Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Anchor of My Collection

As graduation from college approached, my housemates and I started going through our stuff, throwing things out, packing clothes, rolling up posters, deciding whether this paper or that was worthy of storing in our parents' homes as we started to live our lives away from the cocoon of undergrad. Our House was a mess as we pulled things from cupboards and drawers and threw them into boxes between studying for finals and attending end-of-year events.

One of those events was the Senior Art Show. Phil had majored in Art and he had three pieces in the show: A silkscreen of three cattle skulls; a painting of a general store somewhere in Colorado; and a ceramic curving sculpture with a face at the top. I had watched Phil experiment with the curve, seeing how sharp he could make a curve in flat clay without its breaking while being fired. We had spent late nights in the Ceramics Building, talking, while he threw pots and built sculptures and I reveled in the scent of clean mud. As a result, I felt a friendly possession toward this piece, and at the show jokingly asked Phil if I could have it. He said I could have it for $1500, and showed me the sticker on the description tag.

The deadline for moving out of Our House got closer and closer and each of us had to decide what we were going to keep and what we weren't. I saved most of my papers - I'd majored in writing, so the largest output of my undergraduate education was on typewritten and dot-matrixed sheets. Phil, however, had focused on ceramics and had a large number of fragile pieces that he did not wish to ship. He belatedly realized that he should have been taking pieces home with him at the end of each academic year. His cousin agreed to allow him to pack her station wagon with his art and take it back with her to Colorado. Phil shipped all of his clothes and some of the drawings and paintings, and planned the packing of his car with geometric precision. After several tries, Phil couldn't figure out how to fit the large and oddly-shaped black and silver sculpture into the car.

I wasn't moving back to San Francisco, so I offered to hold this piece for him. He didn't know if he would be staying in Colorado or moving to Seattle after his post-graduation European trip, but we both knew that if he decided on the former we could still get this piece to Colorado when we weren't so pressed for time. I took the sculpture to the place I would be staying until Shobi-wan and I got an apartment, and Phil continued to pack his car.

I have since carefully wrapped this sculpture in a quilt and moved it nine times, across a couple of state lines. About a year after Phil died and while his brother was in graduate school in New York, I realized that I had indeed taken possession of the sculpture without paying Phil a cent. A few years after that I sent a photo of the sculpture to Marko with a letter saying that I consider this piece a long-term loan from him, and as soon as he wants it, it will go back to him. Marko called me when he got the letter, exclaiming that he had wondered what had happened to this piece.

I have it, and every time I look at it, I think of those nights watching Phil build it, the smell of clean mud, and the $1500 I never paid him for the anchor of my art collection.

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