Monday, May 30, 2011


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?"


Lucy said...

Did you make paintings of boats back then?
There must have been lots from your back door view.

Jim Gibbons said...

I'm heading down to Gloucester/Rockport today to's a beautiful day. I love your blog! Great little story......and I think i'm ready to paint. Cheers!!!

Philip Koch said...

Thanks so much for that. I feel Stephanie is my friend too.

willek said...

I went to Halibut to paint yesterday afternoon and went by Bearskin on the way. Halibut is really good with some terrific swells on the rocks. I'll send some snapshots.

Cynthia Hillis McBride said...

Another wonderful story Stape. Stephanie sounds as if she was a Marketing savant. Thank you for sharing.

Deborah Paris said...

A wonderfully drawn portrait of your friend and the times. And a lot of wise advice about keeping shop too. Great stories Stape!

billspaintingmn said...

It's interesting how you would notice things and try to analyze how or why.
Do things happen for a reason? Is Karma the counter balance in life?
Those were the ponderings back then.
That's why it's still fun to walk up and pick an apple off a tree. Simple pleasers ment to be.

Sarah Faragher said...

I'll add some more praise in here - I love this series of posts. It's great to hear about how life actually was (and is) for an honest-to-god working painter. What a fantastic memoir this will be when you add all these short chapters together. (Just sayin'.)

barbara b. land of boz said...

I can almost see you staring out the back window of the shop...squinting your eyes against the winter sun and painting way past the last light. Your sharing of this personal time of growth in your career is quiet thoughtful and inspiring to many.

I can say it is a pleasure to have met you and to have been taught by you. Thank you for sharing your friend Stephanie with us. I bet she was a treasure to know.

Tim said...

Ahh, I think I have a Stephanie down the street, she runs the local second hand shop, has bright red hair and is a VERY free spirit. No red bandanas though.

I think both you and I know sometimes red signifies danger, and its best to stay concentrated on the work!

Mary Byrom said...

Nice! I knew I'd like Stephanie. Now that wall thing - which wall was it in relation to the door? I've heard the same thing about a selling spot...

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes I painted wooden draggers in Gloucester and the lobster boats in the harbor a few yards from my window.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Must have been a pretty day there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for the photos

Stapleton Kearns said...

Cynthia Hillis McBride ;
I don't think she was a savant, but she had done it before.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deborah Paris;
Tonight a list of some Rockport artists of the time.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Chaos happens for a reason.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't have tine to write a book I am doing too much now.

Stapleton Kearns said...

barbara b. land of boz;
Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes in this case, grave and mortal danger.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It has been different in every gallery I have owned.

Barbara J Carter said...

There are still art-gypsies out there! They show their work (often jewelry) at weekend art festivals, making more work during the week between shows and living in a camper much of the year. I hear they're quite common in Florida in the winter.