Thursday, January 5, 2012

art that matters

Priceless    At the American National Bank’s annual art exhibit, one picture impressed me so much more than any of the others that I wanted to buy it. Unfortunately, on the label that identified the artist, the title of the painting, and the medium, were the letters, in caps, “NFS,” not for sale. To the right of that was the water color image’s blue ribbon for “Best in Show.”

Determined to attempt to meet the artist and discuss the possibility of purchasing her picture in the future, I called Karen Shelton at her home in South Boston, VA.

“I know it’s not for sale,” I said, “but if it were...” I asked what the price would be for her still life of flowers in water set in a clear vase on a wooden table if it were for sale. She told me.

“I don’t want to sell it, because it wins too many prizes for me. Maybe some day,” she said, unapologetically.

I appreciated her honesty. “What if I buy it with the understanding that you can have it any time you want to display or enter it?” I may have mentioned a time period of three years. Because that transaction was more than fifteen years ago, I’m not sure.

But she sold me her picture, then borrowed it whenever she needed it. We did the same with another prize winner. And another. Eventually, her pictures graced many walls in my home. They keep me company now.

I’ve grown accustomed to family and friends viewing Karen’s work, then asking, “How can I get one just like that?”

“Buy one of her giclée prints,” I answer. “They’re brilliant reproductions. And very affordable.”

Countless times I’ve pitched her prints that way. And without hesitation. Her work is that good. If ranked, I’m sure she’d be considered one of the finest water colorists in America.

Over the years, we’ve become friends. Now and then, she and her husband visit me at my store. Occasionally, the three of us have enjoyed lunch together. That’s when we talk about family matters and the joys and business of art.

Yesterday, she dropped by, as always, without calling first. She wanted to hear all of my good news.

“Our building next door is finished! About an hour ago, all of the work was completed. Would you like to see it?”
She did. Her timing could not have been better. I had incorporated alcoves for hanging pictures, pictures like hers. Indeed, the day before I had spoken to an artist friend about hanging his work there.

Karen loved the space. “I wouldn’t mind,” she said, “having my work there. But you know I haven’t been in my studio very much.”

Caring for her husband had become her focus. And he had been the one who helped transport her work from show to show.

That had changed due to his grave illness. Months ago, she’d told me about it.  That’s why, when I first saw her, I’d braced myself for sad news.

But she was upbeat.

“He’s on a new medication that seems to be working. And he’s not experiencing side effects!”

I felt like cheering, although I knew his condition was still very serious.

“We’d love to see you,” she said. “Will you visit us?”

“When is a good time?” I asked. I considered it a good sign that he wanted a visitor.

“In a week or two,” she suggested.

That would be when we’d talk about hanging a few of her pictures. For the three of us, it would feel like old times.

I’ll probably ask what they would think about hanging one of her prize winners. And whether it should wear one of her NFS labels. “Of course.” I’ll tell them, “that’ll make it irresistible.”

B.Koplen  11/25/11

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