The artist's name across the bottom is only slightly legible: it might be "Whitehall" it almost certainly begins with W-H or it could be something else. The little certificate on the back doesn't identify the artist. What I do know is that this is print #204 of a run of 325, and that it was framed at A.P.F., Incorporated, then located at 601 West 26th Street, near 11th Avenue, New York City. (There exists today an A.P.F. framing operation on the Upper East Side, 231 East 60th Street, which could be this same firm: I don't know, and it never occurs to me to call and ask.)
Anyway, this particular artifact was offered by the Graphics Guild, a sort of Artwork-Of-The-Month Club associated with Doubleday's Literary Guild book club. I don't know how long it lasted, or even when I was a member, though I'm thinking that this piece was acquired probably in 1983, and I do remember paying something in the low three digits maybe $159 for it. It's way too big for my scanner, of course, even out of the frame, and I am disinclined to pull it out, inasmuch as it was a really good framing job and I'd never get it back to normal.
A young girl, maybe fifteen, almost smiling, a few freckles, a ribbon in her hair, fringed leotard, classic dance shoes. She's not in one of the standard five dance positions: she's on her right knee, the left foot drawn back to touch that knee, and her left hand is almost perfectly horizontal. And perched on that hand is a small bird, its tail held skyward; perhaps it's trying to maintain its equilibrium should its perch suddenly move.
For some reason, this picture, done up as a black-and-white line drawing with occasional airbrush color accents, drew my attention (and my checkbook) the moment I saw it, and it still hangs on my wall today. I have other bird pictures, and even other dancer pictures, but this is the one that matters. I'm still trying to figure out why.
Except, of course, that I know why. I am large and oafish and clumsy: the young lady, so still that the bird can safely perch upon her hand, is the very antithesis of me. I have no hope of dancing myself, what with occasional vertigo and this dubious knee joint and a center of gravity that guarantees I'll be upended, so this scene represents something to which I can never hope to aspire. And it doesn't help that at some angles and with some specific lighting, the girl in the portrait somewhat resembles the girl I met in high school at exactly the wrong time. (Although I doubt she could have kept still long enough to have a bird land on her: she was almost as fidgety as I.)
Occasionally in the summertime I'll be stretched out on a blanket in the back yard, just as still as I can be. The birds mostly ignore me, which is a good thing; at least they don't consider me a threat or an enemy, which means they'll feel free to patrol the place and keep the squirrels out. (The blue jays, who nested in one of the sweetgum trees last year, were fierce enough to chase stray cats.) I don't really want a bird to land on my hand or anything like that, but sometimes I think I'd like to have the same sort of rapport with them that my mysterious dancer does with her red-headed trespasser, if only so I don't feel so detached from her and whatever it is inside me that ultimately she must represent. There are secrets in this picture which someday I would like to know. Probably why it's still on my wall after two decades.
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Copyright © 2005 by Charles G. Hill