The Old Harbor, Rockport. Thanks to a reader for the photo. The shop was in the blue building at the center of the shot. At its lower right hand corner were the granite stairs that went down to the harbor. This is low tide of course, and at high tide the water washed against the seawall that is the foundation of the building. In the foreground is Lumber Wharf, were coastal schooners were loaded. The cylindrical stone pillars are bollards, posts to tie a ship up at the wharf.
The comments had several requests to tell more about Stephanie and her advice to me. It has been so long, but I will see what I can remember. Steph had done a lot of outdoor fairs and had an idea of how a shop should be run. I had no idea. Stephanie told me that people are scared. You had to be non frighting. She said that customers don't want to enter a shop unless they can see inside and check that it is not dangerous. She insisted on no dark corners. We positioned spot lights to make sure that the corners were well lit. The shop was painted in gay colors,her part was a garish pink, mine a more restrained yellow. She always wanted the door open, she said people aren't likely to open a door, even a screen door.
When visitors would walk in Stephanie would always ask "are you visiting Rockport today? I always thought that was a dumb question, when I pointed that out, Steph said "that's the idea". It was a harmless question, one she knew the customer could answer. I gradually adopted it and used that for years. I felt dumb saying it, but people responded well to the simple question
A piece of glass or a painting would sometimes get "hot". That is, all day long people would admire it or contemplate buying it. We made a point of noticing trends in which items they were and where in our tiny shop the piece was located . Often a sale would result, after many people had focused on the same piece.
Stephanie told me a story about a bead shop a friend of hers had owned. It was in a tent, so it could be set up at outdoor art fairs. Those were big in the 60's and 70's. This tent-shop was a long rectangle with a long table down the center, and tables around the walls. You could walk in the door and make a circumference of the shop with that center table as an island in the middle of the space. On each of the tables were dozens of muffin tins, the aluminum ones. Each tin's little cups were filled with beads. There were thousands of them. That's all the business sold, beads for stringing. They had every kind of bead there ever was. Customers would walk in the door and around the tables then stop and pick up a tiny bead to examine it. They would replace it and go on their way. In a few minutes another customer would enter and pause, and then pick up that same bead! With thousands of beads to choose from, they would pick up the same bead! All day long that same little bead would get picked up, until finally it sold.
We had long discussions on why this might happen. Stephanie thought it was karma or that the bead was sending out a signal to be picked up. I didn't. What was obvious though, was that the same thing happened in our shop too. There seemed to be something about the location, And we quickly figured out where pieces would sell first. I learned that every gallery has a sales wall. You put the new and coolest piece there and it was most likely to sell.
Stephanie also taught me never to talk about the piece in the front window. If you brought that up, the customer would go out the door to look at it and then wander off. She used to say"we're always open" and insist on leaving the open sign up all the time. I have no idea why. But the sign always said open, even if we were not. Her favorite expression was "they lost all sense a perspective, man" This could be applied to any situation, and I heard it frequently even though often I couldn't figure out how it fit.
Stephanie wore red lipstick and had long thick hair, the kind that the Victorians used to fill sofa cushions with. She would tie her breasts up in those bandanna's and fire up her torch. She enjoyed working with the glass and made all of the little pieces that a lamp worker is supposed to have. There were little cats and various animals. But the biggest, and fanciest piece was the piano. Made out of loops and myriad little ropey swirls of glass, the tiny grand piano seemed to be the demonstration piece to prove you could practice this art. Stephanie and Michael, her partner, also made a fine line of unusual little glass pipes that they occasionally sold.
Stephanie has been dead many years now. I think of her as a creature of the sixties-seventies. I can't imagine her in the world of today. The gypsy, on the road, counterculture, traveling artisan thing was big then and I don't know if it really exists much any more. I guess as times changed, she might have evolved into something else. But I remember her as an example of the free spirited hippie, who cheerfully made her little place in the world entertaining people by fashioning tiny glass figures in front of crowds. She taught all of the neighborhood girls to do it too. Often there was some young girl at that hot torch learning to make a cat or elephant. It used to scare me to see their fingers near that roaring blow torch, but I don't remember any of them getting burned. She would lean over them and show them the right way to allow gravity and centrifugal force to flow the molten glass just where it needed to go. The young girls always left happily with the little figures that they had made.
Glass doesn't rot or evaporate, so except for those that are dropped or played with by cats, there must be thousands of Stephanie's little glass animals out in the world. They aren't signed in any way, so I guess I will always wonder when I see one,"did Stephanie make that?"