The first few times I visited thrift stores, they struck me as rather unkempt warehouses full of the discarded items of a culture that has too much and enjoys changing décor and design often. After fifty visits, I began to see the parallels between artists and the staff of the thrifts. They are both forced to the margins. And finally, after hundreds of visits, I realized the obvious: thrift stores are repositories of very intimate histories of individual people. Now, I am embarrassed as I step lightly through the front door, sensing I am entering into the private lives of those who have thrown these things away.
The Ann Arbor Salvation Army has a knack for displaying art very handsomely. A whole back wall is hung from floor to ceiling with really good quality works. It is usually bold and bright colors that attract us customers back here. The bold and bright is what made it hard to see the black and white ink drawing of the lioness. She just didn’t stick out; she was hidden much like her live model would be in the tall grasses of the veldt of Africa. Here among the bright, I had to look with a quiet eye to pick her out.
The lioness drew me to look because she is so muscular, so rippled in strength, yet her eyes are down in modesty, embarrassed at her power. The artist, named Toni, had depicted her in fine and precise ink strokes. Toni took her time and was meticulous in showing the hair in her ears, her whiskers all curly, and her folded paws. The lioness is not snarling, yet she could roar fiercely if some hunter came too close or if hunger forced her to stretch her muscles and set upon a herd of eland for sustenance.
I liked the drawing and had decided to rescue it on its beauty alone. But then, I turned it around and read the note on its backing paper. The note was from Lynda to her older sister Patricia. It read: “In celebration of your strength, your power. . . . Thank you for sending forth your lioness . . . No less can empower us to do the work we need to do here . . .”
Suddenly, I was not looking only at a well-executed drawing of an animal; I was looking on an intimate vision of Patricia whose downcast eyes revealed the secret that helped Lynda get her life’s work done. Patricia must have felt this message was too personal to be seen by an anonymous art rescuer in this thrift store, because she tried to cross it out with a grease pen before discarding it at the back door. But, the grease pen merely highlighted the writing beneath. I hope she forgives me for reading it.