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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Memories Lost and Found: The Hopeful Recovery of My Early Work

"Study in Sienna" - watercolor in monochrome
Memories Lost and Found: The Hopeful Recovery of My Early Work

This is a story about Memories "lost and found" and makes you ask the question, what are those artifacts really worth? What is art really worth? What are memories worth?

It is a complicated story with a few twists, but it's the most interesting thing that's happened to me in a while. I've been creating art for at least 30 years, so it all started years back when I stored some of my paintings and drawings in a box under my bed. It was a long, 4-foot long cardboard storage box and had everything from sketches to some completed pastel, colored pencil, watercolor, and even oil on panel. Many of my earliest works were among them, carefully stored for years, following me with every move into my adult life, from Denton to Boone to Raleigh to Holly Springs to Richlands to Bristol. And then where?

"Mountain Sunset" - an early 12" x 16" oil on panel

I had a troubled time when I lived in Bristol, VA and had amassed an extension collection of furniture, books, memorabilia and other belongings, including art supplies, vintage frames, tools and supplies, and completed paintings. I packed to move and had to move quickly to take a job. I had a dilemma. How could I take everything? 30-some years of belongings filling over 6,000 square feet....I had to make some choices. I even made a few trips back and forth once I had made the "big move," but still only made a dent.

"Reaching Out" - pencil study

I moved mainly what I needed and could sell for money, including a single bedroom of furniture, my art essentials, only the choicest books, and my clothing. I sold the remaining belongings (everything left in the house) to an investor. I did not realize it until it was too late that among those items was that box of my early artwork. Nothing could replace that. It was gone. And so I adjusted to the fact that all of those memories and traces of my early artistic development were gone forever. All I had left was the memories.

Fast forward nearly 10 years. I got an email from a thrift store employee saying that the owner had bought at an estate sale a stack of artwork signed by me (presumably) and dating back to the 1980's. Was it me?

I gasped when I read the email! I couldn't believe it. At once I felt thrilled, cheapened, frustrated, angry, and anxious. I wasn't even dead, and my former belongings had gone through an estate sale. I'm not a dead, famous artist, and already my "early works" are being pilfered through to see what is worth "saving." This store employee I am extremely grateful to for contacting me. He had the decency and respect that I would want anyone to have in this situation. This was obviously an intimate collection of artwork, and not just a few pieces from a collector. This employee even took pictures for me, and from these rough photos I contorted and reconstructed the few images you see here. I was told how much the owner had paid, and although it wasn't the price of a newly discovered Vermeer, it wasn't a drop in the bucket, either. It was a large enough amount for me to have to think whether it would be worth it to pay for these items that I had lost through my own fault and doing. I had, after all, already "said goodbye" to them.

During the day, so many thoughts stirred in my head about these issues. What value would these early pieces have to anyone? I didn't and don't even consider them anything other than "student" pieces. It was years before I considered my work Good Enough to market. These early works, in my mind, were just as well lost and gone forever, for no one to see. Now that I look at them retrospectively from 20+ years in the future, maybe I can view them with a more objective eye. In the "Study in Sienna," I see skill in the rendering, in the perspective, and the treatment of the objects. I have no idea where I got the original image or idea from. It kind of reminds me of a Vermeer, actually. I wouldn't have had access to an antique drop-leaf table, so I can only assume I saw this image in a book.

In the "Mountain Sunset" I can see the bravado of the brush strokes and the bold use of color. I like the use of tonal and aerial perspective and I think the clouds are nicely rendered. Not bad for a 9th-grader, I think to myself! And lastly, although I do not consider myself a good "drawer," in the pencil drawing "Reaching Out," I can see the bold use of line and expressive nature of this work.

Can I look back at these early works and say that at an early age I had a natural "talent"? That is such a sticky question, because as soon as you call something a talent rather than a skill, you nearly deny the ability that these qualities can be taught or learned. I would conclude in compromise and say -- that I had an "aptitude" and that at an early age I spent hours and hours developing it, mostly on my own and in the dark ages before the internet -- through books and the Artist's Magazine. You can learn more about my early stages in an online interview HERE.

The last chapter of what happened to this treasure (to me) of my early artwork hasn't quite been written. Let's just say it may end up with a happy ending. I sure hope it does.

I will be sure to let you know.

---Whimsical Artist Scott Plaster

Please tell me your comments about this story by posting below!


Old Man Carvings said...

Scott, This is a great story to share and one, we all can relate too.

Bob Stuart

Don said...

I look forward to reading Part II, this is great!

Therese Honeycutt said...

I'm so happy for you <3


The hand study looks good.

Scott said...

Thank you, Sweatshop!