“Whoever wants to be part of a ten-person co-op gallery, meet me at the fountain on June 16 at 7 P.M.” Thus read a note I received as editor of our craft guild newsletter. The note was signed by Dorrie Baum. No one I knew had ever heard of her, but five of us were curious enough to appear at the appointed hour.
There she was, in short shorts and a see-through blouse, with a great big black dog. Both were semi-reclining, in a most casual manner, at the edge of the fountain.
“I’m new in town,” she said by way of introduction, as we stood around a bit awkwardly. “I’ve already been in a co-op gallery of three — all potters — in Washington, D.C. Now my idea is for there to be ten people: five wall people and five shelf people.”
Immediately Amy spoke up. “I wouldn’t guarantee to stay only on the shelf. Or only on the wall.”
That idea was quickly put aside, but the basic idea seemed good to those of us present. We were excited!
We began to think of others who would like to be part of such an opportunity. We knew there should be a variety of crafts on display, and that the people who joined must not only make original work, but also be responsible types. Everyone should take turns on all the jobs and pay in the same amount of fees each month.
It wasn’t long before we had the magic ten listed — at least on paper — and the next meeting, to decide on financing and to find a suitable place, was set.
The year was 1976. Gerald Ford beat Jimmy Carter to become president of our country. Alex Haley’s “Roots” was a best-selling book, and “Rocky” was a favorite movie. On the radio, “Send in the Clowns” could be heard often. Israeli Commandos rescued hijacked airplane passengers in Entebbe, Uganda. It was the year Mao Zedong died.
We lived in a conservative city in which there was little contemporary art or music to be found. There were, however, a few brave souls determined to bring contemporary culture to town, and their establishments happened to cluster on the same downtown street. We decided that we should try to join them on that street. After finding a rental space we could afford, we paid a lawyer friend a small sum to incorporate us and gave ourselves the mouthful of a name, Contemporary Artifacts.
Today I found one of our notebooks that had been left behind by mistake in my basement. I thought we had given all of them to the local historical society for posterity. We used the notebooks to write about the daily events at Contemporary Artifacts; sometimes we wrote about our lives outside the gallery, too. Guess I can copy a few here:
“Am I paranoid? The plants are always dry when it is my turn to work down here. Does anyone else ever water them? Please check when you come in. The long leafed one on the desk needs to be kept damp.”
“I said I would work on Sunday if Dan was spending the afternoon watching basketball. He was and I did! Between the St Patrick’s Day parade and the skaters in town, there was hardly any place to park. Sold $11 worth of cards, and a $175 dollar piece of mine to be sent to Florida so it was worth coming in. Apparently Cincinnati did itself proud with the skaters gathering and numerous folks said they were impressed with the city. Nice publicity for a change. I really think we have a good mix of objects in here now…varied media, price and size and originality level is high.”
“Two men in from Milwaukee who really liked Jane’s floral pieces framed in black. ‘Are your prices firm?’ one asked. ‘We’re really reasonable,’ I replied. ‘Well, I just bought a $2,000 painting across the street’, he said. ‘Then you know how reasonable we are!’ I couldn’t resist saying. But he didn’t buy anything.”
The co-op lasted eighteen years and moved three times, always staying on the same downtown block. We were dutiful tenants and always paid our rent on time. Perhaps because of this, the landlords always tried to increase our rent. Whenever they did, we moved! The last time we didn’t move. Three of us had been with the co-op for all of the eighteen years, and the others were also getting tired of it. That was the end of our venture, and that was sixteen years ago.
Now I’m quite old, and I like reviewing the past, my possessions, my memories. I find the past is getting clearer than the present. Can I share it before it all disappears? As I think about it, I am amazed that our group had no big disagreements and very little in the way of drama, really. Other co-ops split into groups and some even sued each other. Nothing like that ever happened to us. Did we just happen to pick the right people by chance?
These ponderings have made me think more about those people we chose. Every one of them has a story.
There was Sara, for instance
When I first knew Sara, she was married to the city manager of a small town nearby and the mother of a three-year-old named Minnie. We all knew Sara was a gifted artist, but she began to have swollen hands that interfered with her work. The condition was caused by her psychological problems. Her husband would not allow her to have any life outside the home, and her swollen hands were symptoms of her unhappiness. Without telling many people, she wrote her husband a note to inform him that she was leaving.
Sara took only a few clothes and her old car. She planned to live the life of a struggling artist, and it made sense to her to leave Minnie with him. (I remember being shocked that she had done that.) Quickly a solution appeared, at least for daughter Minnie. Learning that Sara had left, her husband’s parents, newly retired and living in a different state, moved into the house to take her place. After the divorce, when a young woman applied for a job with the city manager, he fell in love and eventually married her. Sara always said it was SHE herself who had taught him that a woman must have other interests outside the home, and that it was this new wife who had benefited!
When Sara joined the gallery, she and Jim, our potter member, took one look at each other and fell in love, using the co-op space after hours for their bedroom. Jim promptly got a divorce from his weaver wife, and Sara and Jim planned to marry. Setting the date for Valentine’s Day, they headed for the appropriate office only to find that Jim had forgotten his divorce papers! So they didn’t marry that day. In fact, they never married!
For a while, Sara and Jim lived on his brother’s farm in a ‘ménage à trois,’ but that, too, fell by the wayside, and Sara was on her own again. She lived frugally and, since her hands were no longer swollen, was able to create beautiful pastel landscapes. These caught the eye of a man who became her ‘backer,’ and soon the landscapes were to be seen in many galleries.
When that also ended, Sara became a part-time employee in a small business. THAT has remained a constant, and the steadiness of employment has meant she has been able to be creative on her own time. She has done well artistically, if not especially monetarily.
I used to see her occasionally, at a local bar, conversing with a group of assorted guys, looking happy and interested. Her hair would change color, and her physique would change from plump to svelte and back again, but that was true of many of us.
When Minnie, the three-year-old she had left behind, grew to adolescence, she fought with her stepmother and went to live with Sara instead, sharing her small apartment. Somewhere along the line, Sara had made a new male friend, and together they bought a house.
Minnie grew older and, when next heard from, she had met a man at Alcoholics Anonymous who would become her husband. When Minnie became pregnant, the young family joined Sara and her male friend, and all lived together in the house. When Minnie had a second child, it got mighty crowded, and Sara managed to buy out her friend’s half of the house. Since Sara had a NEW man, she gave the house over to the young family and moved in with him.
This is where I left the saga until the other night when I saw Sara again at an art opening out of town. Playing social catch-up, I learned that Minnie and her husband were getting a divorce. Minnie had a new job as manager of a shop and was becoming a Buddhist. Sara, too, was splitting from her latest man and planning to move back into her house. Minnie and her ex would need quarters near each other so that the children could move back and forth between their parents.
My face must have shown some bewilderment and perhaps even astonishment at these latest events, because Sara said with a smile, “I guess I can’t live with anyone for long.”
Here are a few more notes from the notebook:
“Pretty quiet in here today. Welcome, Mary. Your baskets look great. I’m not happy about how the moveable wall looks. It needs patching or, perhaps at the next re-hanging, we could sand it completely and repair it.”
“I am back from vacation and I can’t wait to share my new me with you. I feel better about myself now than I ever did before. The only thing I can compare it to, I mean the way I feel, the way the world looks, is to remember my wedding and how happy I was dressed as a bride. But when the party was over and when I took off the wedding gown, the magic went away. This time the good feelings can’t be taken off like a dress because I feel good about me. And I feel comfortable saying it. Life is a place to enjoy.”
“A breezy young man in at 11:30 who is new in town from Seattle. Said they have art openings on the first Thursday of each month when all the galleries are open. It is such a social success that you can’t see the art. (???) After he looked around he said, ‘How can you make any money at these prices? Everything is so cheap!’ But . . .”
Andrea, Mary and Rina
These three women were in the gallery for short stays, leaving to work full-time at their art. Andrea made batiks, which are created from a process of dying cloth many times and using wax to prevent the dye from reaching the material. She perfected her technique so much that her work appeared in books, promoting her as a leader in the craft. Mary bought a press to enable herself to make reproductions of her colorful interior scenes. Over time her work became immediately recognizable, not an easy thing to accomplish because there are so many print makers. Rina was fascinated by wool when it was washed in hot water and dried on screens. When this created a kind of canvas, she embroidered on top, using threads and stitches to make ‘pictures’ which were highly original.
All three women, now that I think of them, had no children and wonderfully supportive and helpful husbands. Each man would accompany his wife when she went far from home to three-day sales, helping to set up the booth and give support and relief.
Lack of health care and pensions might make the futures of these women less stable than those of us who kept our craftwork part-time while devoting some of our energy to raising families. Our children might provide us with some financial support as we age, but, still, the dedication and camaraderie of those women who remained full-time artist/craftsmen have added up to real personal success. I sometimes envy them.
From the notebooks:
“I hate having to tell you to find a replacement for my space. My husband has taken a job in Columbus so I guess we’re leaving town. I will miss this space and all of you. We will stay ‘til we sell the house and I know this will take time but I know it can take time to find a new member, too.”
“Can more of you please use the vacuum cleaner? And when you do, please clean it out and wash the filter. I found an apple core left on the radiator. Please clean up after yourselves!”
When Lucy joined the gallery, she was pale, tiny, and quiet. She had a way with yarn, not only knitting it but also weaving large skeins together to make wall pieces. Years later, she would be included in the field of ‘fiber arts,’ but, at the time, we had not seen anything like her work and thought it most original. (I remember learning to use industrial Velcro to hang her works on the wall.)
Lucy was married to a doctor named Don, and they had two small children. Her husband’s best friend, also named Don, was married and lived next door to them. Lucy was quiet and ready to share in the work of the gallery, but she preferred to work full days, whereas the rest of us liked to work half days more often.
I happened to stop by near lunchtime on Lucy’s day on duty and found that a man had joined her. He was sitting near her on the spare chair by the desk. He apparently had brought a bottle of wine and two glasses with him and seemed quite at home. Not a customer!
Lucy shyly introduced him. He was ‘the other Don.’
After a few months of this, the story split wide open. ‘The other Don’s’ wife had spotted the couple when they had managed a weekend away in a neighboring town. She sued for divorce and claimed his wealth. When Lucy’s husband learned of this, he also wanted out.
This was shocking to us all. (Remember that this was before divorces were quite so common.) But there was more to come. My husband and I had bought a huge house in a changing neighborhood some years before. We rented out what had been the servant’s quarters on the top floor to students, providing us with added income to pay for the heat and taxes.
Lucy called me at home and asked if she could come over. On arrival, looking quite flushed and pretty, she said that she and ‘the other Don’ had had an idea. Could they rent our student apartment?
Since the last students had just left, and the apartment had not yet been filled with new ones, I saw no reason why not! I knew my generally helpful husband would agree, so I gave her the answer she hoped for: “Sure,” I said.
Lucy left looking happier than I had ever seen her. I was pleased that I could contribute to that feeling. But when next we saw her, it was a very different Lucy: a hollow-eyed waif. And so she would remain. To celebrate their togetherness soon after her visit to me, ‘the other Don’ had bought her a slinky nightgown and a bottle of champagne. She had sat on the sofa in his bachelor quarters, and he lay down, putting his head in her lap.
Then he died! Just like that!
When his best friend, Lucy’s soon-to-be ex-husband, heard the news, his only comment was: “I knew he had a bad heart.”
And more from the notebooks:
“Think it important for us to examine why we are part of this co-op. For me, it’s because it has become the way I work now. It is great to know I can try something, not to sell necessarily, but to get a critique from you all and those who come in. Sales aren’t everything.”
“The paradox is: are we a gift shop or a gallery?”
“I sold two pieces of mine just now! So I thought, ‘Ah ha. I don’t have to leave the gallery. Here are two perfectly good receipts in my little hand.’ Then I think, ‘Wait a minute. That’s not the problem.’”
Sandy and Nora
One was a potter, and one made monoprints; neither were members at the beginning. They had something, I felt, in common from which I was excluded. It took a while before I knew what it was. They were consoling each other in their unhappy marriages.
Nora had had a son already when she remarried Ben, who had had three children before he also had divorced. No great surprise: the children didn’t like this newly folded together household. No one was entirely happy. When Ben finally took his kids and left, Nora told us that those kids were so impossible that she thought Ben had married her so she would straighten them out! I can well imagine his explanation would be somewhat different.
Nora continued to be part of the gallery as her income didn’t seem to change much, but she also didn’t smile a lot.
For Sandy, it was different. She was an only child of musical parents and had become an accomplished pianist in Chicago. She was giving piano lessons to young children after school hours, when her father introduced her to the man she would marry. This man was a successful businessman who showed no interest in her musical ability, but his general admiration for her seemed reason enough for her to marry him.
They had two sons before his job moved him to a new state in which, without her knowledge or help, he purchased the house in which they were to live. Stuck in a rural setting, with no friends and no interest in continuing to play the piano, Sandy was resourceful enough to find a pottery course nearby. The piano remained idle, but throwing pots on the wheel took the place of her interest in music. Sandy persuaded her husband to buy equipment and set it up in the garage. With diligence and practice, she felt her work was good enough to sell to others, and so she came to join the gallery after another potter had left. She was right; her work sold well.
When pottery became her all-consuming passion, her husband asked her to give it up! They tried to mend their differences by visiting a therapist who asked the husband (as Sandy told me much later) how he would like his wife to change. His answer: “One — give up pottery; two — learn to close the garage door; and three — read the Wall Street Journal.”
Since that was not Sandy’s idea of a viable future, she decided to leave him! Trying life as a full-time potter turned out to be too hard. Shipping to stores involved breakage en route, and physically handling that much clay every day was hard on her back and arms. She left the gallery at that point and retrained to become a designer in the computer field.
That was years ago, but Sandy and I have stayed friends. She is still, at heart, an artist and sees the world that way. She tries to find time for artistic endeavors, but it isn’t easy. She has told me, though, that she has found new strengths and knows who she is and feels that the years after her divorce have been successful ones. Once, she did confess to me that if she had known how hard the breakup of the family had been on her sons, she might have stuck it out until they were grown. Life’s choices aren’t easy.
In Nora’s case, it was her husband who wanted the divorce. She got a good settlement that has allowed her not to need a job. Somehow, the impulse to make monoprints vanished, and she, too, left the gallery. Nora has found many other interests: teaching yoga, studying horticulture, knowing about massage, herbal remedies and the good and evils of food and diets. She reads up on many fields in books and blogs.
After years of this, she recently re-met a man at a high school reunion, but I haven’t heard any talk of another marriage.
More notes from the notebook:
“Well, all the electricity just went off. I went down and asked what was going on. The man said, ‘Weren’t you warned?’ He said they are changing the power and it would probably be an hour. Well, it has been four hours! I put the big OPEN sign out on the sidewalk as it looks so dark in here.”
“I’ve been thinking about the earrings theft. If we always kept the display full, would the potential thief think twice before creating a blank spot?”
“You hit the nail on the head when you said you get lazy when you don’t sell. It bothers me that I respond to that too. A REAL artist wouldn’t let that happen.”
After graduating from an exclusive eastern college, Audrey came to Cincinnati to work in marketing at a big firm. She was a tall woman who was more likely to be seen carrying a book than a tennis racquet. Her parents had wanted her to be more glamorous and socially successful. So it was quite a surprise when her college friends met Frank, the man she said she would marry. Frank was a local fellow who had taken a job as a salesman right out of high school. His favorite conversation was regaling tales of his high school escapades. His friends, meanwhile, also couldn’t believe he was going to marry such a bookworm!
And yet it has lasted.
I’ve watched their relationship over the years. Frank agrees to go to art openings and to the theater, about which he cares not a hoot, if she will go to baseball and football games. They are both wonderfully outspoken about the sacrifices they make. Perhaps THAT is why it works!
Audrey gave up the marketing job, which was never a good fit. They had three sons. She formed a book group, joined a paper-writing group, and took up macramé, a rope tying craft that was all the rage at the time. Frank was handy with tools and soon made welded stands to hold her rope forms; they then became sculpture.
When it looked like Frank was not making the tough quotas at his sales job, Audrey encouraged him to quit and become his own boss. Frank was gregarious and well connected. Although his first jobs as a handyman were small, he gradually learned on the job and moved up to building docks and eventually even a small apartment house! As time passed, he hired extra help as well.
Both of their elderly parents died, leaving Audrey and Frank some money, and, since their boys were grown, Frank retired, and they were able to travel. Even in this, compromise was needed: Audrey liked rugged trips; Frank liked more glamorous ones.
Meanwhile Audrey’s art changed; she now works in encaustic (wax and oil paint). She still reads a lot. Frank still loves to tell tales of high school days. They remain open about their compromises, and it seems to continue to work for them. They will soon celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
From the notebooks:
“I heard the gallery directly across the street is closing. Someone said the owner is getting a divorce.”
“I haven’t been here in a while, and thank you, Andrea, for taking my place when I couldn’t make it. We hit a deer when driving at night or should I say a deer hit us! We were lucky and didn’t get hurt, but the car and the deer are both a total wreck.”
“The window washer came in to make an appointment. He said he would wash the inside as well as the outside this time as he didn’t do that last time.”
“Many people found time to stop in today. One said he had looked in our windows for months. A lady began by saying the shop reminded her of girl scouts! (I gritted my teeth and kept smiling).”
Jean was only with us in the co-op for a short time. She, like me, fired copper and glass in a kiln, an old craft called enameling. Her work was quite different from mine: smaller and more exact. I particularly recall that she made a complete three-dimensional set of chess players, each piece enameled.
I only knew the first part of Jean’s story while she was a member. She had been a nun, working in the inner city when she met a Jesuit priest also working there. They fell in love and left the church to marry.
When Jean became pregnant, the couple vowed to remain idealistic, deciding that each would take a job for six months while the other took care of the child. This arrangement worked well until her husband found a job he didn’t want to leave! Jean was unhappy as a full-time mom.
When I met her on the street during this time, I recall her grimly saying, “If I’d known what this life would be like, I never would have married.”
Jean left the gallery, and I didn’t see her again for years. When we did meet up again, and had time for a long talk, I was not surprised to learn she was single. She had a full-time job that had nothing to do with her artistic talent.
What DID surprise me was what else she told me: An only child, she had gone with her mother to the hospital when her father was gravely ill. There were others standing by his bed. Who were these strangers, she had wondered. She soon found out they were her father’s OTHER FAMILY! All these years, her father had had another whole life across the river. His business partner knew about it and permitted him to have long lunches in which he was head of THAT household. At night, he was in her home with Jean and her mother.
There were two grown children and a mother in the other family, and they were standing around that hospital bed. I wondered if they knew about Jean. I also wondered how the man kept birthdays straight, or kept track of hobbies, graduation dates, or which movie which family had seen. Mind-boggling! I think Jean found it so, also.
More notebook notes:
“Hey, I have an idea! Give yourself an assignment to say to a customer about each of our works: example: ‘These are stoneware high fired clay pieces which means they are very sturdy.’ ‘A decorator friend told me this color is very in.’ Or explain how we give ourselves assignments like we all made masks in our different craft. That has given us a chance to experiment. (Doesn’t mean they will buy but maybe make them more interested in what they are looking at.”
“I’m a sad puppy today. We put our daughter on a plane as she is moving to another state. I waited till I got home to cry. I know I’ll feel better when I get back in the studio.”
And then there were the men . . .
There was a series of them. None stayed for very long. Jim, the potter, who had fallen in love with Sara, ran out of funds pretty quickly, what with getting a divorce and all. But Bob, who worked in wood, lasted longer. He left reluctantly when he, too, got low on funds and could not pay the monthly fee. He still works in wood, making beautiful objects in his downtown living quarters/workshop combined. And he still struggles to pay his bills. By now his brown hair has become a beautiful white.
A few other men signed up at different times during the eighteen years of our existence as a business. John was a wealthy retired engineer (no money problems there), but he didn’t like ‘manning’ the gallery one-tenth of the time. So he asked if he could pay someone to take his turn. We held a special meeting about this and decided to be purists: all must contribute the same amount of time and rotate on jobs as equals. So John and his pleasant watercolors left.
Then, I must include the old Episcopalian who made huge painted cloths and robes for monks. He wanted too much space and soon found other quarters more to his liking.
But Ben became a real member and stayed until the end. He loved creating wall sculptures from found wood, metals, wires, and what-have-yous. They were fun, original, and quite un-saleable in this conservative city. Ben had a day job and made these creations in his garage after hours. After the gallery folded, he turned to photography, making collages of multiple prints, and framing them himself. He set himself the goal of making 1,000 different ones and quit his day job to become a full-time artist and self-promoter. He’s still at it. When he comes to our annual reunion, he is often the only male and is much admired by the rest of us for his dedication and for his personal charm.
“Giving ourselves the assignment for all of us to make self-portraits was a great idea. I’m hoping mine isn’t too weird.”
“12:30 and no one’s been in. anyway, must admit I enjoy the quiet time to contemplate.”
“Our sign just blew over it’s thundering. One man showed me his slides. Hopes to make a living as an artist selling small abstract paintings. (!)”
“Two-day sale out of town was hot and I was in the sun but it was better than the 80% chance of rain forecast. Sold more than I spent so I guess it was worth it.”
Dorrie was our founder and a goal-setter. Not only had she come new to town and gotten us started with a co-op gallery, but she also kept her priorities well in mind. She wanted to climb every high mountain there was, anywhere on earth . . . and before she had to quit climbing, she almost had accomplished that goal! To prepare for climbing, she ran, and she did so before running was such a popular activity. She ran on the streets of Cincinnati dressed in those very short shorts and see-through tops that we had seen when we first met her. She’d occasionally tell us, in a surprised tone, that men made comments as she ran past them and even gave catcalls. We suggested that she wear more clothes, but she always pooh-poohed the idea. Someone must have been looking out for her, as she was never molested!
Dorrie was married to a German-American math teacher. When he came to teach at the university, they moved here, and she set another goal for herself: she would learn German so she’d be able to talk with his parents when she and her husband visited them in Germany.
But over the next few months, we heard less talk of going for a visit and less talk about her husband, too. We were only slightly surprised to learn that, without telling us, Dorrie had not only gotten a divorce, but she had also helped her helpless spouse move out! Soon she announced that she was finished with pottery and would be moving to another city where she planned to become a social worker! Her pots were prize-winning ones, too. I still prize mine.
From the notebooks:
“Mark Rothko has said: ‘If a thing is worth doing once, it is worth doing over and over again. Exploring it by this repetition, that is what makes the public look at it.’ Do you agree?”
“A man from the city came in and said we can’t have the sandwich board in the middle of the sidewalk. It has to be by the curb or by the building.”
“I’m working on new designs but my block of work-time is so scattered with the boys home. Seems like I’m either driving or cooking.”
“Hey! How about saying to a customer, ‘Do you know we have a new member?’ Then ‘show and tell,’ or wherever they stop to look, tell ‘em something about the person or their work, and how we have no imports!”
I guess it is fitting that the first funeral associated with the co-op gallery would be the husband of our oldest member. Alicia had been with us for all eighteen years. She was already well established in her unusual craft when she joined us, and she was always our top seller.
Alicia was our stability. Never had she lived in any other city; never had she lived in any other house; never had she changed her craft.
After art school and marriage, Alicia had found the perfect outlet for her talent. The circumstance of growing up and living in the same house all her life helped as well, as Alicia never had to dismantle her possessions in order to move. In fact, she acquired even more after the death of an uncle who had lived next door and who had also remained in the same house for a long time. She had relatives in France who collected memorabilia for her as well, so it was no surprise that her studio was filled with magazines and papers to choose from when she made her witty assemblages. Cutting and pasting and arranging her materials on box lids, on mirrors, on wooden shapes, and on framed wall pieces, she produced pieces that were sophisticated and charming. Occasionally she would add coins and once made a small town using papers covered over dowel sticks and wooden blocks. Once her husband retired from business, he helped with the carpentry, especially the framing when necessary.
Alicia’s three grown children, who lived in town, had never married and remained so close to their parents that they came to dinner every Monday night. She still had friends dating back to her early school days, and made more friends when she became part of a couple and then of a family. I never heard her become angry or raise her voice beyond a measured tone.
She had a bachelor brother and no sisters, so there were no young children to be the future. I think the only sadness she ever evinced was her lack of grandchildren. (She would have made such a good grandmother!)
At the non-denominational memorial of her husband, I was struck by her son’s eulogy in which he volunteered the idea that neither he nor his sisters had ever married “because we could never match the wonderful marriage my mom and dad have had.”
Some final notes from the notebooks:
“Don’t think it matters that several of us are making earrings, as they are all so different. I remember when I first started, a man I bought my supplies from said women will buy earrings even when they are starving.”
“Art critic in from Chicago. Interesting conversation about self-portraits. He feels women are a very strong new genre and that men seem not to be comfortable with the introspection required. (How about Rembrandt?)”
I guess it is my turn
In an era when divorce is so common, where blogs tell everyone the sordid details, where movie stars display their babies born out of wedlock, the momentous incident in my own life might seem mild to some. It happened in 1944, when I was nineteen years old.
Unhappy attending an all-girls college, I thought I should be a ‘Rosie, the Riveter,’ helping to win the war. But I had never even been inside a factory and instead dutifully followed the expectations of my upper-class family. Perhaps it was my subconscious that led me elsewhere. I became pregnant after only four dates with Dan, who was, fortunately, seven years older than I was.
Today’s young people cannot possibly conceive of the stigma that such a thing was back then! My father hardly spoke to me for years.
Dan and I married quietly and moved to a tiny railroad flat costing $50 a month. Then, three months ahead of schedule, an emergency Caesarean operation unexpected produced twin girls — beautiful though tiny.
Once Dan received a prestigious fellowship to Yale University, my father could forgive him enough for them to form a decent relationship. We moved to Connecticut. I became a potter, something I could do at home. But at age thirty, with the girls in school, I decided I should be able to earn a living in case I ever needed to. I graduated from a nearby state teacher’s college, where I was trained to teach art in public schools. While in college, I encountered enameling, the ancient art of firing glass to metal. Upon graduation I left the potter’s wheel and became an enamellist, a field I stayed with for the next 54 years!
Amazingly, after such a rough start, our marriage lasted 55 years, until my husband’s death in 2000. How could that be when so many others fail? Dan once said he thought our marriage ‘worked’ because I had never asked him to change! And now that I think about it, he never asked that of me either.
There have been times when I’ve wondered how life might have been different if I had had more time to find a different route. Retracing the past, I have been reading diaries that I kept sporadically, and I realize that I was formed to be who I am pretty early: I would do something with my love of crafts and also do something involving other people. When we moved to Cincinnati in 1966, I formed a Craft Group, writing its newsletter for twelve years. Then, for eighteen years, my part in the co-op gallery made my early predictions come true: craft and people combined.
But for my 65th high school reunion this year, when I answered the last item on a questionnaire, ‘What are you proudest of?’ without hesitation I wrote, ‘My children.’
Is Contemporary Artifacts now forgotten? Or do the landlords still remember how we always paid our rent on time? Have those who joined for a brief time had any thoughts about their time with us? Would any customer who had bought a favorite piece recall where it came from?
The street has changed; the buildings are gone. Most of the notebooks are in the library basement, unread. Perhaps because we kept our personal lives separate from the gallery, as the bland notebooks indicate, the gallery could function calmly. It WAS a well-run place. The goodwill between us, and our artistic growth, will be, perhaps, the lasting importance of the co-op gallery we named Contemporary Artifacts.
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