It is always a good feeling to pull into my sort-of-favorite thrift store, down in far-western Connecticut, after two and a half hours on the road. The ride was beautiful on the two-laner through the little hills and little towns along the way. I know the route well . . . where to find a good apple fritter, where to find a bathroom.
But on that close, muggy day last August, I was not feeling good. My old Goodwill had moved up the road a ways, into a new free-standing building. The old location was abandoned, just like the art we have been rescuing for the past nine years.
I was so disappointed in this sparkly new store. (The GW organization is putting them up all around the country.) No mold. No rambling rooms with uneven floors burgeoning out into rooms that used to be the next store over. Flat asphalt parking lot with no potholes. Automatic doors out front that actually work. Clean signage at the end of neat rows of clothing, printed professionally. No Sharpie homemades. Attentive young woman behind the register, dressed well with no intriguing mental or physical oddities. And did I say no mold?
By my second pass through, I was lamenting. “I hate it when they build these new places. It ruins my picker’s experience to be in such good lighting. The merchandise changes too. The few pieces of art they have are hung . . . straight . . . on real art hooks above rationally merchandized shelves.”
But, then I saw the old metal art bin in the far corner. Same old bin from the old store. And inside among a tousle of dirty prints and faded mats, I found this beauty.
A black etching by Martin Tobias from the early 80s, watercolored by hand, depicting a pier in Monterey, California. The frame was scratched and loose at the joints; the whole piece was covered in the dust of age with that haunting ghost of a shadow mirroring the image on the inside of the glass. The paper was darkened around the print border . . . all this could be fixed.
I wrote Mr. Tobias regarding the piece, just to make sure that my hunch about the hand coloring was right. He told me: “It’s one of my earliest etchings, and I believe it sold for $125 unframed. The most important part of my artwork is not the image, but the design of them, the shapes, the feel of them. Thanks for your interest…it brings back good memories.”
This was a classic rescue and it has turned out quite beautifully. Maybe I should not be so harsh on modernization and change. Yet I do rue the new marketing sophistication of GW . . . . Give me those old moldy stores.