Land of Opportunity

Brian J. Sullivan

The intense heat felt near the edge of the fire pit drops off sharply several feet away. The once roaring fire has all but gone out with the last departing person. Now, only white ash and embers glow brightly in the crisp night air. Occasionally a pop, followed by a hissing sound, bursts forth, caused by the release of any remaining moisture within the wood fibers. Smoke, in wispy blue-grey patterns rises upward, then stretches out horizontally just below the tree tops, signifying another day has concluded.

Some came in search of fame, some in search of great wealth. All wanted to go home with more in their pockets than they came with. Very few would.

The sun had not yet risen, yet they came in single file like ants winding their way along a narrow asphalt path. Vehicle headlights dimly illuminated a small area in front of and off to each side of the otherwise impenetrable darkness of the park. In some areas, stagnant water filled the drainage ditch which ran alongside the rough road. Occasionally the small red glow of an animal's eye could be spotted before it scurried away.

New York, Arizona, Florida, California, and more, were some of the license plates entering the park. Some pulled small cargo trailers, white and cube-like. Others came in 1970s-style vans, paint faded, rusted, and with more than a few dents. Cracks ran across their windshields, radio antennas were broken, and front headlights were held in place by duct tape. Cars too were in the procession, some with wire display panels precariously strapped two and a half feet high on top of their roofs. Aerodynamic they were not! Still others pulled self-contained RV trailers and planned on camping out in the back parking lot. Occasionally a large motor home bus towing a full-size Chevy extended cargo van tried to negotiate the tight turns required to get to the setup area. These rock star-size buses were owned by seasoned professionals who knew their market, knew what their clients wanted, and delivered their merchandise with unemotional business acumen. They could afford the best locations and always had a corner spot with a double wide tent. They loved making money more than making art. They had the system figured out. They lived in the motor home and stored all the art fair materials such as the tents, panels, merchandise, carpet, and chairs in the trailing van.

Mid-July's temperature was beastly hot and humid. It was only 8:30 am and already sweat dripped from my arms and face in an attempt to cool my skin. My clothes were soaked through to my underwear. The sun shone brightly with blinding intensity, making a hat and sunglasses a necessity. This was the Deep South. The art fair was located in a city park with areas of magnificent old-growth conifer trees whose height was well over 100 feet. Between their branches, glimpses of sunlight shown through to create light dapple patterns on the grass, much like the soft focus of an impressionist painting. Mosquitoes and biting gnats buzzed around one's person in an annoying persistence, trying to land at any opportunity.

They were an eclectic group: young, old, married, single, gay, American, Chinese, and Hispanic. And their art was just as varied as they were.

First timers, using flimsy pop-up tents with homemade walls of pegboard, were setting up next to the seasoned show veteran with his $10,000 custom made display with built-in track lighting. This was a fair and open market, so all had an equal chance. But some had slanted the odds in their favor. An old hippie with long hair and a scraggly beard cared less about his display than the integrity of his ceramics and the process by which he lovingly hand made each piece, fired in an oak wood burning kiln. Some artists, idealists (a category in which I place myself), were more interested in the expression of the art, the message, and the ability to make a statement or cause a reaction than in actually selling anything.

Large logs begin to catch on fire as the kindling of much smaller ones helps ignite them. We assemble around the fire, not so much for warmth as for camaraderie, like some ancient tribal ritual. Some discuss the day's activities, others, politics. Some offer sage advice to be taken with a grain of salt. Still others talk of offering up the sacrificial virgin all in hopes of greater sales tomorrow. What else could we do? This was all we knew how to do.