Creativity comes naturally to Joseph le Tarte, Salem Weekly cover artist (Vol 9, issue 4). He paints, records music and has sung at Salem Wednesday Market for three years now. He describes himself as “a poet-guitar player-singer-songwriter, who also likes to hike – and I’m also a whiz in the kitchen!”
Le Tarte (pronounced leh tah RAY) is a well-known and well-liked personality among Salem merchants and businesspeople; his quick, light conversation has gained him many friends. His greeting cards are sold at Cooke Stationery Company on State Street. “I’ve done hundreds of shows, thousands of paintings,” he says. He adds, “some paintings are better than others.”
Born in Detroit, le Tarte has lived in many places, including in Boston, New Mexico and Arizona. He moved to Salem to be near family, with whom he enjoys Sunday dinners and Volcanoes baseball. Every Easter his family buys him a box of Crayolas; le Tarte says, playfully, “My favorite color is ‘macaroni and cheese’!”
He is glad to show the many pieces of work of his studio in a tree-lined Salem neighborhood. Collages on the walls show a variety of inspirations, including Bettie Page, and he’s mounted a “time in a bottle” display in his kitchen; it consists of bottles of every kind, containing memories of his life. Even the music stand in his studio is hand-painted, a work of art.
Le Tarte has worked in many jobs, including waiting tables, but says, “the icing on the cake was to decide not to be a waiter-artist, but an artist.” Since that decision he’s “struggled, starved and traveled” to become the person he is today.
He has plans for more adventures, too. “I still want to see Carmel, California, St. Louis and Nashville. Sometimes when I’m at the Reed ‘Opry’ House in Salem I remember I want to play someday at the Grand Ole Opry!” he laughs.
Mornings find le Tarte working in his studio for several hours, starting at 7 a.m. Coffee is an important component to his art; he can drink a pot a day. His many projects show a dedication to keeping busy and productive, and he agrees, “I have a really good work ethic.”
Le Tarte accounts the many warm feelings Salem people have for him to advice he got from a nun once. “She said, ‘When you leave a spot better than when you got there, you get invited back. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; it’s the Golden Rule. You don’t have to be the Pope to know it.’”
He heads back to downtown to visit friends after this interview. He says goodbye with a smile. “Things are always getting better. Summertime’s coming!”