I was afraid I had lost Art!
You see, in the summer of 2002, I was living in the College Park Apartments in Fairmont and working for FSU’s Town & Gown Summer Theatre. The company was producing four shows that particular summer; I got to play The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz and Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha, as well as design sound for Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and assist with props for the thriller Wait Until Dark.
It was in my set decoration of that final show that I found Art.
Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark is an on-stage thriller about a confidence man and two ex-convicts who attempt to manipulate a mysterious doll away from a blind woman in her Greenwich Village apartment. The woman’s husband is a photographer who, during the action of the play, happens to be away on a photo shoot.
For the FSU production the scenic designer, Daniel K. Weber, asked for the walls of the partially submersed apartment to be “littered” with the husband’s photography. This meant that the first stop of my prop-finding expedition was the bottom floor of Wallman Hall and the office of one Johnny Piscitelli, who was the University’s photographer at the time. I asked Johnny P if I could have some random, non-Fairmont-related black and white photos of various sizes. He obliged.
The next day, I collected my stack of photographic “garbage” and began placing some in 50-cent frames and thumbtacking others to peg boards when I met Art for the first time.
Most of the photos that Johnny P had provided were of objects: street signs, buildings, flowers, cracks in walls, and empty park benches. But my favorite was Art, an 8 ½ inch by 11 inch black and white photo of a middle-aged man who looked well-worn beyond his years.
Art was definitely a man of some ethnicity, but the nature of the photograph, as well as his scars and leathered skin, made it hard to distinguish his specific heritage. The photo showed only Art’s bust as he sat atop a rock wall with a large stone building behind him. He was gazing off to his right, eyes squinted toward the sun, seemingly not looking at anything in particular, but more focused on that which could be. He wore an open-collared button-up shirt with a tattered tweed sports coat on top of that and a vintage fedora on top of his head.
I found a special place for Art on the set of Wait Until Dark, and when the show closed and the set was coming down, most of the other photos went in the recycling bin, but I saved Art and found a home for him inside my College Park Apartment.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until Art had moved in with me that he officially received his moniker. Some friends were over celebrating the end of the summer theatre season, or the beginning of a much needed vacation, or Tuesday—for a few years we didn’t need many excuses to “celebrate” things—when someone finally gestured to the framed black and white photo on the wall near the door and asked, “Who is that in that photo?” I replied, “That is Art!”
I can’t tell you how proud I am, even to this day, at that unrehearsed and multiple-layered response. However, I am not very proud of how much time has passed since I have seen or even thought about my friend that I met 11 years ago.
At the end of this past December, while celebrating my 30th birthday, I found myself engaged in a conversation with a few close friends who remember that fateful summer of 2002. As we laughed and joked about how form-fitting my Cowardly Lion costume was and the time that Jeremy Crawford somersaulted off-stage and most hysterically, the time that the light-board operator fell asleep on the job and turned the lights off on Hee-Haw Honey Misty Rowe in the middle of The Glass Menagerie, my thoughts drifted back to Art, and a pit formed in my stomach. Since my apartment in College Park, I have lived in four different places, and in that moment I realized that at some point, I had packed Art away and now can’t recall where I put him.
I don’t remember where we were in our merriment-filled reminiscing when the words fell out of my mouth. “I am afraid I have lost Art.” It didn’t take my silver tongued, slightly inebriated fellow revelers long to come up with a pithy retort as one quipped, “I feel like that a lot living here.”
At the time the remark didn’t bother me. I simply laughed, took a drink, and moved on with the evening’s festivities. However, in the month since that night, it has festered and taken up residence in my psyche.
The community of art makers, art lovers, and art enthusiasts in North Central West Virginia is a small one. For the most part we are a close-knit group that allows our rivalries and competitions to remain as friendly as possible because we all share the same frustration: By and large, that which we are passionate about is consistently overshadowed by athletics, recreation, and anything related to the Mountaineers.
I used to let it get me down, but recently, at least in my associations with this city, there has been a change in the winds.
Something is coming.
Important people and influential people are starting to recognize the role culture plays in the life of a community. While I cannot go into much detail yet, I can say that I have been having many—but not enough—informal conversations, “just touching base” emails, and cups of coffee discussing the state of the arts in Bridgeport. It feels like we are finally starting to realize that in some way or another our focus is a bit skewed, and the scales of available leisure are overtly out of balance.
Something is coming.
I haven’t lost Art. Hopefully none of us have. We certainly don’t know exactly where he is, but he’s got to be around here somewhere. He’s packed in a box, tucked away in an attic or crawl space, stacked on top of a pile of other memories piled too high to reach, and that is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that he’s been misplaced, but there is a happy ending to his story because for the first time in a little while, people are starting to look for him.
Something is coming…something good.