I smile and tell her I’m fine with her visit to Fireborne, my friend Becky’s gallery. Reassured, she turns to examine the glass in the window. She moves slowly, painfully, sidestepping her way down the display, and misses nothing.
“I see she sold the green bowl,” she says, pointing to the vase that’s apparently replaced it.
“I believe so,” I say politely, but inwardly, I sigh. I’ve been babysitting Becky’s glass gallery while she’s out, a task I usually enjoy. This morning, though, is the exception. It’s slow, with more critics than buyers, dimming my hopes of presenting Becky with a goldmine of sales slips.
I’ve just spent an hour helping a woman buy a present for her boss. She examined $800 glass vases, asked me to measure a $1,500 platter, and tried on a $250 glass-and-ruby necklace. Each time, she found a flaw that rendered the piece unworthy.
She finally settled on a $6 puffy heart rock from the doodads-for-kids bin. Needed it boxed and gift-wrapped. Nicely. With a ribbon to match the green of the rock. And a card. Wanted a discount because the rock had a dark spot.
Apparently I was wise to decide against a career in retail sales.
“How did they make those?” the old woman asks, pointing to Terry Belunes’ wonderful pate de verre bubbles. I hold one for her to stroke, and she runs a trembling finger down the silky glass while I explain the process.
“My goodness, that’s a lot of work but look at how beautiful,” she says, giving the bubbles one last look before moving down the row. She examines the art carefully, obsessively, each time looking to me for permission before she gently touches.
She asks an occasional question about process, or the artist, and I answer as best I can. She listens carefully, responding now and then, and it’s obvious she knows glass. Some pieces she praises; for others, she’s respectfully silent.
Halfway down, she points to a coppery frame topped by four tumbling chunks of blue. “This is cast glass, right? I take the fusing class every time it’s offered at the senior center,” she explains, “We can’t do anything like that in our class.”
Fireborne is a long, narrow gallery, and she’s determined to cover every inch of it, talking glass and swapping stories. We’re moving about one foot every ten minutes and at this rate it’ll take hours to finish our tour.
I suddenly realize that I don’t care; I’m just enjoying a chat with a nice lady who shares my love of glass. And, in the end, isn’t that the point?
“I visit Birdseye every chance I get,” she continues, and I finally figure out she means the Bullseye Resource Center. “There’s a sweet little girl there who always helps me. She’s so kind and patient, even though I can’t spend very much.”
She hasn’t done much with glass lately; she broke her shoulder in January and can’t drive. “Too much pain. I had to cancel my class. Sweetheart, keep your mobility as long as you can. Without it, it’s like prison.”
She stops in front of the jewelry counter mirror, reaches into her bag for a lipstick, and after a couple of fumbles, carefully paints on lips. Their color now matches the gay orange tam on her head, which goes with her russet jacket, rich with patchwork and embroidery. “Did you make your coat?” I ask, and she shakes her head.
“No, sugar–no sewing machine. My daughter gave me this jacket, a couple of years ago. No, eight, because my grandson was born right before that. Or maybe ten. My granddaughter made me a matching hat. She’s a very talented girl,” she beams, “You’d like her.”
She’s originally from Brooklyn (since I’d been listening to her classic “uwahs” the whole time, that wasn’t exactly a surprise), and she’d like to spend more time fusing glass. “But it’s too expensive for us girls with fixed incomes. God bless the glass companies–my teacher gets a boatload of scraps for free or we couldn’t even have classes.”
We arrive at the back counter, turn and start toward the front door. Halfway there, she reaches Becky’s comfy armchair (known locally as the “husband” chair), carefully lowers herself into it and sighs with relief. “Is your shoulder hurting? Can I get you anything?”
She waves my query away, and softly fingers a little hanging vase. “My daughter and I, we’re trying to talk my other daughter into making a studio for us. She has a big old barn on her property that she never uses, and my other daughter does pots, you know, out of clay. The barn would be just perfect for a little studio, and my teacher at the senior center could sell us her old kiln.”
She touches a suncatcher and sets it spinning. “So far she’s said no, but I think we’re wearing her down. I promised her I’d teach the grandkids if she did it.” She laughs, but sobers quickly.
“I came to it too late in life, sugar. I love fusing but it’s a young person’s hobby. I could have been an artist if I started younger, but that’s not what married girls with families did, back in my day. Anyhow, I don’t need to be an artist or nothing.”
“All I want for to do is to make glass.”
We talk awhile longer, about glass and art and the people in our lives. I tell her about the Morris wall at Portland Art and her eyes light; she’s taking her grandkids there next week and promises to track it down.
She leans forward carefully and I help her out of the chair. We amble back to the door, talking of artists and petting the glass. Then she gives me a quick hug, and moves off, down the sidewalk.
Sales pick up in the afternoon. I make friends with a charming couple, collectors from Coronado Island. They’re looking for the next big thing, and I turn them onto Molly Barnes. She has a beautiful color sense, one of the nicest of any glassblower I’ve met, and her work is almost sinfully inexpensive.
Thrilled, they buy two vessels. Then two women leave with shower gifts, a couple from Mumbai buy earrings. A portly fellow with a beard promises to return tomorrow for a 6-foot long wall piece that will just fit his new dining room in Philly.
Sales are back on track, and that’s good. But I keep looking down the sidewalk, thinking about the old woman and wishing I’d done more. Talked longer.