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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Saturday, September 18, 2021
  studio clear-out

It's been months since my last post, much longer than I have ever paused this blog. But in June, when I would normally have been writing something new, I was in the early stages of a huge project that occupied my whole summer and then some. That's when my husband Don and I began clearing out the house in Wisconsin that was our home for 43 years in order to move permanently to New Mexico. For me, emptying my studio there was the most enormous task of all--a large space  packed with the remains of over three decades of use. 

my studio at the beginning of the clearing out...

As I tackled every corner and shelf I was amazed at what I had accumulated over the years. Apparently I never met a piece of cardboard I could part with, nor any old paint-encrusted tool, odd sized pane of glass or scrap of foam core. There were piles of old panels with bolt holes drilled in the sides from my era of multiple panel paintings and a big stack of demo boards from years of teaching workshops. An old couch, shelves, and lots of small tables and carts had to go. There were boxes of dried up paints, dozens of old cans and other "useful" containers, nature collections of rocks, bones, and shells (these went into the garden), and more pads of drawing paper than I could use in my remaining lifetime. Usable and nontoxic art supplies went to my friend Paula who teaches kids' art classes and other items that had some value found homes with local art friends.  

Of course, all of the above was simply the materials, furniture, and general detritus of studio life--not fun to deal with, but fairly routine once I got into it. The real challenge was what to do with decades of artwork, some of it large and cumbersome, and most of it no more recent than about 2017. I had a flat-file stuffed with works on paper, and shelves of paintings that had come back to me from galleries or had never even been exhibited. Overall there were hundreds of works of art from all stages of my career, and even some things from childhood. 

A pen and ink drawing done in my early 20s

It was hard to know where to begin with all of this, and I was very grateful to the friends who pitched in to help me when I was overwhelmed. Although I did hit some snags of indecision, the basic strategy of three categories promoted by decluttering experts worked well--things to sell/donate, things to trash, and things to keep. The simplicity of these three categories was helpful in making decisions and I'd suggest them for anyone else facing a studio clear out. (Noticeably absent is a category for "I'm not sure...I'll deal with it later". Of course, there was some of that but I did try to make decisions in the moment and stick with them.) 

Here is how it worked for me: 

What I sold: Thankfully, I sold a lot of work--to friends, to people who came to my studio, and to people who bought online (I ran a successful virtual sale using my public page on Artwork Archive--there are still some available pieces listed there.) My local gallery was very generous in promoting my older work and with excellent results. I sold the really old work at a deep discount, and the more recent (but still older) work at 40-60% off. Although I am not crazy about selling my own work in person --for me it can be awkward and stressful--I did have some great experiences with both new and old collectors. The amounts of sales ranged widely--from a major purchase by a couple who drove all the way from Chicago, and several large pieces shipped to online buyers, to many smaller pieces on paper and panel. The payment for one of my college paintings (yes, I kept some of those!) was a large bag of frozen panfish caught by a sweet single dad and his kids. We ate a lot of fish for the rest of the summer!

my studio sale

What I donated/gave away: One of the first things I did to clear some space in the studio was donate three large paintings to the local branch of Mayo Hospital where they were installed in a waiting room. My son Ross and his wife Kara took at least a dozen things for their new home, and other paintings and works on paper went to friends. I also set out a pile of drawings and prints that studio visitors could take, and the remainder of those quickly disappeared when I dropped them off at a local studio warehouse building.  One night I brought some framed works on paper to a gathering of some friends and distributed them from the back of my car as darkness fell. When my friends had made their choices, there were a few old monotypes from my grad school years left. A neighbor guy came over who turned out to be the exact right person to claim those rather strange, surreal prints. I hope he liked them as much in the daylight! I left several large paintings from the same era for the guy who bought our house, after he admired them.

I enjoyed giving these things away. It was practical to do so in that I couldn't deal with pricing everything I had in the studio, or expect to sell it all. But it also felt good to give freely, to spread my work around and to experience the gratitude for the gifts.

paintings installed at Mayo Hospital, Eau Claire WI

 What I trashed: From the beginning I knew there were pieces that had little value, even as give-aways. And there were some pieces, such as some very large old charcoal and pastel drawings, that were simply too hard to deal with. I also had unfinished work and works on paper that had been damaged by mice or mold (my studio suffered from both.) In the beginning of the summer I imagined a ritual bonfire fueled by everything I couldn't sell, give away, or keep. But in the end, it was much easier to get rid of things as I went along. I ripped up works on paper on the spot to keep prevent any second-guessing, and periodically tossed paintings into the big bin where I could not retrieve them. One day I happened to be near the dumpster when they came to empty it, and I watched as a small painting I'd thrown out slid into the back of the truck. For a moment I wanted to rescue it, but like so many other possessions over the summer, I let it go.

 What I kept: Selling/donating and trashing took care of a lot of my old inventory, but nevertheless I filled most of a small U- Haul trailer and the back of my car with paintings and other work to bring back to New Mexico. This was all work that I knew had value and hope to find homes for in the future. It's currently taking up space in my New Mexico studio but there are plans to build a storage area in the near future, and it will also be for sale at the annual Dixon Studio Tour. (For anyone local reading this, the Tour --in person--is November 6-7 this year, and if you want to preview at my studio, just email me at crowellart@yahoo.com.)

From comments made when I shared my experiences on social media and with friends over the summer, I know how common the need is to clear out a studio. Many other artists have either faced or anticipate facing similar downsizing in the future. For lots of people, this is something to dread and avoid. It took me over thirty years to deal with the task, and then only because we were selling our property. But from the other side of the process, I can say it was all worthwhile. 

I'm also resolving to prevent such accumulation in the future. Every year, the artist Agnes Martin's would destroy any work that did not meet her high standards. While I don't think I can be quite that resolute, it's something to think about...
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       Rebecca Crowell