I’m in Great Falls, Montana, where my mother and her father, my Papa, grew up.
Family lore holds that, as a teenager working for the Montana Power Company, Papa used to watch Charles Russell paint when he stopped by to read the Russell meter. Russell was, and still is, a hero in Montana. In fact, you can drop by the C.M. Russell Museum next time you’re out here.
Papa was a fairly simple man who made his living as a traveling salesman. The last job I knew him to have was selling paper.
My mom remembers Papa making “snow people” out of the abundant Montana snowfall and says “an over-sized bust of George Washington was his best work.” So, when Papa turned 60 and was about to retire, she gave him a slab of clay and sculpting tools.
Papa officially took up sculpture: bronze sculpture. I remember the green clay he formed into Western wildlife: bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and bison. He also used wax for this process. He’d hand some clay or wax over to us kids and we’d work alongside him.
The best foundry for Papa was the cheapest foundry, which doesn’t necessarily mean the highest quality castings. He didn’t take the time to learn about the “craft” of his art and how to make it better. That didn’t interest him. He was a salesman through and through!
Whenever Papa was due at our house 13 hours away from his, we were on call. We knew he was going to ask us to come look in the trunk of his white Honda Accord that he had recently parked in our driveway. It was always filled with his latest bronzes and we were expected to Ooh and Aah at his accomplishments. We were adolescents and honestly didn’t appreciate them. Then again, no one appreciated them more than Papa did.
He would show a piece to us and, accompanied by a whistle, say, “Isn’t that a beauty?!” (“Yes, Papa, it sure is.”)
It’s guaranteed that there were driveway moments with unsuspecting targets whenever he traveled and wherever he drove. And we know he never took a direct route when he could go out of his way to add new collectors to his rolls.
Papa was able to apply what he learned as a salesman to promoting his bronzes. We’re certain some people bought pieces from him just so he’d stop pestering them!
Papa didn’t care for any art other than his own and didn’t know the “rules” of the art world. Heck, he didn’t even know there was an art world! Getting into a gallery never entered his thoughts. He just drove around with a trunk full of sculptures to show to people.
The Sales Lesson from Papa
Showing your art online isn’t the same as showing it in person.
Get your art out of the studio and share it! You don’t have to drive around with a trunk full of art like Papa. You just need to exhibit your art as frequently as possible. It’s a sure bet that no one is going to buy it until they see it.