Rescued Art

fritz-eichenberg-wood-engraving-printsWe were on a rescue mission in upstate New York. The World s Biggest Garage Sale. Tens of thousands of visitors, mostly along Main Street where vendors were selling “100% Pashmina” scarves for $5, “antiques” from Pier 1 overstocks, and chainsawn bears wearing Yankee baseball  uniforms. Vendors also sold a full menu, any tasty food that lent itself to being deep fried.

Yet, once off Main, there were endless quirky homegrown sellers, featuring stuff from their garages and basements. In a little courtyard, sort of on Main sort of not, there was a well-worn canopy tent filled with old stuff . . .  following no interior decorator’s theme at all.

I spotted this set of four prints, all leaning against one another behind a chipped-paint bench. Black and white; they were dusty, but with a nice patina of age.

Fritz Eichenberg had done the original woodblocks. (His name means “Oak Mountain”, very appropriate for this gray autumn day in the color-painted Adirondacks.)  I found this out by shooting the prints with my iPhone using Google Goggles. My Internet search told me that Eichenberg came to the US from Germany in the 30s, became a Quaker, and created some beautiful, gruesome, heart wrenching religious images. Many of these appeared in the famous Catholic Worker newspaper. The cross of Jesus plays a central diagrammatic basis for all four. The themes are biblical in modern settings. Poor down-and-out men at the last supper table, wretched folks at the base of the cross, workers seemingly building the cross with their labors and a sermon to the birds by Saint Francis of Assisi as if on the cross pleading with his father.

As I was holding up the prints to the light, noticing the slight foxing that I could remedy, noting the scissor-cut mats that I could replace, the seller guy came suddenly and quietly up beside me from behind. “You can have all four of those for half price.”

The guy was dusty like his Eichenberg prints. He wore an aging flannel shirt with a garnish of dog hair and spots of paint. His boots were country beat up and his pony tail reined in long earthy hair. I liked him.

As he filled out a receipt (“the first one anybody asked for all day”), I noticed a little penciled note stuck to the cracked glass of a Victorian print of the Statue of Liberty: Closed due to government shutdown. “Did you stick that on there,” I asked. “Yes, you are only the third person who has noticed all day,” he laughed back. I paid him in cash; he shook my hand and said: “Thanks for seeing those prints.”

As we again joined the tens of thousands on Main Street, I asked Valerie: “Why does that seller guy dress in such dusty clothes, won’t it put off the buyers?” She knew exactly why: “He just wants to blend in with garage sale buyers, few of whom are well dressed. Maybe he knows it is not he who needs to make an impression, but rather his cheap prices.”

“Yes, he was very sharp eyed,” I expanded. “He saw me Google those prints. He shook my hand after the transaction. Maybe, he also identifies with the people in the Eichenberg prints, the workers and wretched. He saw that I was paying attention and appreciating dusty pictures with dusty people in them. Maybe he sensed that Rescued Art will treat them kindly and display them for others to see.