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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wind, Rain, and Fire

Art history is full of painters' encounters with little incidents of misfortune and, all too often, events of catastrophic proportions. Leonardo once tried doing a fresco mural using encaustics (wax based paints) mixed with plaster. However the weather in Florence was quite humid at the time. The paint refused to dry. He brought in a brazier. Before long however, the heat from his brazier (also used to keep his paints liquid) so warmed the room that the finished portions of the mural literally started melting and running down the wall (see 10-14-10). In more recent art history, a fellow artist described a "nothing-went-right-for-me" day at a painting workshop. Which, in the spirit of one-upmanship, let me to describe a similar encounter with the fates that started off being merely dismal and ended up little short of hair-raising!

Art in the park
The year was about 1980. The show was an outdoor art fair called the Salt Fork Festival held at the Cambridge (Ohio) city park. The annual cultural extravaganza was a tented affair though a few brave souls set up in spaces under the trees. These spaces had the advantage of being much larger than the sheltered cubicles and therefore ideal for painters such as myself who carried a large number of works under the theory that with a "supermarket" approach, the odds of lining up the right painting with the right buyer were significantly greater. During previous years, the approach had worked quite well. It was our biggest selling show. And, except for the August humidity, any inclement weather was usually brief and mild.

Alas, we pressed our luck once too often. The final day of the show, a Sunday, dawned cloudy and humid. At the time, we hauled and stored racks and paintings in a converted horse trailer parked on the site. It was a judgment call. The weather looked threatening but the crowd was good so my wife and I decided to go ahead and hang the show anyway, knowing we could always take the paintings down in about 10-15 minutes and store them under a nearby tent if the need arose (oil/acrylic paintings on canvas are surprisingly water resistant). At the time we used nine, 4-foot by 6-foot interlocking display racks covered with burlap, which  zigzagged across the grass for some 40 feet. The display was inherently pretty stable, but just in case, large U-shaped stakes driven into the ground secured the racks for most purposes.

Imagine what a fifty-mile-per-hour wind coupled with a severe
thunderstorm could do to a show such as this.
By noon the wind was kicking up. Shortly thereafter a severe thunderstorm hit. Limbs came down onto tents. Men were literally clinging to tent poles in hopes their weight would keep the canvas concoctions from being lifted off the ground like giant parachutes in reverse. The storm hit suddenly. We'd had time to take down only the most environmentally fragile works before a gust of wind ripped the entire display up from the ground and tossed it end-over-end some 50 to 75 feet across the park. The rain was of biblical proportions, the lightning--Vulcanic, and the wind clocked in at something over 50 m.p.h. My wife and I huddled in the mud under a tent muttering Hail Marys (and we're not even Catholic), while to our disbelief, teenagers foolishly braved the wind, rain, and lightning bolts (which were taking out nearby trees) to chase my paintings across the park. This went on for the better part of an hour! Amazingly, there was no permanent damage to any of the paintings and only minimal damage to the display racks. Needless to say the show ended a bit prematurely as we licked our wounds and headed for home. Then, to add insult to injury, as we were leaving town, the transmission went out on the car, forcing us to park it for repairs while my wife's sister had to drive some 40 miles to rescue us. After expenses, we made a net profit that weekend of $5.42.

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