Sasha Davidson was a freelance art director who lived with his partner, writer Ralph Sperry, on Langdon Steet, just off Islington. Sperry had been ill with cancer for a long time and died a year ago on April 6th, 2007. Sasha, who also lost his father this past winter, died suddenly of the flu on March 18th. They had been minor characters around Portsmouth since the late 1970s at least and I’d guess they were about 60 or 65 years old when they died.
The two of them were avid collectors of art and antiques and oddites, and their taste in food and drink was just as exotic. Every visit or dinner made you feel like you had washed up at some time-passed-by sahib’s club in a forgotten third world colonial outpost.
They’d traveled to Brazil and the Seychelles (and probably much more that I don’t know of), and Sasha had a business renting Jamaican vacation properties. Their home and menus and conversations were peppered with tidbits from far-away places.
Their rooms were mostly dark and mysterious, dense with exotic furniture, huge potted ferns blocking half the light, Art Nouveau and Deco accessories at every turn. Big original Pearlstein nudes on the walls. A full set of Manhattan glass, ashtrays from the SS Normandie, some bizarre little dolls from who knows where (but I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen pins sticking out of them). A pristine set of those cocktail tumblers whose female figures lost their clothes when filled with liquid. They had hundreds of glass Xmas ornaments — three Xmas trees’ worth — that they would proudly show off each holiday season. Their backyard garden was just as beautifully exotic: a small stone terrace surrounded by dozens of rare hosta, all closed off from the outside world by towering dense greenery.
I met Sasha shortly after I moved here in 1980. At the time I was at 159 Middle with several housemates, (and Sasha and Sperry, as it turned out, lived across the street then). Sasha and Dan Fickett had an ad agency, The Penhallow Group, at the corner of Penhallow and Daniel Streets. Tom Walsh and some others worked there, too, and were maybe partners, I don’t recall. Anyway, I walked in, a totally naive kid with a shiny new portfolio. They were nice enough to look it over, and they all were generous with advice and encouragement for years afterward.
One of my earlier pen and ink drawings was of their building in fact. Here it is:
In the late 1970s, Sasha had helped Marjan Frank design the Cafe Petronella, which became a hangout for the oh-so-hip in the early 1980s. Here is a drawing I did of that place, and it was in the same calendar, too.
Sperry became locally minorly famous for his 1981 science fiction novel Status Quotient: The Carrier, and worked for years at Winebaum’s News. He wrote columns for local papers, and made a habit of collecting all sorts of items he found on the sidewalks while walking around town.
I can’t say that I knew them well, but we kept in touch every few months with a phone call or visit. I’m not really the right guy to write a proper history of those two — they have friends who were closer and knew them better — but they were an important part of my life and they gave this town some character and I’m sorry they are gone.