Rescued Art

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When we parked on the street outside the big old house, there was nobody around. And, when there are no pickers at the door at five minutes before opening time of an estate sale, we wonder what is wrong. What is wrong is that this east side neighborhood is no longer living. Over half the lots are empty, no structures on them at all. The city has been using federal money to raze the abandoned houses. If they bulldoze too many more the grass will recapture this area. It will no longer be a neighborhood.

We called out: “Hello!” at the back door. The hand done cardboard sign on the tree by the driveway hadn’t convinced us that the sale was actually happening. “Come on in”, the lone man said. He was good humored sitting in the old dining room on a single one-of-a-kind chair. The sale was dismal, still dirty dishes in the sink with dusty floors and empty of treasures by our first reckoning.

But the place, the house itself, was magnificent, stately with high ceilings and heavy oversized wood moldings and fancy railings to the upstairs. To be honest, the magnificence was covered over with an aged family life in slow, unidirectional decline. By the time the kids moved to the west side of town and the father and then the mother passed away, there wasn’t a dream left in the place. “How much did this place sell for?” I ask the lone man. “Twenty seven thousand dollars”, he smiled. “Would have been a lot more somewhere else.” I said, “God, you couldn’t get a Ford with basic options for that!” Twenty seven thousand dollars for a house. It used to be a house, at any rate.

Kicking among a few strewn things in the food pantry, we hit upon a wonderful fantasy print by William R. Stolpin, one of his annual dragon and castle series. This one from 1995.The dragon is staring into a crystal ball that it holds in three-toed paws. It sees a castle with gothic windows and high ceilings, even a maiden on a stone turret calling out: “Save me!”

Stolpin is a well-known fantasy artist in Michigan. He is an impish old guy (That can’t be him downstairs on the one-of-kind chair?) who is fascinated by the imaginary worlds of Celtic knots, tarot cards, and gargoyles. His prints are playful, full of possibility and a belief in the efficacy of imagination. Each of his dragon and castle series is boldly titled “The Dream Lives On . . .” Maybe the old damsel of this declining house bought this print for hanging above her too-big-without-her-lord canopy bed in hopes of a dream that would rescue her from this eastside place before the grasses overgrew the entire neighborhood.