Our road trips to save art we call “Rescue Missions”. The name is an attempt to align our work with those charities downtown that offer beds, food, and material assistance to homeless people and others without means. There is irony in the term because art doesn’t have experience per se. A painting or print can’t feel abandoned, or yearn for a home. Yet, when we find a piece covered in dust, laid flat in piles with other forgotten art, and priced with a torn piece of masking tape on its glass, our hearts sink the same nonetheless. The same sinking as for an abandoned pet or person.
I was on the road in southeast Michigan. It was beginning to look like a day of no rescues. The upscale thrifts in Ann Arbor had nothing for us. They take good care of their art and have begun to ask such high prices that beautiful things will surely be hanging on their gallery wall at the back of the store for a long time.
More cities: Birch Run, Fenton, Holly, Oxford . . . nothing. The day got long and I got lost. I was driving from memory without GPS or map. Then rush hour came. I was shifting gears up and down, clutching in and out, going slowly in my tiredness among speeders who had get-home-from-Detroit-as-fast-as-possible cars. I was tempted to give up and drive back up north to my studio where I would be safe, but with arms empty. Only the urge to rescue kept me going.
This urge is surprisingly strong. It lends a zealous energy that is not physical, yet it keeps the body going. This urge gave birth to our business of rescuing art in the first place. There is almost no money in this business. Visions of profit will not keep one awake in a lost rush hour of traffic. “I will not turn back to the studio until I save one precious piece of art today . . . . Whoa! watch out for that lane changing Caddie!”
When I finally found myself on my memory map, I made it to the little thrift in Lapeer, at the bottom of a sloping parking lot in a strip mall. They did not take care of their art; they did not offer a bed, food or any sort of assistance. For most works, this being piled six high on metal shelving is doing no further harm. Most works were damaged already: water stained, flocked with mold, or scratched beyond help. But . . . but . . . a few survive.
Like this feisty, gorgeous print by the well-known artist Penny Feder. It is a very unusual hand painted monotype. Ms. Feder paints a still life on a shiny non-porous surface, making use of an etching press to transfer the painting to nicely textured paper. Then the monotype is given its own unique look with brushwork of metalics and bright paints. A Feder monotype is numbered “1/1”, pointing to the fact of it being a limited edition print and noting that it is an edition limited to one.
I found the monotype deep under five of the damaged, flocked, and scratched. Yet, she remained bright and without a wound. How did she do it? How did she fend off the scratches, moisture, and the flocking? That is the mystery of a good work of art. She seems to have her own experience, her own urge to be seen anew. She demands to be saved and appreciated again.