(see the previous post for the beginning of this story)
There was a message on my answering machine when I got home. “The Greyhound bus depot located at la,la,la, has a parcel for Kay Kerrer. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.“
Thirty or so paintings had been found by a thrift store on the Sunshine Coast. There was no longer doubt in my mind. They were mine and I didn’t want them to be sold in a Thrift store. I would buy them back, even though, if I were of a different mind, I could have tried to get them to give them back to me. I had never relinquished ownership. They had never been paid for by the Anchor Rock gallery I had consigned them to. As far as I could see, they were akin to stolen goods. The Thrift people couldn’t prove provenance but I just wasn’t up to making a fuss. It wasn’t worth a legal scrap – they were just small drawings and paintings, and charitable organizations are doing good – they didn’t need a fight on their hands.
What if they did put them on sale, for five or ten dollars? I volunteer to price things here at a Thrift in my community. I know that’s all they could expect to get for them. Or they would have to wait a long time to find a customer, just like I do.
So I phoned to the woman who had contacted me about their value. She was an elderly woman, one without a computer, the e-mail had said. The call was long distance, and yes, it was the Sunshine Coast. The thrift was in support of the local hospital.
I gently told my tale of how the paintings had disappeared from view; how I didn’t want my paintings to be sold for rock bottom prices in a Thrift, in honor of the clients I had who paid full price. I was willing to make a donation in exchange for return of the goods.
She told me how they had funded an ultra-sound machine by their Thrift work and fund raising, to the shame of the government who had been promising to provide one for years and years but never had.
She told me how the paintings had arrived, all dusty and dirty. They were about to throw them out when one of the volunteers had seen the consistent signatures and thought to look it up on the Internet to see if my paintings were valuable.
“But”, she reassured me, “they are all in pretty good condition because they are all wrapped in plastic. A few of them are a bit moldy. They couldn’t have been stored in a really dry place. They are all in one box – about 36 of them.”
“There were 64 of them in all.” I replied. “There might be another box. Please keep your eye out for them.” She said she would let everyone know.
My lady of the Thrift began to tell me what the paintings looked like, describing them, saying, “It’s so lovely!” or “Its really beautiful!” I promised that once I had documented them all, I would send one back to her for her trouble. At her request, I sent back an e-mail explaining as I had to her, that the paintings were indeed mine.
Everything seemed fine.
Then another representative of the Thrift e-mailed. She said that the woman who had talked to me had no authority and she didn’t know how she had gotten involved. She shouldn’t have contacted me. The only person who could decide was the manager of the Thrift. Would I please call her? So, I did.
The woman on the end of the line was icily polite. It began badly. “Do you know that once a charitable organization has received a donation that the goods belong irrevocably to it?” There was a sharpness to the question and the tone of voice did not brook an answer. “We could sell these for quite a bit, you know.”
I laughed quietly. “I’m not that famous,” I replied. “They weren’t that expensive in the first place and they haven’t gone up in price at all since they were consigned to the gallery. I should have received them back; I’ve never been paid for them. The paintings didn’t belong to the gallery; they were on consignment.
“Exactly how much were you willing to donate?” she asked sharply.
In my mind, I cut my original figure in two, then stated it. I reminded myself that it was the charity receiving my donation, not this officious person. I had become annoyed by her tone of voice – by her implication that I was getting away with something; that I was getting a steal of a deal. And then she accepted.
“I’ll send the cheque today,” I said. I suspected that she would wait until it was received before she released the paintings; and I’m sure it was so.
And now, here they were in a thin, flat box, all thirty eight of them. The lovely sounding lady from the thrift, the second contact that I had, had made a neatly typed list of the works recording title, size and medium. The paintings were all cleaned up from their muddy first impression. In groups by size, the works were carefully and beautifully wrapped in crisp white tissue paper as if they were precious.
One of the hardest things for artists to do, if they are deeply involved in their work, is to let go of their paintings. The artist must treat them like adult children ready to make their own way in the world. And yet, if an artist has given a bit of her soul to the work, then that bit of soul goes with it. The work needs to be respected, hopefully loved.
For me, I paint what is important to me at the moment of creation. Many of these are like visual diary entries. When they go out into the world, it’s like a page of a diary has been ripped out and flung to the winds. Will people think the visual thought is lovely, or significant? Will they take care it? Will they see to it’s future?
For that reasons, I am glad they have come home to “momma”. After ten years of neglect, they need some care and nurturing. They need to be listed in my good book of inventory; they need to be photographed to give respect to their place in my production history.
“Aren’t you disappointed that they ended up in a Thrift Shop?,” says Mrs. Stepford, my next door neighbour.
“No. Au contraire!” I reply. It’s a miracle that they have found their way home. I’m awed by the coincidence of life events that made it possible. I’m thrilled that a volunteer recognized their value enough to trigger their search for me on the Internet. And, I’m glad to have them home again, before I send them once again on their way.”