Monday, May 30, 2011

Rockport shop recollections

Everybody over in the comments seems to like hearing about the Rockport years, so I will go on merrily with that.

When summer came, having the gallery seemed like entertaining. I waded in people on the streets and talked to them in the shop all day long. In the summer Bearskin Neck had a population density like Hong Kong. There were T-shirt shops and even schlock art. You know what schlock art is, don't you, that mass produced dreck from Asia somewhere (probably the Chi-Coms again). The retailers buy it from catalogs in bundles of hundreds of unstretched nearly identical paintings. All of the paintings had a funny oriental look to them. Their Cape Cod light houses had a subtle pagoda aftertaste, and there were lots of trees made with a fan blender that looked like feather dusters, and bad seascapes with grass covered dunes impaled with red wooden snow fences. The foam in these monstrosities was white paint swirled into S patterns with their fan blender again, horrible. Done using decorative painting techniques they appealed to the most budget minded collector. THEY ARE IN THE WORST IMAGINABLE TASTE

Of course, with a 24 by 36 for fifty dollars in a frame, they were selling a lot of "art". The customers would enter their shop and there were hundreds of paintings stacked on the floor in piles three feet wide. The walls were covered in schlock art, it was all the color of the literature the Hari-Krisnas used to hand out. Sunsets, way too many of those. The customer would linger over a painting and the crafty salesman would show them the painting in a different frame. The frames came in colors too, not just gold but green, orange and citron. All of the customers would be trading paintings in and out of the frames and conferring with their loved ones as the salesman moved each canvas into each new frame, using schlock-o-clamps. That's what I call the little U-shaped pieces of toothed spring steel that will hold a canvas instantly into its frame. The pictures would dance through the lurid frames until the customer liked one best, and then they bought it. Fifty bucks, no big deal, hon.

Then the salesman would send them out the door with their painting in a Hefty bag. All day long people walked back down the neck with those big plastic garbage bags. I saw millions of them. All the artists joked about the art in the garbage bags. But it was a little dispiriting sometimes when you weren't selling your art.

Our shop didn't have a bathroom There were four shops in the same big old building, the other shops did have a door to the single bathroom. To go there you walked through the shop next door. The shop next door sold schlock art. The new schlock art gallery next door (actually a second feeder location for the larger schlock art store on the Neck) was managed by a young guy from New Jersey. He turned out to be a nice enough guy, not an art lover, but he was OK and we were all around each other a lot. I would sometimes get bored and go next door to his shop to chat. When the town was really busy, he stuck his head in my door and said "Stape, will you watch the shop for me? I am going to go pick up some fried clams". So I sat in his schlock art shop happily greeting the tourists. I don't remember ever selling a painting, but I did this favor for him a number of times. Since I had partners, I could come and go if I wanted to.

I heard stories that one of the "other" schlock art dealers would tell tourists that these paintings were by "local artists" who didn't have swollen heads and priced their worked reasonably, unlike the artists they saw in the galleries, who had big egos. The paintings often had folksy American sounding names signed on them, half of which had the surname Frank.

In my own shop I would routinely have people ask me why my paintings were so expensive? I wanted more for an 8 by 10 than the gallery down the street wanted for an over the sofa sized oil! They already knew which they were going to buy, and I tried to avoid telling people they were wrong. I learned a few things about running a gallery in those days and one was,


Even if they are, you can't win. They don't want to hear it, and if you get a win by "setting them straight" the sale is over.

Stephanie the large breasted glassblower who was my business partner, had grown up with parents in the jewelry trade and she had spent years doing outdoor shows. She was a hippie girl and a part of the great craft and pottery diaspora that once wandered the nation during the decade after the summer of love. She gave me a number of gems of wisdom she had picked up on the road.

She would secure those same breasts with two red bandannas knotted up around her neck somehow. She would then stop traffic on her roller skates with her long raven hair blowing behind her and those bandannas on. I believe she had a three legged dog named Egypt. I don't remember ever meeting Egypt though. A few years later she died rather young and tragically. I still have her skate key.


barbara b. land of boz said...

Sometimes you just learn to suck it up and life does go on. When you speak of this time period you sound as though you are smiling. Thank you once more for the ending to an already perfect day...
God bless you Stapleton for sharing this part of your life.

dglenncasey said...

You need to write a book called Rockport Recollections or Summers in Rockport. I'd buy it. ;)

HKP said...

Those smarmy oil paintings are mass produced in a place called Dafen.,1518,433134,00.html

I spent a day walking around there -- if you enjoy looking at good painting, that place really breaks your heart.

David Teter said...

Schlock art, we've all seen it... I think they used to use it in hospitals to induce vomiting (at least to people with good taste).
I wonder how many from then still exist and are hanging.
I would like to see some sucker bring one into Antiques Roadshow, that would be a gem.

Sounds like good times for you back then. And fun to read for us.

Tim said...

YOu know, in todays anit establishement culter of hipsterdom, those painting would be considered treny. thats why you see young hips in NYC with "wolfs howling at the moon" satin jackets, its in such bad taste that it becomes "cool". Kids today man...

You have a great way of ending these posts with a little heart- "twinge" I must say, making htem both informative and personal.
I can hear you with a pipe in your 80, sitting in front o f a fire telling stories just like this one.

I was reading the norman rockwell biography,and
I enjoyed reading abut his "hardships" too, the days of baked beans and wearing a coat and jeans to bed because there was no heat etc. Thats where I am now, but I must say, I am enjoying myself immensely. I sort of relish the thought that for every year that goes, I'm slipping further and further away from a being able to secure a "regular job" . I don't paint and sell, I don't eat and I cant pay rent!

Karla said...

Ha! I was just in one of those schlock galaries yesterday in St Charles, MO. I don't know how the people worked in there with the strong turpentine smell hanging in the air.

Philip Koch said...

Wonderful post once again- vividly told and just a touch of wistfulness. I think all of us painters can think back to precious times in our young days when we were clawing and scraping our way forward to become accomplished artists. What I love about Stape's posts is his experience was so very different than my own but he makes it feel tangibly present.

As someone who always painted off by myself (of necessity at first and then it became a habit) I'm amazed at the picture of Stape painting away in the back of his little shop and talking to zillions of people as he did so. I've taught in an art school for decades and have spoken to a zillion students, but then I'd retreat to solitude either in my studio or out in the field alone. I guess everyone's life has a distinctly different flavor to it- and so it is with artists. That's why these Rockport posts are such a treat.

billspaintingmn said...

I've always liked red bandanas:) they represent beautiful freedom.

n2w said...

Do you have any photos of any of your paintings from that time? I would love to see them. :)

stermyn said...

Fun to read this story/history after just meeting you and hearing bits of it through lessons at Lyme. It sounds as though you embraced the east coast with ease. It would be nice to see an example of Rockport studio 8"x 10" early painting! Even better, you in the studio.

Mary Byrom said...

So what were Stephanie's gems of wisdom? She sounds like my kind of girl...

DennyHollandStudio said...

These stories are terrific, thank you for sharing your artistic beginnings.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Yes, what were Stephanie's words of wisdom? She spunds like a practical girl, ready to use any assets available to improve exposure, for her shop, of course!!
This is so great! Terry

Judy P. said...

I am enjoying your Rockport reverie immensely; the parts regarding selling and prices are helping me think through an awkward funk now. I'm selling for small prices, feeling funny about it, then feeling worse when I don't sell at all- how silly I feel. Also I felt a bit 'wrong' for wanting to crank pieces out quicker, like I should artistically contemplate every single work. Your youthful recollections reveal the commonality of all this, and is much appreciated. The skate key part made me tear up a bit.

Stapleton Kearns said...

barbara b. land of boz;
You are welcome Barbara.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Do you think it would be interesting to people. I don't know. Maybe.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's where I want to go, somewhere painting is appreciated.

Stapleton Kearns said...

David Teter;
For all that is sold, I have never seen one in someones home. They have to be out there somewhere I guess.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have had you in mind while writing these posts.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Did you buy anything?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip Koch;
It was a very public studio indeed. Everyone who cam e through the door looked at what I was making.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The red bandannas are now scarce. Freedom is getting a little harder to find also.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I might have one or two, but I don't know where. If I find them I will post one.I don't think I even owned a camera then.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't think I have a picture from that year. I do have some from a few years later though. I will try to find them.I did embrace the East coast. Boston has become my home and Minnesota seems a little foreign now.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary Byrom;
I posted about that tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, Denny.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I tried to remember a few tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Judy P.;
I am a little surprised at how interesting the readers find this. I suppose it is something that they all can relate to, staring out in your own gallery is a dream for many artists.