Learning Lines

Investigating New Territory Through The World of Writing

Stalking Irene

For about five years now, I have been collecting the work of Irene Gates.  She celebrates women in multimedia paintings.  Sometimes a woman will be in front of a house.  Two paintings I have show a woman holding flowers.  It is not often I see a painting outside of a museum that is so beautiful it haunts me.  The work of Irene Gates does just that.  Not only do I love her subject matter, but also the many faces of women captured in different unique positions.  I see Marc Chagall’s The Birthday in the neck of my most recent purchase.    Thanks to my eight year old’s astute observations, Irene Gates captures noses similar to Modigliani.

Since her work is so affordable, I have been talking about it with my friends.  Recently when Melissa came up to my cottage to visit, she shared how excited she was that she had made her first Irene Gates purchase.  She even had her grandmother to thank for making it a special birthday gift.  Melissa bubbled with enthusiasm about her long, simple piece.  The woman was highlighted at the bottom of a field with one house in the background.  Later that afternoon, she and I headed downtown Petoskey for some alone-time.  It was the end of July.  My family and I had spent five weeks in close quarters which was beginning to wear on us all.  I was dying to get out of the busy house.

When we got downtown, I was overwhelmed by the reality of parking and walking around during the art fair.  I had been hoping to have a quiet afternoon walking up and down the streets, nibbling on gelato and peeking into windows.  My shoulders slumped.  Now we were destined to snake around the city among as many people on a normal day on 5th Ave.   But, as it sometimes happens, things are just meant to be – a parking spot opened up with an hour and forty-five minutes still left on the meter, a good sign!   Planning our route through the art fair booths helped me brighten a bit.  We started walking arm-in-arm, like women in Europe, making our way along the old railroad tracks behind all the tents.  As soon as she asked if I thought Irene Gates might be there I froze and grabbed her arm dramatically.

“Of course she’s here!  She came last year and I never made it down to see her!  We have to find her and tell her about the piece you just got for your office!”  We had not even walked two more steps behind the tents before I looked through between two tents and there she was!  I almost yanked Melissa’s arm out of her socket, pulling her past two unsuspecting artists, weaving around the people passing the grass avenue in the middle.

She was there, sitting on a folding chair, with curly short hair like my mother.  And her women! From ceiling to floor the space was wall-to-wall women.  I skipped by the art and headed straight for the artist, attacking her like a celebrity.

“You’re Irene Gates!”  I squealed with delight leaning over and grabbing both her hands in mine.  I’m so excited to meet you.  I have been a fan of your art for years!”  Melissa and I showered her with complements until tears ran down her cheeks.  She fanned her eyes and blushed in embarrassment.  We must have made quite a scene.  For the next half hour we told her the story of how we had both fallen in love with her work, looking over each of the women, listening to her comments about them.  Melissa even grabbed the chair Irene had been using, pulled it into the very center of the tent and sat down to take it all in with wide eyes and a huge smile.  What we didn’t notice until much later was how our gregarious laughter and loud cackeling was attracting more interested and curious customers to come see her work.  Just during the first half hour while we chatted away with her and each other about the conundrum of picking a new piece, she sold about four paintings.  Thank goodness we put the ones we wanted to the side.  One lady came back with her daughter and pointed to the now gaping hole where her choice painting had been, her hands coming up to cover her mouth in horror.  “I’m sorry,” I whispered “I took it!”  All three of us couldn’t help but fold in half laughing in complete joy at the whole situation.  The woman stood there for several minutes in disbelief waiting for me to say “It’s okay, you can have it.”  Instead I said, “I’m sorry she is one of my favorite artists, I’ve been collecting her work for years.”  The woman frowned and looked at the ground, as disappointed as a five year old,  Without looking up, she reached behind her to grab her daughter’s hand and pulled her out of the tent.  This just made Irene, Melissa and I laugh harder.

Irene told us to go an enjoy the rest of the fair.  She said she would protect our treasures until we wanted to leave.  After that one experience no other artist could quite measure up.  We did find one other artist who made beautiful watercolors of groups of people.  I was filing through some of her pictures and stopped at a charming scene in a museum.  I glanced at the price and commented to Melissa, “Hey, these are really reasonable.”

“That’s why you should buy my work.”  The artist’s voice cut into my private conversation.  I looked up to see a woman all decked in her frumpy, gold pants suit work out outfit.  She had matching earrings and gold rimmed glasses.  Even her frosted hair looked like it matched her clothes.  I froze with my mouth open, not quite knowing what to say.  I ignored her comment and went back to browsing, my comments still directed to Melissa, “This one’s cool, there are people looking at art in a museum.”

“Do you know who that is sitting on the bench in the picture”  Melissa and I were silenced.  We waited for the story to go with the painting, “Its me, as an old lady.  So you see all the paintings on the wall?  They’re mine.  Because I am going to be so famous, they put all my work up in a museum.  You had better see how reasonable my prices really are.  One day these paintings will be priceless.”  With that, I looked at Melissa and we left without saying another word.  We missed Irene.

Back at her tent, Irene had our stuff wrapped up.  I had a birthday gift and another piece for me.  So when I lifted the bag and I felt the jumbling inside, I didn’t think anything of it.  We both exchanged emails with Irene telling her we would come and see her when we were back in Holland at Shaker Messenger.  She kept repeating that her husband was going to love the story of us making such a big fuss of her.  We hugged and were on our way with our ladies underneath our arms.

Trekking up the hill to the parking lot Melissa had to stop again and pinch herself just to prove all of this had really happened.  She looked into her bag, still gazing in complete amazement that she now had two Irene Gates paintings for her office.  A friendly looking man stopped in front of us a few feet from the car, “Hey, that’s my wife’s painting.”

“You must be Mr. Irene Gates!”  I exclaimed.

“What else did you guys get?”  He looked into our bags and we pulled them out so he could tell us which ones he liked.  “I really liked her.” He stood holding one of them out at arm’s length remembering the butterflies she had used as a background on one of her beauty’s dresses.  He looked satisfied that we were the owners walking away with them.


5 comments on “Stalking Irene

  1. Mrs. Suburban
    August 20, 2010


  2. Yo Mama
    August 20, 2010

    Your zest certainly flies off the screen with this piece writing. What I love is your passion for such diverse subject matter. This 15 minute exercise is so “do-able” for you. Of course if you look at your day and what you intend to accomplish, it is amazing. Keep your BALANCE Sarah as you are so aware of what your life is about. Thank you for sharing with me. Love U

  3. Jess
    March 28, 2011

    I just wanted to say thank you!!! Irene is my Aunt and I am working to help her grow her business. I just Googled her name to see what would come up and this was on the first page. I will be printing it out to make sure that she sees it. You have completely caught her love of life and love of art in your post and I just want to say Thanks Again.

  4. Melissa
    April 2, 2011

    I just had to read this and relive that moment. I only have one question…when are we going to do it again????

  5. stretchingittotravel
    November 30, 2014

    I just found her work. LOVE it!!!!!

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This entry was posted on August 20, 2010 by in Uncategorized.
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