Month: October 2015

RAINY DAYS & MONDAYS

Rainy days and Mondays do NOT always bring me down, as the song states, but do bring a sense of return to the routine. This weekend I spent on a quick overnighter to attend an art exhibition in Dallas that featured dozens of emerging artists. One of them, Charles ‘Randy’ Sherrod, is also Gingko Leaf Gallery’s first emerging artist. Randy and I go way back to pre-Randy existence. His mother is my cousin and he was her first child. Memories flood me every time we see each other, but I’ve a new perspective now. He is now an artist. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, but then, we’d known each other mostly before he graduated high school, and hardly at all for the last 20 years.

As a gallery owner I see myself as a sort of artist encourager. Okay, some artists don’t really need encouraging, but for the most part artists have intense insecurities ranging from constantly comparing their work to others more schooled or experienced all the way to giving up when overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of trying to share work with the world. Someone is needed to nudge them along with either a gentle hand or an abrupt shove to snap them into full attention of the potential they have. I had one such person about 9 years ago; an artist named Dennis O’Bryant.

Dennis was already an established artist with experience and a following. He never flung compliments at me like confetti. In fact, he once remarked about a piece of my sculpted clay, “It looks like something from a flea market.” Well, crap! That hurt, but guess what? I tried harder and got better. I worked and worked at my art trying clay and painting. Another time I asked him to help me on a painting, but he only gave me one piece of advice. “Look over the whole thing and make lights lighter and darks darker.” Did it and it worked. When I had my first solo show he offered to come down and “help”, but when he arrived I was greeted with, “I’m not going to do it for you. You have to learn how to do this for yourself.” He helped a little, but true to form, backed off at precisely the right moment leaving me to figure it out….and I did. He has never let me down, but was always an encourager by showing me how to be independent without being needy. Today, he is represented in my gallery and wowza! If that isn’t a compliment to me I don’t know what is! To this day he’ll still slip in an occasional reference to Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid by calling me Grasshopper. Yes, he taught me by unconventional methods but it was effective.

Now I’m guiding Randy, the “emerging artist” by making suggestions here and there, but frankly he’s already exceeding my expectations. It’s exciting to watch this man explode onto the art scene so my current advice is tempered with a lot of “don’t be disappointed if sales don’t follow. Create for YOU and if someone else wants your work, then good for you, but don’t live for it.” I say that because most artists will tell you how hard the art market is. They live for the big sale and it never comes, or when it does they expect it again and again only to be discouraged. I once listened to a bunch of artists discuss a competition coming, how much the award amounts should be and what they’d worked on all year just for that show. It occurred to me while listening that some of them were merely painting to win a check, not painting because some driving force inside them was desperate to create. How sad that they’d lost the passion to the almighty dollar. Yes, I must sell art to keep the door open for these artists (including me), but I don’t want to represent art that has no passion. As I sit here writing I can look up and see passion in the work; cool shadows cast along an adobe wall, lifeless stone with a longing face, mysterious Caddo Lake with hanging Spanish moss, and fiery red planets hurtling through space. The urge to create pushes artists to extreme measures and that’s what I’m here to do, inspire them to never stop.

Today the gallery door stands open and it’s quiet. I can see the rain drifting by the doorway, a breeze gently moving it along in billowing waves. Artists are like the fragile rain, easily blown too far off course, sometimes torrential, sometimes sparse. I want to be a breath that blows them toward a search for the visionary existing within their soul. It may be a rainy Monday, but we’re not down. We’re here and know this is where we need to be.

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IT’S NOT ABOUT ME

Before signing a lease I prayed for decision-making guidance and clear direction because it was a huge venture coming out of retirement to essentially work full-time for $zero. As lease-signing day neared I felt strongly this was the right path and so my final prayers consisted of, “God, if you’re not in this, STOP ME NOW.” So….here I am. No thunder or lightning, no angelic hosts blocking the way, just an open road looming ahead and a sense of rightness.

Soon after I was discussing the process with another artist friend who said to me, “It’s not about you, Claudia, owning an art gallery. It’s about what God is going to do with the gallery.” That struck a chord with me and has proven true.

My confession…I resist strangers walking straight in off the street asking for donations. Within a day or two a young man came in offering banana bread for a donation. He was with a group who supports themselves while in rehab. I broke down and gave him $5. However, two weeks later when another man returned from the same group, I resisted and begged off because I’m on a diet. That was true, but it felt more like an excuse, not a reason. He was cool with it, but asked to set down his tray of wares so he could walk around and look at the art. No problem. After a few minutes he landed on a little book of inspirational sayings and poems written and illustrated by my mother. He wanted to buy it, but could not afford it ($9.95), so I gave it to him. He was so happy, it was palpable. The next day, a waitress from a neighborhood eatery came in looking for “the book” because the man was excitedly sharing it with her over lunch and she “had to have one of her own”. I sold her one learning there are no accidents. I need to be less resistant and more giving because he shared the joy and it returned to me.

Another day a stranded woman whose husband was in a nursing home after a stroke came in looking for any kind work for any amount of money. I had no work, but gave her all my money; $9 and a couple of suggestions of where she could get additional help. I’ve never seen her again. Then there was a young guy who just wanted to come in from the rain and talk about Dr. Who….seriously, I know NOTHING about that, but we talked, sure enough. There was a plain young lady who was offering a beautiful book for a donation and I flat had to say, I’m so sorry, but I’m just not able to today. She left the book anyway insisting I keep it or give it away. One of my favorite new friends is a college student who came with another guy just to pray with downtown merchants. We did and he’s come by checking on me three more times with his girlfriend and other students. He also remembers the name of someone I asked him to pray for. I really enjoy his visits. I’ve had friends come pray, cry, laugh, talk, gossip, drink coffee, and just plain old rest in one of my comfy chairs stationed around the coffee table.

What I’m learning is this. There’s a higher purpose for me being here at this place and time. For one thing, I needed to learn how to be less selfish and pay attention to people. Another lesson is that people need people, and sometimes it’s just that they need someone who’s not judging or criticizing them but instead, smiling, listening, and just allowing them to feel welcome somewhere. I’ve had some of societies’ “outcasts” come see me which made me feel good that this is the place to which they were drawn. I don’t use that word lightly either because frankly, we’re all “outcasts” on some level. My group of acquaintances is as eclectic as the art is in this gallery. I don’t care what your religious beliefs or philosophies are if we can be kind to one another. Everyone needs a safe haven and apparently I’ve got the keys to a place that says, “Come on in.” If that is the higher purpose, then so be it. A friend gave me a little paper recently that said, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by this some have entertained angels with knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2.

That’s something I’m learning every day in Gingko Leaf Gallery.

WHAT WAS I THINKING?

“Art galleries are dying”, “I thought you were retired”, and “Did you make all this art?” were only a few of the things I’ve heard since opening a 2500 square foot gallery in a town with approximately the same population proportionately speaking (25,000). I’m not a math wizard, but I think it might mean there are 1,000 people for every 1 sq. ft. of art gallery. Mercy! I hope that isn’t true.

Regardless, I am turning a proverbial deaf ear to all the warnings, naysayers, negativity, and weird comments to attempt the seemingly impossible task of presenting art for sale to a world that probably doesn’t care too much. My purpose is more esoteric to those in my local art community and for all the rest of the passerby population it poses a puzzling comment here and there. How do I explain myself…and SHOULD I explain myself? Probably not, but that’s not how I roll.

I don’t pretend to be an art expert, but I am an art lover. I don’t have credentials to place me into the company of recognized dealers, but I do have a lovely collection of art in my home. I’m not rich in cash flow, but I’m wealthy in artistic friends in all the arts; visual, written word, dramatic arts, and music. I may not have a head for business, but I do have a heart for art. This is what motivates me.

I’m fairly comfortable in social media, can build a basic website, and handle a Canon well enough to compose, edit, and upload photos. A flair for creating displays helps, too. On top of all that, I was a writer before becoming a visual artist. It sounds like I’m giving you my resume, but it’s more to relate my journey. Through convincing self-talk  I had at least rudimentary skills to nudge me in the direction of laying out my small savings to open the doors of a beautiful, eclectic gallery featuring artists mostly living in East Texas.

My dream has existed about 10 years, but it was MY dream, not my husband’s, and that took a fair amount of maneuvering to create a sense of “I know what I’m doing” and guiding him to catch the vision. Fourteen 8 foot boards, 42 bolts, and 462 pilot holes and cup hooks later he’s shown me that he’s on board after installing a creative art hanging system that will save me a world of agony in the long run. He is my hero! But then…..the “other” shoe dropped.

Recently he announced his frustration that he just realized the gallery wouldn’t make money. Well, I DID warn him of that truth. I didn’t go into this blindly and so even though I prepped him, the fact just now sunk in. That caused me to stand back and re-evaluate exactly why I did do this. Part of his fears are based on the following pattern from 40 years of marriage:

Jobs I’ve held since first meeting in 1974…

  1. coin collector for SW Bell (1 yr)
  2. cashier at air force base store (3 mo)
  3. Fox Photo kiosk clerk (2 mo)
  4. jewelry assembler in the mall (2 mo)
  5. page collator (by hand) for church directories (2 weeks)
  6. Mary Kay Cosmetics sales (1 yr)
  7. Cake decorating business (1 yr)
  8. commentary writer for DFW Suburban newspaper (3 years)
  9. substitute teacher (3 yr)
  10. college student (2 yr, finishing up what I’d not finished from a decade before)
  11. full-time teacher (20 years)
  12. owner of Claudia’s Collectibles at Greenwood Flea Market (1 yr)
  13. owner of Claudia’s Collectibles in Marshall (1 yr)
  14. church secretary (6 yr)
  15. writer for Piney Woods Live entertainment magazine (2 yr)
  16. Administrative Assistant for Marshall Regional Arts Council (14 months)
  17. artist
  18. owner Gingko Leaf Gallery
  19. Not to be forgotten, I raised two kids during all the above.

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed something (I’m serious), but that list lets you know why Rick is suspicious of my endeavors. Honestly, I just see myself as a person who is multi-faceted and loves doing things that involve teaching, creating, and/or selling. “Oh great, another Claudia Adventure,” is probably what he’s thinking. As we say in the South….bless his heart.

I’m in this for the long haul, and here’s why. I not only love art, but I love artists, their quirky ideas, brainstorming, arrogance, creativity, audacity, brokenness, They push me and each other to higher achievement. Sometimes they destroy each other, and then they turn around and help each other. It’s a yin and yang community.

What was I thinking? I guess I was thinking about how artists don’t have enough places to show their souls because for all their fatal flaws and visions they are transparent when baring the soul in paint, clay, stone, leather, metal, fiber, and more. I love being surrounded by the collective soul. You could have that, too, were you to search out that creation that connects with your soul. Kindred spirits know. Come, and be known.

Claudia Lowery

Owner, Gingko Leaf Gallery