Let me say immediately that “Journeys” was not made in an effort to come up with a piece that would sell for $20. But it is the most expensive piece I have ever made. It is in the collection of the Renwick Gallery of the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. It’s existence came about under an odd and wonderful set of circumstances.Here’s the story. I was talking with Ken Trapp, who was then the director of the Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C. We had met a few times and he was familiar with my work and had said that the Renwick would like to have a piece in their collection. As we were chatting, Doug Ring, a wonderful man and generous collector, joined us and asked Ken what was coming up at the Gallery. Ken said that it would be a textile show and Doug asked if I were to be in it. No, said Ken, but they very much wanted a piece of mine in the collection to which Ken said, “Well, have her make a piece and send me the bill.” Voilà. Definitely a number 9. I was in the right place at the right time.Actually, quite a few reasons on the list came into play.
- Materials, not so much. The materials for this piece probably topped out at $250 and had no apparent intrinsic value.
- Size, yes. The shelf is about 7′ long. I wanted to have a physical presence in the Gallery and size is a good way to address that.
- Number, yes. I suppose I could have made one big basket, but variety was important to the concept of the piece, as if each of these baskets was brought back from a separate journey.
- Medium. No options here, except those within my established vocabulary of textile techniques.
- Reputation. I was known to both the director of the Gallery and to the collector who owned my work. My reputation was important to both of them.
- Social currency. This happened before social media. But I had been written about and was in other museum collections and so had a certain social presence.
- Rarity. Time consuming construction techniques assure a certain rarity. That can be a curse or a blessing.
- Representation. In this case, both men were “representatives”. Each, in his own way, was advocating for my work to the other.
- Timing. Totally amazing.
- Magic. Not really a player in this case since the piece didn’t even exist yet. You can neither predict nor enforce magic.
Worth, value, price. They are really different concepts but they overlap in both the maker’s mind and the viewer’s mind. Of course, the bottom line, and perhaps number 11 on the list, is “Make the best work you possibly can.” Always.The absolute best right place/right time story? When my now husband and I walked through the door of a gallery at the same time and started chatting. Ten seconds earlier or later, and we probably wouldn’t have met. That was 36 years ago.