Monday, August 2, 2010

Buying Art

Andrea Nelson's Inside #85
I was completely shocked when Andrea opened the first box. It was a Simm's box labeled on the outside as containing hipwaders. Inside, she had glued small styrofoam squares in a circle on the floor of the cardboard. The styrofoam squares gently held in place a small gilded frame. Within the frame was a redheaded woodpecker, wings spread and pinned. The belly of the bird was full of tiny smooth riverstones and next to the bird's feet was a nail, from which a hung round brass tag stamped "085".

She lifted the frame out of the box, held the bird upright, as if hanging it on an invisible wall, and pulled the brass tag forward on the nail so that it shimmered in the foreground.

Andrea Nelson is a first-year non-fiction student in UAA's MFA program, and was one of the people I spent the most time with during our two week residency. We met three weeks ago in the Juneau airport while waiting for our flight to Anchorage.

When she mentioned her studio one night, I asked what she made. She said she made assemblage sort of pieces to hang on the wall, sometimes in boxes.

"Kind of like Joeseph Cornell?" I asked.

"Kind of."
Joseph Cornell's Untitled (The Hotel Eden)

This weekend I was in Haines (Andrea's town) for the Southeast Alaska State Fair and harranged Andrea into showing me her studio and some of her work. "Inside #85" was the first piece she pulled out, but she had a whole stack of similar boxes containing all sorts of other pieces, many featuring some kind of creature (bees, cockroaches, hummingbirds), all with the look of aged, ravaged, sadly hopeful beauty.

I kept looking back at the first box she'd pulled out. She had closed it back up and set it on the floor, but I found myself wanting to open it up again and pull out the bird. I wanted to see that bird full of stones every day.

Two days later I had convinced Andrea that I was serious about buying it and I carefully carried the box onto the Fairweather. Now I have the pleasure of figuring out where to hang it in my home and what company it will keep (maybe next to Trevor Gong's salmon fly that Andrew bought last year).

Remnants of the shock I felt when Andrea opened the first box are still with me. Not that I didn't think that Andrea was the kind of person to make beautiful art, but I hadn't actually thought about what she made. I also made some assumptions based on the fact that she lives in a town of 2,000 people in Southeast Alaska and the fact that the context I met her in had little to do with visual art. But the biggest part of it was how totally humble and unassuming she was, almost hesitant to show me what she makes - her pieces, stored in the opposite of christmas wrapping, recycled shoe and hipwader boxes, purely utilitarian. I was completely unprepared. Which made the surprise that much sweeter.

I'm a non-reading museum stroller.  I walk slowly glancing around until something catches my eye and then I stop, look, and read the tag.  I bought my first piece of art about five years ago, it was one of Rob Roys' paintings, something to make me stop and stare. I'm not sure there's any one thing that makes me stop at certain pieces, but I know that as a budding collector, that's what I want. I want a home full of art that I can sit and stare at over morning coffee.

Sit and stare and think or not think.


  1. What incredible art pieces. I'm so glad Andrea showed her work to you. Thank you for the lovely essay. I'm really enjoying your blog site.

  2. Hi Wendy, thanks so much! It was a real pleasure chatting with you at the residency. I hope your return to regularlife has been going well.

  3. I'm flattered for your sweet review of our studio visit and moved to have someone connect to my creations... "aged, ravaged, sadly hopeful beauty." SO thrilled, too, that our paths have merged and we get to walk along!! **Andrea