October 2015

On the Bus, oil on canvas, 4 feet x 4 feet, 1979


Is This Your Oil Painting?



A strange thing happened to me at 4:00 in the morning. I couldn't sleep. I was having weird, foreboding feelings about the antique frames I had been purchasing from my local resale shop. My house is filling up with them and that gives the place a melancholy vibe. The resale shop is the last dumping ground for unwanted ephemera and best forgotten possessions. It is a place for disowned things, jettisoned for various emotional reasons, or for no reason at all and in that case, the resale shop is a black hole for things with no meaning. I had become a pathological shopper there, visiting everyday, looking for that treasure. I had found it before, and like a gambler, I wanted to recreate the high of securing something worth many more dollars than the one I spent. "Put it in the shame box" my daughter would say. But I can't. I will share this story with you. I left my fitful bed and wandered through the frame-cluttered house and found myself sitting before my computer. You may be thinking a frame dropped from a hook and hit me on the head, but that's not what happened.



Astonished Couple, 18" by 24", acrylic on canvasette, 1979



I was only checking spam before the big delete. One subject title grabbed me: Is this your oil painting? Hmmm, from Lisa Mach, a woman from Texas, I read the first concise line which appeared after the title, (no need to click yet). "Lea, I have a painting of People at the Race Track and it is signed Lea ______. Could this be your painting?"

Good god! I clicked NOT Spam.

I sat there thinking, but I could not bring up the image of this title. Which painting was it? And yet, I had been remembering a friend lately, one that I grew up with in Rockford. Many years later, she had moved with her mother and sisters to Texas and was still residing there. We were close friends once, and I had given her mother a painting, one I had done when I was just 19. I remembered that image, it was a big crowd of people at a political campaign, but I could not remember what I called it. Could I have named the piece, "People at the Race Track"? It seemed to fit.

This woman, my friend's mother, had encouraged me to go to art school. She had great faith in me, which was an uncommon sensation in my formative years. She was a very loving woman who gave me good advice. I had a falling out with her daughter, my friend, (my fault). I imagined that this family had gotten rid of that painting, taken it to some dumpy resale shop and dropped at the back door, cracking the frame. It had become a ghost of something no longer wanted, no longer needed, a reminder of that person, that failure of a friend.



Ugly Children, 18" x 24", acrylic on canvasette, 1979



My daughter stood before me now, getting ready for work, "Mom, why are you up? Go back to bed!" I didn't tell her about my sorrow at that moment, sorrow over the loss of a friend, but I did relate the cryptic message from Lisa, and a painting called "People at the Race Track". I said, Lisa must have picked up my painting at the resale shop for a couple of bucks, and now things have come full-circle for me. My daughter chuckled, but she didn't want to agree with that sentiment. Not knowing the back story, and not understanding my sleepless worries, she was far more optimistic. She didn't say, "Put it in the shame box," she said that I was being overly imaginative.



I answered Lisa's email: yes, that is my name. I don't remember a painting by that title. Maybe I would if I saw it. How did you come by it?

Within a couple of hours Lisa replied with a photo attachment of the piece and this explanation: I purchased the painting from college kids in Austin, Texas in the early 90's. They said it had placed second in a Chicago art show. We love it.



People at the Race Track

oil and modeling paste on canvas




I answered: Wow! Yes, I love that painting too! I remember I sold it in 1980 to a couple for $100.00. They lived on the Lakeshore in a high rise. I was going to school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and worked in the wood shop to earn money. During my lunch break I would borrow the dolly from the wood shop, set one of my paintings on it with a sign saying $100.00 and then I would push it down the sidewalk on Michigan Avenue and hope that someone would want to buy it. And someone did. I don't remember the couple's names but they were elderly and very friendly and had some type of affiliation with the school. Maybe those college kids inherited it or something. If it was placed in an art show and won an award, I never heard about it, but I was hard to find back then. I moved frequently and the internet and social media was not yet in existence, at least for the common man. Well, I am glad you have it and are enjoying it. It was one of my first paintings when I was just 19. I completed it while at Rock Valley College in Rockford, where I grew up. Thank you for looking me up.

I felt relieved that it was not the painting that I gave to my friend's mother and yet there is still an emptiness about her, one that can be assuaged only slightly by a stranger that loves a painting so much they wish to seek out the creator. And, perhaps, they wish to know if they own a treasure! All is fair in the world of art, and fitting too that People at the Race Track mirrors my own quest for winning it big at the resale shop.



The Darkness, 18" x 24", acrylic on canvasette, 1980



Lisa became less of a stranger, explaining that she graduated from a university in Austin with a BA in Art. She was in Real Estate for 32 years, living in Houston and Austin. People at the Race Track belonged to UT students and they were moving from a property that she managed. Lisa liked the painting and asked them if they would part with it and they did, since it was a large piece and they had been moving it around for some time.

When I think about all of the frames I am filling with paintings, I can't help but think that they will end up hanging on someone's wall, somewhere in the United States, or beyond. And while their owners gaze at them saying, I love this painting, it will be because I didn't give up. And if the owners find that painting discarded in a resale shop, then they have found a treasure (forgive my hubris). It may not be as treasured as a friend but it will be a source of inspiration.

The conclusion: at night, when I cannot sleep and visions of the pile of paintings and frames and desiderata that has filled my rooms, my dreams, my waking life, with jabs of anxiety and the question, "Should I be doing this?", I will say, "Yes, but get your ass moving and sell them!"





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