The Salvation Army Thrift Shop can be a treasure trove, depending on what you are looking for and how badly you need it. I am a card-carrying thrift-store junkie from way back. When I have time I like to poke in at the Sally Ann and browse. Usually I am looking for nothing in particular, but now and then I have a specific item on my list. I take my time. Most treasure is hidden, the map is lost, and you have to dig. Often I search for a discard that can be transformed into an art piece. Last week I went in looking for a low table that I could convert into a garden bench.
“That’s my painting,” I said aloud.
“What do you mean?” asked BJ, the clerk standing at the counter.
“That’s mine. I did that. It’s the first oil I ever painted. I gave it away, years ago, in Washington. But how did it get here? How did it get to Havre, Montana?”
“Oh, you’ve got to have it,” replied BJ as I lifted my old painting from the shelf.
“Of course. How much will it cost to get it back?”
“Nothing. It’s yours. Take it,” she said.
I thanked her, still stunned that my picture and I should meet in this odd manner. I painted this oil on masonite back in 1988 or ’89 in Poulsbo, Wash. For several months I took lessons from Julanne Campbell. I enjoyed the lessons. Life got complicated. I dropped out of class and painted only now and then. An acquaintance who liked my painting offered to buy it. I told her I couldn’t possibly sell it but would give it to her.
The picture is an arrangement of poppies in a silver pitcher. One of my flowers looks smudged. The ceramic jug in the background is disproportionate. The yellow tea pot in the foreground has an awfully long spout. In real life I’m sure the apples were closer together. A curtain hung in the back left corner. My drape looks more like purple black bruise. Otherwise, it is ... it is ... well, it is my first painting.
I had to tell someone my bizarre story of how my old painting and I converged at the Sally Ann. So I walked over to the Atrium and upstairs to the frame shop to see Kris Shaw.
“A lot of artists meet their work at the Sally Ann,” said Kris. “Sometimes their feelings are hurt. But when we give or sell anything, we don’t know what path it might take. People change their tastes and their surroundings. They come and they go.”
“I wish I could know how it got to Havre. It’s weird that I walked in and found it. I don’t mind that somebody gave it up. After all, it’s not very good. About the best thing I can say about my ‘Still Life with Poppies’ is that it is colorful.”
“It is probably not that bad,” said Kris.
“I can point out every flaw,” I answered. “But I’m happy to have it back.”
My poppies now hang in an inconspicuous spot in my shop. From time to time I look at the painting and cringe at my inexperience. I have even thought about touching it up. I won’t. It wouldn’t be the same. Most people won’t even notice it. And if they do, they will probably think, “What a colorful picture.”
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)