My junior year in high school I started drawing. I did a series of nude female sketches that my art teacher liked enough to hang in the student show even though the subject matter was a little risqué for my all girls catholic high school. Maybe the nuns didn’t mind. These were the raddest group of nuns I’d ever met. They did force us to recite the serenity prayer before trigonometry but they never slapped our hands with rulers, rarely wore habits, never threatened us with eternal damnation and one even told me a story about how she’d gotten drunk with two other nuns when they were on a traveling church tour…not that getting drunk makes you cool but it was good to know that our nuns didn’t fit the mold of uptight starched hat wearing sisters from my church or the movies.
I brought a date to the opening for the art show. He was a rockabilly guy who used Tres Flores hair pomade, had pin-up girl tattoos and had dropped out of high school. I’d met him when he tried to shoplift a Pendelton from the vintage clothing store where I worked after school. He handed over the Pendelton and I followed him out front where he lit a filterless cigarette and leaned back against the display window that I’d just finished cleaning. He moved towards me revealing the grease stain from his pomade on the window and offered me a drag. He looked like a trashier Mexican version of James Dean. I quickly forgot about how he ruined my clean window and began lusting after him. That night I began lovingly referring to him as ‘greaseboy’ to my friends. The only reason I accepted his offer for a drag was that when I put my lips on his cigarette I kept thinking, “this is almost like kissing, right? I mean my mouth is where his mouth just was.” This crush lasted a good year of diary entries filled with longing. I even diverted my route to work so I would ‘accidentally’ drive by his house. Despite my obsession… Now, 20 years later, I can’t even remember his real name.
I walked into the art room full of nuns, teachers, country club parents and my classmates with greaseboy on my arm. It was the first time I’d ever worn red lipstick, shown up anywhere with a date or had my art viewed by other people. My sketches were simple and not the work I’d done that year that I felt the most proud of. But they had been semi-professionally displayed in thrift store frames by our art teacher and hung on the wall under decent lighting. I watched everyone walk around the room stopping in front of various pieces including mine. I had made this art. Unlike the other pieces I’d done, these ones came organically. I hadn’t planned them out, like I had with my other paintings and sketches. For these, I’d just opened my sketchbook and started drawing with no pre-conceived notions. I’d thought they were throw-aways, a bridge to something else, something more complex and with more meaning. But, they weren’t a road to anything. they just were. AND…people seemed to like them. They were the only pieces and things in my life that weren’t planned out and obsessed over and somehow that letting go worked.
Greaseboy picked up a plastic cup of wine meant for the adults and I caught a few parental glances.
“It’s okay, he’s 22,” I told my art teacher, realizing immediately after I said it, that that bringing a 22-year-old covered in tattoos that I referred to as greaseboy as my date to my high school art show may have been even worse than bringing a boy my own age if he’d been sneaking a glass of wine.
After the show, instead of taking the freeway, I drove home on side streets, trying to make the night last a little longer. I didn’t want to let go of that feeling of seeing something that I’d made through the eyes of others. I also wanted to make my time with greaseboy last as long as possible.
Greaseboy and I parked outside the cemetery a few blocks from our neighborhood. I don’t know who made the first move but we ended up leaning into each other in the front seat and kissing until I had a semi-permanent indentation in my leg from the gearshift and my face was raw from his chin stubble. That car didn’t have a radio but we listened to a worn out Johnny Cash cassette playing from my little battery operated tape player propped up on the dashboard.
A few hours later, I dropped him off at his grandparents house where he lived. I never did find out why he didn’t live with his parents or why no one cared that he’d quit high school.
“See you around,” he said as he closed the passenger door. I ‘accidentally’ drove by his grandparents house too many times to count but I never did see greaseboy around again. Maybe he moved back to wherever his parents lived or more likely his next shoplifting attempt didn’t end with him becoming the object of someone’s affection and an invitation to an art opening but instead with a stint in county jail.
That night wasn’t just the night of my first ever real make-out session with a boy I liked but also the first time that I shared something I’d made with other people. In the twenty years since, I’ve shown my work hundreds of times.
It doesn’t always work out quite so well. I’ve been a vendor at craft shows where I haven’t sold a thing, shown my art to a way less than enthusiastic audience and created events where guests and vendors have sent complaints that made my heart sink. I’ve also done craft shows where I’ve nearly sold out, left an art show and had hardly anything to pack up and received compliments on events I’ve co-created that made me feel like I was making a positive difference in people’s lives.
Last Sunday at Patchwork Show Santa Ana I had a moment much like that moment with greaseboy at my side during my first art show. In between all the running around and ‘putting out fires’ (as Delilah likes to call it) I had a split second to look at what Delilah and I had created. I saw the look on attendees faces when they found the perfect holiday gift and the excitement vendors felt while making a sale. I watched musicians get fueled by the crowd they were playing for and kids sitting down at one of Patchwork’s DIY booths making something for the first time.
Just as at my first art show some of the people simply passed by my sketches without a second glance, at Patchwork, Delilah and I can’t please everyone. This, I realize now, is par for the course. as much as I want every single guest and vendor to feel 100% happy…it’s not going to happen. As Patchwork grows, there are bound to be issues. It’s hard for me to accept that everything won’t be perfect for everyone, but Delilah and I are learning everyday and we do our very best to make each show better.
These days I rarely get a chance to sit down in front of my sewing machine or open my sketchbook and just draw something. Instead, I spend a large portion of my waking hours in front of my computer, cross-referencing spreadsheets, fielding emails, creating maps or graphics and dealing with the business side of our business. I miss the frequency and immediacy of seeing my work come to fruition when I finish a painting, sew a skirt or sell one of my handmade items. However there are seven times a year (six Patchwork Shows and one Craftcation Conference) when I get a chance to see the outcome of all those hours when I feel married to my laptop. Usually I only have a few seconds to look around and appreciate the fruits of Delilah’s and my labor. For those few seconds I’m totally overwhelmed with joy. Sometimes I get a little choked up and often I feel the biggest smile sweep across my face as I take in the scene around me… A place for emerging creatives to show what they make… A place for attendees to support their local economy and the makers who live and create in their area… A place for people to come together and feel a sense of community.
Despite my exhaustion, I took the long way home from Patchwork Santa Ana on Sunday night. I didn’t turn the radio on. I rolled the windows down and let the cool night air rush into the car. I was alone and the memory of that night of my first art show came back to me… The somehow manly floral smell of greaseboy’s pomade, the taste of the cheap art show wine I snuck a sip of, the twang of Johnny Cash’s guitar on the cassette that we flipped over and over and over and most of all that feeling of making something and putting out into the world.
Relive the goodness of Patchwork Santa Ana fall 2013 through the photos below and if you just can’t get enough, check out the Patchwork Santa Ana fall 2013 photo gallery here.