It is not that I am a fan of clowns, though I am somewhat, it is that I have a story of why I am a fan. Across the street and two doors down from our house, on the north-east corner of Beale and 6th Street (in my hometown of Kingman, AZ), there was a flower shop, “June Bond’s Flowers.” To me, it was more than that; the lady who owned it and ran it was June Bond. She was older then, than I am now – she was born in the early 1880s. Between us, it would add up to nearly 145 years. Think of what she saw; well, actually, think of what I have seen! When I was 7 she was 70 plus, widowed, had Parkinson’s Disease and seemed ever so old. But she was kind, quiet and gentle in every way. She loved the arts, painted many floral plates and china cups, made paintings and did countless embroidery items before her condition interfered. In her flower shop, she did the most amazing thing: she sold art supplies because no one else in town did!
It was 1950 and Beale Street was not paved, or not in the sense of today’s roads. It had an oil spray strip, down the middle of a dirt road with no curbs, to keep the dust down. They called it paving, but because Route 66 was a block south of Beale Street, and was paved, most cross town traffic went that way. Why is that important? Because in 1950 as a 7 year old I was allowed to cross the sleepy dirt street all alone, walk the short distance of two doors down and go into the flower shop. There were two whole shelves of art stuff, magical tools of the dreaming child. Real sketch tablets, real paint and real charcoal, tempera and watercolor, even oils. Brushes that real artists used. She carried only one of each size brush and one tube of each of the main 8 colors in oil and watercolor. All magical strange exotic names of paint. Tempera came in small jars (4 oz), sets of 6 colors, and cost $2.00 a set. She had several opened sets of single jars of Tempera for 45 cents each. You could order from the catalogue anything else, and it only took 4 to 6 weeks to get it (two months, usually). She had the biggest magical thing of all. She did layaway! I bought my first set of Tempera on layaway. 50 cents down and it only took two months to pay it off. 25 cents a week. I had an allowance of 50 cents a week, big money in those days, but it was meant to cover movies, goodies, and personal supplies. I did without movies for two months to get those paints! For the first 12 years of my life, the June Bond’s Flower Shop was the only art supplies I knew. But she had other supplies, too; she loved ceramics, pottery, fiber arts, embroidery supplies and glassware, knick knacks. To me, she was the artist best friend. I was a child; I had little money, but from here came my whole world of art. She tolerated my looking at her catalogues; I could hardly read but it had pictures. From her, I bought my first red sable brush (5 dozen coke bottle deposits @ 4 cents each).
Clowns, I mentioned clowns, so here is that part of the story. On one occasion that same year, my mother and I went to June Bond’s Flower Shop to buy flowers for a funeral. I saw a set of 3 porcelain clowns, only $9.99, a huge sum in those days. They were facinating: little porcelain people in costumes, with a beautiful shiny surface. It was as if the muse was blowing wind into the sails of my very soul, as something in them moved me. That thing artists get/feel or whatever. I stared at them as if they could only be mine. My mother couldn’t help but notice; I did not ask for them, but she offered if I would pay half, she would gift the other half. She put a dollar down, I produced a quarter, and for the next nine months every other week I paid a quarter and she paid a quarter. It took 9 long months to bring those clowns home. I had never seen a real clown, and it would be a year before I did. These little porceline objects were magic; they were a sign from the outside world that people did things, went places and dressed up to have fun. They invited me out to play. Remember, there was no T.V. in our town then, and one local radio station. We had a wind-up Victrola at home and a movie house in the center of town. Clowns were in one world that did not exist where I was. Books looked into another, the other world coming. Because of that moment, I was fascinated not by clowns, but by that strange emotion of a doorway unseen; I was 7 and the muse was calling. I still remember the feeling, do you? I have scoured the internet to try and find those clowns again, long lost to me. No luck, so maybe I will sketch up something from memory and post that, then feel guilty until I get them painted.