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Small Victory

#2 Small Victory

June 7, 2020

I have had the great fortune of being an integral part of the Philosophy & Art, Study Abroad program at Mercer University. It was started by my colleague Dr. Charlotte Thomas, and she puts together an important, meaningful, and transformative program nearly every summer (even in a time of Corona virus, she was able to quilt together a virtual journey to Greece, for students and others. If you can, check it out). I teach drawing, and a critical component of my pedagogy is to work with the students. I get to draw in amazing places while staring at important objects with wonderful people. Along with the patience and muscular staring that drawing requires, we also deal with less than comfortable conditions. David is tough all by himself. Add several hundred selfie-crazed and chatty tourists and you risk disaster. Weather, bugs, lighting, closing time, curious and way-too-close onlookers… all are hazards of drawing on site. Gallery guards are often an insurmountable pediment.

In 2008 we scheduled two days at the amazing National Archeological Museum in Athens, Greece. This was my first visit, and they have an incredible collection. I always enter museums with trepidation when drawing. Here is this goofy American with a book bag, drawing tablet, charcoal, erasers, and hidden deep down in the bag, a can of spray fix. They can see me coming from a time zone away.

Getting in was no problem. Incredible vases, golden Mycenaean laurel crowns, Cycladic sculpture, bronzes, gods, heroes, mythical images- this was my jam! My charcoal was humming like some magic Hobbit sword. I found a small Nike (Victory) sculpture in a gallery and went through my ritual of pulling out a sketchbook, getting charcoal and other materials out, and carefully stowing my bag and supplies between my legs as I stood and began work. I have stood for over two hours before on site to draw. I’ve done the same while sitting on a rock, twisted up next to a hedge, sitting on a cathedral floor… conditions that would make a chiropractor weep.

I had just started when a young gallery guard came up to me. He was pointing, speaking very broken English (most of the time folks speak better English than me), and trying to give me some kind of directions. I was afraid it was to ‘cease and desist’ (this has happened), and that he simply lacked the deep chested Italian guard way of saying ‘NO SKETCHING!’

Not at all.

Fretting, he dragged a guard’s chair from the corner of the gallery. He placed it behind me and gestured for me to take a seat. This had never happened. A seat? What!? I eased into this gift, wary, carefully. He smiled and pointed to the Nike sculpture, saying something like ‘She’s beautiful,’ and walked away. As he left I did a slow and slit-eyed scan around me, making sure this had really happened. I slowly crossed my legs, lifted my charcoal, and then danced with the goddess. He loved her too, I knew this. So gracious. Such a genuine gesture. When I wrapped up the drawing (the one posted above), I took out a smaller sheet and did another much quicker sketch in graphite. Before I left I found the young guard and gave him the smaller drawing, along with my awkward thanks for his kindness. That small Victory was a huge win.

We returned the next day- I’m loaded for bear. Charcoal humming, sketch fingers twitching, and I stride in like I own the place. Before I can get to the ticket counter a museum attendant pulls me aside. She asks about my tablet and bag. I’m told I cannot take those things in. There is a policy that, in order to draw an object, I have to request permission weeks/months ahead of time being sure to reference the proper accession number in order to be considered for blah-blah-blah. Disaster. Busted.

Bubble popped, I stroll through the collection and once again come upon the Nike, but not the guard. She’s still beautiful, and weirdly, I couldn’t be happier.

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