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The Scrivener: Wonder, Love And Wallets

Brian Barratt tells the delectable tale of a day when, confronted on the footpath by a statue of Jesus with a bleeding heart, he and a friend were lured into a shop – there to encounter the statue of a goat, immitation Art Deco young ladies (in yellow plaster), and a “world class sculptor’’.

From the car, I saw a statue of Jesus with a bleeding heart, on the footpath outside a shop. Well, it was difficult not to see it. Such statues are kitschy enough when they are in churches. They are grotesque when standing on busy pavements.

Walking with a friend towards the same shop, after a visit to the theatre, we saw a gaudy statue of the Virgin Mary, complete with a gilt metal hoop over her head. Next to it was an equally gaudy Red Indian brave. Verily, this pavement and this shop, in a busy suburb, were a meeting place of cultures.

'Let's go in,' my companion said. 'Who knows what else we'll find inside?'

'I like that sculpture there,' I mused, eyeing a black-painted plaster statue of a woman with a child on her shoulder. 'It reminds me of Africa.'

'How about this!' she declared, deep inside the shop. 'Whoever would need a statue of a goat?' There it was, lifesize and resplendent in realistic colours. A plaster goat, relaxed as if in a field of luscious grass.

The wonders increased as we ventured further in.

Perhaps 'ventured' is the wrong word. Rather, we felt our way between rows of quasi-antique sideboards, pseudo-Chippendale chairs, dust-covered timber mantel-shelves, imitation Art Deco young ladies (in yellow plaster), and Heaven knows what else.

'Can I help you?' asked an obliging voice from the depths of the jumble. He emerged, eyeing us with dysfunctional x-ray vision that mistakenly detected bulging wallets.

'Do you like the Aboriginal woman?' he asked me.

'Well, actually, I thought she was African.'

There was a crunch of broken glass beneath my shoes. In the claustrophobic aisle, I had stepped into the remains of a pseudo-Gothic stained-glass window, that had long since slipped away from its companions and decorated the floor. As I was obviously not the first person to crush it further into fragments, nobody took any notice.

'We have a world-class sculptor,' he assured us, still calculating how much we were going to spend. 'He copies originals, we make a cast, and produce these.' He waved airily at various copies. The most convincing was an imitation marble plinth, made from a mould of a gilt-painted wooden plinth. The original, he told us, was worth thousands. The copies were on sale for a mere $800. We nodded, emulating approval and arty enthusiasm.

'He's world-class,' continued the entrepreneur. 'Would you like to see his Aboriginal boy?' We agreed, and were taken on a tour of the bowels of the building and out into the back yard. On the way, we were greeted by the original of the yellow Art Deco young lady, poised on a sheet of newspaper atop an old kitchen table that was, no doubt, priceless. She was surrounded by books on art, paperweights of dubious quality, plaster-cast moulds, half a dressing-table mirror, and several fluted unattractive vases. But beauty is in the eye of the proverbial beholder, is it not?

We were conducted into the cluttered yard, and saw, in all their glory, two copies of a statue of the Aboriginal boy. He stood, extremely pot-bellied, with a smaller child on his back. Both were naked, except for tiny loin cloths. The whole thing was well balanced, with the protruding pot belly counteracting the infant on this shoulders.

'He looks like an advanced case of beri-beri,' whispered my companion, the enterprising entrepreneur being out of earshot, waiting for us to meet his world-class sculptor.

'I don't know about that,' I whispered back, `but what would Aboriginal people think of it?'

Our host proudly waved us into a workshop at the back of the yard. There were two world-class craftsmen busily working; late on a Saturday night, too. One was rubbing down Boy Number Three, while the other was putting the finishing touches to an elaborate piece of furniture that may, or may not, have had its origins in the house of some country gentles.
'He used to be a professor in Japan,' we were told. 'He's world class. He can do anything.' And then, in case we were lost in wonder, love and praise, he added, 'The Aboriginal boy is $950'. We clamped our hands over our non-existent bulging wallets.

As we felt our way back through the array of Fine Art, to the front of the shop, he continued giving us the life-story of his world-class sculptor. We nodded, and showed continuing interest, and made our first attempt to get back onto the pavement.

'Does he also do the Blessed Bleeding Hearts of Jesus?' I enquired.

I think the man was insulted by this question. He became somewhat defensive. We were given a full and detailed account of which churches they came from, how long they had been there, how he had obtained them, and how much they were worth. There was definitely nothing quasi or pseudo about the brilliantly painted, gilt-laden Jesuses and Marys.

On the way out of the door, I nearly tripped on a sudden downward step near the base of a marble plinth, and breathed a silent sigh of relief as I stepped gingerly back and avoided an invoice for $800 for damage.

'It was as good as the theatre, wasn't it?' said my companion when we were out of reach, on the busy footpath.

'It was another world. Aren't you glad we didn't have our wallets with us? He would have prised them from us and emptied them. But, who knows, we might have finished up with a masterpiece.'

'One of only three hundred copies, by a world-class sculptor who was once a professor in a Japanese university, of course' she added.

© Copyright 2005 Brian Barratt


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