Pop collector of memorabilia from "cool events" gets eviction notice

The fragile world of the Ladybug Guy is falling apart.

Buddy Foley is 60, broke, frail and has been served eviction papers at his gas-station-converted-into-a-studio on 15th Avenue West near the Magnolia Bridge. Passing motorists are familiar with his colorful sidewalk boards advertising the insects at $5 for 100, and which can be bought "on the honor system" in plastic baggies in a box outside the studio.

What most passers-by don't know is that inside the patched structure, with its roof covered with blue and gray tarp, is an astounding collection of pop memorabilia and videos cataloging years of what Foley would judge were "the coolest events" of the time.

According to a notice taped to the studio's frayed plywood door by the King County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, Foley has until midnight tomorrow to remove his property.

After that, those hundreds of collectibles — ranging from a Ludwig bass-drum head cover with a Beatles logo from a 1964 show in Portland, to a collection of vintage Mickey Mouse Club and other lunchboxes — could end up on the sidewalk, or moved and placed in storage at Foley's expense, said the sheriff's notice.

"I'll have to get my friends together. I don't know ... I don't know," Foley said about dealing with the eviction and finding a home for his treasures. The eviction came after he failed to respond to a summons. He said he's been renting the space for 18 years.

The summons said Foley owed $2,300 in back rent, which had been $300 a month until February and $425 monthly after that.

The property is owned by Triad Interbay, whose principal officer is listed as real-estate investor John Stewart.

"He's had a history of nonpayment," said Ross Woods, agent for Triad Interbay, adding that the land is zoned industrial and cannot be used for a residence.

What is clear is that Foley has made his art, not money, his priority — and that something always happened to derail another of his offbeat projects.

In 1977, he developed Braille T-shirts, which had raised dots and spelled out a message such as "Keep in touch." He sent out 2,500 letters to groups serving the blind about the T-shirts. There was an enthusiastic response, Foley said, and the groups began making such shirts themselves. "My company went broke," he said.

Over the years, Foley had collected piles of neon signs that were being thrown out or destroyed when buildings were demolished. In 1987, he used the neon to make 27 light sculptures for The Bon Marché department store in downtown Seattle, at $500 each. The next year, his neon collection was lost when fire destroyed the building in which they were stored. Foley carried no insurance.

A passion throughout his life has been his music. He began playing piano in 1955, and he has played professionally. On his Web site, buddyfoley.com, he advertised a CD with a collection of his music. He sold maybe 20 copies. "I never got the money to publicize the Web site," he said.

So it is for the ladybugs — and a collection of kids' math books that he also advertises for $9.95 on boards outside his studio — that Foley is best known. In 1982, he bought 12,000 sets of the well-regarded books — by the pound from a liquidator, paying about $280. But even the books Foley sometimes gives away.

Karl Gruber of Bainbridge Island, a retired corporate pilot, went to junior-high school with Foley in Vancouver, Wash., and they've been friends ever since. Over the years, Gruber has given money to Foley, as have others.

"He's as good a rock and roll musician as I've heard. He could have been a world-class rock and roll star. Something always held him back," Gruber said.

Renee Behnke, whose family owns the Sur La Table chain of culinary stores, remembered Foley from the 1970s scene on Broadway, when it had restaurants that were a gathering place for twenty-somethings.

"Buddy stayed the same. He's just 30 years older," Behnke said.

In the past year, Foley said, he's had surgeries for Bowen's disease, a type of skin cancer, and one to remove his gallbladder. He said he has $38,500 in medical bills and no money to pay them. "I live below the poverty line," he said.

Sometimes, Foley said, when he's sitting at one of the Lower Queen Anne coffeehouses, he knows what someone without a knowledge of the Seattle scene is thinking: "They treat me like a bum, a 60-year-old guy sitting there. They don't know at all."

What they don't know is crammed on the walls, ceiling, floor and tables in his studio. That stack of videos chronicling the Seattle scene over 3-½ decades, grunge, punk, experimental. That 9-foot-long paper kite in the shape of a dragonfly. That Frisbee autographed by the great jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, when he played in Seattle.

Foley pondered his current status as an evictee and brought out a magazine in which there was a quote he said applied to him. It was from Thomas Henry Huxley, a 19th-century anthropologist:

"Tolerably early in life, I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabeled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Artist and collector Buddy Foley walks into his home on 15th Avenue West. One of his projects is selling ladybugs for $5 for 100, which are available "on the honor system" in plastic baggies in a box outside the studio. He has been served an eviction notice. (KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)