Lady in the Red Tin

The Collector: Lady in a Red Tin with Sea Shells – oil on wood 5″ x 5″

The red tin held my collection of seashells.  By fourth grade the tin was filled to the top with small shells, strips of broken shells I had used to draw with in the wet sand and a few pieces of glass tumbled smooth by the waves.  My first lesson in collecting came when I could no longer close the hinged lid of the tin.  I had to make choices, either expand to another container or eliminate older treasures to make room for new ones.

Having more than one tin presented me with the burden of deciding which shells would live in my favorite tin and which would live in a new tin.  I lost sleep thinking that the shells in the new tin would think I loved them less than the shells in the red tin.  I decided to stick to the red tin and exchange new for old when necessary.  The eliminated shells relocated to the garden or in the nearby woods.  I wonder how many shells were discovered by curious explorers who might ponder over how a shell ended up beneath a pine tree, beside a Jack-in-the-pulpit or atop a mound of moss.

In my twenties, larger shells began to replace the smaller shells.  My first series of paintings depicted selected shells from my collection.  I’ve only had one painting stolen from a public place and it was one from that first series of shell paintings.  It was stolen from an exquisite French restaurant in Boston where I occasionally helped out as a waitress.

Recently, when I decided to paint little color studies, I gathered together some of the things I’ve carted around with me since childhood.  I felt that painting such things that I am clearly attached to would make still life painting more bearable.  The red tin quickly moved to the top in the queue of objects waiting to be painted.

Among the shells lay a tiny, porcelain lady wearing a cloche hat and leaning on a cane.  She was covered in dirt, probably left over from her last shell collecting expedition.  I don’t remember where she came from or when she started living in the red tin.  She obviously has been the keeper of the tin for quite some time and I can’t resist allowing her to keep her position as long as I am alive.  The shells will continue to change, but the lady will remain.

I gave her a good washing before I painted her.  The bath was long overdue.