It's art show season!

June 19, 2022

As I lay down my purchases to be checked out at Michael's, the young woman cashier asks, "Will using those more expensive tubes of paint make me an artist?" There are many more attributes than Level 4 paints that make one an artist. Yes, paints other than the Academy Level, Moulin d’Arches papier from France and sable brushes from the pelts of exotic rodents from Siberia do help.

Art lessons may also aid, but they more often become social gatherings. I usually went my own way, and my teachers and professors kindly stepped aside. My motto is, "You either talk about it and don't do it, or do it and don't talk about it."

I started out decades ago in a sort of flea market along the two-lane road leading into Rehoboth located at what is now called Henlopen Junction. It was a gaggle of vendors. Antiques, flea market tables and my art table. My mother had made for me a kind of sandwich board with narrow shelves where paintings could sit. It was very heavy, and I painted it hot pink, but later switched to black.

The owner was a veteran of the Korean War, a Mr. Phillips. His wife, who was Korean, provided her native egg drop soup. I usually partook of this hot, filling concoction as a special treat. Once I didn't feel well and went to lie down in my car with a sign that said, "Not doped or drunk, just a little under the weather." The soup helped. I also decided to lie down on the ground once with my feet propped on cinder blocks and a sign that said "Starving Artist." Unfortunately, my mother rode by with her friend, Ann Johnson, and clearly saw me. Fortunately, she never mentioned this, but stepped up her weekly frozen homemade soup rations, which I picked up every Monday night when I went to her house in Milton for dinner!

Later, I graduated to the Rehoboth Art League Outdoor Show and the St. Peter's Clothesline Art Show in Lewes. I no longer attend many art shows or belong to any art groups, except for remaining loyal to St. Peter's and the Holly Festival in Milton. In my opinion, they are the only two left which adhere to old-fashioned values. These two still seem to care about local artists, have reasonable entry fees and are fairly simple to navigate.

Every summer during the July 4th weekend, I can be found in front of St. Peter's Church in Lewes. I hate wearing hats, and I eschew tents, so I am persistently asked about my overexposure to the sun by well-wishers. I now wear sunscreen and sometimes cool off under a neighbor's tent. I made a sign which I occasionally exhibit when I do wear a straw hat that says, "No, I don't like tents." The occasional person will start to say, "Why don't you have a tent ..." and then they see the sign on my hat. I'm 73 and have been attending this show for over 45 years, so it seems I know what I'm doing. Or am I just from a hot planet?

The things people say make you feel like a caged animal. Some of the 200 comments that make me cringe are, "How long does it take you to paint this?" Yes, it takes a lifetime. I even had a technocrat ask, "How much time does it take per square inch?" No! No algebra, please! Early on, I was often asked, "Does your mother know you're doing this?" Also, people love having a reason to brag about their recent trip to Haiti where they saw art like mine.

People seem to think that artists, caterers, musicians and alcoholic beverage purveyors should happily donate their talent, products and intellectual property to charities for "the publicity." But this "publicity" actually broadcasts that I will work for free! I know this sounds selfish, but you wouldn't believe the things I've been asked to do for free by people who wouldn't dream of asking you for a red licorice Twizzler!

I've been asked to "perform" at certain events. I was to paint polar bears on shoes for one. I had to paint the shoes quickly, even using a hairdryer to hasten the drying process so they could go to lunch. No lunch was provided for me, even though there was a chili-tasting contest nearby. Was I the shoemaker in a well-known fairy tale? Oh, and I had to buy my own paints, too!

Another charity wanted me to provide a “Copy My Painting" class for participants to copy a painting of mine, and buy canvases and paints for each one. They'd “help me out a little," they said! Now, I ask you, first of all as a former art teacher, I don't believe in copying paintings, but also, do I want a bunch of manic painting copiers out there? I gave another charity a painting once, and then they asked for cans of tuna fish, beans, blankets and children's underwear so school nurses could distribute them in their schools! Underwear? Really?

By now you're probably thinking I'm an awful person, but walk a mile in my moccasins. It has to be said! Not in a shy way; I do it my way. And now for the crowning event! Once at an early morning show I drove my car into a ditch at dawn. A food truck had made me swerve, and an irate man yelled at me for making his ketchups and mustards fall over. While I was attending to this mishap, my arts and crafts neighbor moved my whole painting-covered table into the sun and placed hers where mine had been, in the shade. Then she asked, showing mock concern, "You'd better check under your car to see if there is any damage to the undercarriage."

Well, it's just another day in the Gypsy Camp! There are no horses or gypsy wagons now, but it's pretty much the same as it was centuries ago.

  • Pam Bounds is a well-known artist living in Milton who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art. She will be sharing humorous and thoughtful observations about life in Sussex County and beyond.

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