Tag: Art

Art

Seeing Clearly: A St. John Love Story

 Steve appreciated art, but was never a collector, certainly not an art connoisseur. But when he looked online at items listed for the silent auction at the Annual 31st Gifft Hill School Auction on St. John where we spend winters, he was captivated and rushed to show me.            The portrait of who we guessed was a young adolescent West Indian girl was small yet compelling. Her eyes were turned to her right where she stared with pursed lips and slightly flared nares. She held her head high. I saw vigilance in her gaze. I wanted to protect her. The painting was titled, “Seeing Clearly.”            Steve returned to the portrait several times before the auction, which was to benefit a private school on St. John we had witnessed during the past thirty years grow from tiny seeds to a full campus for children of all ages on island.    The school and its students are as generous to the community as the community is to it. A real love story about children, community, learning, and a tiny island.            The painting was the work of Kimberly Boulon, who donated it and several other larger paintings. “Kim” is an impressive artist whose own love for St. John can be seen in the strokes and light in her work. All of the proceeds, not just a percentage, which is fairly common practice, from Kim’s works were to go to Gifft Hill School. More love.            We arrived at the auction, greeting the Digiacomos, who had generously included us at their table with other island friends. Steve and I rushed to the Silent Auction and found “Seeing Clearly,” who was more captivating in person. Those eyes. What was she looking at? What had she seen? Why was she so alert? What had happened in her young life?            We made a small bid and tried to leave “Seeing Clearly” behind, but we could not abandon her. We were both drawn to this picture, which had now touched us like no other piece of art. We began our own vigil, stalking with our eyes the few other bidders who seemed to want what we were now calling, “our girl.” In a last minute stealth maneuver, I dashed from the dinner table where we were now seated and returned to the silent auction room. I concealed myself behind a nearby pillar and when the last main competitor finished her final offer, I darted to the painting and upped the bid by twenty-five dollars just before the announcement that the silent auction had ended.            At home in our tiny cottage, we giggled about where we should hang our new fine “aht,” inserting our Boston accents into the silliness, the magic of the night. After several attempts, we found a spot for our girl, where she could be seen easily. I can’t ever remember a painting drawing my eyes to it so often before. We were clearly smitten with the addition to our family.            When it came time to return home to Cape Cod, we agonized. Should we leave her behind where life was familiar? Or did we bring her home with us to spend the summer on the Cape? How would she fare on the flight? Would she be okay alone while we were gone?            Steve decided she belonged on St. John and could watch over our home until we returned in November, a plan that made sense to me. Until an unthinkable category five hurricane named Irma terrorized our island, only to be followed closely by another category five hurricane called Maria, Coral Bay, our island village, had felt the brunt of the storms.            Once we were assured neighbors and friends were safe, we wondered how was our girl? Why had we left her behind? In the weeks that followed, we learned the island had been splintered and looked as if a bomb had exploded. Shock, sadness, and a little self-pity set in. Why when we had just figured out how to spend the final chapter of our lives had this happened? And why, oh why, did we leave our girl behind?            An email string connected me to Kathy, a neighbor, who had moved into the cottage above us after we had left for the summer. She offered to have her husband, who had stayed on island through it all, check our cottage. I told her there was only one thing we really cared about and that was our girl and that Kathy was the best neighbor I had never met. I had been having nightmares about St. John in which “Seeing Clearly” was floating upside down in a few feet of filthy water. When the photo of her sitting on our table looking in decent shape arrived by email, I choked up. When I learned Mike Lachance was coming up to see his wife, Kathy, in New Hampshire for a week and was bringing our girl with him, I cried. When we met Kathy and Mike last week, Steve and I felt like we were being reunited with family. Because we were. St. John is affectionately known as “Love City.” An island where a community of people have chosen to live together in isolation and harmony where differences are embraced and where “One Love” is more than a song. Where “Love Thy Neighbor” is a practice, not a slogan. Where generosity is inherent. The Gifft Hill School, where we first found our girl, opened its doors to all island children just days after the storm when it was evident the public schools were damaged. A real circle of love.Love. That’s the thing about St. John that is difficult to convey in words. But maybe you can in a painting. Has a piece of art ever touched your life and become a part of your story?     

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B.O.A.T.S. (Based on a True Story)

 I heard information today at work that made me say to myself, “That would make a great movie.” (No details here–it’s an active project.) It got me thinking about other true stories that would make gripping fiction. The art world provides a plethora of material suitable for a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller. Art isn’t nearly as sedate as those 6th grade field trips to dim, musty museums led you to believe. A search of Artsy turned up an article about an agoraphobic photographer who uses Google Street View to take screenshots of the people and landscapes she encounters in her virtual world travels. What if she grabbed a screenshot of a crime committed thousands of miles away? What would this homebound woman do? A deeper dip into Artsy’s archives turns up several articles on the hunt for, recovery of, and restoration of Nazi-looted art. What’s been described as the world’s greatest art theft has already inspired novels, movies, and TV shows: Portrait of a Woman in White, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Woman in Gold, and episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Father Brown, and Agatha Christie’s Marple, to name a few. Newspapers and magazines often feature stranger-than-fiction stories. The Telegraph and Business Insider report on professional mourners hired to grieve at funerals. (Rent A Mourner is a legit UK-based business offering “discreet and professional mourners”.) Turns out, this isn’t a new thing. Mourners for hire date back to ancient Greece and are traditional in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. They’re called moirologists and in 1910, in Paris, threatened to go on strike, complaining of not being paid living wages. Imagine an experienced moirologist noticing something odd about the deceased she’s been hired to mourn. An unusual Mark on the body? A bruise not hidden by the undertaker’s makeup? A face she recognized? I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the Internet and good, old-fashioned eavesdropping as sources for strange-but-true material. Last week I listened, fascinated, as the man at the table next to me recounted how his brother witnessed a massacre during a coup and developed PTSD so severe he suffered violent outbursts that eventually led to a life-or-death fight with the storyteller. Literally life-or-death. Think broken bones, manual strangulation, and bystander intervention. Drama fit for a Man Booker prize. Google “can’t make this stuff up” and get 18 million hits: links to newspaper articles, listicles, blogs, and Facebook pages. Here’s a recent one from FB: a woman breaks into a celebrity’s house (Drake, if you must know) and steals Pepsi, Sprite, Fiji water, and a hoodie. What if an obsessed fan broke into a celebrity’s house and found Nazi-looted art or witnessed his idol committing a crime? What life-imitates-art stories would you like to see fictionalized?

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