There’s a little farmer’s market on Saturdays in Jacksonville Beach, and I like to go there after my workout. There’s a guy who sells fresh kombucha, which I’ve decided helps me recover from whatever madness we’ve been browbeat into doing at the gym. 100 lunges! 100 burpees! Run a half-mile! It’s like the coaches think we have nothing to do for the rest of the day.
It’s a pleasant habit, this wandering around among families and happy people. I often buy some toothpaste tablets and bamboo toothbrushes from the eco-hippie-sustainable woman, and fresh veggies from the farmer. Sometimes the farmer has speckled butter beans and I always get a bag because they remind me of my mother, who loves them, and because it gives me the Caroline Ingalls feels I’m always chasing.
A couple of weeks ago, I stopped to look in an artist’s tent. I had noticed the tent before, but not really paid attention because it’s usually set up across from the orchid man and I was always staring at the orchids. Now that I’m into houseplants, I’m tempted to introduce an orchid into the family, but I’m scared of killing it.
Anyway, on that Saturday, I noticed this tent and this man and his art. It was an eclectic display – he had some odd wooden chairs he had assembled and painted, and a few wooden signs containing various messages. But he also had some paintings of trees. You know I love trees.
One of the paintings called out to me. It kind of stunned me. It was arresting, at least to me. Dark branches against a gray sky background, yellow and white flowers bursting into bloom. It attracted me the way great art can transport a person. I told the artist how beautiful it was. “How much is it?” I asked the man.
“Twenty dollars,” he said, smiling. My heart kind of jiggled – I was excited because I knew I would buy it, but it bothered me, too, that this art was so cheap.
He had a sign I liked as well – it was a rectangular piece of wood with the words “I <3 my” followed by the silhouette of a schnauzer. That was for a friend who had a schnauzer. He said the sign was $10.
I asked him if he would take $27 for both pieces, and was ashamed of myself as soon as the words left my mouth. “Never mind,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m sorry.” I bought the painting and sign for $30 and thanked him. He gave me his card. His painting was signed by Coy Hall, and the card read Lulu’s Folk Art.
I went home and hung the painting where I can see it many times a day. If I turn my head, I can see it now.
All week I thought about Coy Hall. I Googled him and found another Coy Hall, a writer specializing in a weird sub-genre of books – literary horror with a Western theme.
I also thought about art. I have a diverse collection of art – some folk art, some photographs I’ve taken, some sculpture and pottery. I have a (kinda) rare Audubon print – the lovely yellow pelican, gifted to me by my parents- and a pretty blue heron painting with an incredible handmade sinker cypress frame from my father. My new Coy Hall painting fits right in, assuming fitting in means nothing matches but I like it all. I hung it in a prominent place, although that’s a deceiving flex because the only non-prominent place in my little house is maybe my daughter’s closet, which possibly contains a portal to an alternate universe but I’ll never know because I’m never going in there.
I recently listened to a Brene Brown podcast featuring Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL player turned motivational speaker and author. He told a story about being at the Louvre in Paris and seeing hordes of people standing in line for hours to see the Mona Lisa. Here we are, he thought, surrounded by literally acres of amazing art, and everyone wants to see this one painting that would, by today’s standards, sell for 20 bucks at a garage sale. That kind of hurt my feelings because I had literally just bought a painting for $20 at the hippie version of a garage sale. But it also solidified a point for me – talent and even brilliance aren’t always rewarded or even recognized.
(Please don’t write me to wax poetic about DaVinci, okay? I know he was a magnificent artist and visionary, blah blah blah.)
I wondered what motivated Coy Hall, and how long he had been painting. So the next week, I went back to see him.
Coy told me he had started painting when he was 10 years old. He grew up in Arkansas, and joined the Navy as soon as he was able. He was a Seabee, which means he helped build structures for the military. He soon found himself in Vietnam, which is where he got the nickname Lulu. He said people there thought he was a little crazy until he “figured things out” and settled down. People still call him Lulu, but he prefers Coy.
After Vietnam, he matriculated into the regular Navy, but didn’t like it, so he eventually was discharged.
He looked for work at a local auto body shop. When the manager asked what he could do, he said he couldn’t do anything. But he wanted to paint cars.
Before long, he had established a career painting designs on hot rods. He laments the fact that in today’s world, most car designs are done as wraps – printed by machines and simply glued or otherwise attached to the car.
He’s now in his mid-70s, and he still paints every day. He once had a goal – he wanted 500 people in the community to have a piece of his art. He met his goal in a year, so he stopped counting, and now just takes pleasure from the artistic process itself and from people like me who come back and tell him how much they love his art.
I sat in the grass and listened to him. It was a clear spring day and I could smell pine sap and dirt. We drank our kombucha together. Coy told me he had lived a good life. I could tell that he humbly, shyly thought of himself as an artist – a successful artist – which makes me happy. I think of him that way, too.