On close inspection, the passerby will see a definite canine theme to the artwork contained within. Domestic animals have been a favorite subject of McCaffrey’s through his career. On one of his residencies in Ireland – he’s done three, including two at the Tyrone Guthrie Center in County Monaghan – he’s focused on the impact of the landscape on animals.
And each spring, he curates the Mascot Studio’s Dog Show, which displays work by invited artists.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the customers weren’t buying dog-themed art, although one woman who was picking up framed pictures had her cairn terrier with her.
Another, a scientist, brought in his various diplomas, including his PhD, to be framed. He explained that his brand new office had lots of wall space.
Generally walk-ins like those are East Village locals and also repeat customers. “As a business person, I feel part of what’s going on here,” McCaffrey said.
It helps that he’s been in the one location since he opened in 1982. “People yearn for that stability,” he said. “They admire that you can stick it out for so long.”
The skyrocketing rents of boom times, of course, were tough on small traders in Manhattan and it doesn’t necessarily follow that a downturn is good. “It feels like a bit of a struggle,” he said.
Yet it’s hardly all doom and gloom. “It’s a luxury for many people,” he said of framing, which is labor intensive, “but people also are spending more time at home.” And when they do that, they are more aware of what’s around them and what they want to preserve.
Someone minds the store when he’s away, but business essentially stops. “I feel that I’m starting from scratch when I come back,” McCaffrey said.
Being away, if it’s abroad, also means leaving his Jack Russell terrier behind. (He used to have his two dogs in the store with him. Bloom though, at 10, became too difficult to manage and she now stays home down the block, while Beckett, her father, passed away two years ago.)
He was recently on vacation in Ireland after an absence of eight years. “There’s a lot more support for the arts there,” said McCaffrey, who once spent time at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo. “And people are a little bit more positive than we are here in a way.”
McCaffrey, the eldest of three children, was born in Dublin, but only because his mother, who is from County Galway, had problems getting a visa for the United States.
His Irish-American father, who was an 18-year-old navy recruit stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked there on Dec. 7, 1941, was encouraged to go to Ireland by his architect brother. A graphic artist by training, he studied general subjects at University College Galway and later worked in advertising in a Dublin department store.
As it happens, McCaffrey’s mother’s family owned a well-known Galway store, which was rather bigger than his own on East 9th Street. The artist has seen his grandmother’s business, Glynn’s, in the background of photographs of President Kennedy’s visit to the city in 1963.
By that time, the young McCaffrey was living with his parents in his father’s hometown of Bay Shore, N.Y. The elder McCaffrey found work as a teacher, including in a state mental institution, and during the summer months did signage for local businesses.
“I always had him draw for me,” remembered the owner of the Mascot Studio.
His father died suddenly of a heart attack when Peter McCaffrey was 10. His grief-stricken mother brought her children back to Galway for an extended visit. “And we went back every other year for a few years,” he said.
Later he attended and graduated from SUNY in Farmingdale, his father’s alma mater, and from the School of Visual Arts.
McCaffrey would love to make more art. “Recently finding the time is the hardest thing,” he said.
“I’d like to make that leap and just be an artist,” he added. He has thought about a permanent move to Albany where he has a home.
For now, though, McCaffrey’s clients in the East Village are the beneficiaries of his artistic talent.
“I put more of myself into the work than the average framer would,” he said.
For more information go to the www.mascotstudio.com.