Throughout my short lived life of gainful employment, I always had a knack for literally falling into good jobs. I tripped on the door step of Royals Stadium when I was interviewing for a hot dog sales position, nearly fell into a secretary when I started working at a computer company, and remember doing the same a few years earlier when I had just finished my first year of art school. I answered an ad for a warehouse position at a company that mysteriously used ‘Oil Paintings’ in its company’s title.
This company was a large warehouse chock full of hand painted oil paintings. Stacked in rows and columns, every square inch was full of decorative oil paintings. Seascapes, landscapes, still lifes, portraits of girls holding white curly haired poodles. If it fit in a frame and could be sold, there was no doubt the painting existed under this roof. Literally, within an hour of starting my job stretching rolls of painted canvases onto stretcher bars, I received a promotion and a raise. My new task was to touch up the corners of paintings damaged in the multiple trips from warehouse to gallery. A touch of sky blue, some burnt umber here, sap green there and everything was back to new.
That first summer, with my mind still reeling from the information my freshman year filled my head with, I touched up over 10,000 paintings. Ten thousand.
I would return to work there on Christmas breaks and the following summers away from Kansas City. As I sat in front of the repetitive parade of seasonal seascapes (complete with sea oats!), I couldn’t help but wonder about the Asian folks who sat on the other side of the world painting these hand painted oil paintings. Did one man paint all the skies while another added the trees? Was there a specialist who painted all the hands wrong in each portrait? Did they have to paint 10,000 paintings every summer as well? For over five years, these were questions that plagued my mind while mixing and matching colors and being entertained by the constant Doors and Pink Floyd soundtrack playing over and over from the stretching room next door.
The answer came to me last month while deleting the mountain of spam mail I receive on a daily basis. The spam email was sent from ‘Oil Painting’ and had a subject referring to wholesale framed art. Normally I delete these right away, but sensing something more, I clicked on through. And low and behold! The mystery that plagues me since the summer of 1994 – a thirteen year mystery – was solved!
The email led to a site featuring many, but not nearly all, of the works that I touched up all those years ago. And the best part – pictures of the people doing the painting, almost exactly how I imagined it! Chinamen and women painting on long boards in rows, with finished pieces hanging as an example to copy. There’s pictures of them topless – showing the heat and humidity- the rolls of canvases that I would witness being delivered every day.
I fell over when such a gigantic piece of the puzzle fell into my lap like this. Every time I see one of the paintings I touch up, see a late night ad for those starving artist sales at a hotel for the weekend, or hear from a friend people are buying them, it tears me up inside. But look at all the people this little racket is keeping employed.