I received a telephone call last night, December 3, 2009, from Martha and Bob Thomas who currently divide their time between Warrenton, Virginia and Ramseur, North Carolina. The call prompts this reflection on how artists and collectors can develop a relationship.
It was in a city park in Asheboro, North Carolina where I first met Martha and Bob Thomas. The town was sponsoring a spring art fair where I had come to sell my paintings in a make-shift booth alongside my Japanese pickup truck. Having just completed a Master of Fine Arts in Painting at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, located about 40 miles up Highway 220 from Asheboro, I was anxiously seeking any venue for sales of my work to fulfill a goal of being a painter who survives solely from those sales.
When Martha and Bob strolled by they looked at the paintings to see bucolic landscapes of North Carolina's Piedmont Region displayed alongside exotic images of North Africa, specifically Morocco. I think the anomaly of seeing such disparate images in this setting stirred their curiosity and we struck up a conversation.
They had once been to Morocco back in the early 70's, as I recall. I was living there at that time working as a teacher of Art, English, and Humanities at the Kenitra American High School. This USDESEA school located in the provincial town of Kenitra, about 25 miles north of Rabat, the nation's capital, educated dependent children of the diplomatic and military personnel stationed there. The Thomases were a young couple then living in Madrid, Spain where Bob was deployed as a dentist on the nearby U. S. Air Force Base in Torrejon. Seeing the images of Morocco brought back their memories of that exotic visit and of the times they shared exploring new cultures and European living. Our conversations about shared experiences as young folks from rural backgrounds thrown into the big world bonded us thoroughly.
So, this meeting with Martha and Bob would probably have been in 1975, give or take a year. The particulars of the art show are very vague in my memory well, but I do remember them purchasing a 10 x 13 inch oil on paper entitled Forest Lawn Park 3 created in 1973. They paid $25.00. Little did they or I know then that they would become some of my most devoted collectors.
In the ensuring years, I remained determined to be a painter and survive from the sales of my work. At my modest Greensboro studio, I developed a Studio Exhibition format, whereby I could sell directly to collectors two or three times a year without benefit of the gallery system, which in those days--and even today--makes it difficult to earn a living solely off those sales. I had had the good sense to keep accurate records early of all paintings created. I used 3x5 index cards onto which I recorded the information about each painting with an inventory number. Concurrently, I also did the same with all collectors dutifully recording their addresses, what they had bought and for how much. With this Collectors File, a basis was formed for the mailing list for these Studio Exhibitions.
Martha and Bob Thomas reconnected with me again around 1979 when they responded to one of my Studio Exhibition invitations. From then and up to when I moved to New Mexico in the mid-90's, they were invited to over 30 exhibitions, attended at least 10 of them, and purchased over 15 paintings, ranging in subject matter from more North Carolina landscapes (their Graham Farm Near Wilmington 36, an oil on paper measuring 36 x 44 inches is a spectacular piece), six paintings based on my experiences on Samos Island, Greece in the mid-80's, and three more New Mexico landscapes.
With this summarized background of my relationship with Martha and Bob Thomas, I want to show the reader how the works of a painter eventually are totally intertwined with the person who purchases them. The painter becomes a personal friend and the paintings displayed on the walls of the collectors' homes remind them everyday of the artist, the shared experiences in the painting which prompted the purchase, the intimate conversations of mutual concern and the general welfare of the artist.
Such was the telephone call last night. Bob, for whatever reason, had looked at my website and read the Blog where I had relayed the experience of the retina problems I've had since July 4th weekend. He and Martha were immediately concerned about me and called to see how I was faring. We conversed for quite a while, getting caught up on our respective lives. We ended with their telling me that their thoughts and prayers were with me as I sought a resolution to this loss of vision. Upon hanging up the phone, I was very still, contemplative, and deeply touched that I meant so much to these two wonderful and caring persons who first encountered me and my dream of being a painter on a flat piece of park land 34 years ago in Asheboro, North Carolina.