Monday, April 29, 2013
Culture Corner: A Tale of 37 Blueboys
I was talking to Donna Lethal on the phone yesterday about the trip to Southern California that the husband and I will be taking in the next few months and I mentioned that I had to go to the Huntington Museum to look over some documents in their library.
"Oh," said our Ms. Lethal, "Blue Boy is there!"
I started to giggle and as I told her, I shall tell you.
Way back in time - 1982 to be exact - I was trapped at a really wretched college in southeast Ohio. Actually, its a great school, but it is not a place where Cookie thrived. Anyway, my mother came out to get me so I could get out of that God forsaken place for the long weekend and to my surprise, she brought my beloved high school friend Kathy along for the ride. Kathy had gone to college in the Carolina's and was home for stay. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see her.
So on the way back home, Kathy explains to me that since her parents had split up, she would be staying with her father in a place that he had rented about three blocks from their old house.
Kathy explained that her father had rented a fully furnished house from a coworker whose mother fell and was in a nursing home. Rather than leave the house empty, her father was renting it and the price was right. "But you have to see the inside - this place is a trip."
So we get to my house, I get my car out of mothballs, and I take Kathy home. From the outside, the house was a tiny two bedroom bungalow on a postage stamp size lot. Modest is an understatement, but it was neat as a pin. "Now I want to remind you that it is exactly as the old woman left it." We get to door, she has me close my eyes, and I enter, open my eyes, and Reader, when I tell you I was stunned speechless I mean just that.
Furnished in cheap Louis XVI, the carpet and walls looked they hadn't been touched since Truman was in office. But the walls! The walls were covered - every square inch - with small pictures of every size of ornate plastic and dime store wooden gilt frames with small copies of 17th and 18th century European rococo art inside of them.
And Gainsborough's Blueboy, and the lesser known Pinkie, were everywhere - there must have been twenty copies in the living room alone. In the dining room, the same thing. Both bedrooms, too. The only two rooms that escaped her devoting to copies of fine art that you could buy with trading stamps where the kitchen and that bathroom.
And the place smelled of grandma, too - the place wreaked of Dejr Kiss dusting powder and it overwhelmed your sense of smell.
From the baseboards to the ceiling, hundreds of frames from 5"x7"'s down to miniatures on the table tops, were prints of zaftig women being visited by cherubs, dutch men signing documents lords and ladies posing, people sharing bread and wine, cherubs in clouds - but the copies of Blue Boy stood out. It was the Louvre of cheap art and kitsch. It was like drowning in Woolworth's.
"There are at least ten Blue Boy's in my room alone. Six in dad's room."
All I could muster was a "What the fuck?" because the walls were starting move on me.
"She evidently loved collecting art, and her daughter said that she would save her Buckeye Stamps and her green stamps and would order this stuff from the catalog. She wanted to go to Europe to see great paintings, and this is as far as it got. An homage, gone terribly, terrible awry."
Kathy explained that the reason why her father got the deal on the place was that he couldn't take any of it down, because the daughter was afraid that one day Mom would want to go back home and no one felt confident that they could get it all back up exactly as the woman's mother left it.
So we did what we could to cope. We got stoned. This lead to us counting the Blue Boy images and the Pinkie images. And a lot of giggling. After a while you really didn't notice it. And the Dejr Kiss also went away.
When I got home, bunny eyed and all, my mother asked where I had been and why did I smell like an old lady. I thanked my mother for her loved minimalism and went to get something to eat.
During the summer break I spent a lot of time with Blueboy and Pinkie, but the best was being there when someone new saw the pictures and the expressions on their faces.
That fall Kathy and her father moved to North Carolina, and the old woman died that winter in the nursing home.
The following spring, my mother told me that she had gone to an estate auction at a house but left after looking over the boxes. "I think someone who lived there had an emotional problem. Boxes and boxes of that painting Prissy Percy. Why would someone want Prissy Percy around them all the time I'll never know. Shhesh!"
When I told Donna this she said "this is the type of thing that people out here would pay money to see." We started to giggle. Hindsight is 20/20 and I now regret not taking pictures of the place. But I haven't seen anything like it since, and haven't really noticed anyone having a copy of the Blue Boy on their walls since either.
Anyway, when I visit the Huntington, this will be the first time in a very long time that I will come face to face with Blue Boy hanging on a wall. I wonder if I'll giggle, I wonder if I'll get the munchies.