Isn’t it amazing that our US economy is analyzed endlessly by TV pundits as “in recession” or “weak in the face of developing countries’ ascension?” Yet we can build a Salvation Army megastore whose entire merchandise consists of things we discard?
There were pickers who started to line up at the front door at 4:00 a.m. By the time I arrived at 9:00 the line was 250 people long. Some of them needed the discarded things inside, needed to pay $1 or 88¢ for usable stuff. Yet as we all paid attention for another 15 minutes to the Salvation Army captain praying and giving thanks, I was having a vision of many of these very same people lined up at the back door, waiting to drop off their unwanted things.
This circle of discarding and buying again creates the much needed funds for the Salvationists to fulfill their mission of helping the poor. The captain explained this phenomenon as an expression of God’s mercy toward the needy, played out in the lives of those who have enough to visit both the back door and the front door of the megastore. As I heard him pray I respected that explanation. It buoyed him up in life and went a long way to explaining this huge crowd around me that day.
Yet, while God’s mercy circle does well to explain how a gently used food processor or a very usable mahogany end table might come to his use for the poor, it does not explain why beautiful art shows up at the back door. Art does not become ‘used’. As long as it is not faded by brilliant sunlight or mildewed by basement storage, art is eternally new and useful, just as it was on the first day off the painter’s brush. Further, fine art paintings and prints are normally ignored by pickers when they return to the front door. On this grand opening day, for instance, there were hundreds of people jammed together in this store, but the art section on the back wall was quiet and roomy. Art does not go round the circle of mercy at all.
My sense is that art shows up at the back door of Salvation Army stores because the members of a family forget that it is beautiful. They get used to it being around, just like mother gets used to dad and sister gets used to grandma. They get used to the art and forget its beauty, so they take it to the back door and drop it off. Art will not get angry or hurt like grandma or dad would.
So, an art rescuer’s mission is not to find used art and fix it up for others. The rescuer’s job is simply to see the beauty in the discarded art and appreciate it anew. It was this simple mission I had to perform at this grand opening day. And it was so easy. Hung on the back wall was a print of a classic Japanese nature silk painting. Two wood ducks sit with wide eyes looking at a rock in a pond. Arching high above them were tall purple Japanese irises. Some were in full bloom and a few were just budding out, getting ready to be seen.