I was in need of a feel good story after a long week of work. I found it just down the road from my house.
A couple of miles west at the intersection of Stage Gulch Road and Abode Road (yeah, we live in the no longer so wild West) is an 18 wheel tractor trailer sitting on a totally unused piece of land. It is adorned with paintings of Victorian era woman and the legend “Sandra’s Art Gallery”.
Now at first when the trailer first showed up I thought it was one of those roadside stands selling assembly line made in China “art” that is sold not by the artistic value but by the foot. It turns out Sandra’s Art Gallery is far from that.
The mobile gallery is the project of Richard and Sandra Satule, a couple of Lithuanian emigrees. Sandra is a visual artist. She lives to paint says her husband. And the pair were making a decent living selling her artwork and those of other local artists in their brick and mortar store in the town of Redding.
That is until their house burned down in one of those increasingly common wildfires we have in these parts that apparently Joe Manchin has finally realized might be connected to climate change.
Sorry, meant to keep this non-political.
Richard and Sandra bought a new house.
Before we bought it, I asked people if there have ever been fires there, near our second house, and people said not for the last 200 years. So we bought the house and five weeks later it was gone.
Gone as in another wildfire. Two houses burnt to the ground in less than two years. Not for nothing, but I wouldn’t want to be standing next to these guys in a thunderstorm.
Sandra went into a deep depression. Painting stopped. Life stopped. The idea of buying another house was too off putting to even consider. So Richard did the only thing he could think to do with the insurance money from the second fire.
He bought a boat.
Then he bought the tractor trailer. The one that’s now parked at the corner of Stage Gulch and Adobe Roads. And he announced to Sandra that he was going to turn it into a mobile art gallery for her to sell her work.
I’m sure she probably stared at her husband like he was a crazy man. But you know, the thing about marriage is that after a while when one or the other of you has a nutty idea the other one realizes they can turn tail and run or get to work making this crazy idea a reality.
She got to work. The task of having to fill this 48 foot behemoth with art had her painting ten hours a day seven days a week. And when she wasn’t painting she was making stuffed animals, other toys, and crafts. That was enough to get her out of her depression.
She turned into the anti-Marie Kondo. Filling the space sparked joy.
Meanwhile Richard readied the rig and found a spot to park it, at least for the foreseeable future. When there was enough product to open the doors, well, door, he lowered the gate, put out the signs, and got to work selling art.
Well selling might be too strong a word. Some days he would have one person stop by, sometimes none. The biggest day was ten visitors. Did they buy? Eh, not so much. It was more of a true roadside attraction. They don’t even have a website for it. Stop in and buy or pass on by. Old school.
I kind of admire that. The pair have turned the not so mobile art gallery into an art piece in and of itself. The art inside? It’s not bad, not exactly my taste but I’m sure it would scratch an artistic itch in many people the same way the late Margaret Keane‘s Big Eyes paintings did.
For me, it’s just a weird wonderful monument to love and commitment and not allowing the troubles the world heaps upon you to keep you down. It would have been easy after fire destroys your house not once but twice to just walk away, stop creating, stop finding a way to make a living from those creations, but the Satules instead found another outlet for their creativities. Because of that the community now has a new wonder, a new roadside attraction.
As someone once said, ain’t nothing wrong with that.
We’ll go out celebrating another creative return to action. Joni Mitchell did her first full set in 20 years last week at the Newport Folk Festival. Here she sings of the confluence of art and commerce.