Serendipity : the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not looked for.
When I retired from a career in teaching I thought I would have total control. I could mitigate risks and increase reward by being my own boss. I fully embraced a familiar community where I understood how to be successful. Along the way I discovered that although I could pursue the clear path defined by others, I couldn’t do so without separating myself from making authentic work.
In the last few years I have been leaving the safety of established art quilt groups and have ventured out on my own. The process of leaving the familiar has been rewarding and challenging. It inspired my word of the year for 2023; WIND. Wind was my metaphor for the ups and downs I was bound to encounter in the year ahead.
In the Buddhist tradition, there are 8 worldly winds: Gain, Loss, Status, Disgrace, Praise, Censure, Pleasure, Pain. During the course of the year as an artist I was blown by each of these winds. A Buddhist would advise one to see any of these winds as transitory and of no consequence. They are just winds that one has no control over and they will die down in time.
I can’t say I followed the Buddah’s path. It was a year of accomplishment and disappointment. On the cover of a magazine one day and the next rejected by a juried exhibition. I was strongly encouraged to volunteer as a director of a local art guild gallery only to be embarrassed by both the interview and the rejection made at a public meeting. I made a couple of pieces that were impressive enough to get into major art quilt exhibitions and several that sent me down the wrong path wasting an abundance of time. I had successful classes and two that didn’t get anyone to sign up. My online course did great the first few months and finally fizzled.
I tried being more entrepreneurial by seeking out new venues. For a time I created a stack of small work in hopes of selling something with a modest price point. I ended up writing a paid how to article on small work. After attending a seminar for art marketing, I began following the plan laid out to find a gallery. This has been an ongoing project that has generated some success. Looking beyond my town, I joined a co-op gallery where I sold a few small pieces and could the opportunity to teach in the future.
It was serendipity that seemed to arrive just as I was questioning my ability to be a successful artist. I was asked to exhibit in a city owned gallery with two other artists. Getting ready for the exhibit required an inventory, creating a hanging system to replace hanging sleeves, making an inventory, writing a statement for the exhibition, and creating posters and postcards with images from me and the other artists.
After accepting I was made aware the artists needed to take on the cost to rent, provide all of the promotional materials, cost of refreshments for an opening, and the person usually employed to process sales would be gone that month. I got into this project blind, but my exhibit looked really good and I thought maybe this would bring some attention to my work in my local community. Less than two weeks into the exhibit it rained. It rained and rained and rained until the roof in that gallery leaked onto my work. The exhibit I worked so hard to put together was down. My work was rolled up in a storage closet.
After bringing the work home, I applied for a solo exhibit. My proposal was accepted. The gallery was located at the back of a large, ceramic studio. They had staff to process sales, created promotional material, and had someone to help hang the work. The exhibition was for a month.
I advertised an opening on local Facebook Groups, to my community art guild and through social media. I bought some food and the venue provided drinks, plates and napkins. Then discovered that a big event made traffic challenging over the opening weekend. As it turned out, almost no one showed up. I thought to myself well, maybe it’s just not meant to be.
As I took down the show and rolled everything up and hung it back in my closet I tried to pat myself on the back and say well if another opportunity comes along at least I’m ready.
"Serendipity showed up again."
I received an email from the curator of our local museum a week after my exhibit was taken down. She expressed an interest in showing my work along with a sculptor. I immediately responded to the email and went to speak to her in person. She was enthusiastic about displaying my work. I was surprised to find that I was not in the little gallery upstairs, but had the entire downstairs gallery available to me.
Unlike previous exhibits, there would be no fee. The museum would hang the work, have events for the public, organize an opening, and all the promotion would be done by them. In addition, the exhibit would be up from December through February. I would be submitting double the number of pieces from my previous two exhibits.
I was very excited, but the timeline was tight. During the month of November I would be gone to a workshop for the first week. After coming home for five days, I was leaving for a 12 day trip. In addition, there was the Thanksgiving holiday. Luckily for me I had those two other exhibits so a great deal of my work was ready. I also had the advantage of artist statements for each piece that were already on my computer and ready to go. It was challenging, but I did it.
The opening night of the exhibition included a youth orchestra and choir featuring Holiday music The museum was packed with people. I met city council members, the chairman of Museums board, and other community big wigs. Serendipity once again, played a role in making this a really wonderful experience. A beautiful setting, lots of people, and my work, finally in a place where it deserves to be.
Serendipity is really when good things happen that you don’t expect. In this case, I didn’t expect to get an exhibit at a museum that I hadn’t sought out. What I did in 2023 was to take some risks. I kept trying until serendipity arrived and gave me what I didn’t know I was looking for.