After a bit of conversational questioning and general Iron Range nosiness, I found out that he refers to the current recession as the Depression and doesn’t believe it is actually merely a recession. I also saw that he had the correct maps and a smartphone. He claimed he had a satellite emergency notification system (like a Spot), a GPS and plenty of food tucked in that pack. He sounded sensible, not overly certain, and quite capable. It was after all that when I found out he was a civil engineer by trade.
I mentioned that “my walk across the country” was in that canoe resting upright on sawhorses before him. I explained that with the depression and increased competition for even less discretionary dollars, retail business slowed down in our store so dramatically that starting last June I fell back to my one ability that nobody can take from me. That would be my ability to paint. I pointed to my painted canoe and told him that the silver lining in terrible business is that I was afforded the time and opportunity to do something really different and The Painted Canoe of Ely was born. For just over two months and almost 400 hours of work, I painted this aluminum canoe with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness -past and present- to the best of my ability to make something unique to Ely that hopefully people would travel to see. It became my obsession, my Sistine Chapel. And while Michelangelo easily runs astronomically large circles around me artistically (it’s really close to zero comparison), he never painted a canoe.
I told the hiker that this was the very first thing I ever painted in my life in which my end goal was not to sell it. I’ve pretty much sold every piece that I ever painted, but this canoe was different for me. I was very happy that I was actually able to do this and am quite content with the outcome.
He walked around the canoe, pausing and bending to examine the detail of the various scenes as they changed along the freeboard. He mentioned the 3D effect that some of the trees had along with the depth of the images. I attributed that particular effect to painting on aluminum. Painting on aluminum offers a visual presentation that stretched canvas won’t touch, I explained. I can’t quite figure out why, but it just does, and I really like it. He appeared to like it as well.
He then asked if he could snap a few photos and wanted me to stand alongside the canoe for one of them. He said that he would never have guessed that walking for hundreds of miles and a chance following of a dirt road would lead him to see something like this work of art out in the woods. He seemed glad that destiny led him down this path and added that he was sure blessed to be walking across the country like this because this life experience was one that he couldn’t even imagine prior to actually doing it. I offered that one just doesn’t get to find the great things and people he’s found/met while traveling in a car. He agreed.
With that, he shook my hand, looked one more time at the canoe and told me that I’ve “certainly made a lot of lemonade” and continued on his way.
May his journey continue to be safe and worthwhile. It was an interesting mid-day for me.