Saturday, October 20, 2007

Painting swap

My mother's friend Michelle moved out of state to be with her new boyfriend. She is in her 60's and had lots of stuff. Too much. So she was trying to winnow it down to a manageable amount. She asked my mom if I would be interested in her dining room table.

Sure, I said. I'll take a look at it.

But we were out of town the weekend she moved, so her upstairs neighbor was in charge of letting people into the apartment to get the stuff she'd promised to others. We almost forgot all about it until one night after dinner Nguyen said

Let's go look at the table.


We got in the truck, with the kids and headed to Providence.

The table is great. A very old funky maple top with oak legs. It had leaves at one point, but now makes due with a couple pieces of plywood. In it's closed state it is a big square.

The apartment was completely vacant by now, except for a painting leaning against the wall. It's back was facing out, so all we could see was the wooden frame and the back of the canvas. But somehow it looked familiar to me. I walked over and pulled it back from the wall. It was one of my grandmother's paintings. I caught my breath.

My grandmother was a magnificent painter. She went to art school in London in the 30's and had the beginnings of a promising career when she gave it up to have a family. Later, when the children were grown, she began to paint again. She taught art history at the Walnut Hill School in Massachusetts. Her technique was unique in that she never used brushes, instead pressing the paint against the canvas with a palette knife. I always said that a blind person would love her paintings because they could feel the images in the dried oil paint.

I am taking this, I said the neighbor. I can't leave it in an empty apartment.

Oh, she replied. It has been promised to someone. You can't take it.

I am sorry, I said. My grandmother painted this and I can't leave it here. Have the person it was promised to call me. I'll make sure they get it.

The neighbor looked slightly panicked when she realized that I was going to take the painting. I wasn't leaving it. I felt bad, but I wasn't leaving it.

Who is it going to? I asked.

Someone name Pat.

Oh. That's my mom. I'll get it to her.

But even in the empty apartment, I knew I didn't want to give it up. I had never seen it before and I was completely enthralled. It is a long, rectangular painting of a forest floor, with a trillium in the center. I was struck by the fact that the flower wasn't painted in... it's image was created by leaving blank white on the canvas and painting around it. It reminded me of the Japanese style of art, where the empty space is the image.

I brought it home and put it on the wall over the mantle. It looked as though my entire house was designed around it- the colors, the textures and tones. It was like finding an unexpected treasure somewhere. Something so precious, yet so surprising.

When I told my mother about it, she wanted it. She said I had to give it to her. I started to cry. This was my gift from Granny, whom I miss terribly. Ok. I said. You can have it. But let me hang it on my wall for just a little while.

The next day, my mother called me and said I could keep it. She had talked to Michelle and they agreed that I should have it.

I have another painting of Granny's in my guest room that is a favorite of mine, but never really looked like it belonged in my house. How about if I bring it over, I said.

It is stunning on my mother's wall, an explosion of teal and purple and apricot, a copse of trees on a rock in Georgian Bay in a storm. The exact right painting for her.

The exact right one for me.

I miss you Gran. Thanks for the painting.

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