November 22, 2016

Art for Friends

        Chances are you’ve never heard of a small, unobtrusive, text-heavy picture book called Goldie the Dollmaker.  Published in 1969, the illustrations are grey-tone, the cover is grey-tone on cream only 7x6 inches.  It’s not a book that grabs the eye.  The story is not exactly thrill-packed, either, and I would never have said I loved it as a child.  But nevertheless, since receiving a copy when I was ten, it’s stuck with me.  I’ve never forgotten it because it’s got some poignant messages about what it means to be an artist.
        The plot summary is that Goldie lives alone making wooden dolls.  One day in town she sees a beautiful Chinese lamp and buys it despite knowing that it will take three months of work to pay for it.  A friend’s horror over the cost and impracticality of it gives her buyer’s remorse, and makes her feel utterly lonely, until she dreams of the artist who made the lamp.
        Now I’ll admit I’m stingy and generally frown on impulse buys and impracticality, but I do love beautiful, handmade things and the joyful connections they can make.  And I do think a lot about creating things, and appreciating the creations of others.
        Author M.B. Goffstein’s first point is how an artist works.  Goldie makes her dolls with real care, choosing wood that seems just right for each part, rather than using precut wood that might be quicker but doesn’t feel as alive.  She explains, “It’s not as interesting to carve.  And then it doesn’t turn out as good.  It never looks alive…  I have to love making them.”  And the final step for each doll: “Goldie smiled and smiled into the doll’s eyes in the friendliest, sweetest way, and she painted a smile right back to herself on the little doll’s face.”  If you don’t care what you’re making, why should anyone else care?  But if you invest it with love, it can carry that love out into the world.
        The real climax of the story is the dreamed conversation between Goldie and the artist who made the lamp.  A warm, polite voice begins, “That lamp you bought.  I made it.”
        “Oh, it’s beautiful!” said Goldie.
        “So we are friends.”
        “But I don’t know you,” she said.  “I wish I did.”
        “You do know me,” laughed the voice.  “You know me better than the people I see every day.”
        “But who are you?”
        “I made that lamp you bought today!”
        “Oh, said Goldie.  “Oh, I see.”  And she sat for a moment, smiling.  “But you don’t know me,” she said suddenly.
        “Yes I do.  I made the lamp for you - whoever you are.”
        I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the people who buy my art or read my stories know me better than my family and friends, or that I know them, but we do know each other in a very particular, special way.  There is something we share because I made something I love, and they love it, too.  I hoped, as I created it, that it would bring someone joy - someone I’ve never met and didn’t know - and when they saw it, some of the love I put into it resonated with them.  So when you look at a piece of art that moves you, or read a story or poem that touches you, take a moment to appreciate that connection: the artist made it for you, hoping that you were out there somewhere, ready to be, in some sense, a friend.

[Picture: Goldie’s house, illustration by M.B. Goffstein from Goldie the Dollmaker, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1969.]

4 comments:

  1. Wow! That blew me away. I have shared it with my friends and the artist's whose work I buy and have bought myself a copy of the book. I just love your blog by the way. Just Wow.

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  2. Lovely--thanks for writing this!

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  3. Perfect. . That's how I am with my fairies and witches :

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