It is very difficult to express the complexity of thrift stores. That they are a place to shop for second hand things for cheap is only the surface of the matter. As we work our way down through the layers of a thrift, we sink below cheap-second-hand to discover much about our culture and what we throw away. Below throw-away-culture we find personal histories of real people revealed in the notes and signatures they leave behind on their discard. Below personal-history we bottom out at a solid floor of mystery that cannot be plummeted farther. At this deepest tier we find ourselves musing on the meaning of the discard. We try to understand and end with conjecture. What is this we see before us?
At a thrift in Lansing, under a few layers of empty picture frames and moldy this and that, we discovered this original ink and watercolor painting of Winnie the Pooh stuck in the rabbit’s hole. But as we looked closer, always asking, it is not a painting in the common use of the term. It is black ink and paint, yes, actually painted by an artist, but that is just the first tier of it. For instance, the characters are wrong somehow. In the Milne story, we know that Pooh gets stuck in a rabbit hole and he gets pulled out, after a long travail, by Christopher Robin, Roo, and Eeeyore, with the help of the rabbit pushing from the inside of the burrow. But this painting shows Chris and four bunnies doing the pulling. And the look of Pooh and Chris are somehow wrong. Pooh is not wearing his signature cropped T-shirt and Chris is blond, not brown haired, and he is wearing a shirt of the same blue color as his shorts.
And, as we examined the artist’s signature, we find that it is not a signature at all. It is the closing of a letter of sorts. You see, it is not a name, rather it says “Love, Grandma.” Grandma is not an artist who signed her name on her artwork for all to see and appreciate. “Grandma” is not a name at all, rather it is the denotation of a relationship. And this painting was not created for all to see; it was painted for one individual grandson, an artistic note from one person to another. When we art rescuers look at this painting, it is a voyeur’s peek at a message from a certain grandmother to a certain beloved grandson.
Now that we know this is a letter to a beloved grandson, what does the letter say? First, at least 40% of the paper is white space. There is no context for this message. The meaning is simple without intruding backgrounds or foregrounds. This use of white space also conveys to our eyes that the event depicted is not a photographic realism, rather the event has symbolic meaning. Further, the central figure in the scene is not Pooh, the central character is Christopher Robin. He is big and in the center and he doesn’t look like the regular Chris of the Milne books. I bet the grandson, to whom this letter was originally sent, is blond and likes to wear blue outfits. I think this eyesome letter from Grandma was saying to her grandson: “You are a great helper of others and you have a whole family backing you up.”
So, if this personal painted letter hung in the grandson’s room for many years as his favorite, and his mother’s favorite, why did he abandon it at the back door of this thrift store? Maybe it became too simple a view of him? He no longer wears blue shorts, he sometimes feels like leaving Pooh to his troubles and even likes to eat rabbits for supper now and again. Maybe he left it off as he was moving into the city and refused to let this letter from his grandma describe him anymore. Yet, when he dropped it off at the back door of this thrift store, he didn’t know he would be revealing his past to some picker who took the time to stop and read this letter of love from his grandmother.