This week in Off the Beaten Turf, UrbanTurf visits a small shop tucked away in a Georgetown basement that aims to satisfy the desires of a very specific customer: fans of Cuban movie posters.
A few times a year, the doors to the English basement of 3319 O Street NW (map) open and interested patrons can browse through one of the largest collections of Cuban movie posters in the world.
Bill Brubaker, a former Washington Post reporter, has been collecting the posters for the past two decades and has amassed a collection of about 500. Three years ago, Brubaker and his wife Freddi decided to start selling the posters. They set up the basement of their row house as a shop, The Cuban Poster Gallery, and have been quietly spreading the word, often joining in the Georgetown Flea Market on Sundays and opening up during the neighborhood’s annual house tour. The last open house of the spring is scheduled for Saturday, June 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. However, open houses are rare and Brubaker makes most sales by appointment.
“A lot of people like the fact that the posters are from Cuba,” Brubaker said, as he showed UrbanTurf around the small shop. “It’s this kind of forbidden island that culturally has a lot to offer, in terms of painting, music and graphic arts.” The Cuban Poster Gallery is filled with 20 inch by 30 inch silk-screened posters, ranging in price from $49 to $159 each (a few bins hold medium-sized prints for about $30). Brubaker has also been collecting propaganda posters from Cuba, North Korea and the Soviet Republic, as well as folk art.
The posters themselves are colorful, sharply lined, sometimes playful, sometimes dramatic. Since getting there is tough, Brubaker gets many of his posters shipped directly from Cuba (the embargo on exporting Cuban goods excludes informational materials) and the rest from other collectors. While he populates his own collection, Brubaker will buy multiple copies of particularly cool posters for his shop.
On UrbanTurf’s visit, Brubaker treated us to some interesting tidbits about the artists, like Eduardo Muñoz Bachs, a former ad man who became a prolific movie poster artist after the Cuban revolution, and the movies, like “Vampiros en La Habana!,” an animated film that pits American vampires against Eastern European vampires. Each poster comes with a paragraph summary about the film.
Brubaker’s interest is a bit personal; growing up in Miami, many of his friends were Cuban refugees. After making several trips to Cuba as a journalist, he got his hands on some posters, and his interest grew from there. In his home, Brubaker has about 50 posters framed and displayed and the rest are stored carefully. One day, he said, their collection will be sold or donated to a museum or university. Right now, in addition to selling the posters, he is working on cataloging the collection and perhaps having an exhibition at some point.
For those interested in Cuba, graphic arts, movies or who just have an expanse of wall to fill with brightly colored art, The Cuban Poster Gallery is worth checking out. For more information, send an email to [email protected].