Nothing says “longtime Saratogian” more than a person standing on the rail at the track, wearing a vintage Chowderfest shirt. And nothing says “smalltown Saratoga” more than the artist who designed the logo on the shirt running into that person. “It feels really good,” says Hudson “Hud” Armstrong, who has designed every Chowderfest logo since the event’s inception in 1999, of that very encounter. ”People who know who I am have asked me to sign their Chowderfest T-shirts. It’s quite the compliment.”
Armstrong was born in Chicago and moved to Saratoga County in 1946. He showed an interest in art at an early age and, following a stint in the army, studied anatomy, drawing and painting at the Boston School of Fine Arts. After college, he returned to Saratoga, then spent a decade on Long Island before returning to the Spa City in 1987. By 1999, Armstrong’s work was known throughout the city—he drew caricatures at the Caroline Street Block Party and illustrated a comic strip in the Poor Richard’s Saratoga Journal newspaper—and drew the attention of Discover Saratoga, which was planning the city’s very first Chowderfest.
That first year’s logo featured millionaire Diamond Jim Brady and actress Lillian Russell, two big names from Saratoga’s storied history, eating chowder. The next year, Armstrong drew inspiration from Congress Park, illustrating a boy, a girl, a duck and a squirrel, four characters that have appeared on every logo since. “It started with two kids sitting on a bench eating chowder, symbolizing a family-friendly event,” Armstrong says. “You can’t sit in Congress Park without seeing ducks and squirrels, so they were a welcome addition. And then it took off from there.”
While managing to fit all four of what have become Chowderfest’s mascots into each logo since, Armstrong has also used his designs to illustrate what was going on in Saratoga and the larger world at the time he created them. The 2002 logo, for instance, included an American flag, a tribute to the lives lost on 9/11. In 2017, the Spirit of Life had just undergone a major restoration, so the statue appeared in that year’s design. “Last year’s Chowder Tour logo is one of my favorites,” Armstrong says, “because it was such a unique situation with the pandemic and expanding Chowderfest to a week-long event.” To illustrate the “tour” aspect of the 2021 event, he depicted the boy and girl riding down the Northway in a VW van. This year’s logo features Universal Preservation Hall, which at press time was back to offering in-person events after it closed due to the pandemic right after its grand opening in February 2020. The 2022 “Chowder Fest ‘N Tour” has been postponed due to an increase in COVID cases and is now set to take place March 19-26.
So, while Armstrong may design each year’s Chowderfest logo, does he actually attend the event he spends so much time illustrating? “I come downtown every year for Chowderfest,” he says. “I find myself sitting in a restaurant, drinking coffee, watching the crowds. It’s amazing that so many people come out in the middle of winter. Cold or snowy—the weather really doesn’t matter. Downtown is busy, businesses do very well, and everyone seems happy.”