On the phone the woman said that the people at the Potters’ Guild had told her that she should probably call me, that I might be able to help her.
“With what?” I asked her.
“I want to make some ethnic dolls. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with the bodies or clothes. The clothes are what I’m most interested in, but I want to be able to make the complete dolls. It’s the heads I’m calling you about. Do you know anybody who can teach me to make the heads?”
“Not offhand,” I said. “Why don’t you go on the Internet? I’m sure you can find what you are looking for.”
“I want to make them myself.”
“Try Clay Works,” I suggested. I looked up their phone number and gave it to her. She thanked me.
A day went by and she called me again. “They said I should call you.”
I was flattered and mystified. I suppose my reputation, such and limited as it was, was for making unusual things.
“Would you please help me? It would mean a lot.”
I was very busy. I do not exaggerate. I had two large, for me, commissions going, both with about the same deadline. I had a sculptural show to do for the Columbia Festival of the Arts for which I had enlisted 10 other artists; we would be hanging about 6o pieces- yet to be made- on venetian blinds- both sides- instead of canvasses. And I was making one of the so-called “Fish Out of Water” in which each artist is given a six foot fiberglass fish to make of what he or she would. My design had been approved and I would be paid $1000 to finish and deliver it. It was to be called “Penny”. Its scales were about 3500 pennies I had put on a railroad track to flatten. The fins, head and tail were made of several kinds of copper.
I tried to explain to her what she would likely have to do to get what she wanted, to walk her through the steps. Porcelain would be the best clay for the job. She could buy that and the tools she would need at the Clay Works store. I told her they would help her pick out her tools and would more than likely fire the heads for her. “What’s that?,” she asked.
I realized that this was a hopeless task. So, I advised her to take a class at Clay Works and learn how to do it there. She said she would try that out.
Next day she called me again. “Would you please teach me? I can’t afford a class.”
“I’d have to charge you.”
“How about an exchange, barter?”
“I could use some help. I’m snowed under. What can you do?”
“Whatever you need me to do. Housework. Anything.”
The work I was doing on both projects was very precise, but much of it was repetitive. “I suppose I could give you a try for a couple of days, but I can’t promise anything. If it doesn’t work out we’d have to end it. And I can’t do any work on your doll heads until my jobs are done. Then I can teach you and not before. Is that understood?’
“Yes. Thank you.”
We made an appointment for her to come by the following morning.
It’s funny how you can never picture what a person looks like by their voice. I was not prepared for the woman who came to my door.
She had a pretty enough face, but she was the size of a Volkswagen. The two of us could not have passed side by side through any doorway in my house. Her voice was small and sweet. I was a little shaken, but did my best not to show it.
I began to give her a run-through of what was in the works. The Venetian blinds required hand lettering and drawing on self adhesive strips, which I had to do. The strips then had to be cut with scissors to a uniform width, the backing peeled off and then they were to be pressed firmly onto the slats of the blinds in absolutely uniform rows. I asked her if she could do that and she said yes.
I had the fish hanging by the lips from the ceiling in the next room. I had punched holes in most of the pennies. Their arrangement on the sides of the fish had to be perfect. Starting from the tail and conforming realistically to the contours of the body a hole was drilled through the hole in each penny into its exact place on the body. Then a dab of epoxy was applied from the back and a small flat head nail was pushed through both holes to hold each penny in place until the epoxy hardened.
I figured I could start her on the blinds, which was safer, but could possibly work side by side with her later attaching pennies to the fish.
I’d have to keep a close eye on her work. My middle name is perfection.
Her husband had dropped her off on his way to work. He was a guard at a local penitentiary. She asked if he could come in and meet me the next morning. I said sure. They were a matching pair. He was a large as she was, but taller. She asked if it would be alright if he brought their son by the following morning. I agreed. Genetics have a way with offspring. This kid was world class large. Notice, please, that the word fat nowhere appears on these pages. I have learned political correctness by never again congratulating any women on their forthcoming blessed event.
By maintaining constant vigilance I managed to get some creditable work out of her, but it made me very nervous. I was feeling the stress of knowing I not only could not leave her untended, but that I could have gotten just as much finished work done alone. She was not really helping me, only putting the pressure on. And that I didn’t need.
She was nice enough, but there were undercurrents that made me uneasy. I dared not guess what they were. She brought me food, much of it dessert. It was all good, nothing I would want to turn down. She liked to talk, wanted to, did. She was working on a table in the office, the front room. I was working in the middle room, the studio, except when I was checking on her progress. It seemed that she went from adequate to slow to slower. We hadn’t discussed the doll heads since the first day. Tension mounted.
She got to visiting me more or more often where I was working. Then on probably the fourth day she came in and leaned sultrily against the wall next to the doorway. I knew what was coming. I didn’t want to, but I did.
“You know,” she said, “they say if you ever try chocolate, you’ll never go back to vanilla again.”
“They say that, uh?”
“Yup. What kind of women do you prefer?”
Putting my life in my tongue, I replied, “Skinny women.”
Which was the truth.
®Copyright 2015 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.