Every Saturday from early summer to mid fall, our town’s Farmers Market takes place, mostly in the centre of town at Memorial Park. Exceptionally, there is a summer meeting at Pioneer farm on 123rd Street. In reality, there’s nothing left of a farm here but the large field that adjoins an elementary school. On this special day in summer, some of the farmers bring goats, sheep, a llama or two, a calf and a pony. The pony furnishes rides for little children. There’s a hay bale maze and other fun stuff for little kids. It’s festive and fun, especially if the sun cooperates.
In the Fall, there are two indoor markets. Both are held in an old barn up at the fairgrounds right next to Planet Ice, the local skating rink.
In my great wisdom, when I first came to live here, I thought long and hard how I could introduce myself to the community as an artist. “To see and to be seen”, a perfect place might be the Farmer’s Market. There were a few artists showing their work; the atmosphere was festive; I could perhaps sell some of my smaller, more affordable works, cards and reproductions. It would be enjoyable to sit and meet people as they came by. So I went through the jurying process and was voted in as an artist/photographer.
All summer long, I was dogged by various setbacks. I couldn’t show if it rained. If I wanted to, I’d have to have a vendor’s tent or umbrella. I couldn’t find one of these that would fit in my car. I’d need to pack a table with me. That too was a problem.
I still hadn’t sorted out my basement and couldn’t find my art cards. I got reproductions done in June for Art in the Park, an altogether different venue, and they sold well while the originals clung desperately to mama. They weren’t going anywhere.
So when the Fall indoor markets came, I paid my dues – a twenty dollar placement fee, and committed for both the November and the December/Christmas markets. Really there was no risk. If it didn’t work out, I’d not lost much. In return, I had fame to gain.
I had no idea what my space might look at but I had learned much from the June Art in the Park venture. The first rule: Don’t take too much. If people can’t see it easily, they just walk by.
I packed one large painting, the old folding card table that I’d inherited from mom which was at least sixty years old but sturdy, a collapsible chair to sit in, my art cards, my photos and my reproductions. I added ten small framed paintings, a large easel for the large painting, and that was it.
It threatened rain for Saturday so I packed the car on Friday night. The weather held, fortunately, because there is nothing worse than transporting works of art on paper through the rain.
In the morning, I found the location after a few detours. I had driven right past the turn off at 105th and had to turn around at Glenford’s Market on the Highway and go back from whence I had just come. A group of teens hung about the entrance. I walked into the exhibition barn, met the organizer and was assigned my place.It was right in the main entrance, the lobby, so as to speak, of this big empty barn which had probably been built in the 1920’s or 1930’s.
It was a big cavernous space, and unlike the open air market where my placement might have been ten feet long, I had twenty feet to fill. All the fruit and vegetable vendors, all the processed food vendors of jellies and jams, breads, honey products and such were at the interior of the barn. I and the only other artist vendor were separated by this foyer and we had at least twenty feet of space each or more, if we wanted.
When I went back out to the car, a small group of teens that had been hanging out there as I came in were still hanging in there.
“Would any of you like to earn a fiver?” I asked. I didn’t have much to bring in, but oh, how it would ease my setting up.
They hesitated, looked at each other, then, “I’ll do it,” said one of the lads and it was done.
I set up my wares beside a strapping young man who looked to be about thirty years old, slender, dressed in a velveteen black blazer with a black fleece jacket underneath to keep him warm. Beside him, he had an unusual black plastic table and he sat on a piece of furniture that was also made of plastic, mostly black with stripes of pure yellow, red and turquoise running through it. It looked like three steps but solid.
On his table, there were row upon row of Yoyo-like toys made of unvarnished wood and painted or inked with original geometric designs. Each one was different. Above the table on some kind of stand, were two pictures framed in a strange frame that, design-wise, fit quite well with the table. The painting in the frame was geometric and brightly coloured in basic hues of red, green, black, cyan/turquoise, orange and yellow. There was no colour mixing for this fellow. In addition, he had a box of black and white posters that he was selling for a dollar each, appealing to children with these as a substitute for coloring books. Each design was geometric and many were web-like.
I spent the first hour struggling with my huge placement area. There was a dirty white barn wall with graffiti and scuff marks on it. Scuff marks is not quite the right term because these were spread across the wall up to eight feet where the wall indented a bit and then went up to the ceiling unfinished, with studs showing, all painted white. There were nails pounded in at the eight foot level, but they were not practical for hanging art. Pictures displayed that high are difficult for viewing. Nails lower than the top of this partition were at random places and equally made for a bizarre arrangement. This was definitely a challenging gallery space!
By ten o’clock, one hour after opening time, I came to some acceptable arrangement with my goods and the space and went for a wander. There were merchants about, but no visitors to the market. There were about four stands of fruits and vegetables, mostly selling the late winter squashes, beets, carrots, cabbages and such. Greenhouse farmers had bell peppers in brilliant yellows greens and reds, lettuces and tomatoes.
One merchant sells the most delicious fresh bread – foccacio slabs, rye bread with walnuts, or rye with cranberry and pecans, whole grain breads, cookies, and the like. I bought some foccacio to take home and a mini-loaf to eat for lunch.
Another merchant sold jams and jellies made with wine and blueberries; another had gluten free products; yet another, complete with a hot dog stand, sold bison meat products.
In the craft area, there was a stand with fabric slings for carrying children or packages; there was a stand with painted or varnished children’s toys and adults folk-style decor. A lady had knitted infant’s garments and potholders. There was quite a variety of goods, overall, quite consistent with any other farm markets I had attended.
I went back to my stand. The young man was still sitting there, perched on his colourful stairs, looking neither bored nor engaged. The few stragglers of customers that came through looked at his wares, and if there was a child, he was up on his feet in an instant, playing with his Yoyo-like product, walking the dog, spinning it full circle, rocking it back and forth, fascinating the children with his prowess. As he swung and dipped the toy, he had a spiel to go with it. Each design was original. There were no two the same. They were like a Yoyo but not a Yoyo. He called them Round-runners, I think, and he apologetically explained that Yoyo had a patent and a trademark in Canada so he couldn’t call his toys by that name.
He made a sale or two, and when he did, he opened the lid on his three stair unit and popped his well-earned gain into the reservoir at the top of his stair-set, then plunked himself back down to patiently await his next customer.
It was going to be a long five hours until the fair was over or else we would need a lot more customers. Mid day, I checked with some other merchants. They agreed that there wasn’t the normal number of looky-loos and customers. It was municipal voting day and, we speculated, all spare free time had been taken up by that activity. But the show must go on. Everyone relaxed and spent time chatting with their neighbours.
I began to make overtures to the man with the curious stand with some standard banalities about the weather holding, unpacking with out rain being a blessing, the lack of customers, the lack of heat in the barn and so on.
I introduced myself. “And you are…? ” I said,
“Who?” he replied, very politely.
“Yes, my name is ‘Who?’ ” He pointed at the name on his table on a sign built out of Lego that said “Whoinivan”
I thought about that a moment, feeling I was talking to someone with an exceptional personality; or perhaps I had stepped into Alice’s Legoland. I thought back to some of the non-conforming and creative spirits of the ‘Seventies, the Hippie children. and reflected that this might be a progeny of a Hippie family, home schooled perhaps. I speculated he might be living under the radar of the Canadian Revenue Agency, perhaps even evading any governmental recognition at all, a non-registered, non-existent entity standing before me in human form. I smiled at that the thought that this conversation might be quite interesting and replied, “Well, hello ‘Who?'” as if it were the most ordinary name ever.
Soon he loosened up with me conversationally and he replied that he was warm enough. He came prepared with layers of clothing. But he also was used to cold temperatures. He lived in his van. He didn’t have an apartment. Apartments were too expensive and he hadn’t ever really held down a regular job. Besides, the cheapest apartment left him with no discretionary income and he felt he’d rather live in his van than not have money to spend on his interests.
“What are your interests then? ” I ventured.
“Lego. I like building things with Lego. This whole table is constructed with Lego. It cost me four thousand dollars in materials. Nothing but Lego holding it together. The frames too. That’s all a Lego frame. And the sign.”
His concentration, his fixation with Lego construction, his geometric designs – all these pointed to a man with an obsession. A young man who had perhaps escaped some childhood psychological disorder by delving into the mysteries of Lego. He had perhaps escaped the remedies that would might have calmed his extraordinary vision and focus through drugs like Ritalin that might have calmed him and made him manageable to educators and parents alike, but Zombi-ish and unimaginative. It was conjecture; but I was rapidly conjecturing while he spoke, trying to put together the puzzle that was Who?
“But can you make a living at selling your round-runners at fairs like this?” I asked. But he confessed to making very little money at this vending venture. Instead, he offered that he was quite willing to do work. In fact he enjoyed work. He got odd jobs helping someone move, if they asked. Or dug gardens, if asked. But he didn’t go door to door seeking work, nor did he advertise. It was mostly for friends and acquaintances.
“And I teach Lego,” he added after he had described his work history. “I teach Lego to children. Make them think outside of the box.”
A customer stopped by his stand and he started to play his Round-runner again. I drifted away to let him do his shtick. He had an intensity that was daunting.
When he returned from his commercial moment to reopen the conversation, he mentioned that he liked books as well as Lego.
“Well, you can’t keep a collection of books and a collection of Lego in van, can you? You couldn’t fit all this into your van and still live there.” I stated, hoping he would expand his life story a bit.
“I keep them in a storage unit. I have one entire one for my Lego collection – a ten foot by seven commercial storage space. I also have a ten foot by fouteen foot one for my art collection and my personal belongings. It costs me way less than an apartment would, and I couldn’t fit it all into an apartment anyway.”
“What kind of books do you read?” I asked.
Why wasn’t I surprised?. He liked Science Fiction the best. He asked if I’d ever read Robert Heinlein, and I had. He launched into a discussion of the different writers in genre, very knowledgeably discussing comparisons of them, suggesting best writers and so on. I thought I might never read them anyway, it not being my preference in literature, so I never tried to follow his discourse to remember them all. It wasn’t light reading; and he was logical, possessed of many facts and figures, and well expressed. This young man had a good brain in that curly haired head of his. It was just that there was something undefinable, delightful and je-ne-sais-quoi that I kept trying to define as he rambled on.
The concentration of listening got to me. I took a break at the first opportunity and went to find some lunch at the Kiwanis hot dog and hamburger stand. When I got back, Who? showed me his cards. They were black and white geometric designs with ten to a package.
He explained that each package had ten cards and each card was personally signed and numbered by him. A person could purchase a set, and each one of the different cards in the package would be numerated with the same edition number. For example 265 out of 1000 of card design number one, in that package had that number written on it by hand, and each of the other designs would have the same edition number on it. That way they would be more valuable if ever he became famous. I tried to think of the organization and determination that this young man must possess to be so orderly. It certainly was not in my make-up to face a task of personally signing ten thousand cards and keep all the numbers straight as I bagged and sealed them for sale.
He obviously had a taste for it; and a taste for immortality too; or perhaps he only saw it as good salesmanship. I considered buying a package of these limited edition cards, but demurred, defying temptation in the end. I was struggling with clearing out my house. It would just be one more thing to keep.
By the end of the day, I’d not seen a single customer. I started to pack up my things early and right on time, I was beginning to dismantle and return my belongings to the car. When I was all finished, I stopped by to say goodbye to Mr. Who?
In parting, I said, “I’ll see you next month perhaps, at the Christmas Market?” He had just finished talking with another potential customer.
“No. I won’t be here,” he replied. I’ll be teaching next month.”
Yes, I’ll be teaching Lego to little children; showing them how to think outside of the box”.