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Whoa dude, it's the Grateful Dead with Washington and Lincoln

March 5, 2010 |  5:00 am

Grateful_Dead_Playing_at_N- Dennis Larkins can be forgiven his feeling of déjà-vu, as he strolls through the new Grateful Dead exhibit at the New York Historical Society. Thirty years ago, he and Peter Barsotti created an iconic poster for the band’s 1980 shows at Radio City Music Hall. It featured two Grateful Dead skeletons, Sam and Samantha, leaning on the building with their long, bony arms.

Three decades later, Larkins has created a strikingly similar image for the newly opened “The Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New York Historical Society.” But the Santa-Fe based artist grins as he points out the new cast of characters he’s inserted into the latest poster.

“The idea for this one certainly evolved from the earlier ones, but the sponsors of the exhibit wanted something different for New York,” he said. “So I began thinking — who could I bring into the picture?”

His new version features the same two skeletons, but that’s where the similarities end. To the right stand such famous (and diminutive) historical figures as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. To the left are members of the Grateful Dead and a supporting cast that includes Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady and other cultural figures linked to the band.

Ailey30 Sam and Samantha are the constants, Larkins said, because “they’ve become male and female icons for the band.” The artist, who has just published “Startling Art!,” a collection of his paintings, added that “these two figures loom over all of these events…They’ve almost become protectors and guardians for the Grateful Dead.”

Click here for my story about the exhibit and why it ended up at the New York Historical Society.

-- Josh Getlin

Poster by Dennis Larkins