagg sitting having dinner by the window.
Another scene is of the Dix family and another shows the bar, with former owner George Karam pouring a drink and a bottle of Weber’s son’s whiskey on the bar. Weber’s son, Frank, owns a distillery in Buffalo.
Weber figures she has put 150 hours into the project so far.
Zimmerman also was brought in on the project.
“This is one of the things we’ve been trying to do in Corfu,” he said. “We’re trying to bring businesses in. We’ve had five open up recently and this building is going to be the jewel of the village.”
Zimmerman is just learning the art of mural painting and has no better teacher than Flagg.
One of Zimmerman’s murals focused on tulips.
The area was famous for tulips at Don Scott Florist and Garden Center, at one time the largest importer of Holland Tulips in the country.
Zimmerman also worked together with Flagg for a mural of Engine 999, which passed through Corfu on its way to a then-record land speed, topping out at 112.5 mph on May 10, 1893.
“It’s been a cooperative effort,” Flagg said of the project. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever done. We started talking about it last year and my idea was a history of my life. Then it took me about 13 seconds ‘Why don’t you do that for Corfu?’ ”
The ideas flowed. Fun Country, now Six Flags Darien Lake; Old advertising signs; Boulder Amusement Park in Indian Falls; the Grange “with all the people helping me eating an apple pie,” Flagg says.
Flagg’s imprint is all over Western New York but no place is his work as prevalent as it is in Corfu and Darien.
“This is going to be the best-looking mural in Western New York,” said Flagg, who has sold more than 15,000 pieces of art in his life. “Everyone can relate to it. The town and local history is like a gift that keeps giving, giving me all kinds of ideas.”