Wouldn't I like to be Artist of the Month?
Er, ‘No, Sir. No, Ma’am. No Thank You.’
As I said, many times, with the deflated air of desperate futility that defined a high school junior in a single parent home, I was not particularly interested in hanging a show.
After all, I did not consider myself an artist. I just liked to paint. Still-lifes, mostly, plus a few animal heads, along with the odd bucolic millpond, pastoral pasture scene, and at least one requisite storm-tossed-ship-on-the-water.
It's not that I wasn’t proud of some of these painterly experiments, nor did I mind showing them off occasionally. But a full-fledged display? That was not the reason I painted them. I had better things to do, and was fully engaged in doing them. An art show – assuming I kept up with the diversion – was something that would come later. Much later, if I had my druthers.
But Dad’s latest steady girlfriend, a nurse at the local hospital, had pulled strings to get me on the official Artist waiting list. I was going to do a show. I might as well get used to it, and stop being so rude to the nice lady who was going out of her way to do me a favor.
So, sooner than later, I bowed to the inevitable, and yielded to their combined entreaties. Yes, I said finally, I would hang my paintings in the hospital ‘gallery’, along the walls of the hallway that led back from the main entrance to the cafeteria. I would be the Artist of the Month.
Good. Excellent. A great opportunity for me. But I’ll have to get to work. I can’t expect to display my work without frames. If they were me they’d get busy.
I was me. I got busy.
It took the me that was me over a month to frame some thirty hobby-scrawled watercolors that filled the department store suit box I kept hidden under my bed. Art box in tow, I spent most of my after-school time (and all of my summer savings) stationed at the local Do-It-Yourself Framing Shoppe, measuring and arithmeticking, hammering and gluing and stapling mitered corners of varying widths and textures and hues, slicing square holes out of layered mats and cleaning glass to a crystal sparkle, all so my paintings would be publicly presentable. And for what?
So my dad and his girlfriend would shut up, that’s what.
I don't remember anything about the show, other than the recollection of delivering a half-dozen open-topped cardboard boxes of framed paintings to the hospital lobby on a hot and steamy afternoon, then picking them all up again four weeks later, the sky overcast and chill. Artist for a month, and no longer.
I was fine with the brevity of that erstwhile career, glad, in fact, to have it over, finished and behind me. I had already found something else to occupy my time.
My thirty days of pre-show autumn sweat, the frame shoppe owner told me, had actually served as on the job training – an apprenticeship, if you will, for the framer’s craft. He would be happy to pay me to keep coming back after school and on weekends, to help other DIY wannabe’s complete their projects before the holidays.
It was a real job. A paying job, with cash money and everything.
Besides the occupational diversion, the frame shoppe also exposed me to all manner of consumer art, from posters to portraits, diplomas to duck stamps – things that until then had not been a big part of my education or experience. I looked close-up at intricate pencil drawings so detailed that every vein of every feather was represented by a soft, hand-rendered line, then learned the particulars of fine art printing, the technical challenges of reproducing each of those fine graphite strokes in tiny dots of ink.
I saw the magic of turning a plain piece of paper into an expensive, collectable object, just by having the artist add an autograph, and a fractional number in the corner.
No, I was not an artist, nor did I intend to be, but as a framer’s helper I absorbed these bits of wisdom and wonder, and remembered them years later when I suddenly found myself in need of a new career.