The San Francisco Airport Museums has an exhibition space in SFO’s United terminal that you pass through on your way to the gates. You can walk the wide carpeted concourse with Plexigas display booths on either side, or you can be conveyed on a moving belt past the displays. The exhibit this past weekend was painted pottery from Santa Catalina, an island off the Southern California coast. I walked the concourse.
On any given day, our senses are bombarded with more than we can take in. Those United passengers on the people-mover probably didn’t see my favorite tile nestled in its display with a panoply of others. The tile was exactly like the one that I had sketched in watercolor while visiting Catalina twenty-three years ago. In the main town of Avalon, colorful tiles wrap the quaint public square, which was built in the early 1900s. The small sketches I made there inspired a large group of oil paintings called Island Songs, which I worked on for two years following that Catalina trip. They were exhibited at the Plaza Gallery in the Bank of America headquarters building in San Francisco—124 paintings wrapping a contemporary public square. There’s much I could say about those paintings and may in future posts, but this post is a contemplation on a six-inch square piece of glazed clay.
The tile triggered a rush of memories: a bright sunny day; white-washed, decorated stucco; a romantic island getaway with my husband. (I called him on my cell phone to reminisce.) I thought about how artistic inclination—seeing the tile, selecting it from all else in my vision, choosing to paint it—leads the artist to deeper exploration. In this instance, that first glance led to a series of 157 oil paintings, 20 x 20 inches square.
On the plane, I wrote a bit about the tile in my journal, then forgot about it during the weekend in Vail with my sister. Returning to San Francisco, I walked from the gate, thinking the thoughts of a disembarking passenger—baggage, shuttle bus. I came around the corner and whop! There it was.
The art that had transported me back more than twenty years did it again. The little tile beckoned, “You are older now, are even stepping into your own new decade, but you are timeless with me.” I had traveled 2600 miles to Colorado and back, but I felt as if the bigger journey was taking place in the concourse, standing in front of a display case, gazing at a fragment of clay made by an unknown person’s hands, long ago and faraway.
Watercolor of Catalina tile