the shipping crate
I have an old, old friend (though she might be offended to hear me call her that) who is a highly-regarded equine/cowboy artist in the equine/cowboy city of Calgary. A few months ago I received a call for entry for the annual art auction/competition/exhibition at Fraser Downs, a harness track not far from where I live. Harness racing is a peculiarly North American sport, the modern version of the chariot race, and Michelle has done many commissions for owners of Standardbred horses. When I got the notification I forwarded it to her and she whipped up one of her "little" numbers (a 40" x 30" oil painting) for entry.
Now Michelle is the ultimate perfectionist -- about as anal about her work as I've ever seen (and I mean that in a good way). So when she asked me to accept the painting she was FedExing to Vancouver and deliver it to the competition I was thrilled because I would finally get to see for myself her famous homemade shipping crates. Great artwork? Bah! Seen it. I knew the painting would be a marvel of detail and skill, but the box it comes in -- now that's worth staying up late for. (Apparently I was addicted to sitting in cardboard boxes as a toddler, so it's a deep-seated obsession.) I wasn't disappointed. When I told her how much I was looking forward to getting the crate, she told me that she builds them so well that she has one that has been run over, treadmarks still on it, and is still usable!
Here is the crate in my kitchen yesterday. There is actually a handle bolted to the top, and detailed instructions on the sides explaining where and how to open it. There were so many screws that I needed to use a cordless screwdriver if I wanted to retain the use of my right hand. Once I'd broken into the box, there was dense foam insulation, then bubble wrap, carefully fitted around the painting (in its own bag) with further instructions on how to remove it without ruining it. Underneath the lid she'd taped more screws for ease of return shipping (if necessary).After I'd managed to peel back the inner wrapping causing only minor damage to the bubble wrap (oh the guilt!) I finally reached the painting, all important paperwork in clear plastic sleeves attached securely to the back. The painting itself is lovely of course, painted in sombre tones in a traditional style, and evoking a strong sensation of quiet in its use of light. It shows a groom hosing off a horse; the title is "Shower Stall".
Last night was the drop-off time for the artwork, so I headed out at twilight and had my first look at Fraser Downs in a long time. What a change! It is now Fraser Downs and Casino, with a brand new clubhouse and all kinds of simulcast activities going on. Years ago I went a few times with an ex-boss who was addicted to the ponies. (His last name was, if you can believe it, "Pecker" [shortened by his immigrant dad from something longer and Russian] and he was like a really skinny, flamboyant Groucho Marx -- what a character!) Back then it was a seedy little backwoods mudhole called Cloverdale Raceway.
The first prize for the competition was $1000. I took one look at the entries thus far and I knew Michelle's was far and away the best, so I went home and told her she had it in the bag (and kicked myself for not coming up with an entry, too). But not before I'd spent a few minutes trying to capture the atmosphere of the place:
The judging took place last night after all the entries were in and much to my surprise, Michelle only came second ($500). You can bet that I'll be there as early as humanly possible on Sunday to pick up the painting (if it doesn't sell in the meantime) so I can see which painting beat hers. There is a televised awards ceremony tonight. If she'd won, she would've flown out (and we'd have had a fantastic evening of gambling, drinking and general debauchery), but $500 won't cover her last minute air fare on a holiday weekend, and though I have the option I'm such a shrinking violet that I have no desire to accept the award on her behalf (besides, I don't have a "date" now).
But I still have the crate!