Friday, September 08, 2006

A Writer's Talk with Some Artists

Spooky moon still in the sky this morning. I like these crisp fall mornings that warm back up to summer by midafternoon. Pap has my car today since his is in the shop and Princess had to be at work early, so I walked to work (which is what I should be doing every day).

Last night was the speech for the artists. Lots of fun, there are so many of them! I think it went okay, they laughed several times, applauded something I said once and several stayed after to ask questions about either the newspaper or to tell me they were also writers. Zanesville is a funny old city. I've moved around a lot and know that most cities have a personality of some sort. When we moved to Southeastern Ohio fifteen years ago, Zanesville was full of moldering old businesses, derelicts roaming the streets and empty buildings. I worked in a business on Main Street for about a year, so I saw it up close and personal. Then the artists started organizing, Alan Cottrill, the sculpture, moved back and placed a bronze Indian on the roof of his studio, rapidly followed by a parade of bronze characters on the sidewalk. The antique stores started spiffing up, and new businesses moved in. ZAAP and the Artists Colony was formed, followed by several of them taking up residence in the old Armory. The transformation is amazing, and the artists deserve all the credit for both giving the city back a personality and reminding everyone of their proud old heritage as an Art Pottery town.

Among my volumous list of personal beliefs, there are two that routinely march to the top of the list: 1) everyone - regardless of economic or social standing, creed, religion or gender- has the right to own something beautiful that moves them emotionally, and 2) just like dedicated policemen, doctors or bankers, dedicated artists deserve the right to make a living as artists. Getting those two beliefs to meld into a reality requires a dedicated marketing person, and compromise on the part of the artist and the consumer. Why it's worth the effort to work at making these beliefs a reality is best illustrated through evidence of the power art has to make change in the life and heart of a person : (slightly fictionalized to protect the privacy of the couple involved)

In the 1980's Pap and I were Art Consultants for a company in Indiana that also believed everyone deserved to own a piece of beautiful art. They developed a program based on volume that kept the cost of art down while still providing a good income for a motivated and prolific artist. We sold oil paintings, some prints and water colors through home shows called private gallery showings. All very dignified, part show, part art education, part pseudo auction. Pap and I lived near an Air Force base, so we frequently had young GI's at our shows who came for the food, I'm sure, but left with a painting or two ordered.

There was a young man who worked in the motor pool named Buster Yardley who was married to a tiny little girl named Becky who had been hideously disfigured in a fire just a few months after their wedding. Buster had quite a knack for canabilizing one set of cars in order to fix other sets of vehicles making the road leading to their shack on the outskirts of town looking like a graveyard for Fords and Chryslers. GI's being what they are, Buster and his wife were usually referred to as Junkyard and Dog. I'm not sure how Buster got invited to one of our shows, I knew of him, and it was common knowledge that everyone used Buster, but the Yardley's didn't have any friends.

It was a full house that first night I actually met the Yardley's. They sat in the back corner of a room, alone and aparently uninterested until I came to a selection of sea scapes. The first one was just stunning, crashing waves with nearly transparent crests, sunlight dancing off the water across the canvas. When I illuminated it with an art light, Buster came off his chair and moved to the front of the room. He had a million questions, who painted it, where was this beach, how did he do that? They left with a painting ordered for them. Several months passed, I'd see their names on packages being picked up by other consultants, or on sales slips at the gallery. Just before Christmas Buster called and invited Pap and I out to see their "gallery wall".

It was cold that night, with wind whistling across Indiana's flat landscape. Creepy driving through the car carcasses up to the Yardley's little house with the tin roof. Buster opened the door at our knock and led us down the short bare hall to the living room, empty except for two lawn chairs and a TV tray. Once we'd cleared the wall blocking our view of the end of the room, Pap and I were both struck speechless. The Yardleys had collected a group of seascapes and rustics that when assembled together told the story of a life yet to come. Illuminated by up lights arranged on the floor, the viewer was literally swept out of Indiana. A portrait of a mermaid posed on rocks, long red hair flowing over her shoulder and floating on the water, her tail a nicked and scarred series of scales, was prominently placed in the center of the grouping. "Isn't my Becky beautiful, that's just how she looks to me." Buster said pointing to the portrait.

Buster advanced through the ranks like all GI's do, upgrading his housing as he went. When he retired we got a letter from him, postmarked from New Hampshire. It was a short note thanking us for introducing him to oil paintings and explaining that back when he and Becky had nothing, and were struggling to rebuild their life together after the fire, it was the one thing that opened up dialogue between them, and helped him to show her just exactly how he felt and what he dreamed about.


Guyana-Gyal said...

I absolutely, completely, TOTALLY love this post.

Hayden said...

beautiful. gg sent me here, and I'm soooo glad I came. thanks for sharing this with us all.