Thursday, November 20, 2008

Art of Giving; Art of Buying

I purchased my first work of art from my aunt a couple of years after I graduated from college. At the time I was earning about $7500 a year slinging hash at Tommy's Lunch and managing a couple of small chamber ensembles in Boston. I split a two-bedroom walk-up in east Cambridge where the significant land-mark denoting my street was a sign that read "Live Poultry Fresh Killed." My share of the rent: $57.50/month and although I was self-supporting, sort of, I was desperate for something to improve my outlook on life.

I visited my grandmother in the summer and my aunt, recently returned from an opening somewhere, had stacked 20 or so paintings in the front hall. Out of politeness I flipped through the stacks, and was arrested by one canvas in particular. A rough-hewn view of the bay with the Camden Hills in the background, a small lobsterboat in the distance. It was titled "Toward Home" and I simply knew that painting had to be mine.

The catch was that even with the "insider family price" I really couldn't afford its $1000 price-tag.

I asked if I could pay in installments, and my aunt looked at me with a bemused expression. "Sure, how about $50 a month?"

So for the next 20 months I got to know my aunt a little better than ever before. She was in her 30s and married. I wasn't. She lived in Maine. I didn't. She had been quite close to my oldest sister growing up. But not to me.

Nevertheless, each month along with a check for $50 I sent her a short note describing what I was up to and how the painting still resonated. A week or two later I'd receive an equally short note thanking me for making the payment and catching me up with her life. We slowly got to know each other and after 20 months, with great regret, I mailed my last payment.

When she received it she contacted me and asked, so is this it? Does our letter writing come to an end? As it turned out, yes, kind of. I have never been a big letter writer and it was very hard for me. But we did succeed in establishing a bond that was both personal and professional. I have gone on to become an Arts Council Director and she become a very well known painter in Maine (and beyond).

Toward Home hangs in a place of honor in my home (along with additional works of hers I have bought or been gifted over the years) and every time I see it, I am reminded not just of the condition of my life at the time I purchased it, but of the unique connection that it brought to me and my aunt.

Buying art can represent an important personal journey for some. For others, it's nothing more than an investment. And for anyone curious about "doing our pART," it can also be an act of charity.

There are a lot of wonderful works--of art, music and much much more--available on our first-ever online auction. Best of all, the proceeds from the auction will benefit the Vermont Foodbank.

That's one thing I learned while slinging hash at Tommy's Lunch. Art might feed the soul, but the stomach HAS to come first.

We look forward to your generosity and please have a Happy Thanksgiving.


Clair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clair said...

What a wonderful story, Alex. The very first painting (seen in real life) that grabbed me was Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters. Needless to say, I don't own it! But I remember that I was stopped in my tracks at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo for a very long moment. And I can still see it in my mind all these years later.