Today, I went to Binders – an art and craft/framing store – to get a mat board for an etching Andrew and I picked up from a street artist in Florence. We found the etching’s artist in a courtyard near the Uffizi Gallery, among several other vendors selling artworks of Florence and Tuscany.
There was something I liked about this artist, beyond his work. He had an easy way about him and was less conspicuous than the others, smoking cigarette after cigarette while working on a copper etching block. He seemed content and absorbed in his work. He had a graying beard, and big, brown, deep-set eyes. He didn’t seem to care, really, if we wanted to buy his stuff or not, but he was clearly pleased when we showed more than just passing interest. His etchings were lovely – mostly panoramas of the city, with Brunnelleschi’s duomo in the forefront – and they weren’t too expensive. 35 Euros bought us a nice-sized print – half the price of what we would have paid if we’d bought it in a Florentine boutique.
Upon our return to the States, I was excited about displaying our little piece of Florence. But typically, I feel a little intimidated at art & craft stores. I like to walk the aisles and imagine myself doing something highly artistic … or, let’s face it, even just colorful … but I know my limitations. So, today I approached the custom framing counter feeling a little silly, carrying a huge “liberty blue” mat that I hoped could be cut to size by someone other than myself. (I am left handed and a disaster with scissors and most other sharp things.) I rang the bell, and in a short time a red-headed guy with a scrubby goatee and very artistic looking wire-rimmed glasses greeted me.
He seemed a little annoyed by the gigantic blue mat, my Target-brand frame and the Florentine etching. I explained I just wanted it cut to size, that I didn’t know how big to make the window for the etching to show through and that I would trust his judgment. He sighed deeply and took out a tiny, pocket-sized measuring tape. (Should I have made an appointment, I wondered?)
At about that time, someone came over the loudspeaker and made an announcement for the frame shop. My disgruntled frame guy sighed again, more deeply still, and said, to no one in particular, “It never fails. I’m here alone, the bell rings, and all of a sudden everyone needs me.” I didn’t quite see how stressful life behind the custom frame shop counter could be, but I smiled sympathetically anyway.
A moment later, the frame guy whisked away my big blue mat and the Florentine print and went to a back room. I heard mechanized slicing sounds and worried about our little etching, wondering if the disgruntled artist would take out his frustrations on Florence. He didn’t. Instead, he emerged with a perfectly cut liberty blue mat in just the right size, with a massive scrap of mat board left over for me to take away. I asked if they wanted to use the mat board scrap for any reason, to which he sort of rolled his eyes and said, “No. We use a better quality board than that back here.”
I actually thought it was kind of funny – that everyone has something about which they are inordinately snobby. For some of us – those of us who eschew Chicken Soup for the Soul type books and Dan Brown-esque novels – it’s a specific type of writing; for others of us, it’s mat boards. Go figure!
I did wonder what our street artist would think of my el cheapo frame job, but decided that he’d just shrug and light up another cig, or maybe just close up shop for the day to grab a late afternoon cup of espresso.