Slowly, but surely...
I’m a fervent advocate of buying art when you travel.
A small bowl from the night market in Bangkok sits on my coffee table, a print from Florence hangs on the wall near the French door, a chunky necklace of multi-colored beads I purchased from the woman artist in Zihuantanejo glistens in my jewelry box.
As my grandchildren grow, I try to instill this memory-evoking habit in them. When Sophie went to Italy, I slipped lira into her birthday card; when Bayley left for winter term studies in Mexico City, I put pesos in her Christmas stocking.
“Did you buy a piece of art, Bay? I asked when she returned.
“Yes sir, Neeny, my suitcase is full of treasures and these Frida earrings are for you!”
One late summer afternoon in 2015, my best girlfriends from Ventura hovered close to me as we toured small town, Petoskey, Michigan. Just four short months after losing my husband, who was a product of this Midwest, they had designed this trip to help me begin to heal.
I strolled slowly up and down the aisles in the small art gallery. Alice talked with the salesperson about a small ceramic face she coveted; Nancy quickly bought small gifts for her daughters; Sue, whose Michigan summer home we were visiting, kept a watchful eye on me. When she sensed something terribly wrong, she came to my side immediately.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
“I’ve got to get out of here,” I cried as I turned from the carved wooden sculpture, an anthropomorphic long, slender boat with a friendly eye and silver nose, on wheels. The boat was cerulean blue—the blue of Krishna, Hinduism’s favorite deity. Two feet long and close to three inches at its widest point. Sitting inside the vessel, looking far out onto the horizon: a dark haired man in green, a woman in red and a big dog. The three figures sat in an upright version of spoon style, the way lovers sleep. The trio, painted in a rich palette with a glint of metallic leaf for accent, sailed peacefully into the beyond. Two-thirds of my own beloved trio was gone and the sight of this small work of art thrust me back into the terrifying grief.
I turned from Sue and raced outside stumbling down the street toward a vacant bench where I collapsed and sobbed. In seconds, my friends surrounded me in comfort, having left their shopping bags inside the gallery. As I calmed, we breathed a collective sigh and relaxed. I noticed Alice survey the small tourist shops lined up like soldiers across from us.
“Anybody up for ice cream,” she chirped, pointing to a quaint spot three stores down.
Over a salted caramel ice cream cone, the images of the trio in the wooden boat swirled through my head as I began to regain composure.
“It’s okay, you’re going to have to learn to expect these devastating reminders,” Alice counseled, as I drowned my sorrow in the last of the crunchy cone.
At some point, I took a deep breath and uttered softly, “I have to go back. I need that boat.”
My voyagers and their boat were created by nationally recognized artist, Dona Dalton. (http://donadalton.com/) She says, "I have a strong attachment to the old toys and objects I had as a child, and it comes out now in my love of animals and mythology."
She considers her work to be “toys as sculpture.” She creates works that imply relationship and connection, playfulness and spirituality and that “offer a possibility of reaching into a whole range of emotion.”
Her sculpture, the three in the elongated open skiff, has taken me from the depths of sadness like my current memory of the day I purchased the sculpture, but more often to magical recollections of our good times together, the three of us.
In her artist's statement, Dona says,
"Since the mid 70’s, I’ve been making toys. At first, they were simpler, for children. I’ve always been interested in birds and animals, then found that I wanted to suggest a story. She has fulfilled her mission with me.
A simple glance at my treasure from the small art gallery in Michigan calls to mind the wonderful times both my husband and my big black dog brought into my life as we sailed.