Clearing Out an Artist’s Studio
Clearing out an artist’s studio is a challenge that only those in an identical situation can understand. We purchased a new home 6 months before my wife died, and the purchase/move was primarily to get her into a newer, better suited studio space. She had just completed a 6 month chemotherapy program and was really dragged out and weak, so I assumed the task of moving and resetting her studio.
Unfortunately, she really never got the chance to use it, as her cancer recurrence was quick and she became bed-ridden for three months prior to her passing. So, after she left us, I was immediately faced with the complexities of dismantling her studio and finding a new home for so much of her material and equipment. Many, many of her friends were aghast that we began to disassemble the studio so quickly, but as I explained to them, I had no desire to make a memorial space in the house. I wrote the following note and posted it on social media:
I’ve been a little surprised by the reaction of so many folks when they see that we’re in the beginning stages of breaking down Bunny’s studio. “Don’t do anything too quickly”, “take your time”, “don’t do something you’ll regret”… all good advice offered by kindly folks who, based on everything I know, only have our best interests at heart. That said, I thought a little background might help to clarify my position on the matter.
September 12, 1981 was the date of my very first “craft” show with Bunny. It was in Chester, NJ, an annual event that, to the best of my knowledge, is still running each year. I knew nothing … absolutely nothing … about craft shows, or exhibiting at craft shows, or for that matter, selling crafty stuff. But I did know that the pretty woman who I was (by then) living with wanted to do the show, so I said “sure, I’ll go with you” ….
For reference, Bunny officially moved in with me July 1, 1981, mostly because that was the end of her lease on her own apartment and by then she was pretty much staying with me all of the time anyhow. At that point we had known each other less than 1 month. I was living in a 2nd story apartment in Stanhope, NJ, directly next door to the Stanhope House, a big rock club at that time. The place was a big shit hole, but it was cheap and large, so when Bunny wanted to move in I said “sure, let’s do that” ….
I had no idea that, within 2-3 days, anything that resembled clear space in that apartment was going to be filled with an over-whelming assortment of “crafty” stuff. I kid you not, I think I’m still handling some of that crap as I go through her studio. Every inch of space was taken over by “stuff” … flowers, fabrics, glues, sewing machines, boxes, buttons, frames, hot glue guns … this list can go on forever. Now, even though we had been living together, more or less, for the past few weeks prior to what I now call “the Occupation”, I didn’t know about this stuff. Bunny said to me, “can we move this chair away from the window so I can put a work table here? The lighting is so much better” … I said, “sure, no problem” …
In the weeks prior to the Chester Craft show I got my first glimpse of Bunny’s work ethic … 3 am wake up because she just thought of an idea, or walking away from the table in the middle of a meal because she just realized how to solve some type of problem she had been having, sitting on the floor with a set of HUGE headphones listening to some type of disco-ish foolishness (Lipps, Inc was a big favorite of hers) instead of getting ready to go out somewhere & dancing/wiggling in the seated position while she created something great … I had never met anyone so fixated on their artwork before. Many, many times I had to remind her to “eat something, just stop working for a minute and eat something”
And magically, this beautiful thing would appear. “Whaddya think?” she would ask me as she showed me her newest idea. Did I tell you yet that I knew nothing about arts & crafts? I, of course, said it looked great … at first, because this really pretty woman had agreed to move in with me so I wasn’t taking any chances, but after just a short while I began to see that the “stuff” that had taken over my living space was being turned into actual art. And, sitting in the Chester Craft Show as a first-time-ever exhibitor, I began to see that folks would pay money for this artwork. Real, honest-to-goodness money.
Sitting in that hippy wonderland in Chester in 1981, with all sorts of trippy artists around us, I realized that I had stumbled onto a perfect combination for a life partner … creative, smart (waayyy smarter than me), personable, pretty AND making cash money! I really don’t remember exactly how much money she made that weekend in Chester, NJ (I want to say it was probably around $700), but I do remember it was surely a whole lot of money to me at the time! We were so broke that we could hardly pay the $250 a month rent on the next-to-the-Stanhope-House-shit-hole, so believe me, that $700 or so was big money! I was an instant supporter of the arts! Keep on selling honey, keep on selling …
Of course, not every show was a winner, in fact, many were not. But Bunny kept going and trying and creating for all of our years together. There were times, many times, that her income really pulled us out of a bad spot. But by then we were a team, and her “stuff” was now “our stuff”, and we worked side-by-side to make the best life possible for ourselves.
So, when I look at “our” stuff in Bunny’s studio and storage areas, I don’t need to memorialize it or turn it into some monument to her greatness … it’s just stuff, not unlike everyone else’s stuff that does this for a career or a hobby. Nothing magical to it at all, the magic lives in the artist, not in the stuff. The picture attached here is a simple piece of fabric turned inside out with a small doll body stitched on it, not yet cut out or turned. It sits on the arm of Bunny’s favorite chair, where she could cut and stuff and talk and watch TV with enough room for a dog to sit next to her (dog in pic included for context). That little piece of fabric contains the very being that is Bunny to me. A piece of her creative process, a piece of her soul being turned into something so wonderful that someone, somewhere would have paid good cash money for it.
You can have all of that “stuff” in the studio, I’ll keep the piece of fabric right where it is, thanks. And folks who get to sit in that chair will get to touch that piece of fabric, in turn touching a piece of Bunny’s soul. You all can have the stuff, I won’t miss it one bit. I’ll just sit here and think about my piece of fabric, “sure, I’ll keep this” …