I confess that, at my core, I’m a bit of a snob. I like sushi, opera, and the ballet. My sister and her tastes are not far removed from mine and, when allowed to socialize, the two of us can bear an uncanny resemblance to Frasier and Niles Crane from the 90’s sitcom “Frasier”. (I’m Frasier, she’s Niles.) We pass our time drinking coffee while dialoguing about current events, politics, fashion, and (on occasion) art.
On this particular afternoon, we’d been wandering through our downtown farmer’s market. A local gathering of would-be-professional farmers who simply lack the land, time, and technique to produce on a large scale, it has an atmosphere reminiscent of the State Fair. Live music echoes from the stage while vendors selling aromatic temptations block the pathway. Strange blowup toys dot various stalls along with hand thrown pottery and an assortment of African-made baskets and hand-dyed wool.
What we didn’t realize on this overcast day was that a market had been set up adjacent to this one. We soon found ourselves strolling through stalls of a very different variety. The pottery here looked different. It possessed a shape and form that indicated an artist’s attention. These were not simply nice looking dinnerware, but lovingly crafted centerpieces, unique creations.
We gazed in amazement at beautifully shaped hairpieces, the work of jewelers, not hobbyists. There were paintings reflecting hours of detailed attention (and likely, decades of learning). And then, there was the flower lady.
I admit that “Pressed Flowers by Michelle” doesn’t sound like much, but the art which lined her stall definitely was. These were not simple arrangements of dried vegetation, organized to look in death as they had in life, but actual expressions of the heart of the artist. Lovingly crafted vignettes displayed birds in all four seasons and fish swimming in coral reefs. There were houses covered in snow and paddocks filled with horses. The work wasn’t simply eye-catching, it invited you in and asked you to stay.
My sister and I explored the stall thoroughly as I silently ran my budget in my head. These were not mass produce craft items, but works of art and were clearly priced as such. Despite the temptation, I knew that I would have to depart.
It was at that point that my sister picked up one of the pieces I had been looking at. Water lily roots formed a coral reef while violets rearranged to look like tropical fish dashed in and out between the “seaweed”. “I’m buying this for you for Christmas,” she explained, then quickly added. “You have to promise that you’ll forget all about it.”
I admit that forgetting wasn’t that easy. In the months that followed, I repeatedly thought back to the piece and on Christmas morning, I was delighted to open the package and begin the search for a wall upon which it could be appropriately displayed. Each time I look at it, I think of Michelle (a relatively diminutive artist) and the loving way in which she prepared and preserved the work: a fine example of the difference between crafts and a genuine work of art.