Rescued Art

Haku Maki Limited Edition Woodblock: Poems 71-28You can’t say much in the way of predicting thrift stores. If you do, you will probably expect staff members to have a few physical or social status challenges. That they may be a bit ill-dressed. And you will be wrong oftentimes. Like I was at this thrift store in Worcester. The woman staff member who greeted customers with: “Blue tags are 50% off. Thank you for supporting our mission.” She surprised me: beautiful with an upright carriage and athletic physique. Her hair was the dark of South Asia and her eyes were bright along with her clothing and makeup. She spoke courteously with the vocabulary of college. What was she doing in this place of abandoned things?

And if you hold to an image of Goodwills as peeling-paint former grocery stores in rough-edged neighborhoods, this one in Worcester will take you aback. It is a brand new building, specifically built for Goodwill in a strip mall amidst a mid-to-upscale neighborhood. With so much purchasing of commodities in this country, there is an over-abundance of excellent stuff that is abandoned in order to make room for new stuff. And the national non-profit business management has learned that thrift shopping is very cool among the middle class and up-and-coming college students. (But for me, this new store was so clean it had none of the old homey musty odor. I walked in and it smelled like J. C. Penney. I miss the mold; it makes me feel at home among the pickers.)

One thing for sure. There is almost never any abstract art to be rescued from thrift stores. Unschooled art, the kind often found in the back of a thrift, is never abstract. Could it be these artists are always trying to capture in paint the world around them and find it so chaotic that there is no motivation to abstraction or symbol? The world itself is just too much. Or maybe the middle class owners of abstract art are ill at ease in its presence, yet are loathe to abandon it at the backdoor of a thrift, just in case it actually means something or is worth something and they don’t want their friends to inform them of their faux pas in giving it away?

This Worcester thrift pointed out my wrong-headedness again. “Poems 71-28” by Haku Maki was in the back. (Art is always in the back of the store.) It was hung on a crooked nail. It was dirty and mis-used. I felt at home seeing it there, calling out to be rescued.

Haku Maki was a Japanese woodblock printer. He began with imaginative pressings of kanji characters (㐣 㑒). His work became more and more abstract with time. By 1971, when he did this pressing, his work was totally abstract. And his signature “color teardrop” appears here as well.

Haku Maki is quite famous for his technique of cutting a woodblock and then forcing cement into the edges of the mold. After setting up, he carved it into the exact line he wanted. The cement is also why the print is so deeply embossed. The color shapes stick up from the double thick paper so far, it has the effect of a relief sculpture. Beautifully done. Mesmerizing to those of us who appreciate defined things, cut edges, nothing hazy or fuzzy. This piece is a rare find, pencil signed and numbered. It is indeed the best rescue of an abstract piece of art in the three year history of our rescue missions.