As a young guy learning how to paint at a summer workshop in Provincetown in the summer of 1951 I had no thoughts of making a living … or that someone would want to pay money to me for things I was learning to do. I was just training with brushes and colors … in between late night parties and laughter. Never thought much about making a living
Five mornings a week I painted and seven afternoons and evenings a week I bussed tables at the Moors Restaurant, out near the beach. One afternoon a very pretty woman came in with her two small children and her mother … or maybe the mother-in-law.
I schmoozed with them as I set up the table and, I guess because of my city-street attitude, the woman asked what I was doing in P’town. She was genuinely surprised when I told of the painting workshop ... then asked if she could see some of my work.
You know, I was macho and comfortable enough chatting them up while setting the tables for them … but she wanted to see my stuff … what was that all about? Why would she want to see my stuff? I began stuttering and shuffling because I sure as hell didn’t want anyone to look at my work. I guess I figured it was cool to talk about being a painter and let them wonder how good I was rather than to let them see the work and probably remove all doubt.
I had my gear in my locker including three or four paintings I had just finished. I was pleased with one of them … a painting of a fish processing plant jutting out into the harbor on a fog-drenched morning. I liked it … It was a good painting.
I remained firm in my refusal to show my works for about fifteen seconds. Did I mention that she was pretty? So I went off to my locker.
When I returned to the table a man had joined the party. Rats … must be the husband, I thought. Parking the car. I handed the paintings to the woman and went off to fetch some water. And when I cane back the guy says to me … “How much are you selling these for?”
Whoa … having to show them was bad enough … now he thinks I was trying to sell them. I took a bit of an issue with his question and his tone … like I was some kind of a gypsy selling roses from table to table.
I said I was not selling them. He gave me a look that was like … Yeh, Right.
He said “What do you mean your not selling them?”
I said, “I’m not selling them. The lady asked what I was doing in Provincetown and I told her I was in a workshop. I work here afternoon and nights … and I paint in the mornings … and I really didn’t want to show them. I don’t show my paintings … I don’t sell my paintings.” I had my dignity.
And now I was really getting agitated because I was trying to explain something very simple and doing a bad job of it.
He said, “You don’t sell your paintings!”
I said … “You got it.”
Then he holds up the painting I liked … the foggy fish plant … and says … “Well if you were selling them … what would you sell this one for?”
Now I figured he was playing games … having a little sport with me. I was into a slow burn. They were all looking at me … so I figured … “To hell with it.” I really wanted to bust his chops and make him look silly in front of his very pretty wife.
I thought to myself … let’s see if he can put his money where his mouth is. I smiled, leaned forward … locked into his eyes and said, “Twenty bucks.”
So the guy reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet picks out a twenty and holds it out for me.
I looked at the twenty … then at my painting … that was getting better looking and better looking as the seconds ticked away.
Now don’t forget … this was 1951 … and back then twenty bucks would go a long way for me in P’town. Rent … Food … Nights of splendor. Mostly the splendor.
I licked my lips … seven, eight, nine, ten … I grabbed the twenty and said, “You’re not getting it back.”
Now everybody laughed and I went off to my other chores filled with a bittersweet joy of selling my first painting ever … but one that I really didn’t want to sell.
Later in the afternoon, as things slowed down, I was chatting up with the bartender and he asked, “What was going on with the Fords?”
I said … “The Fords,”
He says, “The Fords.”
I says … “What Fords?”
He said “The Fords … the party against the window … you were showing them some of your paintings.”
I said, “Them! Oh yeh! They were nice Although the guy was a wise guy … he was busting on me. But he bought one of my paintings.”
The bartender said, “Henry Ford Jr. bought one of your paintings?”
I said, “Henry Ford Jr.? … like in the beep, beep, beep, Henry Ford … Automobile-Ford? … Model T-Ford? … Fords?”
He said, “Yeh … That was Henry Ford Jr.”
I thinks … “How do you like that? I coulda nailed him for forty bucks.”
· Don’t argue with a client.
· Why paint something that you don’t want people to see?
· Painting for money is nice.
· All paintings are Af-FORD-able.
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