Rescued Art

Pink BallerinaMemorial Day is an important holiday in the world of thrift stores and art rescues. 50% off throughout the store. And shoppers come out early, lining up before the closed doors, peeking. This is ritualized bargain hunting. 50% off on a $2 dollar pair of jeans. Can the savings really be the motivator? No, the buzz comes from the crowd, the lure of finding a Tommy Hilfiger unworn, the joy of filling a shopping cart with treasures for the cost of gas to drive to the store.

I had driven 100 miles to my favorite Salvation Army Store in Ann Arbor. One of the secrets of Rescued Art is to shop thrifts or garage sales in upscale economic cities. Sophisticated people discard beautiful art at the back door of these shops. They have beautiful art to give away, and if they are educated in the realm of thrifts, they hope someone will appreciate their discarded art and buy it. There are many other secrets; our readers can find them sprinkled throughout our collection of rescue stories.

The store has the largest gallery of paintings and prints we have ever seen. And they display it well, all along the back wall, hung high and low with good lighting. However, on this Memorial Day, the art wall seemed bland, not energized by the huge crowd of Hilfiger seekers. So, I headed for the doors feeling the long drive was not fated to be a true rescue mission. We pickers and rescuers operate under the unscrutinized philosophical notion that we need to have a pure attitude and a magical intent to make good art appear in these thrifts, a belief that we are missionaries toward saving art from neglect and forgotten and must be pure in order to create that art. This is another secret of rescuing art.

On the way to the doors, I noted that the store volunteers had learned from the merchandizers at Target. They set up small cute vignettes at the end of a shelving unit, each with a theme. The theme featuring the original painting of the little ballerina doll was pink.

This painting by D. Hawkins was immediately attractive. As I held it in my arms on the way to the checkout counter – at least 200 people long on this thrift holiday – three people stopped and actually touched the painting before saying: “cute” “how cute” and “I wish I had seen that before you.”

Waiting in line for 200 hundred people to inch along to the front of the thrift gave me a long while to look at this pink ballerina and muse about D. Hawkins. He was definitely a man who was a talented painter and who had no children. If Hawkins had been a woman, she would certainly have made the pink ballerina more like a real child, one with fingers and toes and . . . a nose.

Hawkins had no children, because this pink ballerina could not possibly have been painted with a child model posing before him. This ballerina is painted from memory, but not even the memory of a person. Rather, Hawkins had an image in his mind of a soft toy from his own childhood. He had not played with it much; the pink ballerina of his painting is clean and fresh and hopefull and potent with naivete. Hawkins painted as a way to bring this soft hopeful toy back to life in front of him. His talent as a painter allowed him to do so. The pink ballerina is beautiful and dancing so happy that her toeless foot and fingerless hand are popping out beyond the border of the canvas.

But why did Hawkins bring this sweet successful painting to the thrift store? He only painted it back in 2004, keeping it only six years on his studio wall. My sense is that Hawkins met Mrs. Hawkins in 2008 and in 2009 they had a child, a girl who wore brown instead of pink, who crawled to him with a prominent nose and ten real digits. He didn’t need a ballerina doll to come to life any longer.