Bridgette Mongeon © 2005
It is interesting how inanimate objects and memories of them can reflect the changes that have happened in your life. Finding and having a place to create is imperative to all artists.
There comes a point, especially for a sculptor, when having space outside of your home is not only needed, it is necessary. This was first displayed to me many years ago when I tried to pour a terracotta slip mold in my formal living room that was then dubbed “studio space.” My daughter was all of six or seven at the time. First, let me explain that slip has the consistency of cake batter. This is poured very carefully into a heavy, multiple piece, plaster mold that is securely fastened with rubber bands or straps. The operable word is securely fastened. It was my first time pouring a slip mold, and those straps were not as secure as I would have liked them to be. Brown slip came gushing out of the unsecured crevices, pouring all over the hardwood floor. My daughter looked on in horror as she tried desperately to help me collect what had come out. Both of us were laughing, our hands caked with the batter. I seem to remember that somehow brown splatters ended up on the cream-colored drapes and walls. When it was all done, my daughter in her incredible childlike wisdom that would often blow me away said, “Momma, this seems like something you should pay someone else to do.”
The demise of hardwood floors and drapes were not the only thing that suffered from my lack of an appropriate space. I’ll never forget taking the fax machine in to be repaired. It seemed extremely temperamental and was always breaking down. The service man opened her up and replied, “Lady what are you faxing through here anyway? There is a terracotta dust everywhere.”
It was over 15 years ago that I drove through the Heights area searching for studio space. I would look at old buildings like most women my age would look at a potential boyfriend. My heart would beat a little faster; my gaze would be with longing and desire. I had to be close, see all there was, explore all possibilities of developing a long-term relationship.
I examined many buildings. The old house that used to stand behind the paper mill and the seed bins on Montrose. It was torn down years ago. I examined the clock tower behind Fiesta and the second floor of what was then Grace Equipment. It was an enormous space and a little creepy. Oh, that time of searching was filled with a lot of fence hopping and pleading for audience with property owners.
It was my good friend Harry Shepherd that led me to my present landlord. Apparently both the landlord and I had a fondness for jazz and for Harry’s awesome playing. My landlord Don Shaw was a long time painter and artist of Houston, and he told me about the studio space. It had been his painting studio for years. I could not wait to see a space that might be called my own.
The old shotgun house sat back within the property; no curtains were on the windows, and I could get a good glimpse of the potential space. The fenced yard housed two large oaks that seemed to nestle over the building like a mother bird’s wings over her young. The yard looked ominous with abstract sculptures and found items strategically spread about. Standing along the back fence was a wooden cutout of a figure with what looked like matted hair blowing in the wind. There are also large sharp metal sculptures with piercing pieces threaded through them; these sculptures have a foreboding look of teeth. All of the yard art seem to keep intruders away. People seem to have both an intrigue and a fear of the property.
I was glad to move in to the place and call it my own.
All those years ago, the studio seemed so big, and my daughter seemed so small. I painted the kitchen a salmon color with teal accents and had Christina paint her small palm print and stamp the wall and the door. Intentional drips of alternating colors fell from her delicate little hand.
Chris’ handprints were not the only ones in the studio. Any visitor that I could entice marked the bathroom door; the palm print was always accompanied by a personal signature and message, “May all your dreams come true, let your heart soar, here is to making money with your art” and many more.
So many memories happened at that studio. My daughter would come there with me late at night, shower in the shower, and take a nap on the cot in the kitchen while momma worked. Often we would have First Thursday Art shows always accompanied by a creative endeavor, a creative event that all attendees could participate in. For one show there was “shoot the sheet.” All participants would shoot the hanging sheet with water pistols filled with fabric dye. For another event there were the sculptures of found yard objects. There were paper airplanes at yet another event, and there is still a paper airplane caught in the rafters from that escapade. The mud pie contest never went over big. I was surprised at how many people do not like to get their hands dirty, but there were a few strong contenders for first prize.
There were visiting artists at each show, usually painters that would hang their work on the back wall. Each of us would invite our own set of friends and pitch in for the wine and cheese. My daughter would dutifully monitor the serving table, great hostess that she is.
I think everyone’s favorite event was the upside down Christmas party. Each year I would hang a Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling of the studio. It was strung with lights and the tree skirt was tacked to the ceiling. Every person coming to that art show was asked to hang an ornament on the tree, but it had to be something that was on their person or in their car. Amazingly, we have quite a few Halloween decorations on the Christmas tree. Each year I saved the ones from the year before, except for the few pieces of paper money that were folded into origami patterns. They made a wonderful decoration, but I admit that they were also appreciated for the financial worth by a single mom who was an artist trying to make ends meet.
I have met incredible people at 1048, the relationship of students that would take several articles to report. There were also multiple interviews with reporters. I’ll never forget the day that PBS did the special about me back in 1990. Producer Manny Santos went to all lengths to get exactly what he wanted. He even brought in a smoke machine to give some mystery to the sculptures. The studio was so filled with smoke that we had to exit the building for air as we watched the billowing smoke gush out the door and up to the mothering trees. The special effects apparently worked, for that artist documentary won an award for PBS and Manny Santos.
My dogs, Emmy and Chas, often came with me to the studio. It was a welcome play date for the current neighboring dog that shared the property with their master and myself. There were several of those dogs. Maggie, a black chow, was a fence hopper nothing we could do could stop her. Maggie seemed to come with the property, being adopted by the Mike when the prior neighbors moved out. She is gone, but there is a wonderful marker created by artist Mike Robins in her memory. There was also Nina, a chocolate lab, weimaraner mix. Though she and her master have moved, we still get to see them both and often baby-sit for Nina whenever possible. Then there was Max, a stately black lab, who I am told has a wonderful new home in the country. He too was another fence hopper. Presently it is Coffee, a chow and Violet who is a mutt.
My work has changed, as have the years. My sculptures have gotten larger, and I am happy to say in more demand. The studio has served me well, though it has grown weary with its age, and the dampness seems to affect us both. It now goes the way of the rest of 25th and the Heights. It will soon be scheduled for demolition. Torn down for newer homes. I have watched the back hoes come through tearing down everything in sight, snapping trees like toothpicks and pulling them up from their roots. All in the name of progress. I do hope they save the oak trees at 1048; they must be over 100 years old. It is one thing to move away from a place and be able to come back to it. It is an entirely different thing to see it demolished. I’m sad to see it go. When I move, I will take a few things. I plan on cutting my daughters palm prints out of the sheet rock, taking the hand print door, and keeping Maggie’s memorial.
As sad as change can be, it can also be good. Since that first day of moving in nearly 15 years ago the studio has grown increasingly smaller, and my daughter has grown into a woman. I’m planning my new space and happy to report that there is plenty of work that is already contracted to be created in the space. Remember that six year old little girl who napped and created and played hostess? Her wedding is scheduled for 2007, and I know that not long after that I’ll have other children, grandchildren to entertain and create with in my new studio space.
The space at 1048 West 25th has always been about creating art. I am very blessed to have had it. It is, however, amazing to think of the many, many memories that were also created along the way.
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