Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Musings, 27 March 2010

Good morning,

As I listen to the insistent sweep of an early morning wind, fatigue flows into the cramped contours of my awkward muscles, down to the weary tips of my lily-white spastic hands. I do not know how it is elsewhere, but as a sponsor of the VALA Gallery, I sweep floors, rifle through table cloths at the Salvation Army Family Store, and haul canvas. I am the Coffee Goddess. I am the last-minute purchaser of paper towels and deli platters.

I squint one bleary eye at the glowing face of the clock across the still-dark room. Seeing its small numbers, I allow myself to sink into the wide, welcoming expanse of my futon. I am one with the rising blisters on the backs of my heels. I live in the throb that traverses the tendon twisting through the unyielding confines of my artificial knee.

Such are the sweet sensations of an art patron six days before the grand opening of new space.

For the most part, I spent last evening watching this month's featured artist hang her show. I do not necessarily support the VALA Gallery because I am a raging art aficionado. The allure for me consists almost exclusively of my kinship with the Gallery's coordinator and one of its artists-in-residence, Penny Thieme. I don't even care much for modern art, much less understand it.

But I found myself drawn to one of the pieces in the upcoming show. A thirty-foot, mixed-media drawing, it spans one wall of the first of three showrooms. I did not expect to like it, and certainly did not anticipate that it would disturb my equilibrium. Both proved true.

Sitting on an oak bench, running one finger over its decorative inlays, I closed my eyes and thought about paintings. I've made the obligatory periodic forays to the Kemper, and I've done First Fridays in the Crossroads. I've even enjoyed an afternoon now and again at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, during which I usually press my glasses-less face against the lithographs that line one hallway. But otherwise, my most memorable museum experiences occurred four decades ago with my mother.

Admission to the St. Louis Art Museum was free on Sundays during my childhood. I am getting old now, and even though I strain myself, I cannot truly recall if these Sunday trips occurred with regularity, or just a handful of times; but they occupy a solid place in the fabric of my memory. We walked the cold stone floors of the museum, stopping at the pictures that interested my mother, trailing behind her in a state of perpetual discomfort: overheated in our coats during the winter and shivering from the air conditioning during the summer. After this undeniable suffering punctuated by brief distractions -- the Impressionists, the mummies -- our reward came in the form of being allowed to purchase a post-card at the gift shop.

I strain to separate what I remember from what I yearn to have happened. I picture myself and my brothers standing in front of a display of merchandise, our grubby fingers drifting over each tempting item. I recall the sharp edges of the thin bag into which the clerk slipped our carefully selected souvenir. Somewhere, surely, I still preserve a smal cardboard image of an M C Escher print, with its tightly drawn angles of a cinder block building, flanked by an unexpectedly obtuse stairway.

I think we rode the city bus to and from the museum. We must have; I remember it. I remember clutching my delicate, brown-paper-clad prize against my chest to keep it safe from the push of other passengers, on the long route home. I remember smelling someone's leftover lunch, and feeling the fetid, discouraged air of people who are coming back from work in wrinkled clothes and pinching shoes.

A small noise distracts me from my reverie. I cannot tell if it is the cat trying to come through the bathroom window or the wind asserting itself into the stillness of my early-morning bedroom. I think about the three of us -- the featured artist, Penny, me -- standing on the concrete floor of the VALA Gallery, in silence, turned toward the great expanse of that major piece, each of us wondering if the fancy magna-tabs with which it is hung would endure for the next twenty-four hours. The images in the work dance in the dark of my mind as I lie awake now, images bi-sected with straps of painters tape temporarily applied to hold the heavy paper against the wall or slow its fall if gravity has its way. I cannot separate the shapes in the drawing from the lines of the tape; the two will forever co-exist for me. Picture. . . tape. . . picture. . . tape. . . Flashing by like brief painful glimpses of people in trains on the neighboring tracks of the underground in Boston. People I will never know; smiles I will never share; stories I will never hear.

In the dark of my bedroom, I can just barely discern the framed images with which I surround myself. An embroidery piece done by my mother as she sat vigil at her mother's hospital bedside; haiku written by my son; the sketch of him and me done at a Rochester street fair, the summer he was seen by the Mayo Clinic; my uncle's prize-winning photo of two Chinese children, beneath which is a photograph of him with a tiny boy in traditional clothing; my friend Caroline's sketch of Patrick as a toddler. None of it would be appreciated by many other than me, but here, in my wood-panelled attic room, in the early morning hours of a spring day, these are the pictures that tell my story.

When the show is fully hung, and the Gallery cleanly swept; when the caterers have arranged the crab Rangoon and petits fours on the long stretch of counter leftover from the storefront's days as a coffee shop; I will stand, as I always stand, near the refreshments and the guest-book. The doors will be thrown back, the ribbon will be cut, and visitors will flow into the Gallery's three wide sections. I will beam, and nod, and press my hand into the hands of scores of people who have come to Mission to find something that only gazing with rapt attention upon the fruits of another's creative labor can give them.

They will line against the far wall of the first room in order to appreciate the entire length of the main piece. Each visitor will examine the picture's intricacies; there is much to see, and some will take the time to inspect the disparate components before considering their interrelationship. As the people fill the Gallery, I will hide behind my patron's smile, sip my coffee, and secretly observe each person, watching for one who sees the work through my eyes.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.