Rescued Art

MariaYou know, it was a rainy Friday, ten minutes before they opened the garage door to the sale. In the morning, early, before the estate sale opens its doors, outside twenty, thirty, maybe fifty people gather in the driveway to get a low entry number.

We were all lined up looking around at the familiar group of pickers, antiquers and rescuers. The symphony I had been listening to in the car on my way to this estate sale altered my mood. It made me see the world as a history of goings-on outside our usual worries about direction, safety, and personal resume building.

We were all lined up looking around at the familiar group of pickers, rescuers, and . . . vultures, hyenas, and ravens. The symphony made me see us waiting after another family death and house sale, waiting our turn to do our scavenger recycling duty toward history. Picking at the tiny morsels of jewelry, flying off with the woolen bits for our nests, gleaning the bones ofunwanted art.

After ten minutes or so, pretty much on time, the garage door ambled up and allowed us to begin our duties to history. Soon enough, the pickers were gathering up usable glassware and the antiquers were hauling out repairable armoires. Yet, my eyes found no pictures calling out to be rescued. The living room was stripped of art by the heirs; the sunlight had faded to pale a used-to-be beautiful Americana view of Canistoga wagons seeking new land in the west.

As a last resort, I tried the basement, usually a graveyard for art because of the dampness. And this R.C. Gorman print had indeed been wet for a long while. The frame was losing its vinyl covering; the print itself was stained at the edges and the glass was streaked with the residue of spiders. Yet, “Maria” was so beautiful. Her face and hands, bound together with a few simple black brush strokes of a body, still showed a gentleness and care. This is one of the most poignant prints of the most famous portrait painter of Native American women.

She was worth rescuing: perhaps with gentle dismantling and cleaning, a new mat, and some new adhesive on the frame “Maria” would please a new viewer. Someone who would keep her southwest desert dry, up from the basement. Someone who would appreciate the lowly lot of art rescuers as we serve our function in the turning and recycling of human history.